When the Mariners released their starting roster for the 2021 regular season finale – a game they absolutely had to win to keep their slim playoff hopes up – they threw utility infielder Dylan Moore in. left field.
With Angels starting left-handed pitcher Reid Detmers, manager Scott Servais stuck with the left-handed field the team employed during the final months of the season, putting Moore in the lineup instead of left-handed hitter Jake Fraley.
This left a vocal group of angry fans on Twitter, who thought Fraley should have started instead. They thought he was a better defensive option than Moore, which he wasn’t. Also, despite leaving the Angels with a left-handed pitcher, Fraley was a better option at home plate compared to the inconsistent Moore, which was not true either.
That the Mariners’ best options for such important games were Moore, who collapsed from a second starting base job to return to a utilitarian role, the oft-injured Fraley whose best value was drawing walks before d ‘being sidelined by COVID and the light-hitting Jake Bauers, whose primary position was first base, pointed out how flawed roster and lineup was due to injuries and failed performance.
If the 2022 season begins with the Mariners returning to that squad of Fraley and Moore in left field, that means something has gone seriously wrong. Either Kyle Lewis’ long recovery from his season-ending knee surgery is still not complete, or Seattle has failed to add at least one replacement outfielder to fill a position that needs an upgrade.
Left field has been a constant source of frustration for the Mariners. Research in Baseball Reference reveals that only two Mariners players have produced a season of 3.0 WAR or greater playing left field 65% of the time since 2000. Raul Ibanez totaled 4.5 WAR in 2006 and Randy Winn accumulated 3.5 WAR in 2003. Since In Ibanez’s 2006 season, the second highest total was Franklin Gutierrez’s 2.9 WAR, with no other left fielder reaching 2.0 WAR.
To be fair, the plan for the 2021 season was not to use a Fraley / Moore squad in left field. After no free agent outfielder came into the organization with their “hat in hand” and ready to take a below-market contract, the Mariners were forced to consider internal options for the open place. They had Lewis, the reigning Rookie of the Year, in center and a finally healthy Mitch Haniger in his place on right pitch.
That meant Fraley, Jose Marmolejos, Braden Bishop and prospects Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic would be competing for the place. With a week of spring training, it became apparent that Trammell, who was acquired mid-season in 2020 from the Padres in a multiplayer trade, had landed the job. A calf injury kept Kelenic from truly competing for the position, easing the serving time manipulation controversy that surrounded him.
The Mariners’ outfield plans needed a readjustment on March 22 when Lewis suffered an inconvenient bone contusion to his right knee while playing in a Cactus League game.
Seattle moved Trammell to center and kept Fraley and Marmolejos on the opening day roster while using utility Sam Haggerty in left field against tough lefties.
It was the start of a troubling season at the post that saw 10 different players start a game in left field, six of whom were primarily in the infield.
That instability was accentuated when Lewis suffered a tear in his meniscus on May 31 while knocking down a flyball, an injury that ended his 2021 season.
The combined production of these players while in left field resulted in a slash line of 0.191 / 0.285 / 0.333 with 22 doubles, 17 homers, 59 RBIs, 21 steals, 68 walks and 162 outs. stick in 606 appearances at home. The Mariners’ left field position generated 0.2 WAR, which was the third lowest in all of baseball.
Right now Seattle is in a similar position to last offseason with center fielder (Kelenic) and right fielder (Hanger) and left fielder still very undecided.
The 40-player roster features familiar, but flawed, candidates to fill it in, and another ridiculously talented prospect looms as the most popular choice for a fan base largely impatient with typical player development.
Fraley has shown flashes of production in 2021, including strike zone discipline, a willingness to work account and chart marches. But, he’s not a factor against left-handed pitching, which limits him to a platoon or bench role.
In two separate MLB-level stints, Trammell displayed power but struggled to make constant contact. In 178 home plate appearances, he posted a 0.160 / 0.256 / 0.359 slash line with seven doubles, eight homers, 18 RBIs, 17 walks and 75 strikeouts.
While he’s far from broken down, it’s clear he needs more seasoning than Triple-A.
As for that talented prospect, well, Julio Rodriguez’s debut countdown will be even more anticipated than it was for Kelenic – and this situation bordered on the absurd.
Rodriguez, the No. 2 consensus prospect in baseball, will go to spring training with the belief he can earn the first job. Given his limitless talent, no one on the Mariners coaching staff or at the front office will rule out such a possibility.
But the MLB-level prospects’ initial typing difficulties could lead to a cautious approach with Rodriguez’s development. He just turned 21 on Wednesday and has only played 46 games at the class AA level. A more reasonable projection for the promotion would be in mid-July.
An optimistic outcome for the Mariners has two possibilities – Lewis is healthy enough to play left field three to four times a week or they are able to recruit a free field player to play there daily. The Mariners’ dream scenario would be to get both.
Lewis’s knee condition is unknown. He declined all media requests. The Mariners will not be discussing schedules or reporting on his progress this offseason. Baseball operations president Jerry Dipoto has repeatedly said they wouldn’t know until Lewis shows up for spring training. When in good health, Lewis has the potential to be a game-changer on the plate. A move to left field for a few games a week and DH the other games would hopefully reduce knee wear.
But the Mariners can’t count on the unknown either. That’s why they met Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki and became interested in versatile free agent Kris Bryant, who is an impact hitter who can play third base or left field quite comfortably.
If Seattle were able to acquire an outfielder and also have a healthy Lewis, Servais could use a rotating designated hitter to keep players rested and have maximum attacking potential in the lineup most days.
Left field hasn’t been a big production position for the Mariners over the past two decades, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Central Depth of Field Table:
Browsers: Kyle Lewis / Jake Fraley / Dylan Moore
Class AAA: Julio Rodriguez, Taylor Trammell
Class AA: Cade Marlowe, Dom Thompson-Williams
High-A: Trent Tinglestad
Bass: Spencer Packard
AZL: Gabriel Gonzalez