PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners on Wednesday announced their deal with the outfielder that Jerry Dipoto had alluded they were pursuing. However, the acquisition of veteran Steven Souza Jr. is merely a depth move.
Souza, who grew up outside of Seattle, in Everett, Wash., agreed to a Minor League contract with an invite to big league Spring Training, which officially opened Sunday. The plan is for him to play at Triple-A Tacoma, but if he reaches the Majors, he’ll earn a $1 million base salary, according to sources.
The club also signed catcher Chance Sisco to a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
Souza, 31, has played all of just 28 games the past three seasons, stemming in part from an ACL tear, LCL tear, partial PCL tear and posterior lateral capsule tear in his left knee in 2019. He also missed significant time in ‘18 with a right pectoral strain. In his last full season, in ‘17, he hit 30 homers and was worth 3.9 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.
Souza spent part of last season with the Dodgers, playing in 17 regular-season games and hitting .152/.222/.333 (.544 OPS). He was also included on L.A.’s postseason roster for each round. For his career over parts of seven seasons, the 2007 third-round Draft pick of the Nationals is a career .230/.320/.414 (.734 OPS) hitter and has been worth 5.4 WAR.
The Mariners’ big league roster has decent outfield depth, but with the unproven and uncertain aside from Mitch Haniger. Kyle Lewis enters camp coming off a season-ending right meniscus tear, Jarred Kelenic is looking to build on a promising finish after a very sluggish start, Jake Fraley has hit under .200 in parts of three seasons and Dylan Moore profiles best off the bench as a super utility player. Julio Rodríguez, the No. 2 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, will contribute sooner than later, but he’s still unproven.
Souza, at the very least, gives Seattle a little more cushion.
But no, Souza is not Michael Conforto, the All-Star free agent that the Mariners have been linked to. Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, has been mostly quiet since the lockout officially ended three days ago and the transaction freeze was lifted. That’s perhaps a reflection of the market, which has seen some flurry, even with high-profile players such as Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Rodón signing with the Dodgers and Giants, respectively.
However, each of the deals that has manifested since the lockout ended are shorter-term, and the Mariners are in the market for something more significant. Such deals are more complex, and as such, can require more time to put together.
Hours before agreeing with Souza, Seattle trimmed its 40-man roster to 38 after catcher José Godoy was claimed off waivers by the Giants and left-handed pitcher Aaron Fletcher was claimed by the Pirates. Those moves could’ve been part of a general roster cleanup, as sources indicated Fletcher and Godoy would’ve been outrighted to Tacoma had they cleared waivers. But those transactions also freed space for possibly adding more free agents.
Dipoto said on Friday that the club is aggressively re-engaging the market, yet a quick scroll through social media paints a more urgent picture of a fanbase eager for the next big signing. However, many of the Mariners’ top free-agent targets (Kris Bryant, Trevor Story and Conforto) as well as those believed to be available via trade (Matt Chapman, Frankie Montas, Bryan Reynolds and more) are still out there.
The only possible target that has landed elsewhere is Sonny Gray, who was dealt to the Twins on Sunday. Chris Bassitt was also traded from the A's to the Mets this weekend, but he seemed like less of a fit given that he would've been a free agent after this season.
So, for Dipoto and the Mariners, acquiring Souza is probably just the first domino.
Sisco, 27, is a veteran of five Major League seasons with the Orioles (2017-21) and Mets (2021). Overall, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder is a .197 (102-for-517) hitter during his Major League career, with 61 runs scored, 24 doubles, 16 home runs, 54 RBIs, one stolen base and 62 walks. He appeared with Baltimore and the Mets in 2021, playing a combined 28 games.
Sisco, who bats left and throws right-handed, was originally selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2013 Draft out of Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. He made his Major League debut with the Orioles on Sept. 2, 2017, against Toronto.