Kyle Seager fits just fine at third base for Mariners
The prevailing notion has been that third base needs to be a power position. But when it comes to power, manager Eric Wedge says, "I don't care where it comes from, as long as we have it."
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The other day, Mariners manager Eric Wedge was asked about rookie Kyle Seager, and whether he was concerned about how Seager fit the classic profile of a third baseman.
The prevailing notion has been that third base needs to be a power position, with the optimal prototype being Mike Schmidt or Eddie Mathews, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame with more than 500 home runs.
"A lot of people talk about profile," Wedge responded. "I'm going to give you my definition of profile: I don't care where the hell they are, as long as we have them out there in our nine. It doesn't have to be by position. I don't care where it comes from, as long as we have it.
"If we don't have power at one position, then we need to get it somewhere else. Power, by definition, most people just think of it as just home runs. I define power as extra bases and the ability to drive in runs. Hey, I love home runs as much as the next guy, but we're talking about scoring runs."
That question — and answer — is pertinent as the Mariners look to 2012 and putting together a roster that doesn't once again sink to the bottom of the American League in virtually every offensive category.
Last year, they scored just 513 runs, the lowest total in the majors since the designated hitter was instituted in 1973. They not only finished last among the 30 MLB teams in homers, with 101, but also in doubles (227), triples (16) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.637).
This season, taken cumulatively, has only been incrementally better. Through Friday's 9-2 loss in Oakland, they had scored 475 runs in 137 games, lowest in the AL and 29th in the majors, ahead of only the defending World Series champion Giants (466 runs in 138 games).
The Mariners project to score 554 runs in 2011, which would mark an improvement of 41 runs from last year, but still categorize them as a dismal offensive team. They rank 28th in MLB in homers (last in the AL) with 87, 25th in doubles (13th in the AL) with 215, 23rd in triples (11th in AL) with 19, and dead last in the majors in OPS at .642.
It's a grim picture, but it brightens when you focus on the last month, in which the Mariners have turned their lineup over to five rookies — Seager, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Trayvon Robinson and Casper Wells. That has coincided with an upturn by center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who hit .295 in August after going .176 and .190 the previous two months; and Ichiro, whose .293 August was his best month since a .328 April.
The Mariners scored 121 runs in 28 August games, ranking in the middle of the pack — 17th — in MLB, and tied for 10th in the AL. Project that production over a full season, and they'd score 700 runs — not great, but not historically bad, either.
Their August OPS of .736 represented more than a 100-point improvement from where they stood as July ended, and was 11th in the AL, 19th in the majors.
Again, not exactly the 1927 Yankees — or, more pertinent, the 2011 Red Sox — but it gives a glimpse of hope for the future. They still ranked next-to-last in the AL with 22 homers (25th in the majors for the month), but they were tied for fifth in the AL with 56 doubles.
Carp has certainly locked down a spot for next season somewhere — he can play first base, outfield and designated hitter — with a .901 OPS in 40 games since he came back up the second time.
Ackley is seemingly ensconced at second base. There are still some who advocate moving him to the outfield to clear a spot for Seager at second. But if you can get All-Star production from Ackley at second — which is what he has been giving — you're that much ahead of the game.
It goes back to Wedge's comment: "I don't care where it comes from, as long as we have it."
The Mariners must still add power to the lineup if they want to even think about contending next year. The spots where they can do so are limited, especially with Ichiro locked up for another year in right field.
Third base would seem to be one area for the Mariners to look outside the organization for a power upgrade (I can't envision Chone Figgins being given another shot at regular playing time, despite the $17 million still owed him over the next two years).
Yet Seager looks more appealing the closer you examine. In August, when Seager took off after feeling his way through his initial days as a major-leaguer, he put up a .506 slugging percentage and .878 OPS in 22 games.
Those numbers, if projected over a full season, would put Seager among the elite third basemen in the majors. Aramis Ramirez leads all major-league third basemen this year with a .862 OPS, followed by Kevin Youkilis (.855), Alex Rodriguez (.839), Pablo Sandoval (.838), David Wright (.832), Chipper Jones (.827), Ryan Zimmerman (.820), Adrian Beltre (.816), Mark Reynolds (.805) and Evan Longoria (.802).
Those are all the third basemen over .800 OPS. Ramirez, at .512, is the only one with a slugging percentage over .500. Just four have more than 20 homers: Reynolds (31), Ramirez (24), Longoria (24) and Beltre (20). The free-agent market for third baseman this coming winter looks grim, with Ramirez — who is 33 and doesn't come with the best clubhouse reputation — joined by the likes of Wilson Betemit, Greg Dobbs, Eric Chavez and Mark DeRosa.
It's simply not an era of Schmidts and Mathewses, and there are not even many Graig Nettles, Ron Santos or Ken Boyers. The archetype now might be more along the lines of George Brett and Wade Boggs, who made it to the Hall of Fame without being home-run hitters (though Brett did hit 317).
The Mariners must decide if what Seager did in August is indicative of what he can do over the course of a season. If so, then he profiles as a positive solution at third base, home runs or not.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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