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40 in 25: Dylan Moore

Not quite a eulogy

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
it was, in fact, grand salami
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

A strange thing happens when you become accustomed to a sensation. The roaring waterfall ceases to drown out every other sound after a while, the sharp pain dulls. In stasis even the smallest change becomes jarring; the slightest relief, salvific; the most minuscule of joys, cause for triumphal celebration.

In purely objective terms, Dylan Moore’s presence in Seattle has been a blip. The 29 year old utility man is a career 2 fWAR player who’s spent fewer than two full seasons in the majors, providing almost exactly league-average offense (92 wRC+, cumulatively) along the way. His name carries no weight nationally, and his role as a utility player renders him invisible on everything from fielding leaderboards to MLB’s online shop.

Such a blip probably doesn’t go remarked upon under more competitive circumstances, but for some Mariners fans, Moore has made himself something of a cult figure.

There’s his moment-saving catch in Félix’s final game:

His grand slam that completed the M’s magical 7-run comeback over the Astros in late July:

He can even make an ordinary April game feel special with little more than a leaping catch:

Seattle Mariners fans have become proficient at finding nearly cosmic significance in what might otherwise be seen as trifles, perceiving molehills as mountains on account of the otherwise level terrain. When you take into account the tone of the time he’s been here, a period marked by the loss of franchise players, rebuilding seasons, and the ever-present feeling of “almost, but not quite”, it’s easy to understand how Moore could build a reputation on the back of a few moments like these and a tongue that won’t stay put.

Some readers are likely to shake their heads at my laying laurels on a player who hit .181/.276/.334 last season. In his recap on Saturday, Zach called himself out for his own cognitive dissonance on this matter. I’d argue that there are two Dylan Moores in the minds of many fans: the one infamous for a three-error inning and the one who was there when it counted. My heart, admittedly, lies with the latter.

It’s no secret to those familiar with my Twitter account that I have, perhaps, an outsized appreciation of D. Moore. In the thermal and world-historical heat of summer 2020, baseball was nearly the only thing that could conquer my feelings of torpor, that could disrupt the white noise I’d long ago tuned out. While Kyle Lewis’ Rookie of the Year campaign was the headliner, it was Moore’s breakout performance which became synonymous with that feeling of re-invigoration for me. I knew Lewis had award-caliber talent; it was instead deviance from the ordinary, no matter how slight, that was rendered extraordinary in my eyes.

Seattle Mariners v Arizona Diamondbacks
you may not like it, but this is peak male performance
Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

My longstanding affection should not be mistaken for blind optimism. His team-leading 139 wRC+ across 159 plate appearances in 2020 was certainly inflated: keeping pace with such a figure would have put him in the company of 2021 José Ramírez and Nick Castellanos. Dropping to just over half that production the following year, however, seemed equally unlikely. On this very site, both Jake Mailhot and Michael Ajeto were willing to propose that his mechanical changes and the resultant numbers could indicate a legitimate offensive capability.

Apparently they did not. His 74 wRC+ in 2021 placed Moore among the Victor Caratinis and the (sigh) Jarred Kelenics of the baseball world, far from the All-Stars he had appeared akin to before. In 38 games the year prior he added 1.2 WAR, only 0.2 in 126 the next. A blip, indeed.

As Zach noted in the aforementioned recap, it’s easy to begrudge Moore his 400 plate appearances in 2021 when there are other players could who have taken those on and perhaps been the final notch on the key to the postseason. While I tend to believe such counterfactuals do little more than drive one to madness, it’s not an entirely unreasonable frustration. It is one, however, which lies with those who run the team’s operations, not the player himself.

Last season wasn’t an entirely wasted year for Moore, despite the offensive struggles. His 21 stolen bases (vs. 5 CS) placed him in the upper echelon of basepath thieves (13th overall). He was an OAA and DRS darling, falling in the 96th percentile in the former and nearly breaking the top 10 in the latter if all the positions he fielded are taken cumulatively. If that latter piece of methodology seems suspect, that’s because it is. I may have been too kind to myself in asserting my ability to remain neutral.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Seattle Mariners
how could i not be biased?
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

There is still a possibility, of course, that Moore hits his stride this year, providing from the bench a combination of league-average-or-above offense and high quality defense around the field. At his best, there is not one of MLB’s 29 non-LA County teams that would be opposed to carrying a player of D-Mo’s versatility and athletic ability on their roster. He’s here to stay for now, but if he can’t reach those heights or some considerable fraction thereof, his path and the Mariners’ could diverge at a moment’s notice.

Irrespective of whether Dylan’s days here are waning, that a player who has shown as much potential as he has is so close to being outmoded ought to be cause for celebration among M’s fans. As contention becomes an increasingly imminent possibility, we must allow that which once felt like a mountaintop to give way to greater summits. And yet, when your grasp on what once gave you comfort loosens, little consolation is found in the assurance of better days to come.

It’s my sincere hope that there will be another iteration of this article written a year from now in which one of colleagues rightfully lambasts my pessimism, describes how Dylan Moore came to be the most enviable Swiss Army knife in baseball, and reminisces about a monumental hit of his that dwarfs any described herein.

If that hope doesn’t come to pass, I ask as a favor that you treat his legacy with the Mariners tenderly. Let him reside in your mental statuary mid-leaping catch or pointing triumphantly toward the dugout. The heights he’s helped take us to may look low when we turn around in a few years’ time, but for a little while they were all we had. For a little while, he was all I had.

A Topps Now card titled “Dylan Moore: Grand slam completes 7-run, comeback win”