The Seattle Mariners don’t have any starting outfielders. Not a single one, really. Dustin Ackley is a second baseman forced to fake it in the outfield. Michael Saunders and Abraham Almonte profile best as fourth outfielders. Logan Morrison is a DH. Corey Hart is a DH. Willie Bloomquist is a utility man. And…that’s it. That’s the Mariners’ collection of outfielders. Not a bonafide major league starter in sight. Nobody in that group comes closer to being a competent defender than Almonte, which is saying something.
Yet the Mariners are all but certain to make a starting outfield out of that group. One corner will have to be a DH, that much we know. Logan Morrison and Corey Hart, if you want names. That leaves another corner and center. Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley are all but assured to be the starters there, despite neither having the elite defensive chops that should be required of outfielders playing alongside a DH.
Saunders, Ackley, and Hart. Doesn’t sound like a championship-level outfield, does it? There are holes all over this Mariners team, with none more apparent than the lack of an outfield. Of course, the M’s will need some capable backups to this group. We know that Willie Bloomquist and his two-year major league guarantee is making the team, just as we know he’s defensively weak everywhere and profiles better in the infield. Who will be the team’s backup outfielder, assuming no changes are made to this current group by opening day? Glad you asked.
Abraham Almonte: 2013 stats – 82 PA, .264/.313/.403, 2 HR, 96 wRC+, 0.1 WAR
Almonte is the favorite to be the fourth outfielder out of camp, in no small part due to his exhilarating September call up during which he reminded fans in Seattle what an athletic outfielder looks and plays like. Almonte is an average-at-best hitter with typical Mariners problems: low walks, high strikeouts, fleeting power. His defense is fun to watch and there’s reason to believe he would grade out well over a full season in the majors. He’s not a world beater, but he’s probably a decent fourth outfielder at game’s highest level. Plus he’s got an inspirational and uplifting story, which is nice, if you like things like that. Almonte isn’t terrible at anything, which means he’s probably one of the four best outfielders the Mariners have in a post-Guti world. That’s terrifying.
Endy Chavez: 2013 stats – 279 PA, .267/.290/.327, 2 HR, 68wRC+, -1.3 WAR
Nope. No way. Absolutely not happening, not after the nightmare that was a 2013 season where Endy Chavez Of All People stepped into the batter’s box nearly three hundred times. Chavez used to add value with his baserunning and defense, making up for his tiny bat. Now he’s old and can’t run or defend worth beans, meaning that his only skill is a hollow batting average. There is arguably no skill less useful than hitting a single once every day or two, yet that’s all Chavez offers, is a single every day or two. Last year he was one of the very worst players in all of baseball. But that hollow batting average apparently might mean more to the Mariners that we’d like, which means Endy is the most likely non-roster outfielder to end up on the roster come opening day.
Stefan Romero: 2013 stats (AAA) – 411 PA, .277/.331/.448, 11 HR, 104 wRC+
Romero’s another popular name as a guy who’s into his mid-twenties and still hasn’t gotten his shot at the big leagues. This isn’t because he’s been whiffed on for years by a club that’s been blindly preoccupied with Carlos Peguero – it’s because taken in context, Romero hasn’t been a particularly awe-inspiring player. Yeah, he’s hit just about everywhere he’s been in the minors. His 2012 season at AA was especially impressive. But while Romero put together a nifty slash line in the PCL last year, that’s kind of what everyone in the PCL does. In an extreme hitter’s environment, Romero’s .171 ISO only made him a slightly above average offensive player. Throw in his 21.2% strikeout rate and crappy defense, and what you have is a guy who might develop into Justin Smoak. He’s the same age as Logan Morrison. Romero hit a few baseballs really hard last year, but he’s not a realistic candidate for this role.
Burt Reynolds: 2013 stats – (played in independent ball)
Burt Reynolds is Robinson Cano‘s cousin. He’s twenty five years old and has never played above class A, but since his cousin signed a $240 million baseball-playing contract with the Mariners, Reynolds gets to hang around spring training as a non-roster invitee. He’s like Cole Gillespie and Endy Chavez in that sense, except that he has been playing indy ball for the last three years and is most notable for sharing a name with Burt Reynolds. He doesn’t have the 40-man roster security that fellow outfielders Xavier Avery, James Jones, and Julio Morban can boast. But I’d like to posit that Reynolds has every bit the shot of making the Mariners out of spring training as any of those last three, or Gillespie. Why is that? Because baseball is a weird game and weird things happen in baseball. Crazy things happen, and if Almonte goes down and the brass comes to their senses on Chavez this is anyone’s game, assuming the Mariners don’t add an outfielder. Reynolds looks like absolute nothingness, in the baseball sense. Sho why should that prevent him from cracking the Mariners roster as the fourth outfielder? Who’s to say he doesn’t crack a few homers in April and bat cleanup for a few days before turning back into an indy ball journeyman who couldn’t hit single-A pitching in 2010? Thus is the state of the Mariners outfield depth.
Handicap the current options for the fourth outfielder’s role and it looks something like this: 1) Almonte, 2) Chavez, 3) Romero, 4) the sudden heat death of the universe. What’s probably more likely is that the team adds an outfielder before the end of camp, and that new guy either becomes the fourth outfielder or pushes Michael Saunders into that role. Either way, the guy off the bench is poised to see a lot of time this season. Nelson Cruz on a one-year deal would be okay, I guess, but there’s the whole draft pick thing, and Nelson Cruz is likely worth less than a draft pick on his own. And then there’s the need for a competent defense, which makes a guy like Andres Torres seem like a perfect fit. Andres Torres, 2014 Seattle Mariners saving grace. What has this world come to?
Abraham Almonte will likely be a Seattle Mariner on opening day, unless Nelson Cruz is a Seattle Mariner on opening day. A Nick Franklin trade could change all of this in a hurry, but as things stand now, there’s your best bet. Although personally I’m pulling hard for Burt Reynolds, and urge you all to do the same.