One of the better developments to come out of the past road trip for the Mariners was the hitting of Kyle Seager. He went 15-for-25 to lift his batting average from .182 to .313.
Does that make him next year’s starting third baseman? Of course not. But it does give fans and the M’s plenty to look at this next month and much more to ponder in the coming off-season. Well, actually, let’s see how the next month goes. Often, players will help make decisions for a team ahead of any winter months.
And the M’s do have a decision to make with Seager. In fact, he will present them with a bit of a “problem” if he keeps on hitting up near a .300 level. I put the word “problem” in quotes because it’s a good problem to have.
In short, Seager is a guy who looks more and more to be a potential all-star second baseman. And the “problem” is that Dustin Ackley is already manning that position. Of the two, it’s Seager who projects to possibly have the better glove at second base. But it’s Ackley who will probably be the better all-around hitter.
So, what to do? There are a few options.
1. Move Seager to second base and put Ackley in left field: This would certainly solve one of Seattle’s outfield problems, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen. The M’s just traded for a bunch of outfielders and moving Ackley to the outfield will reduce his potential impact. There are many more left fielders who can hit for average and doubles power than second basemen. The minute you move Ackley, you reduce his potential worth. Then again, if you believe Seager can provide similar golden worth to Ackley at second, it’s a move you do contemplate.
2. Make Seager the starting third baseman: Heck, if he keeps hitting like he did in Cleveland, no problem. But let’s not go crazy here. It was one series. He had 10 of his hits — including five doubles and one home run — in about a 26-hour span. Ever heard of biorhythms? The “zone”? Seager certainly found that during the doubleheader and series finale, but you don’t base future projections off it. His .825 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) as of right now would allow him to man the hot corner for any team if he could keep it up over a full season. But his OPS was .566 heading into the Cleveland series. So, let’s catch our breath and watch the next four weeks. Seager has never projected to be much of a power hitter. Certainly not for homers and even with a doubles-infused OPS by Seager, the M’s would then definitely have to acquire more pure power at DH and the outfield corners if they stuck with him at third. Hey, it’s possible to do it. We should never forget that Seager is doing all this without really any Class AAA experience. That’s a tremendous leap and shows there might be a lot more to him than meets the eye.
3. Turn Seager into a super-utility player: To be honest, we keep hearing about players this should happen to and it rarely takes place. Seager has projected to be and so far looks like a future everyday major leaguer. Utility guys — even good ones — tend to be a notch below that on the talent front. You could do it for a year or so, I suppose, to boost his market value and see what happens with the rest of the rebuilding plan. But long-term? Unless the goal is to save money at a bunch of positions, this idea does not appear to have much merit. The team has Nick Franklin and Brad Miller in the minors as shortstop prospects and Francisco Martinez and Carlos Triunfel as potential third basemen at AAA and AA. Seager is ahead of all of them right now, but the pool of young infielders is getting deeper and there might not be all that much room around in coming years to get Seager everyday playing time as a utility guy. Maybe all the prospects are busts and Seager will have the time. But I don’t see the team waiting long enough to find out. This idea just doesn’t have long-term wings.
4. Trade Seager as a key piece of an off-season or July deadline package: This is ultimately where I still see the team leaning, though it probably has yet to decide on any one course of action. Plenty can happen, whether it’s Seager developing more power or an injury to a key player. But Seager — from all indications — has the glove and (apparently) the bat to be a very good MLB second baseman. He’s just blocked by Ackley. The Oakland A’s were in a similar situation a decade ago when third baseman Eric Hinske was tearing up the minors (OBP-wise) and clearly MLB-ready, but blocked by Eric Chavez. Oakland traded Hinske and Justin Miller (yes, the tattoo guy) to Toronto for all-star closer Billy Koch soon after. Hinske went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year award the following season. Hinske was highly thought of at the time (his career never panned out as well as his initial promise, though he’s been on three World Series teams), but the A’s simply had no room for him. Seager is clearly more versatile a defender than Hinske, but, good as his glove is, he is blocked at his best position. If other teams see that as well, he might have too much trade value for the M’s to pass up on.
Anyway, that’s the scenario. Now, the M’s are under no real pressure to move Seager right away. Especially if their rebuilding plan doesn’t involve taking a serious shot at contention next season. When I say “serious” what I mean is, would the team trade away any pieces or take on additional money next summer to stay in a playoff race? If the answer is “no” and the real goal for contention is 2013, or beyond, then the team could indeed keep Seager around, see how he develops and try him out at multiple positions.
None of this is bad news. Seager’s natural development path should have seen him in AAA this summer with maybe a September call-up. Instead, he’s now on a one-week tear hitting-wise in the majors.
Like I said, it’s a good problem to have.