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40 in 40: Kyle Seager

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A love letter to my favorite Mariner and a case for keeping him around a little longer.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Lined with numerous autographed baseballs, baseball card binders, and bobbleheads, my bedroom is what you might consider the typical teenage baseball fan’s residence. Looking closer, past the plastic casing surrounding the baseballs that have set up camp on my desk, a new theme emerges. The autograph that has graced more of these baseballs than any others throughout my room is Kyle Seager’s. Sometimes alone on an empty ball, sometimes pressed between the stitches and a different player’s name, Seager’s autograph is grinding the competition to a pulp.

By now, you might have gathered that Seager is my favorite Mariner, and has been ever since I can remember. The stories of how I fell in love with him though, are far from Julie Seager’s observations of the newfound desire for Seager to become everyone’s dad, although I would not be opposed to that either. As a young(er) kid, what drew me to Seager was his dependability and his humble, welcoming personality. Racing down to the seats along the first base line in pursuit of autographs became a pre-game ritual for many of us, and I quickly noticed the effort and time that Seager put into each signing. Usually with multiple baseballs, cards, and pictures in hand, he would slowly work his way down the line. Chatting with fans along the way, he made it seem like he looked forward to this routine as much as we did. And who knows, maybe he did and still does.

Oh, to be at the ballpark

All this to say, the talks of Seager leaving Seattle for a different team have recently become more popular, and I don’t like them one bit. Looking at his contract, he’s guaranteed to stay with the Mariners through the 2021 season and will make $18 million, but his contract also includes a club option of $15 million for the 2022 season. On the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that Seager isn’t exactly Dipoto rebuild material, given his large contract and age (33). However, when taking a closer look, there are strong arguments for keeping him around a little longer that outweigh the discontentment.

First, and another one of the attributes that drew me to him early in his career, is his consistency. Although it is hard to ignore Seager’s disappointing 2018 season that started off on the wrong foot with a fractured toe (nailed it), he bounced back in 2019 and had continued success in the shortened 2020 season. His 2019 slash line of .239/.321/.468 and wRC+ of 110 have both seen steady improvements as he posted a .241/.355/.433 and a wRC+ of 118 to finish 2020. Additionally, his 23 HR and 63 RBIs in 2019 provided optimism surrounding his ability to rebound from 2018.

Looking back further at his career totals, he posted 632 runs and 706 RBIs over 5,535 plate appearances, including some of his best numbers during his 2014 All-Star and Gold Glove season, all while maintaining a strikeout rate of just 17.3%. This past season, he joined the ranks of Griffey, Edgar, and Buhner as the only players to hit 200 home runs with the Mariners.

Defensively, he ranks as the fifth best in the league among third basemen for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and fifth best among active third baseman in career fielding percentage at .966. Additionally, his rank of second among active players in defensive games played at third base and career DRS total of 19 provide another look into his value.

It’s also important to note that when exploring the Mariners 3B depth chart, there are few promising replacements for his position in the event of a trade. Shed Long and Ty France, who have both had minimal time at 3B in the past, round up the only two seats in the depth chart. France did have some time at third base with the Padres and started six games there for the Mariners, but it’s unlikely for him to take over the starting role within the next season or two.

Currently, it would also be challenging to find a suitable replacement for Seager in the trade market. The 2021-22 free agent pool is headed by Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado (if he decides to opt-out of his current deal with the Cardinals), so if the Mariners didn’t pick up Seager’s option and were to shop for a new signing, they would have to consider making another large, multi-year deal with another veteran third baseman who is just a few years younger than Seager.

The following year, the only two third baseman slated to enter the 2022-23 free agent market are Evan Longoria and Jose Ramirez, both of whom are not married to the third base role and also have club options anyway. The Mariners are faced with a decision of either re-signing Seager, trying to pick up one of the players in free agency, or trying to rely on one of the younger, more inexperienced players to take over. Combined with the very small likelihood of most of these options, keeping Seager around for a few more years merits serious consideration.

The value Seager adds to the Mariners young team cannot be overstated, exemplified by his leadership and contribution to team chemistry. His ability to set an example of strong work ethic and resilience are major components of a successful and inclusive team environment. He constantly shows how much he enjoys his mentorship role, and knows he has a responsibility to set a good example for his younger teammates. He’s helped countless players find their voice and build confidence as they find their path in the big leagues. Successful teams need more than talent - they have to get along, build teamwork, and have a collective winning mindset - and Seager is the glue that can unite this young roster. His senior leadership role could be a huge part of the difference between a playoff run and another disappointing season.

In addition to his character and devotion to improvement, Seager is the ultimate competitor and teammate. He is coachable and personable, and has shown time and time again his ability to bounce back from any challenge that may arise. His 10-year career has rarely been halted by injuries, and although the 2020 season did offer quite the small sample size, Seager was one of 15 big leaguers to play in all 60 regular-season games.

In recent Mariners media sessions, Seager acknowledged that this year could be his last year with the team, but Kyle also believes he can continue to play an instrumental role here. He made it clear that he feels good physically, and “...has every intention of continuing to play.” Seager holds himself to high standards, and his dedication to growth has been essential to his success.

I would argue that this specific media session was also essential to his success:

This season, like previous seasons, is full of aspirations for a rewarding year. In 2021, I hope to see Seager remain healthy and his numbers continue to steadily improve. I hope the renewed excitement of a full season will give him just enough extra drive to make the push for a new contract, and I hope the Mariners’ organization will recognize his value as integral to the team’s step forward over the next few years.

After hearing disgraced Mariners’ former team president Kevin Mather’s comments on Seager last week, I felt a deep sadness for Seager and his family. Mather made his views clear on Seager, calling him “overpaid” and implying that this year will be his last with the club. When analyzing his contract, however, it’s clear that Seager actually has been underpaid during his time as a Mariner, given his peak years and estimated value from Fangraphs.

Per Fangraphs

Mather’s comments are a reflection of poor judgment and lack of understanding from the Mariners’ leadership about Seager’s actual value to the ballclub. In my mind, Kyle Seager continues to provide very high value to the Mariners, but the recent events only reinforce the disconnection between actual data and Mather’s perspective, thus strengthening my views on his legacy but leaving a dent in my abiding fandom and trust in the Mariners’ judgement.

Going forward, I hope the Mariners’ organization will recognize Kyle Seager’s value as integral to the team’s success over the next few years. I truly hope this year won’t be the last of Kyle Seager’s days in a Seattle Mariners’ uniform, and I hope to have the privilege of adding one more autographed ball to its rightful place on my desk, as a reminder of the impact Seager has made on the Mariners, the city of Seattle, and me.