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Goodbye for real, Kyle Seager

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We’ve known for a long time, but now it is assured.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It started with a simple enough request.

The mildly facetious refrain from Jeff Sullivan became a consistent reality over the next 11 seasons. Save the Seattle Mariners, Kyle Seager, it seems nobody else will. He struggled immensely out the gate, going 3-for-27 with three walks and eight strikeouts in his first nine games, including a brief demotion. In his first game he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Jered Weaver, igniting a defining rivalry that stretched through much of the last decade. Yet ultimately, he was a solid rookie, portending a career that had stretches of stardom interspersed among solid season after solid season. Unlike Ichiro, Griffey, Edgar, A-Rod, Randy, or Félix, there was no grim finale, no overwrought, awkward farewell tour, public and ugly trade demands, or injury-hastened departure. Instead, despite no shortage of bad blood (more on that in a moment), in the end, we got more or less what we’ve always gotten - simply Seager.

That Seager’s name is included among the absolute greats of the Mariners franchise is both an unfair comparison and a testament to the totality of his work. Half the names above are Hall of Famers already, while Ichiro is a shoo-in upon eligibility. A-Rod’s case will be a curious one but his performance is obviously Hall of Fame caliber, and while Félix likely falls just shy, all are among the league’s most extraordinary and recognizable talents of the past 30 years. And yet, despite making as many All-Star Games as Daniel Vogelbach, Seager’s brilliance was a reason to watch the Seattle Mariners for the past decade when too often there weren’t many.

He was one of the core reasons the 2014 and 2016 M’s were competitive, and his steadiness was much of why even their worst seasons of his time in Seattle were never as dark as the lows of 2008 or 2010. He couldn’t save the Seattle Mariners, ultimately, but he came so close.

He saved Edwin Díaz.

He ended losing streaks.

He kept hope alive.

He... shouted different colors of bears at Carlos Ruíz.

He was the last remaining pre-Jerry Dipoto era player on the 40-man roster. He is the 7th-best Mariner in franchise history by both bWAR and fWAR, accumulating value by those metrics that equaled the combined Seattle career efforts of Jay Buhner and Raúl Ibañez. He remade his body entirely following a disappointing age-30 season in 2018, rebounding to continue aiding a team that lacked depth or quality beyond him. Only a torn tendon in his hand from a Spring Training dive kept him out of play, his lone injured list stint in 11 years. In 2021 he was an average player more than an elite one, but by most accounts in the clubhouse a valued source of leadership and MLB experience in a clubhouse short on veterans.

The truth is we almost ran out of ways to talk about Kyle Seager. Few players in the history of this site have been covered as thoroughly. He’s the only player to receive a 40 in 40 every year of its existence, with a different writer trying their hand each time to peel off a new layer. Meg Rowley, Kate Preusser, myself, Eric Sanford, Amanda Lane, and Becca Weinberg all took a crack at the former North Carolina Tarheel, but the narrative seemed to remain the same. The Mariners weren’t quite good enough, no matter what Seager did. He was, of course, well-compensated for his time, getting a 7-year, $100 million deal that worked out excellently for the Mariners and reasonably fairly for Seager based on dollars per WAR measures.

Now his time in Seattle has come to a close, and the ending, while cleaner than many of the goodbyes to franchise icons outlined above, has been far from smooth. The animosity between Seager and Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has gone from being hinted to matter-of-factly reported. While Seager acknowledged the organization was probably overdue for a rebuild, one way or another it appears the relationship between Dipoto and his club’s veteran 3B deteriorated to the point of seemingly contradictory public statements in the final months.

Just yesterday, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Seager received official notice that his ~$20 million player option for the 2022 season will be declined in favor of a $2 million buyout via an email from Assistant GM Justin Hollander. Divish also notes multiple sources from within the Mariners organization and MLB state that in fact Dipoto attempted to contact Seager directly via phone call and text message before contacting Seager’s agent and forewarning the impending email as a formality. Per Divish, little seemed to align in the views of Seager and Dipoto, a worrying disconnect considering Seager’s credibility in the clubhouse and a continued theme of underwhelming communication from Dipoto and the front office to the team he oversees.

Seager said that he and Dipoto hadn’t spoken to each other in four years, not even in passing conversations. Dipoto countered that assertion on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710, saying they had spoken during spring training shortly after the video of former team president Kevin Mather, which included comments that Seager was overpaid and that it would be his final season in Seattle, went viral. Seager said that was part of a meeting that featured Dipoto, Hollander and Mariners chairman John Stanton, who did all of the talking for the organization.

Seager’s departure for free agency leaves a several voids. A hole of continuity, as he is replaced by Mitch Haniger (2017) as the longest continuously-tenured Seattle Mariner. A hole of production, as the M’s must find not simply a replacement for Seager, but an upgrade, no mean feat at the 3B position which is among the deepest groups in MLB. A hole of leadership and trust, having gone against the club’s last remaining franchise player, right or wrong, having to earn the buy-in of their remaining young roster and convince proven stars to join them. A hole of recognition, with Seager’s departure leaving this well and truly a new era for the Seattle Mariners, with 90 wins at their back and greater expectations than they’ve faced in half a decade. Kyle Seager succeeded for much of his career in spite of the Mariners. Now they’ll have to find a way to succeed without him.