The Seattle Mariners need to make some moves in their outfield and they may primarily be looking to sell off some spare parts rather than add to their current jumble.
But the Mariners do have a problem. They need to clear the way for a plethora of outfielders at some point, but still need youth and upside to stay on track for their 2021 contention goal. The simplest way could be to spend a little money in free agency but this runs its own risk.
The outfield free-agent class is weak and very few options have a good enough chance to retain or increase their trade value down the line. The free agents who may be able to do this will be expensive and will have other suitors with legitimate playoff aspirations for 2020.
Not surprisingly, the best route for Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners may very well be the trade route. And thankfully the St. Louis Cardinals may have just what the doctor ordered. 25-year-old elite defenders up the middle of the field are not supposed to be easy to acquire. And while Harrison Bader won’t necessarily be cheap, he could be available.
After a rock-solid rookie season that saw Bader produce a .264/.334/.422 slash line with a 107 wRC+ and a 3.6 fWAR, he slipped in 2019. The bat was so problematic that the Cardinals demoted Bader for a 3-week stretch. His final slash line of .205/.314/.366 produced just an 81 wRC+, but he still posted a 1.8 WAR thanks to his sterling defense.
If the Mariners have interest in Bader, it will be because they think they can help him reach his ultimate potential at the plate. But thanks to his sterling defense, Bader doesn’t need to be more than an average bat to warrant everyday opportunity.
A quick look at his StatCast page shows why Bader is so intriguing. He ranked in the 97 percentile in outs above average, the 98th percentile in sprint speed, and the 97th percentile in outfield jump. These are obviously elite numbers and show a potential Gold Glove defender in the premium position of center field.
Bader finished first in outfield UZR and UZR/150, and 11th in runs saved in 2019. Remember, baseball is all about runs. And whether you help score them or prevent them, you have value.
If Seattle thinks they can get Bader back to his 2018 form, you could see the next Franklin Gutierrez roaming centerfield at T-Mobile Park. Bader won’t come cheap, but he could be the opportunity buy Dipoto has been looking for to keep Mariners opponents off the scoreboard.