The Mariners are in active trade discussions as today’s 5pm CT deadline to set rosters prior to next month’s Rule 5 Draft looms, and they’re showing a willingness to move left fielder/designated hitter Jesse Winker, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com (via Twitter). As has been expected for some time now, the M’s have also discussed potential trades involving fifth starter candidates Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales, Morosi further adds, though the team has not yet engaged in a scenario where Winker and one of those pitchers would be moved in the same package.
Moving on from Winker would be selling low on a player whom the Mariners acquired last offseason, hoping at the time that Winker could be a key middle-of-the-lineup fixture. In the two seasons prior to that trade, Winker was one of the game’s three best hitters against right-handed pitching, trailing only Juan Soto and Bryce Harper in terms of wRC+. He posted a Herculean .321/.417/.619 batting line in 509 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, and while his production against fellow lefties was nowhere near that level, he still walked at a 12% clip against them, resulting in a .314 OBP. His .199 average and .338 slugging against lefties were dismal, but at the very least, Winker could get on base at a near-average clip in when in disadvantageous platoon matchups.
What followed in 2022, however, was the worst season of Winker’s career by nearly any measure. He did walk at a career-best 15.4% clip as a Mariner, but the 29-year-old’s .219/.344/.344 batting line was generally underwhelming — especially considering he was acquired in hopes of providing some left-handed power to the lineup. Winker’s .125 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the lowest mark of his career. And, while he’s never been considered a plus defender in the outfield, Winker’s defensive ratings across the board in 2022 were career-worsts (-16 Defensive Runs Saved, -7.2 Ultimate Zone Rating, -10 Outs Above Average).
Poor 2022 season notwithstanding, Winker has a strong track record at the plate and could be viewed by other clubs as a decent candidate to rebound. In his five seasons with the Reds, dating back to his 2017 debut, Winker turned in a collective .288/.385/.504 batting line — about 32% better than the average hitter after weighting for his home park and league.
Winker is also rather affordable. He’s entering what would have been his final arbitration season but is already signed for $8.25MM, having agreed to a two-year, $14.5MM contract with the Mariners just last season. If he’s able to approach anything close to his Reds form in 2023, that’ll be an eminently reasonable price to pay.
It bears mentioning that there could be other factors at play as the Mariners field interest in Winker. In an October appearance on 710 AM Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk Show, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times laid out, in detail, the manner in which Winker fell out of favor within the Mariners clubhouse over the course of the season. (Mike Axisa of CBS Sports transcribed the meat of Divish’s segment, for those interested in the full scope of the comments.) Add in the fact that president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has already spoken publicly about his desire to add at least one, if not two outfielders to his team this winter, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Mariners’ outfield mix will look different in 2023 (though AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez is an obvious lock to return).
Of course, the trade that brought Winker to Seattle wasn’t all bad — far from it. In order to acquire Winker, Seattle gave up pitching prospect Brandon Williamson, outfielder Jake Fraley and righty Justin Dunn and took on a notable portion of a contract the Reds were seeking to escape … that of Eugenio Suarez. It’s a move the Mariners may not have made had they believed Suarez was beyond hope after a rough 2020-21 showing in Cincinnati, but he bounced back to an even greater extent than most optimists could’ve forecast.
After hitting .199 /.293/.440 with the Reds in 2020-21, Suarez logged a resurgent .236/.332/.459 batting line with 31 home runs, 24 doubles, a pair of triples and roughly average defense at the hot corner. Both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs pegged his 2022 season around four wins above replacement, and Suarez remains signed for another two years and $24MM (plus a club option for the 2025 campaign).