The 2017 Mariners season was a disappointment. There’s really no way to sugarcoat that. Sure, there were high moments, but as a whole, the Mariners played some really unenjoyable baseball at points during this year, as both Jake and Zach pointed out in pieces this past week. The pitching staff that was supposed to be never was, favorite prospects were traded away (miss you Toenail), and injuries interrupted promising seasons from players like Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and James Paxton. In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching some Big Picture-type pieces to assess what we as a staff believe the Mariners need to do to take a step forward this off-season.
In order to do that, we first need to complete the autopsy of the 2017 season, as icky as that sounds. This week, we’ll be looking back over each member of the 2017 squad, weighing their contributions, and projecting their role in 2018. We start with the infield. This will come as no surprise, but three of the Mariners’ top five offensive fWAR leaders come from the infield. The other parts...are not so great. (Hint: Tyler Smith, with .1 fWAR, was the fifth-most valuable member of the infield.)
Overall performance: 99 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR; career-high 24.4% K-rate
High point: Started the season with a bang, posting a wRC of 125 for May and June. Could it be, Mariners fans wondered, hands clasped to their hearts, could it be the first-base black hole is finally solved?
[insert Narrator Voice]
Low point: Second-half swoon that saw him lose about fifty points off his wOBA. After hitting RHP okay enough (98 wRC+) in the first half, saw that number plummet to 59 in the second half of the season.
2018 outlook: First base is one of the biggest questions facing the Mariners headed into 2018. After a subpar 2017 performance, the cost to bring him back with good friend Yonder Alonso as a platoon won’t necessarily be prohibitive, but banking on Valencia rebounding is a risky proposition.
Overall performance: 132 wRC+ (118 wRC+ in 150 PAs as a Mariner), 2.4 fWAR (0.5), career-high 28 HRs.
High point: Alonso was an absolute monster in May with the A’s, with 10 homers and a Ruthian .500 ISO in 80 PAs.
Low point: From the beginning of June until his acquisition by Seattle on August 6th, Alonso wasn’t quite the fly ball-generating powerhouse that earned him his first All-Star Game invite, producing just a 112 wRC+ and a 27.5% hard hit rate.
2018 outlook: Alonso’s acquisition in August appealingly delivered the Mariners their best production from the 1B position in a decade, but after a career year the upcoming free agent will test his market. Supposedly there is mutual interest between the Mariners and Alonso in his return. However, with a relatively flush/mediocre/team-friendly market for 1B’s this offseason, overpaying a 30-year-old who fits best as part of a platoon would be a poor allocation of resources. Returning both Alonso & Valencia both might be a reasonable value that would offer the added versatility of Valencia on the bench, but running it back a second year might be a tough sell. Alonso remains a solid player, but 17-22 HRs seems more likely than a repeat of this year’s spike. Whether he’ll do it in Seattle for a decent price or be lured in—here or elsewhere—by a bigger deal will likely color how he’s viewed in 2018 and beyond.
Overall performance: 112 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR; lowest wRC+ since 2008
High point: Vintage Robbie Canó showed up for an injury-shortened May as he slashed .338/.377/.648 in 17 games, matching his single-month high with 10 extra base hits, albeit in nine less games than any other month this season.
Low point: Cano’s season bottomed out in July when he was good for a 65 wRC+ and posted a slash line of .210/.279/.350 (that .279 OBP was his worst in a month in over two years).
2018 outlook: 2017 Robinson Cano looked all too similar to 2015 Robinson Cano. If Cano’s power outage is here to stay, he can compensate for the loss somewhat by getting his on base skills back up to 2013 and 2014 levels, when he was able notch consecutive 5+ win seasons. The days of 25-30 home run seasons out of Robinson Cano may well be nearing an end, but a change in approach to focusing more on hitting for average and working counts to get on base still holds some value in the middle of a lineup that is improving around him.
Overall performance: 111 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR; fewest games played since debut season
High point: At just about any point during the first half, you could find Segura hanging out with teammate Ben Gamel near the top of the American League batting average leaderboard. He topped out in May when he posted a 143 wRC+ in a season high 28 games.
Low point: The glaring and obvious issue that plagued Segura in his first season in Seattle was his health. After missing two weeks with a strained hamstring in April, Jean was again shut down mid-hot streak in June, and appeared to be playing hampered for much of the second half.
2018 outlook: Even with a huge second half dip in production, Segura managed to turn in one of the better offensive seasons from a Mariners shortstop in the past decade. The hope is that his first offseason without a change of scenery in three years will allow him to fully rest and recover, and come in to 2018 reenergized and fully able to capitalize on his athleticism for the entire duration of 2018.
Overall performance: 106 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR; career-high 51.6% fly ball rate
High point: Very few things went Kyle Seager’s way in 2017 but he did end the year on a strong note. He slugged over .500 in September, launching eight home runs in the month to push his season total over 25 for the fourth straight season.
Low point: Seager started off the season very slow but August was his worst offensive month, posting an anemic 80 wRC+ during a critical time when the offense needed all the help it could get. At least in April, he was walking 12% of the time. In August, he just couldn’t get any of his balls in play to drop in for hits, a microcosm of the problems that plagued him all season long.
2018 outlook: A significant rise in fly ball rate didn’t help Seager like it has for so many other hitters around the majors. That increase was paired with a career-low 17.1% line drive rate. There wasn’t really anything wrong with his batted ball profile in the first place so a return to his previous career norms would probably solve a lot of his problems. Defensively, he’s continued to put up excellent numbers at the hot corner and he should be in the Gold Glove conversation perennially. He’s also taken the field in more than 155 games in every season since his rookie year. That consistency and durability is extremely valuable for this aging roster.
Taylor Motter: Motter bounded into the season, replacing an injured Jean Segura and immediately captivating us with his luscious blonde locks that are part Little Mermaid, part Riff Raff from Rocky Horror. Motter posted a wOBA of .360 in the first month of the season and was looking like a legitimate steal before opposing pitchers figured out that the gravy dish on the table was hiding a big ole burn spot, and proceeded to exploit Motter with pitches low and away. He in turn proceeded to post a wRC+ of 0 for the entire second half and seemingly forgot how to walk, as his BB% fell in half. As a super-utility player, Motter is useful enough defensively, but if the Mariners are at all worried about the health of their aging infield, they need to upgrade in 2018, because 300 PAs from Taylor Motter is about 200 too many.
Daniel Vogelbach: Will 2018 be the year the Mariners finally decide what to do with our large adult first baseman? After losing out on the first base job and toiling at Tacoma all year, where he posted a 122 wRC+, Vogelbach got a courtesy call (HEY-O DANGER UP IN THIS CLUB sorry sorry old habits die hard) up to the majors for the meaningless last few games of the season. (I was at Safeco when he singled against Cleveland to keep the ninth inning alive. It was a brief flash of happiness for all of us.) Poor old Vogey. Imagine being traded to a club and told you have a legitimate shot at being an MLB regular, only to see that shot snatched away as you continue to spin your wheels in the minors? This spring training feels make or break for Vogelbach’s future with the club, although I’m not sure what he’s making or breaking, and I don’t know if he is, either.
Gordon Beckham: “Bama Bangs,” as he’s known around these parts, earned another major league opportunity as a September call-up after a solid season in Tacoma, and provided a highlight-reel catch in his short time in Seattle. The 31-year-old is a free agent this year, and a healthy Shawn O’Malley might make Beckham redundant in Seattle.
Departed members of the infield: Mike Freeman, Tyler Smith, Danny “Wheels” Espinosa. Thnks fr th mmrs.