The Mariners outfield in 2021 was good. Look for an even better outfield in 2022 after an offseason of changes.
Imagine the 2021 Mariners with an outfield of Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger. You almost had that coming out of Spring Training. What could have been had that actually happened? Fast forward to October 3rd and that dream outfield is missing just one of those three. Defending AL Rookie of the Year, Lewis, missed most of the season due to recurring knee injuries. Kelenic became the starting CF, a position not natural to him. His defense showed how much Lewis was missed. As expected, Haniger manned his usual RF position. The 3rd OF on that last day was Dylan Moore. Moving into 2022, those three cannot be what opens the season in the outfield on March 31st at T-Mobile Park.
The Kyle Lewis dilemma
What started as a promising career for Lewis has now turned into doubts that he may ever play again. Jerry Dipoto signaled as much when he stated that anything Lewis contributes is just a bonus. The Mariners are out a Gold Glove type defender in CF. They’re now out a guy that can hit and run, something they were lacking from anyone that played CF in 2021. The starting point for OF improvement will start in CF. Sadly, it won’t be with Lewis.
Jarred Kelenic needs a corner spot
Knowing his time in CF is coming to an end, Kelenic can now focus on returning to LF. His defensive runs saved above average was horrible in his 674.2 innings in CF at -16. Despite that horrible number, his Range Factor per Game (putouts + assists/games played) was 2.65 – above the league average of 2.47. Looking at those numbers, Kelenic doesn’t look as bad on paper as he did on the eye test. Many times he got late starts, overran the ball, and simply got lost in CF. To be gracious, it was his rookie year. He was learning a new position. Some of that pressure had to play into his early struggles at the plate. Despite his .181 BA on the season, he did hit .248 after September 1st. He had a Hard Hit % of 39.4% – above league average. Imagine what he could do in LF without worrying about the defense while adding to his 2021 experience.
Haniger, the reliable veteran in right field
Mitch Haniger will return for his final year on his current contract. Despite his previous apparent desire to trade Haniger, Dipoto stuck with him and watched his decision to stand pat pay off. With career highs in HR, RBI, 3B, AB, R and H, Haniger proved he was finally healthy and could hit. His production after the 7th inning proved he could be a clutch RBI machine with 45 to lead all of MLB. After the season, in his Players Tribune article, Haniger doubled down for 2022 and said, “We’re going to end this f*cking drought.” Though he might not end the season in Seattle, he will start in RF on March 31st, 2022.
Most RBI in the 7th inning & later in 2021:
45 — MITCH HANIGER
40 — Marcus Semien
40 — Austin Meadows pic.twitter.com/rVxiXgFYqs
— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) November 11, 2021
Depth guys and Prospects
That leaves Dylan Moore, Jake Fraley, Taylor Trammell and the previously mentioned Evan White (Dipoto is entertaining moving him to the OF) remaining as depth guys or trade candidates. Waiting in the fold is Julio Rodriguez (when, not if, he gets the call up) and Zach DeLoach. Of the group, Trammell and Rodriguez can play CF well. But, with Rodriguez, Kelenic and the soon arriving DeLoach, Trammell is the odd man out in this talented and highly regarded group of youngsters. Trammell, Moore, and Frayley seem destined to be a part of any deal Dipoto makes to obtain pitching and/or the offensive bat he’s looking for.
Oh my goodness J-Rod hits a missile for his 2nd HR. 4-4, 2HR, 3R, 4RBI, BB. pic.twitter.com/HiR6te8j9A
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 11, 2021
Who plays center field?
Finally, filling the CF position isn’t going to be as easy as it appears. Trading for Mike Trout is beyond realistic. But, trading for Brandon Nimmo and sending the Mets DeLoach and Justus Sheffield or Justin Dunn makes more sense, if any deal for a CF is made. Nimmo’s defensive runs saved was 4, so his defense is slightly better than Kelenic’s. Offensively, his hard hit percentage is at 40% for his career, while his slash line in 2021 was .292/.401/.437. The .292 BA was his career best. Yes, Dipoto should check in on Chris Taylor, Jake Marisnick and Mark Canha to try and convince them to join the cozy confines of T-Mobile. But if his attempts to land the ideal free agent fail, a trade with the Mets would be the next best option.
The 2022 outfield roster is…
Moving into 2022, the Opening Day outfield 3 will look slightly different. We should be excited about what it will look like. Here is a logical and perhaps wishful list of what Scott Sevais runs out on Opening Day:
Buckle up, Mariners fans. Dipoto has promised us a very active offseason. Getting the outfield stable and productive in all three positions might be the most entertaining part of his off season spending.