Editor’s note: With MLB shut down because of the lockout, The Seattle Times is doing a position-by-position assessment of the Mariners organization entering a 2022 season filled with expectations of success.

For the first time since his breakout season in 2012, when Kyle Seager went from projected starting second baseman at Class AAA Tacoma to everyday starting third baseman in the big leagues, the Mariners go into a season unsure of who will play the position.

Given the current lockout imposed by Major League Baseball’s owners and the subsequent transaction freeze that halted the offseason market, the Mariners might not know who their opening day third baseman will be until they are well into spring training.

A stalwart for Seattle, Seager brought stability back to the position in 2012. He supplanted the much-disliked Chone Figgins, who had failed miserably in trying to replace Adrian Beltre at third base.

Per FanGraphs, the Mariners have had just two seasons where the position provided a combined negative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) — 2010 and 2011. The 2010 season was the first year after Beltre left via free agency. Seattle decided to move Jose Lopez to third base. Figgins was signed that offseason and went into 2011 as the projected starting third baseman. He played in 81 games, posting a .188/.241/.243 slash line on a 67-95 team. Seager was called up and started 39 games at third base.    

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In four seasons, Beltre produced a 2.2 WAR or higher while Seager’s WAR dipped below 2.0 just twice — the shortened 60-game season in 2020 (1.5) and the 2018 season (1.5) when he started the season on the injured list after a hand injury in spring training that required surgery.

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Besides being productive, including 35 homers and 100 RBI last season, Seager was reliable. The 2019 surgery was his only stint on the injured list in his career. He played in at least 100 games every season starting in 2012 — with the COVID-shortened season in 2020 as the exception.

He played hurt. He was committed to preparation. And he grew into a respected leader.

His absence will extend well beyond accumulated statistics.

As of now with no current additions to the 40-man roster, the Mariners would look to Abraham Toro as Seager’s replacement.

With Ty France expected to play first base on a near everyday basis and Adam Frazier acquired this offseason to play second, Toro will return to third — his natural position — after playing second base almost exclusively since the controversial trade that brought him to Seattle at midseason.

Toro, who turned 25 Dec. 20, certainly helped silence some of the critics of the organization and team president Jerry Dipoto with his early performance in a Mariners uniform.

After homering for Houston in the loss the night before, Toro homered for Seattle the night of the trade. It was the start of a torrid run where he reached base safely in his first 18 games for the Mariners, posting a .344/.440/.563 slash line with five doubles, three homers, eight RBI. He had 16 hits in his first 10 games with Seattle, batting .432.

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But going from a bench/platoon player to an everyday player, wilted Toro in the final month of the season. After hitting a memorable grand slam Aug. 31 off Kendall Graveman, who was part of the trade to Houston, Toro posted a .183/.259/.250 slash line with five doubles, a homer, 10 RBI, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts in his final 28 games.

Most scouts believe Toro is a hitter who’s somewhere between the two extremes.

“He’s a nice player and maybe better than I thought, but he’s not an everyday player on a good team and certainly not at third base,” an opposing American League scout said. “His value is as a bench player.”

For years, third base was considered a position to be manned by power hitters and run producers. Seager ascribed to the theory and revamped his hitting approach after the 2011 season to earn the job.

The current version of Toro doesn’t project for much power. Increased strength training and conditioning might add a few more homers. But most scouts believe his ceiling is 20. The Mariners love his bat-to-ball skills and athleticism.

While the profile for third baseman doesn’t necessarily have to be a mashing 35-40 homers player anymore, the Mariners were already lacking in impact hitters when Seager was still in the lineup.

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Toro’s overall skill set fits the more traditional profile of a second baseman. But that position switch left him uncomfortable in the field, looking mechanical and stiff. Working with infield guru Perry Hill, Toro showed some improvement.

Given the need for hitters and the roster limitations, the Mariners have talked to multiple free-agent infielders, who are considered impact hitters, about filling either the second-base or third-base spot or both.

Seattle had been in communication with versatile third baseman Kris Bryant and his agent Scott Boras while also pursuing Rockies shortstop Trevor Story with the intent of moving him to either second or third base.

The addition of one or both would certainly change the projected infield and represent a much-needed upgrade at either position.

The possibility of an offseason or midseason trade to address third base is also a distinct possibility, particularly if they fail to sign Bryant or Story. With the A’s looking to move several star players, Seattle would love to add Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman for a reasonable return of prospects.

The other less-likely option is moving France back to third base and perhaps reinserting Evan White as the starter.

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Multiple baseball sources said that the A’s would almost certainly ask for Mariners shortstop prospect Noelvi Marte as part of the return. Rated as the No. 11 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Marte is a 20-year-old with speed and plenty of power potential. As a 19-year-old playing in full-season minor league baseball, he posted a combined .273/.366/.459 slash line with 28 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, 71 RBI, 24 stolen bases, 60 walks and 117 strikeouts in 99 games with Low-A Modesto and eight games with High-A Everett.

Multiple scouts said that Marte’s size — 6-2 and 200-plus pounds — and fielding inconsistency (30 errors) might push him to third base, which is a more natural fit. The Mariners will keep him playing shortstop for the time being since he’s not projected to be MLB ready until late 2023 or early 2024.

If Toro is starting at third base and Frazier is starting at second base in the opening day lineup for the Mariners, it means something will have gone very wrong in their offseason plans to add impact hitters to their lineup.

Current third base depth chart:

Mariners: Abraham Toro, Adam Frazier, Ty France

Class AAA Tacoma: Jake Scheiner, Joe Rizzo

Class AA Arkansas: Connor Hoover, Patrick Frick

High-A Everett: Tyler Keenan, James Parker

Low-A Modesto: Milikar Perez

ACL Mariners: Starlin Aguilar