HOUSTON — Kyle Seager spotted the young fan in the stands of Minute Maid Park, holding a sign with his name on it about 20 rows from the dugout.
He waved at her to come closer with her parents, grabbing a baseball to throw to them and a pen to sign an autograph.
“Hey there!” he said to them. “Well, I have to do something for such a nice sign. Did you make that yourself?”
The young girl nodded sheepishly as Seager signed an autograph.
A doting dad of three, he’ll always make time for kids in the stands or on the field.
As they thanked him multiple times, wearing wide smiles, it was Seager who seemed even happier about the interaction.
“No, thank you,” he said. “Thanks for being a fan.”
The moment set off an array of autographs seekers, calling his name and holding out things to sign. Seager signed for several minutes, knowing some will be immediately up for sale online or in a store, instead of on a shelf.
Perhaps it’s a function of fans being back in the stands after so much time without them; perhaps it’s the subconscious actions of a man who knows his time in the only major-league uniform he’s ever worn is likely coming to an end. Whatever the reason, Seager has signed a few more autographs and stayed on the field just a little longer for conversations with fans than he did in the past, particularly on the road.
He always smiles when fans mention next season, wanting him to stay. He doesn’t have much more of a response than, “I hope so, too” or “We’ll see.”
It’s out of his control.
The Mariners hold a club option for Seager’s contract in 2022. If they exercise it, he’ll be back for one last dance with the team that drafted him in 2009, hoping he’d be a solid-hitting utility player. If they decline it, he will be a free agent.
In a season that could’ve been filled with anxiety about an uncertain future, there is a relaxed peace to Seager. It’s not his decision to make. Winning has helped.
After he said, “You just want to win,” this spring, Seager is relishing in this team’s surprising success in 2021 and the current push for a postseason spot. It hasn’t happened often in his 11-year big-league career.
The Mariners (76-64) entered Thursday 2.5 games out of the second American League wild card with 22 games to play.
“If we were 20 games out of it right now, (the contract) would be much more of a thought in my mind,” he said. “But with us being right there in it and playing meaningful baseball, it takes all that stuff out of it. It’s the whole reason we signed an extension here. We wanted to be here. We wanted be a part of that special group that not only brings the playoffs back to Seattle, but wins. I thought we were right on the verge of it when I signed. It’s definitely eased the burden of not just playing for a paycheck or personal stats, but playing for something more, which is something that I’ve always wanted.”
He’s been a big part of this season’s success, playing in 138 of Seattle’s 140 games, posting a .213/.290/.455 slash line with 22 doubles, a triple, a career-high 34 homers and 94 RBI.
“Let’s not talk about the batting average,” he said.
Admittedly, it’s far lower than he expected. But in the effort to drive the ball out of the park and drive in runs despite constant defensive shifts for a team that can struggle to score, he has sacrificed some of the bat-to-ball success.
That average has been better with runners in scoring position, where he has a .317/.385/.691 slash line with eight doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 67 RBI.
In the infamous Zoom call with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club, former team president Kevin Mather called Seager overpaid and said it would be his last season with team, confirming what many suspected — they wouldn’t exercise the club option.
Mariners chairman John Stanton had brief conversations with Seager in the spring, telling him Mather’s words didn’t reflect the organization’s thinking.
But it still stings.
“I’ve been here a long time,” Seager said. “I played as hard as I could. I tried to do as much as I could for everything. It definitely bothers you. Everybody wants to feel appreciated. But at the same time, it doesn’t help me. (Mather) saying whatever he felt doesn’t change the job I have to do. It doesn’t change how I’m going to be in the clubhouse.”
With each homer — 18 after the All-Star break — there is a growing clamor for the team to bring him back. But it’s important to remember that Seager’s club option for 2022 won’t be the initially listed $15 million. The contract negotiated by his agent at Jet Sports with then-general manager Jack Zduriencik had escalators to push up the option value.
They are based on plate appearances over the length of the seven-year contract. It was set up with the idea that if Seager were to miss extended amounts of games over multiple seasons, it would remain at a lower value. In hindsight, the idea seems preposterous. Above all things, Seager places the importance on availability. His only extended trip on the injured list came in 2019 when he suffered a fluke hand injury that required surgery.
He has played in 932 games over those seven seasons, ninth-most of any player in baseball during that span.
Here are the escalators of the point system based on plate appearances:
- 3,925 plate appearances = $18 million with no buyout.
- 4,050 plate appearances = $19 million with a $1 million buyout.
- 4,175 plate appearances = $20 million with a $1.5 million buyout
- 4,375 plate appearances = $20 million with a $2 million buyout
Seager is at 3,916 plate appearances since 2015, according to Baseball Reference. But the 248 plate appearances in the shortened 2020 season are projected to 670 based on the agreement with MLB and the players union. With those extra 422 plate appearances, he is credited with 4,338 toward the escalators. That means the option for 2022 is $20 million, and he will likely reach the $2 million buyout as well.
Perhaps that increased value is why Mather was so certain in his comments.
Seager has not spoken with Stanton or GM Jerry Dipoto about his future.
“I don’t talk to too many people anyway, so that’s not a concern,” he said. “It can’t change what I’m trying to do.”
He watched pitcher Felix Hernandez go through a similar situation in 2019.
“I have a different appreciation of what he was going through,” he said. “You’re here for a long time, and then it’s kind of a big question mark at the end with a lot of unknowns. There’s certainly not any communication about it. I’ve thought about that quite a bit. I absolutely hated the way that Felix went out. To know how he felt about everything, and the way they felt about him, it was not the way that someone like him should have gone out.”
For now, Seager doesn’t want to think beyond the next game and the dreamy hope of his first playoff game.
“They either do or they don’t,” he said. “But either way, I’m going to do my job the best way possible.”