Can Daniel Vogelbach Finally Fit with the Mariners?
Daniel Vogelbach finally powered up and all he has to show for it this year is 86 major league plate appearances. By favoring offseason trade acquisition Ryon Healy, the Mariners have handed “Vogey” an unfortunately limited opportunity and with his last minor league option now exhausted, they may have run out of time to afford him anything more.
Given that Ryon Healy has been the starting first baseman all year and that, if he wants to, Nelson Cruz will return at DH, Daniel Vogelbach will likely face an uphill climb to land on the Mariners’ 2019 roster. A couple things play in his favor to remain with the club throughout the offseason, but his long-term future is certainly on the bubble.
A dearth of actual first base talent in Seattle lasting nearly a decade has contributed to fans — ironically or not — latching onto replaceable but meme-worthy talents like Dae-Ho Lee and Danny Valencia, and Vogelbach’s popularity has hardly been different. He maintains almost a cult-like following that clamors for his presence if only for the perceived injustice of his limited major league playing time, but a promising offensive year has this fandom rightfully picking up steam.
After making some mechanical adjustments this year, Vogelbach has tapped into his power and demolished Triple-A in a way he hasn’t done since he was traded.
In 84 games with Tacoma, Vogelbach has hit .290/.434/.545 (157 wRC+) over 378 plate appearances with 20 home runs and a masterful 20.4% BB% compared to a 15.6% K%. And although his chances have been limited, for the first time, he has carried his minor league success to the big leagues.
He has clearly been challenged by the higher level of pitching, but big-time pop and a strong 12.8% BB% has offset a 29.1% K% and low batting average to make his overall .219/.337/.411 (114 wRC+) line quite palatable. Of course, his recent late-inning, grand-slam-hitting heroics somehow seem to provide even more hope than that.
You can peruse some details of Vogelbach’s adjustments by clicking through the very first link provided, and you might come away more willing to believe that he can be a viable, if not outright good, major league hitter. But the question remains whether Vogelbach can be that player for the Mariners.
The crux of the situation is that he cannot be freely optioned to the minor leagues ahead of the season.
With no minor league options remaining, to be sent down, Vogelbach would first have to be removed from the 40-man roster and then clear outright waivers, which, given his performance across the minors and majors this year, would be a near impossibility.
Clearly, this could make him a trade candidate, as Seattle probably won’t have a way to hold onto him other than on the major league roster; however, current first baseman Ryon Healy has done little to impress outside of some massive power streaks. Even if the Mariners are more bullish on his defense than UZR, DRS, or FRAA, there isn’t much wiggle room in discussing the value of a first baseman who has swung a roughly league average bat for nearly 1400 plate appearances.
Although Healy has received the vast majority of playing time at first base this season, his lackluster performance and remaining minor league options provide the Mariners an opportunity to justifiably side with Vogelbach to begin next year.
Seeing as the Mariners open the season in Japan with expanded rosters, they could possibly push this decision off slightly further, but regardless we’ve arrived at the first scenario to keep Vogelbach a Mariner.
Scenario 1: Option Ryon Healy to the Minors
The numbers speak for themselves. While the Mariners could be working with their own proprietary data, no publicly available data suggests that Ryon Healy is anything more than a replacement level player.
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Defensive limitations hurt his bottom line and a lack of walks cap his offensive potential. The latter shortcoming, in particular, could give Vogelbach an edge in this potential competition, as the Mariners have really struggled to get on base in the second half of the season.
Since the All-Star break, the Mariners have just a .303 OBP as a team and on the season, Healy has only managed a .285 OBP. Meanwhile, Vogelbach has a .337 OBP and even a .308 OBP for his career. He simply has a different skill set and presently, that is quite desirable.
The Mariners would be wise to try to keep both players in the organization if possible, so if spring training shows Healy stagnating and Vogelbach thriving, it should be a no-brainer to side with the big lefty.
If both players hit well (let’s be honest; this won’t come down to defense), the decision becomes tougher, but fielding the best team possible should be the forefront concern and the Mariners needn’t show any loyalty to Healy at first base, especially after acknowledging that they have taken “two steps forward and then three steps back” this year.
Unless Vogelbach fails miserably in camp, he should have a real shot to assume the first base job so long as the Mariners aren’t married to the idea of starting Ryon Healy.
The uncertainty of comments made by Scott Servais about Vogelbach’s need for the right opportunity may cast some doubt on the idea of that opportunity coming in Seattle. And with Robinson Cano in the mix too, if not an actual candidate to start, playing time could wear thin even without Healy on the roster, which moves us to another reality in which Vogelbach could have a path to playing time.
Scenario 2: Nelson Cruz Doesn’t Re-Sign
In the undoubtedly worse scenario, the Mariners’ best and most consistent bat departs in free agency, leaving the DH spot open.
There is no obvious replacement for Nelson Cruz on the free agent market or anywhere else. If he leaves, the Mariners will in all likelihood fill the position in-house.
The spot could be used to keep guys fresher throughout the season and to spread at-bats around, but nothing should prevent Vogelbach from stealing the lion’s share of playing time provided he shows well early on.
This is far from an ideal scenario yet the idea of Vogelbach being an effective (mostly) full-time DH is more plausible now than ever.
With Jerry Dipoto at the helm, I might hesitate to say that these are the only two ways to keep him on the roster in 2019, but that he is limited in position and inexperience does not immediately open up other avenues.
Playing time would dictate that first base is Ryon Healy’s job to lose next year, but the Mariners need to carefully assess his value. They would be remiss to write off Daniel Vogelbach without giving him a long and open-minded look.
While he has his limitations (particularly against LHPs), the finagled flexibility of Cano and Dee Gordon provide the possibility of optimally deploying his bat. And although his .385 OBP and 152 wRC+ against RHPs this year will be tough to repeat, anything close to that could make him a necessary piece of a lineup that may again struggle to get on base and score runs.
All stats referenced prior to games on 09/19/18