Over a year ago, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto publicly declared that the club would not be supplanting J.P. Crawford at shortstop. That was despite a huge class of free agent shortstops that existed at that time, including Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien and Javier Baez.
Coming into this offseason, Dipoto stuck to his guns but said that his “great preference” would be to land a shortstop to play second base. This year features another strong class of free agent shortstops, with Correa on the market again, this time alongside Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. However, they may be getting priced out of the bidding, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes that the expected prices of those shortstops are making it likelier that the M’s pursue a left-handed hitting second baseman to platoon with Dylan Moore.
The Mariners already had such a player in 2022, acquiring Adam Frazier from the Padres going into the year. He only had one year of club control remaining at the time and is now a free agent. The Mariners could always bring him back, but his bat took a step back this year. After hitting .305/.368/.411 in 2021 for a wRC+ of 113, he hit just .238/.301/.311 for a wRC+ of 81. Given that dip in production, the club might look for other options.
The other free agent options aren’t terribly exciting. Robinson Cano missed all of 2021 due to a PED suspension, had a worse season than Frazier and is now 40 years old. Switch-hitters Cesar Hernandez and Jonathan Villar also both had worse years than Frazier in 2022. Perhaps the best fit would be Jace Peterson, who has hit .238/.337/.373 over the past three seasons for a wRC+ of 98. His defensive grades are strong overall though that’s mostly due to excellent work at third base, with his numbers more middling elsewhere.
Given Dipoto’s penchant for the trade market has earned him the nickname “Trader Jerry,” perhaps that is the most likely route the club would take to address the keystone. Rosenthal speculates Kolten Wong as a fit, which is a match that has already been reported in recent weeks. However, Rosenthal also suggests they could target cheaper and more controllable players, since Wong will make $10MM in 2023 and then become a free agent.
Rosenthal suggests the Rays would make for a good trading partner, since they have Jonathan Aranda, Taylor Walls, Vidal Brujan and Brandon Lowe in their cluttered infield mix. All four of those players would come with risk in different ways. Lowe dealt with various injuries in 2022 and only got into 65 games on the season, with diminished production when he was on the field. After hitting .247/.340/.523 for a wRC+ of 137 last year, he slipped to .221/.308/.383 this year, still above average but a much lower 104 wRC+. He’ll make $5.25MM next year and then $8.75MM in 2024, with two club options after that at $10.5MM and $11.5MM. The Rays are usually not afraid to make deals of their experienced players but trading Lowe now would be selling low, no pun intended.
As for Walls, Aranda and Brujan, all three carry the risk of not being established major leaguers. Walls has the most experience of the bunch, with 196 MLB games under his belt. However, he’s seemed overmatched in that time so far, hitting just .182/.281/.288 with defensive metrics split on how to view his work in the field. Brujan has 62 MLB games on his track record but his batting line is even worse, coming in at .150/.207/.231. Aranda’s played just 32 games so far and hit .192/.276/.321. All three players have stronger numbers in the minors but haven’t been able to bring them up to the bigs just yet.
If the Mariners don’t find anything to their liking in those mentioned names, they could perhaps turn their attentions to other speculative trade targets such as Cavan Biggio, Nolan Gorman, Tony Kemp or Nick Madrigal.