For several years, Kyle Seager has been labeled untradeable. The crux of the argument has been straightforward: the newly 33-year-old 3B saw his numbers dip in 2018, followed by an injury-shortened 2019 as the Mariners entered their rebuild, and Seager’s $18-20 million per year deal was capped with a
poison pill whoopie cushion trade clause that turned his team option for the 2022 season at $15 million with up to a $3 million buyout into a player option at $15 million with up to $3 million in vesting incentives. Compounding the issue, 2018-2020 were among the most inequitable seasons in MLB history, with huge gaps between the best teams and the worst, and a slim middle class anywhere but the Central divisions of each league. Nearly every true contender already had a star at the hot corner, and anyone that wasn’t a true contender wasn’t a single player away from becoming one. The elder Seags seemed like an aging, expensive player at a position without a market.
Seager’s physical overhaul has rejuvenated his play, with a 2019-20 stretch that matched or built on nearly all of his career averages. Seager’s last two seasons ran him a .240/.333/.456 line in 691 PA over 166 games, for a 113 wRC+ and 4.4 fWAR. After hitting the injured list for the first time in his career in 2019 with a hand injury on a dive, Seager returned to his Iron Man ways, posting 60/60 games for the Mariners in 2020 and looking spry as ever. His baserunning even improved over the past two years, and his defensive numbers remained solid over that stretch as well. Unless the shift is banned, he’ll never hit .270 again, but he’s every bit the stud 3B he’s always been, relative to the rest of the league. He’s done his part to keep himself valuable on the field for Seattle, and in so doing maintained some trade value too.
A veteran star on a rebuilding club is often seen foremost as a trade target. For Seager, his age and contract have been obstacles to that move, but more insurmountable is a simple lack of market. Last winter, like the winter of 2018, Seattle listened on offers for Seager, but little of note manifested. The biggest obstacle? The standings.
In 2019, MLB was a league of Haves and Have-Nots, and almost everyone knew where they stood. Almost every Have - the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Athletics, Braves, Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers - had an established star (or at least a major investment) at the hot corner. Outside of the infamously cheap Rays and the Todd Frazier-loving Mets, every club with a winning record (13 teams, plus the Mets and Rays) had around a 3-win player or better at third, with Arizona, Boston, Chicago’s Cubs, Cleveland, and Milwaukee well-set at third. Even the underachieving Rockies had All-World 3B Nolan Arenado. Half of MLB and the majority of the American league came into the 2019 season uncompetitive and stayed that way. That’s not a seller’s market, and 2020 wasn’t much better, but there’s hope for 2021 tipping the scales back towards parity.
Entering 2021, the only clear marks for non-contention are the Pirates, Orioles, Tigers, and Royals. The Rangers could join that group, but 25 competitors is a lot better than 15, especially for MLB’s expanded playoffs, which will remain at least through 2021. Plenty of the same clubs listed in the previous paragraph retain their excellent 3B play, but a number of teams with playoff aspirations need an upgrade like Seager. For the cost of one Brett Gardner per season, a team could have two years of dependable, above-average 3B play and a veteran lefty bat to stick anywhere in a lineup.
If Seattle is willing to eat a good portion of the contract (which I expect they would be), they could even acquire an instant replacement that they can give time to unlike a contender. Austin Riley of the Braves, Carter Kieboom of the Nationals, and Luis Urias of the Brewers have floundered in the bigs thus far, but could well figure it out in the years to come, yet their clubs need production in the present. The Mets are flush with cash and can’t fill all their holes in free agency. The Dodgers have parted ways with Justin Turner and Enrique Hernandez, creating the space for an All-Seager left side. The Blue Jays have committed to putting Vladito at 1B, meaning their infield of sequels could use an older brother to fill it out. I’ll look at specific trades in another article soon, but this is the big takeaway. Between Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas, the recent precedent for veteran 3Bs in free agency makes Seager’s cost point look mighty manageable, no matter what clubs claim about their financial straits, and several clubs may agree when considering trading for Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant. Seags is, in many ways, a sweet spot of production, cost, and commitment.
The Mariners do not need to trade Kyle Seager, and they shouldn’t do so just for the hell of it. Unless they believe deeply in Ty France as an heir just in need of an opportunity and some Perry Hill pixie dust, the M’s need to have a plan for an immediate replacement in the long term. That could be a free agent move like South Korean star Ha-seong Kim, or a younger replacement like Kieboom or Riley. But trading Seager would be cutting the connection, concluding a through line for the longest-tenured player in the organization who remains a strong contributor to a team that claims to be focused on competing for a playoff spot in 2021. Perhaps clubs really are fearful of taking on any extra money this winter, whittling away at their own noses because it didn’t smell enough “financial flexibility”, but the recent moves for talented over-30 3Bs makes me confident a market exists. If Kyle Seager completes his contract in a Mariners uniform, that will be a happy career we should celebrate, but it’s a bit happier because he’s played well enough to be traded away.