Basically, the Mariners need a pair of established outfielders with a record of big-league success. Preferably, hitters with a history of producing well-struck balls. As we detailed not long ago, making loud contact is crucial to the franchise’s championship aspirations a reality.
Perhaps the sense of urgency to reload in left field and right field wouldn’t be as pressing if free agent Mitch Haniger was still a Mariner and Jesse Winker wasn’t coming off a disappointing season ending with knee and neck surgeries. But that’s the situation the organization is facing in mid-November.
Considering the Mariners’ present state, I identified five potential outfield trade targets. There are other names out there, but these are the ones I chose to discuss. At some point in the near future, we’ll talk infield and outfield free agent candidates. For now, let’s focus on the trade market, which could become active as early as this weekend.
A few notes before beginning.
+ I’m assuming Haniger and Winker aren’t in the picture at the beginning of next season. The possibility Haniger re-signs with the Mariners seems realistic. On the other hand, he’s a free agent and has 29 options other than Seattle to consider. Winker is expected to be ready for Spring Training. But banking on a player coming off an injury-riddled, unproductive season isn’t a good idea.
+ I don’t address what it could potentially cost the Mariners to acquire our targets. Our conversation will be about the replacements capable of providing offensive production.
+ Unless otherwise noted, assume rankings are against qualified hitters.
+ All financial figures and contract details come from Spotrac.
+ The age mentioned in tables reflect how old a player will be on July 1, 2023.
In no particular order, my five candidates.
Selling points: Since the start of 2017, Renfroe has 153 home runs. Only 18 players have more during this period. If you remove the 2020 season, he’s averaged 29 homers since the beginning of 2017. This season, the right-handed hitter clobbered 29 home runs and 24 doubles, while leading Milwaukee in OPS and wRC+. Moreover, his .492 SLG was 18th best in MLB.
Defensively, Renfroe accrued 2 defensive runs saved (DRS) in right field in 2022. Over the last few seasons, he’s been average-ish. That said, Statcast ranked his arm strength as 14th best in MLB tying him with Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez.
Defensive runs saved (DRS) quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. – MLB.com
As is the case with several of our candidates, Renfroe has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before he hits free agency. Therefore, the asking price should be relatively low compared to a player with more club control remaining. Furthermore, landing a short-term player could permit developing outfielders Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell, and Cade Marlowe to contribute in a supporting role next year and possibly earn a starting gig in 2024.
Potential concerns: Over the last two seasons, Renfroe has called Boston’s Fenway Park and Milwaukee’s American Family Field home. His offensive numbers were significantly better at these ballparks than on the road.
Renfroe’s Home/Away Splits (2021-22)
Home – .283 AVG/.342 OBP/.504 SLG
Away – .231 AVG/.288 OBP/ .489 SLG
Renfroe did demonstrate power on the road. However, his on-base success varied greatly between home and away. This could prove problematic for the Mississippi State alum considering T-Mobile Park’s reputation for inhibiting offense.
Selling points: Happ’s 42 doubles tied for fifth most in MLB with Rafael Devers and Nolan Arenado. Over the past three seasons, the switch-hitter has been more productive against right-handed pitching. But he had a respectable .261 AVG and .741 OPS when facing southpaws. Happ also cut his strikeout rate by six points to a career-best 23.2% this year.
A Gold Glover in 2022, Happ amassed 13 DRS in left field. During his career, he’s made starts at the other outfield positions and every infield spot with the exception of shortstop.
Although not a frequent base stealer, Happ did swipe nine bags in each of the last two seasons. Plus, he had an above-average 27.9 ft/sec sprint speed.
As with Renfroe, Happ is arbitration-eligible one more time. His estimated salary for next season is $10.8 million.
Potential concerns: Happ produced a 40.4% hard-hit rate, which is essentially his career average. But after boasting a barrel rate over 10% in every previous season, the Cincinnati alum produced a league-average 6.5% in 2022.
A “barrel” is a batted ball that typically leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented in 2015. Barrel rate represents the percentage of batted balls that were barreled. – Statcast
The friendly confines of Wrigley Field have been very welcoming to Happ over the last three seasons. During this span, he posted a .841 OPS at the Cubs’ home field compared to .731 on the road.
Selling points: Primarily a number-two hitter in 2022, Reynolds’ .345 OBP and .461 SLG were both top-40 in MLB. Moreover, he was one of just five center fielders with an .800-plus OPS this year. The others were Aaron Judge (1.111), Julio Rodríguez (.853), George Springer (.814), and Brandon Nimmo (.800). It’s only fair to point out Mike Trout (.999) would’ve made our list with a few more plate appearances.
The switch-hitting Reynolds was productive from both sides of the plate with relatively neutral splits this year. He also had an above-average 28.3 ft/sec sprint speed.
Reynolds is under contract for $6.7 million in 2023 with two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining afterwards.
Potential concerns: The former Vanderbilt Commodore had a good 2022. But his AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+, and strikeout and walk rates were noticeably lower than his career averages.
Reynolds’ -14 DRS in center field ranked last among 30 center fielders with 500-plus innings at the position this year. In 2021, his -5 DRS ranked 28 of 30. That said, the Maryland native has delivered 7 DRS during 1,080.2 innings in left field.
Selling points: Gurriel is the kind of player capable of starting anywhere in a lineup. In fact, he made 10-plus starts at positions 1-8 of Toronto’s batting order this year. His .291 AVG led a Blue Jays lineup averaging the fourth-most runs scored/game in 2022. His .343 OBP was second only to Alejandro Kirk (.372) on the team. The right-handed hitter also clobbered a career-high 32 doubles.
Primarily a left fielder in recent years, the veteran of five big-league seasons delivered 3 DRS at the position during the 2022 campaign. He also has 10 career starts at first base on his résumé.
Gurriel has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Potential concerns: Gurriel’s home run total dropped from 21 last year to just five in 2022. He also experienced career lows in SLG and barrel rate, which may be connected to a wrist injury he dealt with this year. It’s worth noting the Cuban underwent wrist surgery following Toronto’s postseason loss to the Mariners. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Selling points: Hernández’s 53.3% hard-hit rate was fifth best among hitters with at least 200 batted balls. His 15% barrel rate tied for 15th. The right-handed hitter’s knack for making loud, quality contact produced results. Over the last two seasons, he’s averaged 28 home runs and 32 doubles with a 131 wRC+.
A “hard-hit ball” has an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. The “hard-hit rate” of a player or team represents the percentage of batted balls with a 95+mph exit velocity. In 2022, the average hard-hit rate was 38.4%. – Statcast
In 60 career plate appearances at T-Mobile Park, Hernández has 20 hits, including three home runs and seven doubles. These outstanding results suggest the possibility exists for the two-time Silver Slugger’s power stroke to thrive at the pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Hernández has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining with an estimated $14.4 million salary in 2023.
Potential concerns: Hernández’s 28.4% strikeout rate ranked 125th of 130 qualified hitters this season. Defensively, his -3 DRS in right field this year indicates he’s a below-average glove, although the Dominican Republic native’s arm strength was league-average for right fielders per Statcast.
My order of preference would be Hernández, Gurriel, Renfroe, Happ, and Reynolds.
Hernández struck out a lot. But Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez (31.2%) had a worse strikeout rate (31.2%). Suárez was an integral part of Seattle’s lineup this year despite his tendency to strikeout often. Then again, management may not want two hitters in the everyday lineup with so much swing and miss in their profile.
Toronto has a potent offense. Perhaps dealing Hernández from an area of strength helps the team land something it needs – starting pitching. Doing so could also help the Blue Jays reduce a payroll currently projected to be north of $190 million.
If the Blue Jays aren’t interested in trading Hernández, maybe they’d entertain moving Gurriel. Despite his wrist injury and resultant power outage, the 29-year-old remained productive with a 114 wRC+. Moreover, he makes loud contact (45.7% hard-hit rate).
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.
Renfroe is a right-handed slugger who’s likely to be an average, at best, right field defender capable of hitting 25-plus home runs and have a .300-ish OBP. Sounds like Mitch Haniger, doesn’t it?
Happ has previously demonstrated the athleticism to play across the diamond, which is a trait the Mariners covet. Moreover, his Gold Glove defense (13 DRS) would be a dramatic improvement over what Winker (-16 DRS) delivered. Then again, the Cubs could choose to retain their former first round draft pick for next season.
If the low-budget Pirates were amenable to dealing Reynolds, the team could command a high price for its best player. Still, advanced defensive metrics suggest Reynolds isn’t a center fielder. Therefore, buyers shouldn’t feel compelled to pay a center fielder rate for a corner outfielder. At least that’s how I see it.
The Mariners can ill-afford beginning next season counting on Winker to be healthy. Nor can they rely on the unproven Kelenic, Trammell, or Marlowe to play a major role. Instead, the team should pursue established, offensively-productive outfielders like the ones we’ve discussed.
That’s the strategy an organization laser-focused on reaching the World Series should employ.
My Oh My…
Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins