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Mariners sign OF AJ Pollock to a one-year deal

An active Saturday for Seattle.

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MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Dodgers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners have made their biggest free agent move of the winter, adding veteran OF AJ Pollock to the roster on a one-year deal worth $7 million, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

The $7 million is the largest sum committed to a free agent hitter in the Jerry Dipoto era, outpacing Norichika Aoki’s 2016 deal. Pollock’s contract also reportedly has up to $3 million in incentives that could expand its value. It’s a long-winding reunion for Dipoto and Pollock, as Dipoto was the director of professional scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2005-2010, and eventually interim general manager for half of the 2010 season. The 35-year old Pollock was Arizona’s 1st round pick in the 2009 draft.

Once one of the premier center fielders in baseball on both sides of the ball, Pollock is now in a different stage of his career. Pollock spent his first seven seasons in the desert before signing a four-year, $55 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was dealt just before Opening Day in 2022 to the Chicago White Sox for RHP Craig Kimbrel in a fascinating challenge trade that didn’t quite fulfill expectations satisfactorily for either side, but Pollock opted out of his $13 million option for 2023 all the same, with a $5 million buyout instead due to him. He’s roughly matched that rate in this deal, with incentives that could push past his prior rate.

Pollock’s best season was his age-27 year in 2015, when he ran a 131 wRC+ and played a full healthy campaign with 157 games and 6.8 fWAR, knocking 20 homers and swiping 39 bases in 46 tries with a .315/.367/.498 line. Pollock’s trajectory is sadly not dissimilar to former M’s outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, as injuries repeatedly have robbed the righty of playing time and athleticism, yet like Guti, Pollock has found a second life. Bulked up somewhat, Pollock had stellar seasons in 2020 and 2021 with L.A. as a platoon player focused on obliterating left-handed pitching. Pollock has been an above-average hitter for nearly every season of his career, though a disappointing 92 wRC+ in Chicago last year was the result of over-exposure to righty pitching. Pollock ran an extraordinary 161 wRC+ against lefties in 2022 in 133 plate appearances, and while that sample is not quite representative, his career line at a 129 wRC+ and a .285/.335/.533 line with lefties, whiffing just 15.5% of the time shows exactly what he can and will be in Seattle to do.

Pairing with Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell, and/or Cade Marlowe in a corner outfield spot to cover platoon disadvantages hearkens back to his prime days in Arizona, where he was an early adopter of the swing changes his breakout helped popularize, including both directly and indirectly influencing the development of another struggling former first round pick in the D-Backs organization: Mitch Haniger. It was a conversation Pollock had on the team bus with Haniger and fellow infielder Nick Ahmed back in 2015 that sparked the ascendance of Mitch, and both outfielders have had commendable careers subsequently. Hopefully Pollock’s influence can be similarly valuable for the M’s young hitters, in between solid performance of his own.