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Six players who could raise the floor of the Mariners’ bench
Naturally, fans tend to focus on their favorite team's big-name acquisitions. But the supporting cast put around its core players can be the difference between being a postseason club and an also-ran.
We’ve recently discussed trade targets and free agents capable of helping the Mariners generate more batted balls in 2024. To date, the emphasis has been on starters. So, let’s shift our focus to an important component of every championship roster - the supporting cast behind the regulars.
This year, eight Mariner utility-men, platoon players, or injury replacements had a strikeout rate of 27%-or-greater. All told, these hitters combined for a 32.2% strikeout rate and 19% of Seattle’s total plate appearances. This seems relevant to an organization intent on creating more contact in 2024.
Mariners Bench/Role Players with High SO Rates
Taylor Trammell - 56 PA / 39.3 SO%
Cooper Hummel - 26 PA / 34.6 SO%
Dylan Moore - 165 PA / 33.9 SO%
Brian O'Keefe - 21 PA / 33.3 SO%
Cade Marlowe - 100 PA /33.0 SO%
Mike Ford - 251 PA / 32.3 SO%
Jarred Kelenic - 416 PA / 31.7 SO%
Tom Murphy - 159 PA / 27.7 SO%
MLB average SO rate = 22.8%
For anyone wondering, Jarred Kelenic was included in the preceding group since the left-handed hitter was used in a platoon role following his return from the IL on September 11. Kelenic only started 12 of the Mariners’ final 18 games. Regardless of how we account for the Wisconsin native, his 31.7% strikeout rate for the season was problematic.
It’s worth noting these eight hitters did produce a .224 AVG/.311 OBP/.443 SLG slash-line, which isn’t awful. However, the surest way to mitigate the negative effect strikeouts had on Seattle’s offense this year would be to replace some - not all - of the names listed above.
With this in mind, I compiled a list of hitters with relatively low strikeout numbers for your consideration. As noted during our trade conversation, a player’s hard-hit rate (HH%) and batting average against breaking balls (AVG vs BB) also factored into the selection process.
Please note the names we’ll be reviewing are examples of players capable of helping reverse the Mariners’ contact struggles. Some or all may not fit into the organization’s plans for a variety of reasons. Consider them food for thought - not the only candidates out there as the hot stove begins to simmer. Furthermore, more options will likely emerge during the offseason as clubs waive or non-tender players.
It’s worth noting our list includes free agents and potential trade targets.
Jason Heyward, OF - Free agent
Selling points: Heyward experienced a career renaissance during his only season as a Dodger. The 34-year-old posted his highest OPS+ for a full season since 2015, while his SLG was the second-best of his 14-year career.
Although it’s been six years since Heyward earned a fifth Gold Glove, his fielding run value suggests he remains capable of delivering excellence in the field. This season, the 14th overall pick in 2007 primarily played right field for Los Angeles. That said; he did make 12 starts in center field.
Heyward has played in 43 postseason games. His career .444 OPS during playoff action may not excite some fans. But as Nancy Armour of USA TODAY Sports noted, he delivered an inspirational speech during a rain delay that spurred his Cubs teammates to victory in the deciding game of the 2016 World Series.
Potential concerns: This year, 93% of the left-handed hitting Heyward’s plate appearances came against right-handed pitching. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect a team signing the Jersey-born veteran to use him in a similar fashion.
Heyward’s .193 AVG vs breaking balls ranked in the bottom-25% of 322 hitters seeing at least 400 sliders, sweepers, and curve balls. Mariners with a worse AVG included Kolten Wong (.085), Dylan Moore (.098), Dominic Canzone (.100), AJ Pollock (.115), Mike Ford (.167), Eugenio Suárez (.181), and José Caballero (.192).
Although his power didn’t suffer at home, Heyward did reach base far more often when away from Dodger Stadium. Over the last three seasons, Statcast rates the ballpark in Chavez Ravine as slightly below-average for left-handed hitters.
Home - .244 AVG / .319 OBP / .475 SLG
Away - .293 AVG / .359 OBP / .471 SLG
At this point, it’s worth reiterating that Statcast considers Seattle's home field the least hospitable venue in MLB for lefty bats.
Tommy Pham, OF - Free agent
Selling points: The only Mariners with a higher hard-hit rate than Pham this year were Julio Rodríguez (52%) and Teoscar Hernández (49.4%). But unlike Rodríguez and Hernández, the Nevadan struck out at a league-average clip.
With the Mets, Pham proved capable of producing at pitcher-friendly Citi Field. Statcast rates New York’s home field about as uninviting for right-handed hitters as T-Mobile Park. Despite this disadvantage, he slashed .320/.403/.557 with seven home runs and eight doubles in 139 plate appearances in Flushing this year.
Pham primarily patrolled left field (64 starts), although the 35-year-old did start five games in center field for the Mets. He also played right field 10 times after being sent to Arizona in a deadline deal.
The 10-year veteran has reached the postseason with four clubs - the 2015 Cardinals, 2019 Rays, 2020 Padres, and the Diamondbacks this year. All told, Pham has an impressive .313/.333/.513 slash-line in 120 playoff plate appearances. In this year’s Fall Classic, he had eights in 19 at bats with a home run.
Potential concerns: This year was Pham’s best since 2019. Considering he’ll be entering his age-36 season in 2024, there’s a chance regression impacts his performance and availability. Then again, it’s important to note he hasn’t landed on the IL since 2020 (hand injury).
Carlos Santana, 1B - Free agent
Selling points: In 2023, the one-time Mariner remained a master of pitch discipline with the Pirates and then the Brewers. If he had remained with Seattle this year, Santana’s 16.8% strikeout rate would’ve been lowest among qualified hitters on the team finishing just ahead of Ty France (17.6%) and J.P. Crawford (19.6%).
Santana has played in six postseasons, including 2022 with the Mariners. As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish noted about a year ago, the Dominican Republic native’s professionalism and leadership played a significant role in ending Seattle’s 21-year playoff drought.
Potential concerns: Despite not striking out often and having an above-average walk rate, Santana’s OBP has dropped to a league-average level in recent seasons. Furthermore, his hard-hit rate dropped nearly nine-percent and his ground ball rate jumped about four-percent compared to 2022.
Donovan Solano, UTL - Free Agent
Selling points: The veteran of 10 MLB campaigns had a higher AVG than every Mariner with 400-plus plate appearances. Furthermore, only Crawford (.380) had a higher OBP than Solano. His OPS+ would’ve been good enough to rank fourth behind Crawford (131), Rodríguez (128), and Cal Raleigh (112).
This year, the right-handed hitting Solano continued to demonstrate he can be productive against right-handers (.766 OPS) and left-handers (.746 OPS).
Solano primarily played first base (85 games) for the Twins in 2023. But the Colombian also made double digits starts at both second base and third base.
Potential concerns: The 2020 Silver Slugger doesn’t possess a power bat. Over the last three seasons and 1,098 plate appearances, Solano has a .393 SLG.
Recent lower leg soft tissue injuries have affected Solano’s availability. A hamstring cost the 35-year-old over two months of the 2021 season. A year prior, a calf issue sidelined him for a month.
Andy Ibáñez, UTL - Tigers
Selling points: The 30-year-old delivered average run production, while hitting 11 home runs and 23 doubles. This level of offense may not wow fans. But getting results like these from a supporting cast member is a good thing.
Ibáñez primarily played second base (64 starts). But the Cuban also logged over 50 innings at both corner outfield spots and third base. Based on his 2 OAA (outs above average) at second base, he was a slightly above-average glove at the position.
Potential concerns: The right-handed hitting Ibáñez had a much higher SLG (.523) against left-handed pitching compared to righties (.392). But it’s worth noting his 16.7% strikeout rate versus right-handers was significantly better than Seattle’s primary utility-men - Dylan Moore (38.4%) and Sam Haggerty (27.3%).
Tommy Edman, UTL - Cardinals
Selling points: This year, Edman made 35-plus starts at second base, shortstop, and center field. He also appeared in right field and boasts 59 career starts at third base. The 2021 Gold Glove winner’s fielding run value of seven suggests his nomination for the award this year is warranted.
Edman’s above-average 28.8 ft/sec sprint speed undoubtedly contributed to his superb defense. It also helped to make stealing 27 bases possible. His fleet feet also led to him recording four triples, which is two more than any Mariner hit this year.
The switch-hitting Edman delivered more power from the right side of the plate (.434 SLG). But the Stanford alum managed a near-average OBP when facing right-handers.
Edman’s 2023 Platoon Splits
v RHP - 365 PA | .248 AVG/.311 OBP/.382 SLG
v LHP - 163 PA | .250 AVG/.296 OBP/.434 SLG
Potential concerns: Based on monthly OPS, Edman was a bit streaky in 2023. It’s important to note the 28-year-old missed most of July with a wrist injury.
Edman’s OPS in 2023
Apr/Mar - .827
May - .693
June - .554
July - .668 (injured)
August - .762
Sep/Oct - .680
It’s reasonable to wonder whether Heyward’s 2023 performance will carry over to next year. After all, he’ll be entering his age-34 season and was a below-average run producer in 2021-22. Then again, the Henry County High School product’s .276/.347/.471 slash against right-handed pitching this year does make him an intriguing candidate.
Pham is a veteran, who makes loud contact and appears capable of performing well at T-Mobile Park. He also boasts a lot of postseason experience. These factors may make him attractive to a Mariners team with a relatively young and inexperienced cadre of outfielders on their 40-man roster: Julio Rodríguez (22-years-old), Jarred Kelenic (24), Dominic Canzone (26), Cade Marlowe (26), and Taylor Trammell (26).
Santana’s positive influence on the Mariners’ clubhouse in 2022 was meaningful. Whether this intangible leadership trait trumps the regressing production numbers of a player approaching his age-38 season is debatable.
Considering his advancing age and recent injuries, Solano may be a better choice to fill a part-time role. Hence, his inclusion on this list. Still, it’s easy to envision how his on-base ability could benefit Seattle at multiple positions on an almost-daily basis.
Acquiring utility-men like Ibáñez and Edman may not excite fans in November. But elevating the bench should be an offseason priority of the Mariners. Adding players similar to these two versatile performers would be a step in that direction.
My Oh My…
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