Seattle Mariners: Center Field History from Ken Griffey Jr. to Mallex Smith

SEATTLE - APRIL 20: Ken Griffey Jr.
SEATTLE - APRIL 20: Ken Griffey Jr. /

We begin with the best center fielder in Mariner history in Ken Griffey Jr. He was the number one overall draft pick in 1987 taken by the Seattle Mariners. He made his debut at 19 in 1989.

He played eleven straight years for the Mariners before being dealt to the Cincinnati Reds. He returned in 2009 and 2010 to end his hall of fame career. Griffey had 398 home runs for the Mariners before going to Cincinnati. Quite a feat because he wasn’t 30 years old yet. In his 23 years playing in the major leagues, Junior had 630 home runs. If it weren’t for injuries I have no doubt he would have had the most home runs in Major League history.

Outside of home runs, Ken Griffey Jr  had the prettiest swing in baseball. He played defense with a high intensity. He would crash into the fence on a regular basis which caused many of his injuries. The miracle year of 1995, Junior missed half of the season after being injured in May. He returned in the middle of August to help the Mariners make the playoffs for the first time. Also, everyone who are Mariner fans back then has seen the video of Junior sliding into home plate on a double by Edgar Martinez down the left field line to beat the New York Yankees. I know I have seen it hundreds of times. Still gives me a chill each time I see it.

Outside of his rookie season, Junior won a Gold Glove 10 times. His defense was as good to see as every home run and swing he made. It was a sad day when he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on February 10, 2000. However, his return to the Mariners on February 18, 2009, was a good day though he wasn’t the same player when he left in 2000.

When the Mariners traded Griffey to the Cincinnati Reds they picked up another good center fielder in Mike Cameron. We didn’t know him when his name was announced; however, he became a fan favorite very quickly. He didn’t hit like Junior but his teammates adored him. He had a wonderful smile and played an incredible center field.

Cameron played for the Mariners from 2000 through 2003. He signed a free agent contract the next year with the New York Mets. In 2001, when the Mariners won 116 games, he had 25 home runs with 110 RBIs. The following season, he had 25 home runs once again but only 80 RBIs. He won two Gold Gloves as a member of the Mariners in 2001 and 2003. When his career was over after the 2011 season he returned to Seattle, signing a one-day contract to retire as a Mariner.

Randy Winn, who the Mariners acquired in 2003 from Tampa Bay, played two years in left field out of his three years with the ball club. The Mariners needed a center fielder with the departure of Cameron so he was the guy for one year.

Winn was a solid center fielder, though he wasn’t the defender Griffey Jr. or Cameron were. Actually better than a few others who came after him. In 2004 he hit .286 with 14 home runs and 81 RBIs.

Jeremy Reed, who the Mariners acquired during the 2004 season, became the Mariners center fielder in 2005. He was adequate playing the position but he didn’t have the power numbers of Junior, Cameron, or Winn. Reed only hit .254, which is fine; however, he only hit 3 home runs and drove in 45 runs.

Reed continued his playing career in Seattle for the next three years but only played center field less than half of the games. Before 2009 he was traded to the New York Mets in a three-team deal that saw the Mariners acquire their next star center fielder, Franklin Gutierrez.

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Franklin was only healthy the first couple years with the Mariners. He was an outstanding center fielder, just below Junior and Cameron. His first year was his most productive offensively. He hit .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. He came down with an illness during the 2011 year where he played in 92 games. The illness continued where he played in 40 and 41 games in 2012 and ’13. In 2014, he missed the whole season. He played again for the Mariners in 2015 and ’16 in a platoon situation, though he predominantly played in left and right field. Gutierrez never played center field again.

Michael Saunders was the Mariners’ next center fielder in 2012, though he had been around since he made his rookie debut in 2009. He never lived up to his potential during his time in Seattle. He played well in center field but didn’t hit enough. He couldn’t stay healthy either. Other years he was in right field well as center field as a backup outfielder before being traded to Toronto before 2015.

Abraham Almonte was the team’s starting center fielder in 2014, though he was sent down to Triple-A just 26 games into the year. Then, they went with James Jones who played good defense because of his speed. He was brought up as a rookie in April. He played center field until the Mariners acquired Austin Jackson in a three-team trade at the deadline from the Detroit Tigers.

The next season, Jackson started most of 2015, but the Mariners struggled to the tune of a 76-86 record. General manager Jack Zduriencik was fired on August 28. The Mariners traded Jackson on August 31 to the Chicago Cubs.

In one of his first moves as new general manager, Jerry Dipoto traded for Leonys Martin, getting him from the Texas Rangers. He was a good defender in center field and a fan favorite. He had a solid season in 2016, though he batted just .247. He did hit 15 home runs with 47 RBIs.

Martin didn’t do so well starting 2017, so he was sent to Triple-A after going through waivers. The Mariners had acquired Jarrod Dyson, a veteran center fielder from the Kansas City Royals. He started out in left field platooning with Guillermo Heredia. Ben Gamel then was inserted in left field. Heredia actually platooned in both center and left field for the year.

The Mariners decided not to resign Dyson for 2018. Instead, they acquired second baseman Dee Gordon from the Miami Marlins for three minor leaguers. Dipoto decided to transition Gordon into a center fielder. In May of that year, Robinson Cano was injured then suspended for 80 games after violating the MLB’s drug policy. The Mariners decided to move Gordon back to second base, where he spent the rest of his season.

The question going into this season was whether Gordon would return to center or not now that Cano was back. Dipoto quickly answered these concerns when he traded for center fielder Mallex Smith from the Rays, then sent Cano off to the Mets.

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Smith is expected now to be the Mariners’ center fielder for the next several years since he will turn 26 in May. Last season, he hit .290 and stole 40 bases in his first full season as a regular. Along with Gordon, they should be quite the pair on the base paths. Of course, that will depend on how long Gordon sticks with the Mariners as well.