The Mariners’ outfield situation has become far more uncertain over the past few days after the club reassigned Jarred Kelenic to the Minors and Kyle Lewis missed his fifth straight game with a bone bruise in his right knee that has put his Opening Day status in doubt.
With the regular-season opener looming on Thursday, Seattle has a more muddied picture of its outfield situation. And Mariners manager Scott Servais indicated on Saturday that general manager Jerry Dipoto and assistant GM Justin Hollander could look for help externally. The waiver wire at this time of year is always active as clubs cut down their spring rosters to 26, leaving many players without a landing spot.
So, here’s a breakdown of what we know:
If Lewis is sidelined, who plays center field?
Taylor Trammell would be the likeliest candidate. He has the speed to cover the gaps and has played center in Cactus League games. Though he has been brought up as a left fielder, the 23-year-old has made 116 of his 408 Minor League starts in center.
“Looking at the remaining outfielders that we do have in camp, certainly Trammell has had a good camp,” Servais said. “[Jake] Fraley has really picked it up here recently. I know Justin, Jerry, the front-office group, if Kyle isn't able to be there when we open up, we may look to add from outside. I'm not quite sure where we head yet.”
The Mariners will finalize their Opening Day roster by the end of the weekend, and there’s a good chance that Sam Haggerty will be on it. Haggerty might be limited with his bat, but he runs the bases well and has played in 61 Minors games in the outfield and 12 in the Majors last season with Seattle, including center field. Replacing the American League Rookie of the Year is a tall task that would be challenging for any club, but Haggerty would represent a quick defensive fix on days Trammell doesn't play. Braden Bishop, who was recently optioned to the alternate training site, would be the strongest defensive replacement and would certainly receive plenty of consideration.
If Trammell moves to center, who plays left?
This could open the door for Fraley to break camp after he’d fallen behind Trammell in the competition for the left-field job. Fraley began Cactus play in a 0-for-15 funk, but he's rebounded some to the tune of a .244/.392/.390 slash line entering Saturday.
Fraley was the Mariners’ top offensive Minor Leaguer in 2019, when he hit .298/.365/.545 with 19 homers. But his two years in the big leagues, albeit in a limited sample of just 70 plate appearances, have been far less productive. The 25-year-old has slashed .152/.200/.227 in 19 games.
“He got off to a really slow start this spring,” Servais said. “He knows it’s an opportunity for winning a job and [he] maybe tried it a little too hard early on. But the big thing he's done is he's made some adjustments at the plate and he's got much more rhythm right now and he’s spread out a little bit and starting to look like his old self again. You see the ball getting off his bat pretty good.”
Along with Haggerty, José Marmolejos is a strong bet to make the team given that he bats left-handed and plays first base and left field.
Kelenic said Friday that the Mariners outlined to him that “the finish line is right there” on his Minor League development, and he is the long-term answer in left, unless the club moves him to right or center down the road. But Minor League Spring Training games won’t begin for nearly two weeks and the delayed start to the Minor League season until the first week of May could also impact his timing.
That might not seem like a big deal to the super confident Kelenic, who has thrived against every challenge in his young career. But it’s something that the Mariners, who’ve been very patient with the development of MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect, would consider.
And won’t Mitch Haniger be limited in right?
Yes, at least that’s what Servais and the club has said. Haniger will likely only play four to five days per week during the early leg of the season, including some stints at designated hitter. On days that the 2018 All-Star is sidelined, right field will need a reinforcement.
With a roster that includes Fraley, Haggerty and Marmolejos -- as well as utility man Dylan Moore, who will be the starting second baseman -- the Mariners should be able to make it work. But none of those players would match the level of offensive production that Haniger brings. Dipoto has called him “our best player” for a reason. And also consider that those days, at least for now, will also be without Lewis, so Seattle would be down its two top run producers.