Mariners expect heated battle at second

Seattle signs Elías, two others to Minor League deals

January 8th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Mariners are possibly just weeks away from embarking on Year 3 of their rebuild, and despite their significant roster turnover since the overhaul after 2018, the number of up-for-audition positions is trimming.

Sure, evaluation will continue, but many of these spots are more solidified than they were just four months ago. Mitch Haniger is healthy and will return to right field, first baseman Evan White inked a six-year extension before reaching the Majors, center fielder Kyle Lewis is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year and Kyle Seager will play one final year at third on an expiring contract.

Second base, however, doesn't have nearly as much clarity and will be up for grabs entering Spring Training. Here’s a breakdown of where Seattle stands at the position:

Moore will get first-team reps
’s 2020 breakout has warranted more playing time, Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. And the clearest spot for the third-year utility man -- who played every position except catcher from '19-20 -- is at second, where he played mostly after was shut down on Sept. 12 with a shin injury.

Moore slashed .255/.358/.496 for an .855 OPS that was the highest on the team sans Austin Nola, who was traded to the Padres halfway through the season. Most advanced metrics -- such as Moore’s 139 OPS+ and 139 wRC+, which are park- and league-adjusted and 100 equals league average -- said that Moore was a well-above-average MLB hitter, a pleasant surprise after he hit .206/.302/.389 in 2019.

Moore has come a long way since committing three errors in the same inning while playing third base during his fourth big league game at the start of 2019, but he still profiles better in the outfield -- and the Mariners would like to continue utilizing his versatility.

“As we look forward, Dylan Moore had an outstanding offensive season. He really did,” Servais said. “And he plays all over the field. It’s a great strength of his and one that’s nice to have as a manager, where you can plug that guy in anywhere. I don’t want to take that away from Dylan. … We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out, but Dylan has earned the right to get more regular time at second base.”

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France has to play somewhere, too
There might not be an up-and-coming Mariner that general manager Jerry Dipoto is more bullish on than , who profiles as the heir-apparent to Seager at third.

But France needs a spot in the interim, and Seattle has called him an everyday player, which leaves second base as a likely option for a chunk of his playing time.

More known for his bat -- he slashed .302/.362/.453 in 23 games after coming over in the Nola trade -- France still has room to grow with his glove. But if infield coach Perry Hill can work his magic on France -- as he did with J.P. Crawford, who went from defensive liability to Gold Glove Award winner last season -- there’s optimism that France can take a significant step forward in 2021.

Shed is still in the mix
No player on the Mariners’ 40-man roster would like to bounce back more in 2021 than Long, who hit an incredibly disappointing .171/.242/.291 before being shut down with his shin injury. But the Mariners aren’t giving up on him.

Servais praised Long for his defensive strides at second, an area that he had hoped to improve after coming up in the Minors as a catcher and then later as an outfielder. And his outstanding run as a September callup in 2019, when he hit four homers with an .855 OPS in 23 games, had the Mariners touting him for 20-homer potential.

But health has been a factor for Long the past two seasons. He also missed nearly two months with a fractured right finger in 2019, then he dealt with the shin in ’20. It’s unclear how much pain might’ve impacted Long’s bat, and he’ll still get reps. But Seattle isn’t committed to him as the everyday second baseman as it was this time last year, when Dee Strange-Gordon was still in the fold.

“He did make adjustments, but really never got going offensively,” Servais said. “To Shed’s credit, I thought he made huge strides defensively. … We’ll give both [Long and Moore] reps in Spring Training and see how it plays out.”

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Mariners sign three to Minor League contracts
Seattle on Thursday announced it signed relievers and and infielder to Minor League deals.

Elías is the most prominent name among them, given that the lefty is a familiar face and can be a multi-inning reliever -- which the Mariners strongly need after an AL-worst 5.92 bullpen ERA in 2020, and given their aspirations of sustaining a six-man rotation.

Dipoto's most glaring objective this offseason has been to add bullpen depth, and Elías could certainly fill part of that void if he can recover and show effectiveness in camp. The converted reliever compiled a 3.64 ERA with 14 saves in 28 outings for the Mariners in 2019 before being dealt along with Hunter Strickland to the Nationals at the Trade Deadline.

This will be the Cuba native's third stint with Seattle, having come up as an international free agent in 2011, then returning in '18-19 after being dealt to Boston in the Wade Miley deal in '15. Elías did not play for Washington in '20 after testing positive for COVID then suffering a strained flexor in his left elbow, and he pitched in just four games for the Nats during their World Series-winning season and suffered a hamstring injury while batting.

Sewald and Witte more likely fit into plans for Triple-A Tacoma.

Sewald, 30, has spent his entire eight-year career in the Mets' organization, including parts of four seasons with the big league club. Last year, he gave up nine runs in six outings (13.50 ERA), and for his career he has a 5.50 ERA with 151 strikeouts and 51 walks in 125 games.

Witte, 29, has spent his seven seasons in the Red Sox's organization, slashing .273/.348/.409 with 44 homers and 321 RBIs in 661 games. He's yet to reach the Majors.