With every other loss the Mariners are forcing us to just look forward, to try and gauge how this team can (or should) operate in 2016 with the cast of characters they currently have and the cast of characters they will look to sign in the offseason.
One story that will probably take shape as the end of the year approaches is how the organization is going to handle the role of Ketel Marte. In all the blargh that has been the Mariners over the past week, Marte has been a rather nice little umbrella of happiness in the rainstorm of shit.
Through his incredibly small sample size of 16 games, Marte has already made himself the eighth most valuable position player on the team with a fWAR of 0.7. Marte is doing essentially what most people thought he would do -- hit the ball a little bit and not be too bad defensively. His walk rate is at a career high, so there is a good chance that his OBP and such will drop as the year progresses. But he also should provide a boost with his plus speed. So far Marte hasn't demonstrated this with his lone stolen base (he had 20 stolen bases in AAA this season).
The guys at Fangraphs are pretty hyped on Marte as well. Again, it cannot be stressed that Marte's overall upside is limited, but if what we are seeing from Marte this season is what we will see from Marte next season, then he definitely deserves a spot on the team. The question is just where that spot on the team is?
Lately, the Mariners have been sending out Marte to shortstop. That means that Brad Miller has been relegated to bench roles or hanging out in left field, for the most part. Miller's year, defensively, at shortstop has been a mixed bag depending on how you look at it. He has struggled with errors with 13 in 731.2 innings at short, good for seventh most in the MLB. UZR/150 is a bit nicer to Miller's defensive effort, ranking him 2.0, which is good for 10th in the majors amongst shortstops with at least 700 innings.
We've written about the idea of Miller heading out to get some reps in the outfield. Those ideas centered around the notion that Chris Taylor could actually hack it in the majors. Taylor no longer hacks it in the majors. So Marte filled his place a few times, and spotted in the outfield a couple times. The Mariners have, and should continue, to give reps to Marte in the outfield as well, specifically center field. If Marte is able to play the outfield with any sort of decent arms and range, the Mariners could very well plug a hole before it forms.
And that is because Austin Jackson is terrible.
He is also going to be a free agent at the end of this season. That means that he is throwing his name into the center field fracas alongside such hallowed names as Rajai Davis, Dexter Fowler, Colby Rasmus, Denard Span and Drew Stubbs. So, for the most part, next season, the Mariners have four options at center field: re-sign Jackson, sign Fowler, trade for someone useful, or use Miller or Marte.
None of those options necessarily are the best option, but this is the grave the Mariners have dug. The Mariners right now have two players who are accustomed to playing the same position, and two players who they keep trying out for other positions. Of those two, Marte seems like the more natural center fielder. He has better speed than Miller and appears to have a decent enough arm.
Of course, throwing the ball as a shortstop and throwing the ball as a center fielder are too different things. The only way we will find out if the Mariners have a plug at what will soon be a hole in center field will be to give Marte more reps -- which also means sitting Jackson. The important thing for the Mariners right now is to look to the future and Marte might be a piece of that future. We don't know yet if anyone is saying he'll be a mainstay in the lineup for years to come or just a slightly better than replacement player to use as a fourth outfielder -- but right now, all we can do is put him in there and see how he holds up.