Having options is never a bad thing, but it will make the offseason a bit tougher to maneuver for Jerry Dipoto and company this year.
The Seattle Mariners are still in the early stages of their rebuild, but the one spot they appear to be very strong at is in their outfield. Right now, the M’s have six Major League caliber outfielders on their 40-man roster, and two of their top three prospects also man the same position. That’s not to mention players like Shed Long, Austin Nola, Dylan Moore, and Tim Lopes, who all can field a corner outfield spot at an average-or-better rate.
Jerry Dipoto has said to expect a relatively quiet offseason from the Mariners this time around, though something clearly has to give in the outfield. What it really breaks down to is whether or not they view Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, and Domingo Santana as a part of their future, and if not, what do you do with them?
Right now, Haniger’s value is unfortunately lower than it’s ever been after the 28-year-old missed the final four months of the season. But before Haniger suffered a brutal injury versus the Astros on June 6, he still wasn’t the same player he had been in 2017, slashing just .220/.314/.463 with 15 home runs and 32 RBIs in 63 games.
Last offseason, there was plenty of interest in Haniger on the market, though Dipoto wouldn’t budge on an asking price that was seemingly too rich for the teams interested. If teams were low-balling the Mariners after Haniger finished 11th in American League MVP voting last year, there’s no way Dipoto will get what he wants this year, even if his own asking price has come down.
Therefore, I think it’s safe to say Haniger will remain in Seattle for the foreseeable future, at least until he can get back on the field and build his value back up. He’s still a really good player, but it’s just a matter of returning to game action and reminding the league of his abilities.
Smith and Santana are certainly the more likely candidates to be dealt this year. Santana now has just two years left of club control and proved to be one of the worst defensive players in all of baseball this year, though his bat was nearly All-Star worthy for the first half of the season. Of course, he’s coming off an elbow injury that restricted him to a designated hitter role for the final two months of the season, and his offensive production greatly slipped, so it’s hard to really know how teams view him.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time since it appeared to be inevitable that Santana would be traded for a solid package at the deadline. But, at least for now, dreams of acquiring something of worth for Santana may be on hold, unless there is a team that feels comfortable enough in his recovery.
Personally, I feel Santana is a prime choice to move to first base. We know what he is in the outfield and it’s not very good, and while that likely wouldn’t change at first, it’s probably the least important position in terms of defensive value so you might be able to live with him there. His bat, as I mentioned, is worthy of an All-Star nod, so he’d be a great asset to carry into the Mariners’ expected window for contention, but that ship may have already sailed and they may choose to just get what they can for him this winter because of how limited he is.
As for Smith, the Mariners have always valued speed to bookend their lineup and may be subtracting a big part of that with a potential trade of Dee Gordon in the near future. With that said, would they be willing to further take away from that by dealing Smith? The 26-year-old is still under club control for the next three seasons, and while his 2019 campaign wound up rather disappointing, he did make strides in improvement towards the end of season, especially defensively.
However, Smith may be the third or fourth best option in this large crop of outfielders currently on the Mariners’ Major League roster, and not by a lot. He was also benched in August for poor base running and you have to wonder if that soured the relationship between he and the organization. To me, that makes him the likeliest of the three aforementioned veteran outfielders to be headed elsewhere this offseason, though I’m not sure they could realistically receive anything significant for him alone; instead, he may be more valuable as an added piece to a bigger package.
What all of this boils down to is simple: you have to open the door for Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop, and Jake Fraley to see proper playing time in 2020, and that’s going to be hard to do without shipping one—or two—of the team’s outfielders elsewhere. But as we’ve gone over, the trio of Haniger, Santana, and Smith all have their flaws that makes it nearly impossible to trade them for what you feel they’re worth, or even close to that.
The Mariners will more than likely choose to manipulate Fraley and Lewis’ service time by planting them in Triple-A for the first month of the season, so that may give them a bit more time to work out this logjam. It also stands to question who exactly the Mariners value more than the other, and if they may be more willing to capitalize on the hot September of Lewis rather than forcing a deal on one of their veterans for less than market value.
There’s a lot to unpack here and it will surely be one of the hottest topics surrounding the Mariners heading into this winter. The good news is that they have plenty of options and they may find a way to improve their organization through their depth.