Your 2017 Mariners: The Infield

New-SS Jean Segura; 1B Dan Vogelbach; Swiss Army Knife Danny Valencia

Gone-SS Ketel Marte; 1B Adam Lind, 1B Dae-Ho Lee

The 2016 ended, we waited out the playoffs and the Jerry Dipoto Trade-a-Rama machine kicked into high gear.  As we awaited the more meaningful deals, it took nobody by surprise when the M’s made a deal for a new shortstop.  Conventional wisdom was it would be the Zack Cozart deal that wasn’t consummated at the trade deadline. Cozart, a terrific defensive player with some pop in his bat, had only a year left on his deal, and signaled some time for Ketel Marte to grow in AAA.  Instead, Dipoto went all in, sending Marte and right-handed starter Taijuan Walker to Arizona for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis.

The Mariners also decided to abandon the tag team of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee at first base and go in a different direction.  Last year ‘s deadline trade of Mike Montgomery brought the M’s Dan Vogelbach.  In Vogelbach the Mariners got a left handed hitter who displayed power, average and excellent ability to control the strike zone throughout his minor league career. The second piece of the deal was AA pitcher Paul Blackburn, who the Dipoto later flipped for right-handed batter Danny Valencia.  Valencia mostly filled in at third base for Oakland, but is able to play first base and both corner outfield positions.  The Vogelbach/Valencia tandem, or “time-share” as Dipoto, has called it, now replaces the Lind/Lee duo.

So what have we got?

First Base

  • Adam Lind                 .239/.286/.431   20 HR  wRC+ 92  BB% 6.0  K% 20.7  -2 DRS
  • Da-ho Lee                  ..253/.312/.428  14 HR  wRC+  102 BB% 7.2 K% 22.6  -3DRS

There, you have it, that’s 2016.  Not a lot to cheer for.  Lind’s numbers were well below his career averages, his walk totals were way down and his strike out percentage was way up. Lee was an interesting experiment, but nothing that jumps off the page.Both suffered from being limited to a single position, and because both were on one year deals, both were disposable.

  • Dan Vogelbach         .292/.417/.505  23 HR wRC+ 148*  BB% 18.2  K% 17.8
  • Danny Valencia        .287/.346/.446  17 HR wRC+ 118    BB% 7.9 K% 22.2

*Vogelbach’s numbers are combined minor league statistics from Iowa City and Tacoma.

First base is one of the biggest “unknowns” for the Mariners heading into 2017.  In Vogelbach, the M’s have a young controllable player who has had considerable minor league success, but only a few at bats at the major league level, not enough to draw conclusions from. The M’s are hoping he will grow into an every day guy, but it sounds like they’ll break him in slowly against right handed pitching.  They’ve worked with him in the off-season on fielding, hoping that he can be a serviceable first baseman, after a minor league career primarily as a DH.  There is a certain whiff of Jesus Montero to Vogelbach, but I’m hoping I just have a bad sense of smell.

In Valencia, the M’s have the right-handed half of the platoon. The difference between 2016 and 2017’s version is that Valencia is not limited to first base or DH. He can give Kyle Seager a much-needed day off, could DH if Nelson Cruz moves to RF against a tough lefty, and could himself play in the outfield. Valencia also offers the benefit of being a more platoon-neutral player.  He can stay in the lineup against right-handed pitchers, and could be someone who gets 450 at-bats. Valencia, however, is likely a one year player, entering free-agency in 2018.

Evaluation

Because Vogelbach is an unknown, it’s tough to say if or how much the M’s improve in 2017.  In sticking with a young player, the M’s save some money and get a chance to see what they have, and with Valencia they get position flexibility and a player who can take Vogelbach’s at bats if he falters. Let’s call this a slight improvement.

Second Base

Arizona Diamondbacks v Seattle Mariners

in 2015 Robinson Cano struggled through a miserable injury-filled season, the M’s had to wonder what they had purchased with their $240 million.  In 2014, Cano was a high average, modest power player, in his second year he struggled in the first half of the season. What would year three look like?

  • Robinson Cano  .298/.350/.533  39 HRs  wRC+ 139  BB% 6.6 K% 14.0   +11 DRS

Cano left no doubt in people’s minds that in 2016 he was a newer, nastier Robbie. He homered in his first three games, and finished with a career high 39. Cano scored the most runs in his career, with 107, drove in over 100 runs for the fourth time, had a strong defensive campaign and became the unquestioned Mariners leader on the field, . He made Andy Van Slyke‘s alcohol-fueled rant against him in the pre-season look foolish.

Evaluation

As Cano enters his age 34 season, the nay-sayers are out there, ready to carve up the 12-year veteran and the Mariners for the huge contract that lured him away from the Yankees. When will his bat speed fall off, will he have another injury-plagued year, will he just stop caring? Steamer already has projected him as much below 2016’s 6.0 WAR level:

  • .289/.344/.472 with 24 home runs

I’m thinking he’ll be closer to his 2016, with a batting average between .290-.300 and 30 homers.  If he’s healthy and stays close to that, the Mariners will do well. Let’s call this a slight regressive tick down.

Third Base

MLB:  LOS ANGELES ANGELS AT SEATTLE MARINERS

How high is Kyle Seager‘s ceiling? In his fifth season as Seattle’s everyday third baseman, Seager established career highs in most offensive categories

  • .278/.359/.499  30 HRs  wRC+ 133  BB% 10.0  K% 16.0  +15 DRS

Seager had an interesting year.  Here are some interesting things to consider

  • Seager made 22 errors, by far the most of his career.  He was also +15 DRS, by far the most of his career.
  • Kyle played in 158 games, 156 of them at 3B. It was his fifth consecutive year playing 155 or more games in the field, almost all of them at 3B.
  • Sometimes a slow starter, Seager got off to a particularly wretched .159/.266/.378 in April
  • Kyle hit 30 home runs, 5 in each of the 6 calendar months.
  • His second worst month was September .234/.331/.414.  September is also his career worst month with a .243/.319/.403 slash

Evaluation

Kyle Seager is in the field too much. His career numbers say that by the end of the season he is worn down and his numbers fall off. Example?  On September 10th he was hitting .294, his highest average of the season, Seager was flirting with .300, which is sort of a magical number.  His average plummeted as he went 13 for 77 with two homers the rest of the season.

He’s a great player.  Every Mariners fan loves watching him play, but he M’s need to reduce his playing time in the field by an arbitrary 10 games. In years past they haven’t had a guy who could spell him and this year in Danny Valencia they do. It will be interesting to see if we’ve seen the best of Kyle Seager, or if he gets a little bump with the rest Valencia can supply. With my patented rose colored glasses, I see a slight tick up.

Shortstop

segura

I had high hopes for Ketel Marte when the 2016 season began. In one third of a 2015 season, Marte shone in the field and at bat.  He was a guy who could play decent defense, get on base and run a little. The following year everything came undone.  Marte was injured, he played poor defense and he couldn’t get on base.  What’s more, his confidence seemed compromised. It was not surprising when the M’s turned Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker into Jean Segura.

Segura had a career best year with the Diamondbacks in 2016.

  • .319/.368/.499 20 HRs  wRC+ 126 BB% 5.6 K% 14.6   DRS 0*

*Segura played 2B for the Diamondbacks in 2016.  He returns to shortstop for the Mariners

Segura came out of nowhere to lead the National League in hits, increased his home runs by a factor of 4 and stole 33 bases. He had 68 extra base hits, far more than any player not named Cruz, Cano or Seager (and not far behind them.)

The problem is, this was not a typical season for Segura.  He was traded to Arizona after two seasons of serious struggle with the Brewers. He suffered through the loss of a child and injury before Milwaukee swapped him in a five player deal for pitcher Chase Anderson and infielder Aaron Hill. The question is, which is the real Segura? Can he repeat his 2016 success, and if he regresses, how much will he fall back toward career norms?

Evaluation

Segura will be playing in a bigger park and less cozy climate than Chase Field. While I would be surprised if the right-hander hits 20 home runs, even if he hits 10, that’s an improvement over Marte.  If he hits .290/.345/.450 that’s still a huge improvement.  If he plays a steady, confident average defense that’s an improvement over Marte. If he steals 30 bases that’s an improvement over Marte. The Mariners finished three games short of the playoffs last year.  Jean Segura was a 5.0 WAR player in 2016. Ketel Marte was a -0.7 WAR player. Jean Segura should be a big tick up for the Mariners.

Designated Hitter

cruz

Nelson Cruz will be well on his way to age 37 when the season begins.  It’s over for him.  That’s all that needs to be said.

Just kidding. Cruz finished 2016 with 43 home runs, the third year in a row with 40 or more. Though his average was down to a still respectable .287, his walks were up, he reduced his strikeouts. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • .287/.360/.555   43 HRs  wRC+147  BB%9.3  K% 23.8   DRS -3

I was not thrilled when the M’s signed Cruz in 2014.  I thought his 2013 season was flukey.  I thought he’d add a few homers, a lot of strikeouts and little else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He is the Big Man.  He is a great teammate.  The M’s could not have had the season they did without him.

Last year his games in right field decreased to 48.  With the Mariners’ new emphasis on defense, they will decrease further. Most importantly, however, his production was higher as DH than as an outfielder, the reverse of 2015.

Evaluation

There is little reason to believe Cruz will suffer a major regression in 2017.  According to Statcast, his average exit velocity for batted balls led the major leagues at 96.2 mph except for Aaron Judge, and all 84 of his at bats. My guess is Cruz has another 40 homers in him for this year, as long as he stays healthy, and keeping him off the field should help that. My prediction is the M’s stay the same at DH.

Overall

The heart of the Mariners offense is on the infield, which is unusual for most teams. Barring a major injury, that should remain the case for this crew.  First base is a bit of a mystery with Vogelbach getting the majority of at-bats there.  But the addition of Valencia should provide some security. Segura brings speed to the table, assuming some reasonable level of regression, and will provide a legitimate lead-off threat. Things look bright for the M’s infield with improvements offensively and defensively.

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