The second half of the season is about to begin and your Seattle Mariners currently sit at second place in the AL West, with sole possession of the second Wild Card. FanGraphs gives them a 67.8% chance of making the playoffs; 538 gives them a 70% chance. It’s hard to see the Mariners being anything but buyers at the trade deadline. But where to upgrade, and what might that look like? Over the next week or so, we’ll break down some possible candidates for upgrading each of what we’ve identified as major holes for the team, including looking at internal options or what happens if the Mariners opt to stand pat. We’ll be kicking this series off looking at something that was a more glaring hole a couple of weeks ago that has shored up some with the recent stretch of hot play by Adam Frazier: second base. We’ll be splitting our suggested acquisitions into two categories: short-term help, aka band-aid solutions for a stretch run; and players who will cost more but shape future Mariners teams as well.
How it stands:
Seattle currently ranks 23rd in second base production by fWAR at .2, down with guaranteed sellers like the Cubs, Reds, Oakland, and Washington (but well above LAA, who hilariously are second-worst at the position). This is bad company to be in, even if Adam Frazier magically pulls out of his first-half tailspin. We are sad to say this but Abraham Toro is essentially unplayable currently—whether from injury or just sophomore scaries, he needs a re-set in Tacoma and to be far away from the big-league team if the Mariners are serious about both his future and making a run at the playoffs. The good part is the Mariners don’t have to work hard to upgrade second base; find someone who can do more than the superutility duo of Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty and you’re already in the clover. The bad part is many contenders want infield help, and the market is thin, driving prices up.
Jose Iglesias, Colorado
I know what you’re saying. Iglesias is a shortstop, and hence from where much of his value (.9 fWAR) is derived. But hear me out: Iglesias may have a noodle bat, but his ISO of .100 is actually 25 points higher than Adam Frazier’s, and he gets on base more: .340 to Frazier’s sub-.300. At 34 and on a one-year, $5M contract, he’s the definition of a rental player who wouldn’t cost the team more than a very modest prospect package of players you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re a dedicated Midshipmen’s Log reader. -KP
Cons: Position switch, moderate upgrade
Pros: Low prospect return, a true SS to spell JP
Brandon Drury, Cincinnati
A key piece in the Justin Upton blockbuster nearly a decade ago, Drury has been enjoying a career year in the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park. Sporting a career best 134 wRC+, .370 xwOBA, and .249 ISO, he could bring some big thump in a spot where the Mariners have been scuffling this season. He hasn’t been the greatest defender this season—especially at third base, where he’s played the most with the Reds—but he’s graded out positively at the keystone in the past. Like Iglesias, Drury is also on a cheap one-year deal, taking essentially league minimum when coming aboard the Reds. Although he probably won’t be quite this good outside of Cincinnati’s bandbox, he presents an obvious short-term upgrade over Abraham Toro and Adam Frazier, and he also shouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects. -CD
Cons: Spotty defensive track record, possible regression in less hitter-friendly parks
Pros: Low prospect return, clear offensive upgrade
Donovan Solano, Cincinnati
I am sorry to continue to pick over the Reds, whose fanbase deserves better, but also this is the first of these I’ve written up I’m actually excited about. Solano is a 34-year-old veteran on a one-year contract who has been deployed very sparingly by the Reds, which seems odd considering when he’s played he’s had a 112 wRC+ and they’re, you know, the Reds. Maybe Cincinnati is trying to nurse that .351 BABIP as long as they can to extract the biggest return possible on a thin infield market? But Solano was productive even while playing in cavernous Oracle Park, and weirdly, his power numbers might be depressed by not getting regular playing time in GABP. -KP
Cons: Suspiciously low PAs, below-average defense runs risk of ticking off Perry Hill
Pros: Minimal prospect return, probable power upgrade
Acquisitions with an eye to the future:
Whit Merrifield, Kansas City
Ahhh, the eternal “will they/won’t they” of Jerry Dipoto and Whit Merrifield. Merrifield is the kind of player Dipoto prizes: high-OBP, high-contact, low strikeouts. But as an (un)proud rosterer of Merrifield in fantasy baseball, I can tell you he’s faceplanted violently this year. Merrifield has ticked up since his disastrous start to the season—he went from a wRC+ of 2 in April all the way up to 93 in May before falling down a bit again in June—but he’s hitting the ball punchlessly (9th percentile in hard-hit rate), and things will probably only get worse on that front from here. Merrifield is in the penultimate year of the four-year contract he signed with the Royals, so the Royals owe him the remainder of his 2022 salary and will also be on the hook for an extra $4M in addition to the $2.75M he’s slated to make in 2023, as he’ll have spent less than 110 days on the IL in 2022. There’s also a $500K buyout attached to a mutual option in 2024. That should lower the prospect cost to acquire him, but there’s an awful lot here that screams “Adam Frazier, but older/worse.” -KP
Cons: no power production, “rebound candidate”, legally cannot enter Canada
Pros: Low prospect cost, future control, MLB track record
Joey Wendle, Miami
With Wendle, you’re getting solid, but unspectacular defense, a reliable hit tool that’s dragged down by not walking much, and doubles power. He’s not going to make catchers nervous on the base paths, but he will keep them honest. Joey Wendle is what you get when you start a create-a-player before you’ve done any customization: 50 grades across the board. The Mariners would also have team control for 2023, which buys them some time if they don’t like the 2023 free-agent infield class but doesn’t create a jam if they do. To acquire him from Miami wouldn’t take much. He was traded this offseason for Kameron Misner, a 45 FV, strikeout prone, power-hitting outfielder. The Mariners should have to pay less since they’d only be getting 60% of the team control Miami got at the time of the trade. Maybe something like Alberto Rodriguez (sorry, Nick). -ZM
Cons: Low upside, not an upgrade if Adam Frazier can return to his career line
Pros: Much more reliable than Adam Frazier, does not wear batting gloves
[Side note: I (Kate) started to write up Miami’s Jon Berti here, then looked at his expected metrics and decided I don’t want the Mariners paying an artificially inflated price, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that Miami is a good spot for Seattle to target for infield help, as their biggest competitors in the 2B market—Atlanta, who recently lost Ozzie Albies to a fractured foot—are division rivals of Miami.]
Ian Happ, Chicago
Happ will be one of the hottest names at the deadline, and with a year of team control remaining after this season, the most expensive to acquire out of this grouping. Happ has rebounded from a lousy 2021 to put together a stellar year that saw him make the All-Star team, although he’s traded some of his power for fewer strikeouts and a higher average. While it’s possible the Cubs might want to hold on to Happ and try to run it back again next year after going fire sale last season, rumors are he’s available, and the Cubs are in desperate need of some pitching prospects, which the Mariners conveniently have in spades. It would hurt, though: it probably takes Emerson Hancock plus Matt Brash, or maybe Hancock plus some combination (or all three) of Levi Stoudt/Taylor Dollard/Adam Macko, to start, and the Mariners could still get outbid by another team seeking infield help. Happ also doesn’t necessarily solve the second base problem as he’s been bad there (-2 OAA the last time he played there), although he can also slot into the outfield. Still, there’s no clearer offensive upgrade here than Happ, and he’d also still be around after the likes of Carlos Santana have departed next season. -KP
Pros: True offensive upgrade, power production.
Cons: Expensive prospect cost, might not even be available, Perry Hill’s head might literally explode if he has to play second base.
What will probably happen:
Where is the Ty France of second basemen? Finding blocked prospects just ain’t what it used to be, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mariners try to go for an Abraham Toro 2.0 trade, just because that’s how Dipoto likes to roll. However, the sense we get is they’re still very much enamored with the potential in Toro’s bat, suggesting if the Mariners do upgrade, it’ll be for a short-term contract with a low prospect cost. With Frazier’s bat returning to form, though, and the additional power upgrade they’re getting out of Carlos Santana, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mariners stand pat on this position in a competitive trade market, which is the general sense of the LL staff.