3 Non-Obvious Players the Mariners Should Keep for 2024

Who are some of the most underrated pieces that might have an outsized impact next season?
Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages
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#2 Jose Caballero

On paper, Caballero doesn't necessarily seem like a needle mover. He slashed just .221/.343/.320 for .663 OPS and 90 OPS+, but he was still worth 2.4 rWAR, more than Eugenio Suarez, Teoscar Hernandez, and Jarred Kelenic. How is this possible?

First and foremost, it's important to understand that any WAR is relativized based on position, and middle infielders tend to be weaker hitters than corner infielders and outfielders. Second of all, Caballero's playstyle is clearly defensively focused. He had eight outs above average, higher than 94% of the league, and 11 DRS split between his time at second base and shortstop. Furthermore, while he didn't have the power to consistently hit doubles and home runs, his top-of-the-line sprint speed allowed him to steal 26 bases, putting himself in scoring position more often than a slower counterpart.

Where Caballero struggles the most can be seen in his batted ball data. Across the board, he ranks towards the bottom for average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and expected stats. Among second basemen with >250 PA, his xwOBA ranked 27th out of 40th. His strikeout rate of 23.6% was right around league average and his BABIP of .285 was below average, so it's clear the issue has a lot to do with his inability to create hard contact, but that can be fixed with more strength and conditioning. He's also got incredible plate discipline, using a walk rate of 10.0% to help compensate for his disappointing slugging numbers.

His rookie year didn't receive the same attention as Gunnar Henderson or Corbin Carroll but 2.4 rWAR for just 280 plate appearances isn't too shabby at all. There's definitely room for improvement but he won't be a free agent until 2030 so there's plenty of time for him to join Ty France and J.P. Crawford in the magical land of Driveline. In 2024, he might end up splitting time with Josh Rojas at second base, mostly due to his relatively poor splits against right-handed pitching, but his well-rounded skillset makes him a crucial piece of the Mariners team.