Kyle Seager is always looking for ways to improve. He's never satisfied as a player. But his biggest goal for improvement in 2016 is team wins.
You could heap plenty of complimentary adjectives on Kyle Seager and what he’s done on the baseball field. Beyond words like fundamental, consistent, productive and driven, there is this: He is the best position player that the organization has drafted and developed since Alex Rodriguez wore a Mariners uniform.
Of course, that could also be a criticism on the Mariners’ drafting and development as well. Regardless, Seager – a third-round pick who was projected by many scouts to be a good hitting utility infielder – has blossomed into an All-Star third baseman that plays Gold Glove level defense and is one of the most reliable hitters that the Mariners have had since Rodriguez.
The Mariners made the wise move of locking Seager up last offseason with a 7-year, $100 million contract that looks more economical with each year of free agent salary inflation.
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Seager had another typically strong season for the Mariners while still managing to improve on his numbers from years past. He set career highs in runs scored (85), hits (166), doubles (37), extra-base hits (63) and home runs (26).
It was a fourth straight season of 20 or more home runs. Only seven other players in Mariners history have done that. And only Ken Griffey Jr. had four 20 or more homer years in his first five big-league seasons.
Seager was also one of the best left-handed hitters against left-handed pitching in the American League. Of his 26 homers, 13 came against left-handed pitching – the most in the AL. He actually had reverse splits in 2015. He hit .297 (68-for-229) with 10 doubles, 13 home runs, 35 RBI and an .835 OPS against left-handed pitching and .249 (98-for-394) with 27 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBI and a .747 OPS against right-handers.
Seager proved to be durable, appearing in 161 games, but his consecutive games played streak came to an end on June 18 at 192 after a case of food poisoning forced him to miss a game.
It wasn’t all gumdrops and rainbows. Seager’s RBI totals dropped from 96 in 2014 to 74 in 2015. Obviously, the RBI stat is one of opportunity, meaning Seager can’t control it if he’s hitting with runners on base or in scoring position or the quality of the base runners.
But this year he admittedly struggled in those situations compared to past years, hitting .179 with runners in scoring position and ..220 with runners on base. It was irksome trend that he loathed discussing.
Runners in scoring position
Runners on base
“I think it’s just one of those things,” he said in mid-August. “I don’t try to do too much more. I try to stay with the plan for the most part. Just stay on my normal approach. It hasn’t been going my way as often as I would like.”
On Aug. 27, Seager slumped enough to where manager Lloyd McClendon gave him a day off against a tough left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon despite Seager’s protests.
Seager turned it on after that day off, hitting .313 with a10 doubles, eight homers, 25 RBI and a .959 OPS to close out the season.
While Seager’s consistent production is celebrated for good reason, it’s not as though he’s a finished product. It’s something he recognizes and attacks each offseason. Two years ago, he made a major effort to improve his defense at third base and it resulted in a Gold Glove award in 2014. Last season, he worked hard to improve his conditioning and preparation routine to handle the rigors of a full season of play and not let fatigue sap his numbers in the late months. As a result, Seager hit .287 with an .872 OPS in the final month of the season. He’s never satisified.
“There’s a lot of room to grow as a player,” he said. “There’s a lot of different aspects.”
The past few seasons, Seager has worked on hitting the ball to all fields with more consistency to take advantage of defensive shifts from opponents. He’s not just looking for soft singles into left, but also hard line drives into the left-center gap for doubles. He wants to be a threat to all fields. If he can do that, his batting average could move up in to the .290s. McClendon was adamant that Seager has the tools to be a .300 hitter.
Seager met with general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais in the offseason. And he’s aware of the club’s push for controlling the strike zone and improving on on-base percentage. It’s an area he admittedly could improve.
“I’m going to have to get better at it, that’s for sure,” he said. “That’s definitely been an influence that they’re talking about. And it makes sense. Everything they’re saying makes sense. You look at the ballpark and everything — the plan seems smart. Obviously it’s easier said than done, but (Dipoto) has done a lot. He’s has been very active in that regard. It’s a big ballpark. It’s hard to kind of rely on the home runs.”
But for Seager, his main goal for improvement is from a team standpoint.
“At this point, it really starts coming down to winning,” he said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to win. You hear guys talk about it and all this other stuff and it’s real. Ever since I’ve been up here we’ve not been in any kind of postseason. We were really close the one year (2014). But it’s something I’ve gotten a taste for after watching my brother (Corey) in the postseason — (it) was pretty cool. I’d like to join him.”
The Mariners have Seager locked up a team friendly contract for the next six seasons:
- 2016: $8 million
- 2017: $10 million
- 2018: $19 million
- 2019: $19.5 million
- 2020: $19.5 million
- 2021: $18.5 million
- 2022: $15 million club option
Beyond Seager, there really isn’t a third baseman in waiting. Former first-round pick D.J. Peterson, who was drafted as a third baseman, played more games at first base than third base last season.And that will likely continue. His struggles at the plate last season are well documented. He’s not on the 40-man roster and not attending big-league spring training this year. Beyond Peterson, any prospects for third base are at the lowest levels of the minor leagues and not going to be factors any time soon.
While there really isn’t a need for another third baseman to push Seager, there is the fear that ultra-durable Seager could eventually get hurt and spend some time on the disabled list. There is no obvious option if that were to happen. The Mariners would have to look at one of their utility infield types like Chris Taylor or Luis Sardinas as a fill-in.