Now isn’t the time to judge the Mariners’ wheeling and dealing
Greek philosopher Aristotle is credited with saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Those words certainly apply to the Mariners’ offseason.
The Seattle Mariners’ trade for Kolten Wong on Friday wasn’t well received by a loud segment of Mariners Twitter. I learned this first-hand after suggesting Wong’s bat represented a significant upgrade at second base.
It turns out Friday’s eruption wasn’t about the players Seattle traded away to the Milwaukee Brewers - Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro. Instead, Wong becoming a Mariner stoked the flames of discontent. But I suspect something else was afoot.
On Thursday, President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto seemingly tempered payroll expectations when talking to Brock and Salk of Seattle Sports 710. The following day, the Wong trade was announced. These two events signaled the Mariners had put the “big-four” free agent shortstops in the “never say never, but it ain’t happening” category.
No, it’s not.
Realistically, there’s plenty of time remaining for the Mariners to improve the roster - even if doing so doesn’t involve the kind of splashy moves fans crave. The MLB Winter Meetings just got underway!
Besides, it’s impossible to judge a team’s offseason until we can reflect on the synergy created by the sum of all transactions. Not just the most recent trade or free agent signing. Hence, my Aristotle reference.
What’s ironic about Friday’s uproar is the Mariners’ offseason has begun well - at least I think so. To see what I mean, let’s consider five additions to a 40-man roster good enough to win a postseason series this year. First, the position players.
Sorry Mariners Twitter, Wong’s offensive production really was significantly better than what your team received from its second base contingent. More importantly, the left-handed hitter’s numbers compared well to his peers.
Wong’s Stats (and MLB Rank) vs Second Basemen
.251 AVG (15th in MLB)
.339 OBP (9th)
.430 SLG (6th)
.336 wOBA (6th)
116 wRC+ (7th)
Still, there are concerns worth mentioning. The first and perhaps most relevant is Wong’s age - he’s 32-years-old.
No, Wong isn’t receiving mailers from AARP. But according to Spotrac, multiple calf and oblique strains sidelined the former Hawaii Rainbow Warrior for a total of 77 days over the last two seasons. Are these maladies Father Time making his presence known?
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Wong’s sprint speed has decreased from an above-average 27.7 ft/sec three years ago to a subpar 26 ft/sec this season. The recent spate of leg injuries likely has something to do with this downturn.
Then, there are recent struggles against left-handers. Wong had a suboptimal .239 AVG/.307 OBP/.353 SLG in 242 plate confrontations with southpaws in 2021-22. Perhaps the Mariners form a platoon using a right-handed hitter, like Dylan Moore, to bolster second base production.
Defensively, Wong had his worst season since debuting in 2013. That said, GM Justin Hollander did note on Friday the two-time Gold Glover has taken ownership of his defensive lapses and had already reached out to Mariners infield guru Perry Hill.
Whether he plays left field or right field, Hernández projects to deliver more punch than what the Mariners received from either position this year. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he clobbered 35 doubles and 27 home runs.
Hernández’s ability to mash baseballs is particularly appealing. His 53.3% hard-hit rate was fifth-best among 252 qualified hitters. Making loud contact will serve the two-time Silver Slugger well at pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park.
As we all do, Hernández comes with blemishes. His 28.4% strikeout rate fell in the bottom 4% of qualified hitters. Moreover, the Dominican Republic native’s -3 defensive runs saved in right field suggests below-average glove work.
The 28-year-old arrived via the trade sending Kyle Lewis to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hummel, who made his MLB debut this year, possesses a unique blend of defensive versatility his new club craves. Plus, he’s a switch-hitter.
Hummel initially played left field and also served as a designated hitter. But the Oregonian became Arizona’s backup catcher late in the season making 14 starts behind the plate. It’s worth noting he participated in the Arizona Fall League to advance his catching skills.
Fun fact: Hummel’s 28.8 ft/sec sprint speed was well above the MLB-average of 27 ft/sec. The University of Portland product would’ve ranked third on the Mariners behind Julio Rodríguez (29.8) and Sam Haggerty (28.9).
How Hummel fits on the roster remains unclear. But Seattle appears intrigued with using him as a backup catcher/outfielder or minor-league depth.
Now, let’s discuss several low-key additions to the pitching stable. First up, an established major-leaguer.
Gott’s conventional numbers may not wow you, but his xwOBA impresses me. Anyone familiar with my writing and nerdy stat tweets knows it’s my “go-to” metric when discussing pitchers.
Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.
Gott’s xwOBA ranked second-best in an excellent Brewers bullpen, which had Josh Hader until late-July. In fact, the right-hander placed ahead of Hader.
Best xwOBA Among Brewer Relievers*
Devin Williams - .223
Trevor Gott- .268
Josh Hader - .284
Hoby Milner - .287
Peter Strzelecki - .287
Brad Boxberger - .289
Brent Suter - .300
MLB xwOBA for RP's = .302
Jandel Gustave - .310
Trevor Kelley - .317
* 100 PA minimum
Gott’s superb xwOBA is a reflection of several things he does well. Most prominently, minimizing loud contact. The former Kentucky Wildcat held opponents to a 31.5% hard-hit rate, which was 37th-best among 444 pitchers allowing 100-plus batted balls.
Gott primarily pitched the sixth and seventh innings for Milwaukee. How manager Scott Servais utilizes the Kentucky native will depend on situation and matchup. It’s been a winning strategy for the team in recent seasons.
Claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals, Speier hasn’t been a high-strikeout producer. But like Gott, his .260 xwOBA is excellent, as is his 32.8% hard-hit rate.
Yes, the Californian only pitched 19.1 innings for the Royals this year. But a .304 xwOBA and 32.8% hard-hit rate over four seasons and 40 innings suggests there’s something there for Seattle’s pitching brain trust to work with.
I’m just a dumb nerd, not a pitching savant. So, I won’t claim to know how the Mariners might use McGee. But the right-hander is just 24-years-old and boasts an outstanding 4.5% walk rate in 456.2 MiLB innings.
McGee has primarily started in the minors. Perhaps the organization uses him as rotational depth or converts him into a relief option stationed in Tacoma until help is needed in the Emerald City.
The Mariners have already improved this offseason, but more is needed. Dipoto and Hollander have said as much multiple times.
One possibility, lengthen the lineup with another outfielder. Perhaps this means signing a free agent like Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, or Michael Conforto. Or maybe, Dipoto and Hollander do what they do so well - make a trade.
Teams can always use more starting pitching. Perhaps pursuing Japanese free agent Koudai Senga is on the Mariners’ to-do list. Then again, management may prefer less-heralded pitchers requiring a lower level of commitment. More relief arms joining the mix is a foregone conclusion, right?
And let’s not overlook the possibility Dipoto, Hollander, and their lieutenants execute an innovative deal nobody saw coming. They’ve done it before and are likely to do it again.
Yep, there’s lots of offseason work remaining and Opening Day is still months away. So, now isn’t the time to praise or criticize the work Seattle’s front office has accomplished thus far.
Ultimately, how all of the Mariners’ newly acquired pieces blend together will tell the story of this offseason.
Mariners Twitter may not agree.
I suspect Aristotle would.
My Oh My…
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