By PATRICK ROGERS, OREGON SPORTS NEWS
The trade deadline for the Seattle Mariners is August 1st. We know that the Mariners’ pitching is solid. Between the rotation featuring George Kirby, Luis Castillo, and Bryce Miller, and the bullpen of Paul Sewald, Andres Muñoz, and Matt Brash, the Mariners won’t have an issue keeping their opponents from scoring. However, on the offensive side of the plate, they could use a tune-up. The Mariners’ three worst positions by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are third base (-0.2 WAR, 18th in the league), first base (-0.9 WAR, 20th), and second base (-1.4 WAR, 27th). Also, remember that Mariners GM Justin Hollander said he has some untouchable players (although I’m willing to bet that if Ohtani were available, he would let them go). The players in question are Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, JP Crawford, Bryan Woo, and George Kirby. Keeping that in mind, let’s touch on a candidate for each position for the Mariners.
Looking back at previous posts here on Oregon Sports News, I touched several times on the importance of acquiring decent second basemen. Adam Frazier, albeit a rental, was decent enough there on both sides of the ball to fill that gap while Dylan Moore figured out Major League hitting. Going into the year, I was hopeful that acquiring Kolten Wong, a defensive-minded second baseman with average hitting skills, would provide them with at least a replacement-level player. However, Kolten just can’t hit anymore. When I’m writing this, Wong has a paltry .473 OPS. He’s also dipped on the defensive end, hovering around the 30th percentile in Outs Above Average. If there’s any upgrade that can make an instant impact, it’s at second base. Coincidentally, Jonathan India has become available, per reports. The Reds have had an influx of talent, specifically at the middle infield positions coming through the farm system. Notably, Elly De La Cruz was called up this year and has shined in his short time in the league. While De La Cruz is a shortstop, it’s worth noting. Cincinnati has three other second-basemen primary players on their active roster, not including India. They’re also leading the NL Wild Card at this moment, so they’re looking to send India away for an upgrade, to which they’ve gone on the record in saying they want young, controllable pitching. That’s where Andres Muñoz comes into play. The fireball-throwing reliever is 24 years old and under contract until the 2029 season. While it would be a hit to the bullpen for the Mariners, I believe they could weather the storm with Sewald, Brash, and Topa splitting the extra innings. That way, the Mariners get, at minimum, league-average second basemen without creating a big hole in their day-to-day lineup.
Typically, a dominant hitter will play first base. This could be any hitter, from a high average like John Olerud to home run hitters like Tino Martinez. First base has seen a revolving door of players this year, and all of that is hitting below what the Mariners have expected this year. After a decent season for Ty France last year, the Mariners hoped his production would remain the same at first base. However, he’s been average at best. He’s down to .247 on the season, only hitting seven home runs. After that, it’s been patchwork. Mike Ford, Sam Haggerty, and Dylan Moore took innings at first, which provided fewer hitting skills like the former Mariners players I mentioned. A first baseman is available with an expiring contract on the worst team in baseball. That would be Colorado Rockies, CJ Cron. Cron has missed some time this year but has eleven homers in just 55 games. That would put him on pace for 33 home runs this year if he were to play an entire season. I don’t think he can only hit home runs. At the time I’m writing this, he’s batting .310 for July as well. Given the Rockies are in sell mode, and Cron is in the last year of his contract, I can see the Mariners sending Walter Ford or Taylor Dollard for Cron. They rank sixth and seventh in the Mariners system, with Taylor Dollard looking like the more appetizing pick due to his pitching maturity, durability, and command. Dollard may even make the September call-ups if he stays with the Mariners.
I love Eugenio Suarez as the next Mariners fan, but I have an approach that may work for everyone. Instead of trading Eugenio away, let’s move him back to shortstop, where he played 96 games in Cincinnati in 2015. Then, move JP Crawford to second, and trade one of the pitchers mentioned above from the minors for a half year of Jeimer Candelario. Remember when the Reds traded for Mike Moustakas, who took the third basemen and planted him at second? At least in this instance, both JP and Eugenio have experience in their respective positions. Candelario has been Washington’s best hitter, hitting 16 homers with an above-average OPS of .812. On top of that, he’s one of the best defensive third basemen out there, landing in the 94th percentile for third basemen. Just like the Rockies, the Nationals will be fielding many calls for Candelario’s expiring contract, and adding him to the team can vault them into the playoffs.
For the Mariners to make the playoffs, they need to improve on every infield position, minus shortstop and catcher. There are a couple of players in the last year of their deals that can make an instant impact for Seattle. As I mentioned, they may have to get creative with moving the infield around, but the road map will appear in the playoffs for the second year in a row.