baseball

Mariners Open To Adding Another Outfielder

The Mariners have already taken steps to reshuffle their outfield at the offseason’s early going. They landed two-time Silver Slugger award winner Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays for high-leverage reliever Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Mackothen shipped out former Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis for catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel.

More changes could be on the horizon, as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto informed reporters (including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times) the team was open to bringing in another outfielder. The Seattle baseball ops leader unsurprisingly didn’t tip his hand as to specific targets but suggested the club was content to wait things out and identify the right fit.

We do have more than one targetDipoto told reporters. “There are a handful of players that fit us that we feel good about especially as it pertains to outfielders. We feel like there’s still a market that is more robust. And if we’re just patient, we’re going to find the player that suits our roster the best.

That doesn’t sound like a declaration the M’s are planning a run at top free agent Aaron Judgeand defending Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez It reduces the urgency to go after center fielder Brandon Nimmo. The Mariners could theoretically pursue Nimmo with an eye towards pushing him to the corner opposite Hernández, but there are plenty of other teams with direct needs in center field. With the bidding for the former Met likely to push over nine figures (and cost the signing team a draft choice), the next tier down seems more plausible for Dipoto and his staff.

Among that group is Mitch Haniger, who’s a free agent after six seasons in Seattle. The M’s opted not to tag him with a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, clearly unwilling to commit him to a salary approaching $20MM for next year. A multi-year deal at a lower annual term still seems a possibility, and general manager Justin Hollander told Divish and others the club remains in contact with Haniger’s representatives at Apex Baseball.

Other free agent possibilities include Andrew Benintendi, Jurickson Profar, Cody Bellinger and Washington native Michael Conforto, who’s looking to reestablish himself as a middle-of-the-order caliber hitter after a season lost to shoulder surgery. Bellinger and Conforto figure to land shorter-term, bounceback deals while Benintendi and Profar are virtually certain to land multi-year commitments. Dipoto and his staff are among the most aggressive in scouring the trade market as well, and a number of corner bats could plausibly be discussed. Anthony Santander, Alex Verdugo, Max Kepler and Jake McCarthy are among the players who’ve been mentioned as at least speculative trade candidates this offseason. Bryan Reynolds and Randy Arozarena are less likely to move — particularly Reynolds, whom the Pirates have been reluctant to deal for years — but are sure to draw calls from other teams based on their multiple seasons of arbitration control and consistently strong performances.

The Mariners are firmly in win-now mode after a second straight 90-win season that snapped their 21-year playoff drought. Dipoto, Hollander and company have been and will continue to be aggressive in building around their excellent young core, but it’s worth noting that they’re not devoid of in-house options who could play their way into a regular role alongside Hernández and Rodríguez.

Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell haven’t found much success at the MLB level, but they’re each former top prospect who are still in their mid-20’s and coming off quality performances in Triple-A. Dipoto name-checked both players, as well as prospect Cade Marlowe, as internal candidates to take the next step. The M’s could entertain dealing Kelenic or Trammell for a lower-upside but more stable veteran bat as well, and Divish reports Seattle “shopped Kelenic extensively” at last summer’s trade deadline.

There’s also the presence of Jesse Winkerwho was acquired last spring in the deal that saw Seattle assume the final three years of the Eugenio Suárez contract. Winker was the headliner of the trade from the M’s perspective, but Suárez surprisingly outperformed him in their first season in the Pacific Northwest. Under contract for $8.25MM in his final year of club control, Winker won’t have immense trade appeal coming off a .219/.344/.344 showing.

The M’s could elect to hold him and hope for better results, but they’ve reportedly floated his name early this offseason. Winker played dreadful defense in left field, and Divish has previously suggested Winker’s lack of improvement on that side of the ball played a role in him falling into some disfavor in the Seattle clubhouse. At his best, the left-handed hitter has shown he’s capable of impact offensive production against righty pitching, but the front office will have to decide whether pairing an outside addition with a change of scenery for Winker is a better fit heading into 2023.

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