Solving the Utilityman Logjam

Which Mariners make the cut, as the team emphasizes contact this offseason?

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox - Game One
New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox - Game One / Winslow Townson/GettyImages
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Positional flexibility, speed, and contact: the Mariners have a specific type for their bench pieces. In 2023, we saw Dylan Moore, Jose Caballero, Josh Rojas, and Sam Haggerty play key roles off the bench with varying degrees of success. With the recent addition of Luis Urias, there is a possible redundancy on next season's roster. In a perfect world, Jerry Dipoto adds a couple of bats from outside the organization, which means only two of the above make the 2024 roster. The question is, who breaks camp with the big league club this spring? 

First, a little context or, in this case, contact. Dipoto went on record at the recent Major League Baseball General Manager Meetings that adding more bat-to-ball skills to the roster is a crucial offseason focus. They've already parted ways with Teoscar Hernandez, Mike Ford, and Tom Murphy, all of whom strikeout above league average. Those moves underscore the apparent plan to replace power with contact, but it's more than just putting the bat on the ball. 

The team wants players that align with the organizational "dominate the zone" philosophy. What does that mean? They want their players to make contact, take a walk, limit strikeouts, and hit the ball hard when they do make contact. Let's dive into the statistics with one caveat: 2023 was an injury-plagued campaign for Urias so that we will use his last full season (2022). 

Zone Contact%

Hard Hit%

BB%

K%

Dylan Moore

77.6

44.9*

9.7

33.9

Jose Caballero

84.0

23.7

10.0

23.6

Josh Rojas

81.4

28.9

7.7

23.1

Luis Urias

80.4

35.3

10.6

21.0

Sam Haggerty

84.9*

26.7

13.9*

15.7*

* = leader

All of the candidates for the two utility roles could be better. Moore's strikeout rates have risen in the past three years, hinting at declining bat speed. Haggerty doesn't hit the ball all that hard, but also is the leader in three of the four categories (only 108 AB). While Rojas has high contact rates, it comes at a detriment to the lowest walk rate of the bunch. No player is perfect. However, some analytics support a couple of leaders in the clubhouse for what looks like two roster spots. 

Luis Urias and Josh Rojas will make the 2024 team.

I know it is November, and the hot stove is just getting cranked up, but my money is on both Rojas and Urias making the 2024 roster due to their handedness and ability to play multiple infield positions. There is an outside chance Dylan Moore will stick around (2 yrs control), but that depends on Dipoto's ability to land a right-handed hitting outfielder or designated hitter with more upside and contact than the 31-year-old utilityman. 

This exercise could all be moot if Dipoto ships off a few of those 'extra pieces' and some prospects for bats in the next few months. I mean, the MLB Winter Meetings are about two weeks away. Either way, buckle up because moves will be made, we just don't know who will survive.