Editorials

Mariners Off-Season: 10 Players I Love

The Mariners are going to be attached to a lot of players this winter and almost no idea is dumb enough to not at least consider. But before we get bogged down in all the details, now is a good time to keep things simple. Here are 10 players I would love to see in a Mariners uniform next year.

Before we dive into the list, let’s make a couple of things clear for the handful of you who will read the intro and not zoom to the list of names. First, while I will be numbering these players, they aren’t in any specific order. The numbering is just to keep track of where we are on the list and are not ranks of my preferences on these players.

Second, understand that I am not saying that the Mariners will target these players. Nor am I saying that I think they are necessarily great fits. These are simply 10 players who I would enjoy seeing in a Mariners uniform next season, not a list of guys I believe the Mariners will be interested in.

Finally, the players on this list are all, in my opinion, attainable. Sure, I could list some of my favorites like Trea Turner or Sandy Alcantara, but neither player is likely to move teams this winter, so why bother? Granted, not everybody on my list is likely to get moved, but I believe they all could without insane overpay by Seattle. With all that in mind, let’s dive into the fun part of our discussion here.

1. Clint Frazier, OF New York Yankees

You may not know this, but I am a bit obsessed with Clint Frazier. Acquired by the Yankees in the mega-trade for Andrew Miller, Frazier has had an up-and-down career with the Yankees, and an up-and-down relationship with both the organization and its fans.

Frazier is just a career .239/.327/.434 hitter and he does come with durability problems and defensive deficiencies, but there is still so much potential in this 27-year-old veteran. But he doesn’t need to be any more than he has been at the plate to be a valuable bat in the right role. In his first 162 games played (which took 4 seasons), Frazier slashed a rock solid .258/.331/.475 with 24 home runs. Those are numbers quite similar to Mitch Haniger. But if you look even closer, you could see a near breakout in the middle of his career. In 2019-2020, Frazier hit .267/.347/.497 in just 108 games while cracking 20 homers.

Frazier just feels like he is prime for a breakout. He’s already been a useful bat for most of his career and is entering his statistical prime. Frazier screams “change of scenery” guy who is about to pop off in a big way. Is there a fit with the Mariners? Maybe not. But he’s 27, has three years of club control, and he’s only expected to make $2.4 million this year. That is certainly worth a look.

2. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP Tampa Bay Rays

I dive more into my love of Ryan Yarbrough in the attached video. But the bullet points are that Yarbrough is elite at avoiding hard contact, throws a ton of strikes, has a solid track record, plus three years of club control. But more importantly, he provides length and depth to the 2022 rotation and isn’t likely going to cost an arm and a leg in trade talks with the Rays, who will need to shed some of these players who are arbitration eligible.

3. Byron Buxton, Center Field Minnesota Twins

Yes, I am aware with all of the red flags surrounding Buxton. He’s truly had just one full season since making his debut in 2015 and he’s going to be expensive. I really do get it. He’s a hard player to trust. But when he is healthy, Buxton is an elite defensive player and has run a wRC+ of 112, 119, 169, in the last 3 seasons. He turns 28 in mid-December and has just one year of club control remaining. Even though the Twins are unlikely to push for a full scale rebuild, they reportedly did listen to offers on Buxton this July and have come up well short in their extension discussions with Buxton.

So, there is a small possibility the Twins do move him and that small possibility is all I need to become irrationally excited by the idea. Buxton instantly improves the outfield defense and the lineup and carries legitimate MVP upside in his game. Yes, there are some big red flags. But to be perfectly honest, I think that makes me like him even more. Anything that lowers the price on a superstar still in his prime is something that helps Dipoto and company this winter. I have no issue starting an offer with Emerson Hancock and seeing what else I’d need to part with to make this move happen.

4. Sonny Gray, RHP Cincinnati Reds

Dipoto’s interest in Gray has been well documented in the past, and with the absurd price of trading for an ace and the lack of options in free agency, landing a top flight 3 to anchor a staff of 3’s and 4’s seems like a viable alternative. Gray doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he has learned how to miss more bats with the Reds, landing in the 73 percentile or higher in K% each of the past three seasons.

He’s a fantastically boring option who instantly settles in as the best pitcher on the staff. The Reds aren’t likely shopping these arms this winter, as they themselves may fancy themselves contenders in 2022. But there may be some attractive big league pieces that Seattle could use to sway the Reds, or possibly a few big contracts they can take from the Reds to persuade them to sell a valuable piece like Gray.

5. Jonathan Villar, Infielder New York Mets

If you listen to the podcast, you know how much I like Jonathan Villar. He’s a versatile switch-hitter who, in his last two full-seasons, has shown to be a solid bat with average power and on-base skills. He’s not sexy and if he is the move at second base, you’d better acquire a stud at third base or in the outfield. But if Seattle can do that, there is nothing wrong with adding Villar to the back half of your lineup and just banking his 2 wins for the season. He’s boring, but safe. And that is the type of player Dipoto should be looking for, along with his potential All-Star.

6. Andrew McCutchen, OF Philadelphia Phillies

Before I begin, just picture Andrew McCutchen wearing that northwest green jersey. He looks so swaggy, doesn’t he? But back to numbers. Andrew McCutchen is no longer the perennial All-Star he was with Pittsburgh, but he is still a valuable player for good teams to have around, even at 35-years-old. This year, McCutchen hit .222/.334/.444 in 144 games, smashing 24 home runs and posting a 14% walk rate and a 107 wRC+.

McCutchen is a prime player to extend his career with the DH, as he’s no longer a good defender but can still swing the bat a little bit. He was especially effective against LHP, where he hit .293/.405/.622 with a 168 wRC+ in 2021. For comparison’s sake, the 168 wRC+ would rank second in baseball this year, just behind Bryce Harper’s ridiculous 170 wRC+. McCutchen can still dominate against lefites and with the DH and a lessen work load, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that McCutchen can actually improve on his overall numbers and prove a useful 400+ PA bat for Seattle.

7. Zach Eflin, RHP Philadelphia Phillies

The Mariners could really use an ace. Or even just a solid #1. Or even a solid #2. But go ahead and find one that is, A. available and B. reasonably priced. There just aren’t many arms like that to begin with. So pre-established, top of the rotation arms are incredibly hard to find and hard to find. So if they’re not an option, what does Seattle do? They need to go find the guy who hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, but has flashed it. Think about finding this years Robbie Ray or Kevin Gausman.

I think Zach Eflin could be that guy. He has pretty good stuff and a frame that is easy to dream on. He’s just 27-years-old and has four rock solid years under his belt. He throws strikes, has seen his strikeout numbers increase, and had a mini breakout campaign in the shortened 2020 season. There are some issues though, most notably the knee surgery that could cause him to miss the first 4-8 weeks of the 2022 season. This is, as the kids say, #notgood. It’s a risk, but he’s been a solid #3-#4 starter for most of his career and I think there is another gear in there somewhere.

8. Luis Arraez, Infielder Minnesota Twins

Okay fine. He can’t field, run, or throw. But what can he do? He can get base hits. In fact, there are very few players in baseball who are better at making contact than Arraez. In fact, in 2019 and 2021, Arraez ranked in the 100th percentile in whiff rate. He doesn’t swing and miss. He doesn’t strike out. He’s not Joey Votto in his prime, but he even takes his fair share of walks. He a super aggressive, base hit slashing, diminutive second baseman and I love it. There really isn’t much more to it than that.

9. Jon Gray, RHP Colorado Rockies

I’ve always liked Jon Gray’s stuff and have felt that he was due to make a jump the following season. And while he’s been good, he’s never reached his absolute potential. Now 30-years-old and coming off back to back mediocre seasons, Gray may be forced to take a one-year deal, similar to that of Robbie Ray. Gray has a career 3.91 FIP and has a solid 3:1 K/BB ratio, but Gray may never reach the ceiling his stuff has suggested he could. But even if he doesn’t, he’s a strong #4 starter. And if he does reach his ceiling… look out.

10. James Paxton, LHP Seattle Mariners

Forever and ever, amen.

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