Let me tell you a Lookout Landing secret: whenever it’s time for signing up to write about players, be it the 40 in 40 or something else, one name tends to languish on the list, perhaps unfairly, and that name is Kyle Seager. Partially it’s because no one wants to go first, and Kyle Seager almost always has to go first; for years it’s been Seager and Félix as the bookends and everyone else in-between, a constantly changing cast held pole to pole by those two lodestars. That also means that if you spend even more than a season on this masthead, you will be called to write about Kyle Seager multiple times per year; this is not the first time I have written about Kyle Seager and it will be far from the last. Writing about Seager is its own challenge, as well; with no social media to speak of, there are precious few ways to know Seager beyond the baselines. And then there’s the performance itself: as solid and workmanlike as the man himself, barring a downturn that was slightly troublesome in 2017, and outright alarming in 2018.
But this year has been an interesting one in Seagerland in a way that feels fresh. First there was the hand injury (sorry, “left third-digit extensor hood tear”), the only time Kyle Seager has been on the IL in his career—although he probably should have spent some time there last year when dealing with a fractured toe, which might have contributed to his lousy 2018 numbers. The shift-prone Seager struggled mightily after returning, seeing his batting average drop perilously close to the Mendoza Line from May-July, but he continued hitting the ball hard, dragging his slugging numbers up through the 400s as the All-Star Break approached, and then to a torrid .699 over August (“Seagust”). It was a strong enough finish to push him to a 109 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR on the season—not the Kyle Seager of 2014 or 2016, but also not the Kyle Seager of 2018. Seager definitely got some help from the new ball (a career-high 16.5% HR/FB rate), but he also cut down his pull rate. Look at these happy numbers:
One wonders what a full season of the retooled Kyle Seager, who worked in the offseason to become more flexible and lean, would have looked like. At the very least, these numbers are trending in the right direction. For the first time in the past two seasons, it feels like we’re sending Seager into the off-season to not get demonstrably worse in the interim. Progress!
Kyle Seager is 31, and some age-related decline is inevitable. But a Kyle Seager who pulls the ball a little less and splits the gap a little more, strikes out a little less and walks more (as he did this season), and can still pull a bad pitch over the fence, in addition to his still-excellent defense, is a valuable player moving forward. And that’s without taking into consideration the leadership value Seager would bring to a youthful clubhouse.
The famously humble Seager won’t speak of his leadership qualities himself, but in seeing how the younger players relate to him, it’s clear he’s a respected and beloved figure. When he finally started getting his hits, the players of color created a home run celebration just for Seager to “welcome him into the hood”:
My favorite part of the Seager celebration is the running start he gets, like he's about to execute a vault with a very low degree of difficulty pic.twitter.com/BJSbBwN9Um— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 20, 2019
How can you not love a guy like Kyle Seager, who hustled so hard to get Félix a run in his final home game he blew his own helmet off?
Because he’s so reticent—unlike ex-teammate Mike Leake, who made it very clear he was not interested in being part of a rebuild—it’s tough to gauge where Seager’s head might be as the team rebuilds and the clock on his career continues to run. In his Town Hall meeting, Jerry Dipoto related a story of Seager saying this rebuild is something that “should have happened a long time ago”—although he didn’t say if that’s something Seager was enthusiastic about sticking around for. With Seager owed almost $40 million combined over the next two years, plus a 2022 “poison pill” clause in his contract that converts to a $15M player option if he’s traded, his contract is next-to-unmovable unless the Mariners assume a heavy financial toll, or he opts to rework it; unlikely, but something he might choose to do if he truly dreads the idea of remaining in Seattle. Unlike many other positions, though, there’s no clear-cut heir to the third base job in Seattle at this time, so he’s not currently blocking a prospect.
It seems overwhelmingly likely that Kyle Seager will not only be a Mariner in 2020, but through the remainder of his contract. Thanks to a leadership role created out of necessity more than anything else—as the last remaining Mariner who has been with the club since 2015 or earlier, Seager is now the bastion of institutional knowledge for his fellow players, whether he likes it or not—and his strong finish to this year, the idea of the Mariners and Kyle Seager being wedded to each other for years to come isn’t an unappealing one to consider. Let’s hope he feels the same way.