That’s the only player in the Mariners organization projected by the Steamer projection system to be an above-average hitter in 2021. Steamer, for those unfamiliar, is one of the major public MLB projection systems along with, among others, Marcel, PECOTA, and ZiPS. As with all projection systems, the numbers you see are a mean/median of a multitude of projected outcomes, with the final “answer” being something based around past production, aging curves, pitch tracking, and run environment. It’s less reliable with younger players, particularly without much minor league data to go off, which will only be exacerbated after 2020’s canceled MiLB season. All the same, the Steamer projections consistently come in strong with projections relative to outcomes, and they should not be ignored when they suggest something serious like they do for the Mariners.
The numbers above have a few limitations that may be specified when Dan Szymborski publishes his ZiPS projections for the M’s. For instance, the list above (prorating production to 600 plate appearances) does not include Jarred Kelenic, though Steamer expects an 86 wRC+, .237/.295/.402 line, and around 0.5 fWAR for the 21 year old if given 600 PA to work with. In spite of any caveats, however, the system is bearish on Seattle’s lineup, without a single OPS cresting .800 and just Haniger with a wRC+ of >100. There are more ways than one to contribute to a team’s success, but the M’s lack of surefire pop could pose a problem. They should seriously consider external help.
For every case for overachievement - Kyle Lewis is healthy and better than he was in MiLB, Kyle Seager’s physique will help him outperform the aging curve, Evan White will improve with more reps, Mitch Haniger has hit better than that every year in Seattle - there’s a worthy counter. Lewis and White’s K%, the typical aging curve of mid-30s MLBers, Haniger’s health, Tom Murphy and Ty France’s BABIPs, Dylan Moore’s short track record! I don’t expect Seattle to swing for George Springer, but a stabilizing offensive force to help lengthen their young lineup would go a long way. Fortunately, the free agent market was just infused with a couple more options.
Free agency began with OF like Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley, Yasiel Puig, Adam Eaton, and Robbie Grossman, who range from intriguing to competent, but would all add stability to Seattle’s LF reps. They’ve been joined by a rush of alternatives at yesterday’s non-tender deadline, including Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario, Nomar Mazara, Adam Duvall, Hunter Renfroe, and David Dahl. If an infield upgrade is more your flavor, Kolten Wong is obviously a favorite of mine, but Jurickson Profar would suit Seattle well, as might a simple veteran add like Jonathan Schoop, Jedd Gyorko, or even Howie Kendrick. With names like these I know you’re fumbling around for your wallet, trying to make a down payment on World Series tickets, but I must ask you to stay a smidge of your enthusiasm: these are moves to create competency, and allow the youth to fly if they thrive, without a roster of chaff that anchors them as it did in 2020.
Rosario, Schoop, and Schwarber pique my interest in particular, as all three project to be the best hitter on the club if Seattle were to add them. They’re all on the right side of 30 for a MLB player, with recent track records of performance that were not the root of their dismissal, they were purely financial. Much like every player in the previous paragraph, all three could be had on 1-2 year deals, and they can all handle multiple outfield and/or infield positions, giving the Mariners important roster flexibility while maintaining the more-lugubrious-but-treasured-by-ownership financial flexibility. Unless an extension manifests for Kelenic, ensuring his Opening Day roster spot, Seattle will want to raise their floor from Opening Day to try and give their young core a shot at rising to the challenge of contending. The circumstances of these medium-to-small moves is indicative of where Seattle is at, and why it makes sense now.
In workshopping this article, the long-rumored Jon Jay signing of the 2016-2018 seasons was floated as a prime example of a similar move to those proposed here. Jay was an average or worse starter, providing competence but not quite quality. That was infuriating, and a theme of the past decade in additions by Seattle to a core that was aging and clearly needed at least another move or two to hang with the top clubs. In 2021, however, Seattle is still seeing what they’ve got. Give this group a Seth Smith, a Nori Aoki, a Jon Jay or three across their lineup, rotation, and bullpen, and see if the young guys can lift their weight. Unlike 2020, when the waiver-heavy depth of the club undid them on the bench and in the bullpen, there can be the length in the lineup to lock up those extra wins. To take the leap, the M’s next core needs a floor they can push off of, and Seattle needs to be in the market to build that foundation now.