The Seattle Mariner's president of baseball operations, Jerry Dipoto, has specifically said the team is looking for another infielder, and rightfully so. Entering what looks like a make-or-break season for Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, hinging playoff aspirations on bounce-back seasons from Luis Urias and Mitch Haniger and an entire season from Mitch Garver seems like a recipe for disaster. That is why acquiring another proven veteran bat who can play multiple positions should be on Dipoto's offseason agenda.
A few players could fit the 2024 roster, specifically when accounting for the team's quest to improve contact rates. Let's focus on Tim Anderson and Whit Merrifield. Both players offer positional flexibility, with Merrifield, 35, holding his own in the corner outfield and at second base. Anderson, who's entered his age 30 season, can play shortstop but more than likely grades out better at the keystone. Gone are the days of highlight reel plays from these two veterans, but Dipoto wouldn't be paying them to snag a gold glove but to add depth and some certainty to the bottom third of the lineup.
Merrifield made the All-Star game last season in part to a nuclear first half for the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, he cooled considerably and finished with a pedestrian slash line (.273/.318/.700). Anderson suffered a career-worst season thanks to a dysfunctional clubhouse and some expected regression amounting to a .245/.286/.582 slash. It is somewhat similar if you look at both players' performances over the past three years. However, we will hone in on their best seasons in those three years (2020-2023) for this exercise. Ironically, both Anderson and Merrifield had stellar seasons in 2021.
One thing to remember is that Merrifield was 32 years old during the 2021 season, and now, at 35, much of his value is held up on positional flexibility and stealing bases. While Anderson just turned 30 and is still in his prime for all purposes. There is a subsection of the fan base who's routinely said Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty have the utility spots sewn up and are cheaper options. I get it; the Mariners are in some interesting times financially and determining their actual 2024 payroll is like trying to decipher one of those posters with the hidden design. I can stare for hours at those things and still come up empty. However, there the growing consensus is that Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander have anywhere between $12 and $22M left in the bank.
For the record, Spotrac estimates Anderson's market value at $5.1M. Merrifield's estimated value is slightly higher at $6.4M. The former White Sox and batting champion could probably be had on a one-year prove-it deal. Merrifield should command at least a two-year pact in this market. Either way, we are discussing the 24th or 25th man on the roster. Would you rather pay some combination of Sam Haggerty ($900K) and Dylan Moore ($3.6M) to fill those roles?
Banking on a bounce-back season from Tim Anderson or hoping Merrifield doesn't fall off a cliff a la Kolten Wong is risky business. However, for this exercise we are in the game of taking all the facts and rolling the dice. In that case, I'm going with Anderson due to his age, high batting averages (.300+), track record, and the attitude he probably enters this season with looking to rid the internet of this beauty.
A lineup that has Tim Anderson batting eighth or ninth significantly raises the floor of the entire team and creates a situation where he can thrive in the bottom third of the order. Sign me up to go down swinging with the former White Sox; let's see if the Mariner's front office will follow suit.