The Mariners are about to begin this offseason with a hole in center field. In 2021, Kyle Lewis played a small portion of the season before knee injuries derailed his season. Jarred Kelenic also played mostly in center field during his second stint in the big leagues. The Mariners did not get much production out of their center fielders last year as they had inconsistent performance and injuries. They go into the off-season with many questions about the position.
Jerry Dipoto has said that whatever the Mariners get from Kyle Lewis next year is a bonus. This means that the club is not going to expect Lewis to be able to play a full season, or count on him to be able to be the Mariners lead center fielder in 2022. This means that Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners front office are thinking about acquiring a center fielder to play every day for the Mariners. There is one center fielder who should be available that the Mariners should be in on.
The Mariners should go get Kevin Kiermaier from the Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Kiermaier is and has been one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. He had 12 Outs Above Average according to Baseball Savant. This was tied for 5th among all outfielders. His defense is incredible and is known best for his leaping or home run robbing catches. If Seattle traded for Kiermaier, it would give them a lockdown defender in center field, but he also would help the other corner outfielders by having someone better next to them covering the gaps.
Kevin Kiermaier has a bit of a stigma for not being a good hitter. That is not true. Kiermaier is not the best hitter or a star hitter at all, but he is average. He had a 101 wRC+ last year according to Fangraphs. While Kiermaier does not have great offensive upside, he is miles better than the 63 wRC+ that the Mariners ran out in Jake Bauers for 40 plus games in the outfield last year. The Mariners would be upgrading their offense too since Kiermaier would be consistent in the lineup.
The reason that Kevin Kiermaier is even a name that the Mariners should be considering is that he is slated to make just over $12 million. This does not seem like a lot of money but to the cheap Tampa Bay Rays, it is something that is too much for their comfort level. His $12 million contract is $5 million more than any other Rays player for 2022. This is why the Mariners can acquire Kiermaier for a lower trade cost since the Rays want to dump the payroll.
The Mariners do not have to pay much for Kevin Kiermaier since the Rays will be looking to do a salary dump. They get a controllable major league arm in Yohan Ramirez who is going to make just about the league minimum in 2022 and then will have 3 years of arbitration. Ramirez has been up and down for the last few years. Ramirez has an electric fastball and slider combination. They also get a potential future utility man in Polcovich who is a switch hitter and can play up the middle.
The Rays are really helping themselves by getting rid of Kiermaier’s salary. They save themselves $12 million for 2022. They get Yohan Ramirez to add to their bullpen right now who they could be able to help turn into a more consistent bullpen piece for them. They also get a lottery ticket in Mercedes. He could someday fill in a bullpen role for them. Mercedes had a high strikeout season in A ball, striking out over 12 per nine.
The Mariners can use Kiermaier in center field in 2022 to fill their void there and be a solid average contributor in the lineup. He is also very fast and the Mariners could use his speed to steal bases and to get pitchers worried when he is on base. They also have a 2023 option for $13 million that the Mariners would probably not take, but he would be a good one-year rental for not much in a trade.
The Mariners should take advantage of the Rays cheap tendencies and go get themselves one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. The Mariners would get also a great upgrade over some of the outfielders that they ran out there last year. They would get a lot better and not have to give up much in return for a regular center fielder for 2022.