Mariners need to focus on improving production from the OF

As we come to terms with the M’s fifth narrow miss at a playoff berth, Kevin Mather’s refusal to increase payroll last off season is going to be gripped about (as it should be). Heading into the 2021-22 off season, we’ve already got confirmation that the M’s are going to increase payroll to add to the roster. The biggest hole in the roster’s offensive production has been the outfield.

Mitch Haniger was the man in 2021, but he was really the only outfielder who consistently produced this past off season. Haniger hit .253/.318/.485 with a wRC+ of 120 in 691 plate appearances. In his first full season since he ruptured a testical in 2019. It was one hell of a season for the 30-year old right fielder, and he was pretty much the only outfielder Seattle was able to run out with any level of consistency.

The rotation of Jake Fraley (wRC+ of 103)and Jake Bauers (wRC+ of 63) out in left field was a big black hole, although they both they both saw time in center. Bauers’ 315 plate appearances were absolutely horrific for a team that was trying to make a push for a playoff spot — yes, Kyle Lewis’ injury was a major reason he saw so much time but Bauers was clearly over matched.

And while Fraley’s wRC+ is solid, it’s primarily built around his performance prior to getting Covid-19. After his return on September 15th, the 26-year old had a wRC+ of 95 with a strikeout rate at 26.8%. He was clearly not the same player that he was prior to getting sick; which was the exactly worse thing for the team when they needed him firing on all cylinders. Not that his decline wasn’t unexpected, Covid effects lingers long after you test negative, but when coupled with his absence in August (which led to more Bauers) it played a major part in Seattle’s drought hitting 20 years — relevant note, he was unvaccinated so get the damn shot people.

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As for Jared Kelenic, he was a serviceable bat after he straightened up his stance on July 27th. And there was a lot of talent that he showcased in September, which leaves a lot to be optimistic about for the future. But you have to provide depth behind him in case he has a sophomore slump, especially since Lewis’ has the injury history he has.

Fraley could be a valuable bench piece in 2022, but Seattle cannot afford to run him out there as there every day left fielder. This free agent class has a couple of talented outfielders that should be immediate interest to Jerry Dipoto. Below are some of the expected free agents (barring a lockout/contract extension after the World Series) that I feel would be a good fit in Seattle.

Kyle Schwarber LF/1B: The 28-year old has a mutual option on his current contract — which means either the Red Sox or he could pick it up. If neither side wants to move forward with the option, then he’d be a great fit in Seattle. Along with his consistent offensive production (.266/.374/.555 with a wRC+ of 145) he also provides depth at first behind Ty France.

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Delino DeShields CF: While DeShields is a center fielder, it wouldn’t be a bad fit if the M’s went out and signed him — he would be depth behind Kelenic and the M’s can’t count on Lewis’ knee as an everyday outfielder. The 29-year old is coming off of a career year in Cincinnati in which he hit .255/.375/.426 with a wRC+ of 115. There are legitimate concerns about the sustainability of his offensive production, but the glove and flexibility in the outfield positions make him an attractive target.

Michal Conforto RF: His batting line looks fairly similar to Fraley’s pre-Covid but with less strikeouts. Conforto would be able to back-up Haniger in right field, and probably provide a serviceable glove out in left. The 28-year old has a track record of success and consistency at the MLB level that should be very attractive to the Mariners.

The three listed here are only a small sample of the available free agents in the upcoming off season. These three are young enough that any long term deal Seattle would sign them to would be signed with several years left in their primes and would compliment the core group that Seattle has now, while also adding depth to an outfield that needs it and a lineup that was exceedingly top heavy in 2021.

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