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February 3, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Will Kyle Seager automatically make the team this spring? Not guaranteed

Interesting decision the other day by the Mariners to sign onetime Seattle infielder and longtime Detroit Tigers stalwart Carlos Guillen to a minor league deal. The Mariners, as you’d know from reading our winter meetings coverage, have been in on Guillen for quite a while.
He’ll earn $1 million in base salary if he makes the team plus an additional incentive bonus based on the number of plate appearances he gets. Problem is, where is that playing time going to come from?
The Mariners already have Chone Figgins in the fold and he isn’t going anywhere unless he arrives in camp completely out of shape and unable to perform. Given that his career is now on the line, I just can’t see that happening. In fact, I expect to see the Mariners giving Figgins some at-bats out of the leadoff position this spring as they seek an alternative to Ichiro, who will almost certainly not be back at the No. 1 role to begin the season.
So, where does Guillen fit? I guess, technically, he does not have to fit anyplace since he’s only got a minor league contract. But the M’s didn’t sign Guillen so he could go to Class AAA for them. In all likelihood, if he doesn’t make the team, he’ll get released and be given a shot someplace else. No, the M’s signed Guillen because they are hoping he can play for them. If he can stay healthy a reasonable amount, he could turn out to be a real bargain, given that he actually brings some corner infield power to the table
But keeping him healthy is going to require corner infield playing time. No shortstop, none of that outfield stuff. Same thing the M’s did with Adam Kennedy. Yeah, he’s capable of playing the outfield, but it would be nuts to throw an injury-prone 36-year-old into a role that requires too much leg use.
So, third and first base it is, then.
Um, then what about Figgins? Yeah, he also plays third base. Sure, you can bounce him around the middle infield and outfield a bit more. OK, then, you can see how both Figgins and Guillen could stick on the same team.
Then, what about Kyle Seager? Doesn’t he also play third base?
Yes he does. And on a team with both Figgins and Guillen, he becomes the odd man out. At least, for the time being.
Photo Credit: AP

Let’s not forget, Seager still has minor league options left. He’s a guy the Mariners fast-tracked to the big leagues with nary a month of Class AAA experience. And for all of the promise Seager showed last season, he also had his to-be-expected struggles.
We mentioned yesterday that Seager’s strikeout rate was one of the lowest among the younger Mariners hopefuls. But his walk rate was also one of the lowest as well.
A closer look at his overall numbers achieved last season shows one outstanding series against the Indians, which my buddies in Cleveland have told me, was the worst showing turned in by the Tribe all season long. One of those Murphy’s Law type of moments when anything that could go wrong for the pitching staff actually did.
Seager arrived for that late-August series hitting .224 with a .566 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Three games later, he was hitting .313 with an .835 OPS. He had 10 hits in the three games he played in at Cleveland, compared with 15 in a full month-and-a-half prior to then. Six of those hits against the Indians were for extra bases, compared to just one in all of his prior playing time.
So yeah, that’ll pump up your stats.
Seager went 5-for-21 the remainder of that month, then hit .210 in September.
In other words, the best part of his 2011 season came in one series against the Indians.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but he had six extra base hits in Cleveland versus nine in every other game he played.
So, in evaluating whether or not a specific player has shown enough to be considered a favorite to land a corner infield job coming out of spring training, Seager has yet to really show the consistency required.
This isn’t to knock his 2011 season. As I mentioned, he was literally vaulted to the big leagues straight out of AA, with just a cup of AAA java under his belt.
But rebuilding or not, if the Mariners are serious about using 2012 as the next step in forming a playoff contender (as opposed to just fielding a cheap club to offset expected attendance declines), there really should be no guarantees for Seager coming into this season.
There is a difference between developing players and handing them jobs they’ve yet to earn. Seager hasn’t earned anything yet and the one thing the M’s are quietly making clear to anyone around the team is that they won’t be rushing players up to the majors before they are ready.
And being ready doesn’t mean the .691 OPS produced by Seager last season, much of it aided by one series. That’s not a third base number for a team that’s building towards a championship squad at some point.
So, in my book, what this means is that if Guillen is finally healthy and Figgins reports to camp in shape, they will likely be the ones opening the season for the Mariners. And that unless Seager arrives in camp and shows he has taken his game to a different level, he could very well be starting the season in AAA.
Has nothing to do with Seager’s future. It has to do with properly developing guys, not just checking their birth certificates and awarding jobs to anybody under age 28. I’m putting it in terms this harsh because I can already forsee the backlash from the “Play the kids!” proponents if Guillen and Figgins make the team ahead of Seager.
But get this straight. Figgins isn’t going anywhere. He could very well be your leadoff hitter on Opening Day. There are too many dollars remaining on his contract for the M’s to deal him without first establishing market value (by playing him). If they were going to release him, they would have done it already. Only way that happens now is if he reports out of shape and unable to do anything.
As for Seager versus Guillen, the veteran has the edge as long as he can stay healthy.
Can the Mariners cary all three guys? I suppose. That would require a superb spring out of Seager to start. But it would also put the M’s in the position of having to do some strange things with their roster. They’re already going to be carrying three catchers (I’m including Jesus Montero as one). You going to carry three third basemen/utility guys? The M’s have done strange things in the recent past, like keeping Charlton Jimerson as an extra pinch-runner in 2008 and going with only a six-man bullpen to begin 2010. Both moves blew up quickly en route to 101-loss seasons.
I can see the M’s getting creative in other areas this spring. But this is one case where they really don’t have to.
Seager has options left. His performance last season really didn’t rate being considered the odds-on favorite going into camp.
At this point, I’d say it’s no guarantee he begins 2012 in the majors.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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