The Seattle Mariner Outfield Revolving Door

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

It’s a little jarring to run a report from the Fangraphs leaderboard on the Mariners outfield in 2014. It seems like it must be a mistake, because just one name appears – Dustin Ackley. Indeed, if you use the “qualified” filter, they had one solitary mainstay in the outfield in 2014 due to what was mostly a disaster of experiments in center and right field for the better part of the season.

After watching fully nine players grace the Safeco outfield grass in 2013, including names like Jason Bay, Carlos Peguero, and Michael Morse they spent the offseason coming up with a plan to fix it. And then in 2014 thirteen more players trolled that spacious swath of manicured weeds including Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte, Endy Chavez (of course), Cole Gillespie, Chris Denorfia, James Jones, Stefen Romero, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, Nick Franklin, Willie Bloomquist, and Austin Jackson. As Einstein said, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So out goes Saunders, Hart, Franklin, Almonte, Gillespie, and Denorfia. In comes what appears to be a shiny new philosophy — the platoon. Now, a lot can happen over the course of the season, and in the Mariners case, a lot of bad can happen. But the M’s brass has apparently taken a gander at the available talent via free agency and the cost via trade and decided they could get more bang for their buck with a measured rotation. We shall see.

So the one true constant the Mariners have is Austin Jackson, who is down in Sharpie as the centerfielder for Lloyd McClendon’s squad, for better or worse. Jackson, acquired in a deadline deal in 2014, was — oh, shall we say — ghastly as a Mariner. He hit .229/.267/.260 in 236 plate appearances in blue and teal with zero home runs. The one thing he did was run a little with 11 stolen bases — something that could conceivably roll over into 2015 and perhaps he’ll hit the mid-20’s again. Jackson is pretty clearly a first half hitter. In his career he has slashed .280/.348/.411 with a wRC+ of 109 in the first half while he’s gone .267/.325/.391 good for a wRC+ of 96 in the second half. The Mariners got the bottom of the barrel worst version of that second half. The question of course is which Jackson shows up in April this year.

Smart money is probably on a guy with about a league-average stick, and that’s about what Steamer figures as well, predicting a wRC+ of exactly 100. Steamer thinks he’s capable of .256/.321/.369 with nine home runs, 70 runs scored and 15 steals. If he stays in the leadoff slot all season long, I’d probably add 15 runs to that and the way they let him run in the second half, I think 20 bags is reasonable. It’s hard to say what kind of leash McClendon has on Jackson because if he comes out and lays a proverbial egg in April, the expectations are high enough for the Mariners to win that they might just have to get creative. So it goes.

Left field looked to be pretty solidly occupied by Dustin Ackley until the surprise acquisition of Rickie Weeks who will have to buy himself some new leather as he’s not seen time in the outfield in his 11 major league seasons. I’m not entirely sure the team is going to go straight platoon with these two, but if they do, it damages Ackley’s value enough to make him almost impossible to carry on your roster.

Ackley had a nice little resurgence in the power department last year — swatting 14 home runs and seeing his ISO jump to a career high .153. Almost all of that power came in the second half, where he slugged .476 with an ISO of .207, hitting 10 of this 14 home runs in 58 second half games. He does struggle versus left handed pitching, however, so it stands to reason that’s why they brought in Weeks — who will need to demonstrate some kind of ability defensively in order to take advantage of his right handed bat. For his part, Weeks hit .256/.361/.504 against left handed pitching last season, good for a wRC+ of 142. In his career he’s a .261/.385/.448 hitter versus southpaws and owns a career wRC+ of 128. But there aren’t many other places for Weeks to amass at-bats on this squad with some guy named Cano at second base and Cruz at DH.

In right, we have a well defined platoon. Justin Ruggiano will play versus left handed pitching and Seth Smith will play versus righties. Smith, if healthy, will still probably put together about 450 plate appearances even with the platoon, which might be enough to roster — but he’s unlikely to hit more than a dozen home runs. Ruggiano has a nice career against left handed pitching, but will be limited to 300 or so plate appearances which is almost impossible to manage in most fantasy formats.

Lingering are James Jones, Julio Morban, Endy Chavez (of course), Franklin Gutierrez, and Shawn O’Malley. I could see a situation where one of these guys makes the team out of Spring, but it’s unlikely, and if it’s anyone it’s Jones. But in all likelihood this cast of characters is headed for AAA to wait around for the sky to fall, which tends to happen in the Pacific Northwest. Prospecty-types will obviously be interested in Alex Jackson, but he’s nowhere close to the majors. In fact, the Mariners best outfield prospects are all probably three to four years away — including Gabriel Guerrero, Austin Wilson, and Gareth Morgan.

Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

It’s not at all clear that Austin Jackson is a first half hitter. That kind of split could happen due to random fluctuation.