Let’s be clear, the Twitter mailbag is not subject to lockouts or transaction freezes. It doesn’t collectively bargain because it lives a nonnegotiable existence. So while Major League Baseball is shut down for all activity, it doesn’t mean we have to forget about the sport and the hope of a 2022 season … for now.
To be clear, Crawford has never said he wouldn’t move from shortstop. As a top prospect coming up in the Phillies organization, he played second and third base after making his MLB debut.
While he probably wouldn’t like or enjoy making a change from a position where he’s considered one of the best defenders in baseball to a different one, he would do it if he was told to do so because, well, he has to do it. And if he was asked to move for the good of the team, he would do it.
It was Jerry Dipoto who made the comments about being unwilling to move Crawford from his position.
After being asked by a handsome, intelligent, Montana-born baseball writer about being linked to the free-agent shortstop market but also Crawford’s place in the organization as the shortstop moving forward.
“That’s one of the first conversations I had this offseason was with J.P.,” Dipoto said. “And I told him, ‘Hey, you are our shortstop. You will see that we are courting other shortstops. But it is with the understanding of that inquiry is made with the intent that that player is willing to move to another position. We do have flexibility where that player can play second or third days, so it gives us a chance to go target the most impactful player we can find. As long as that player is willing to not play shortstop, primarily, then we should be game.”
But let’s get back to a concept of Steve’s question — the Mariners turning away real difference makers.
Are they really doing that?
Let’s take a look at the free-agent class for shortstops — signed or unsigned — for a moment.
Corey Seager: Given his brother’s known friction with Dipoto over the years and an array of suitors interested in his talents, driving up the contract price, it always seemed like a non-starter for the Mariners. Even if Dipoto labeled the shortstop job open and Seager had interest in coming to Seattle, the Rangers’ willingness to give him a 10-year, $325 million contract pretty much ends any discussion.
Most scouts believe that given his size (6-4, 220 pounds) and past injury issues, including elbow and hip surgeries, Seager will eventually convert to a corner infield position in the next three seasons.
Marcus Semien: The Blue Jays second baseman was the first signing of the Rangers’ spending spree, inking a seven-year, $175 million deal, which was about two years longer than most experts predicted. Semien, who turned 31 in September, will be 38 during the final year of his contract. A longtime shortstop, he converted to second base two seasons ago and will be the Rangers second baseman. MLB sources said that the Mariners, who felt Semien was a perfect fit for their team, never got a one-on-one meeting with him and that he didn’t seem interested in having one. Given that Semien was willing to play second base for the Rangers, it certainly wasn’t about position.
Javier Baez: He signed a six-year, $140 million contract with Detroit right before the lockout. Like the Rangers, the Tigers were open about their willingness to spend on the free-agent market. They added lefty Eduardo Rodriguez on a five-year, $77 million contract in one of the first moves of the offseason. Baez played second base with the Cubs early in his career and went back to second base this season with the Mets. He has played in 486 games at shortstop and 231 at second base. Of the shortstop class, he’s the most erratic offensively with a career walk rate under 5% and a strikeout rate over 29%. He didn’t exactly fit the Mariners’ “dominate the zone” philosophy.
Carlos Correa: The Astros shortstop said during spring training that he would be willing to shift to third base under the right circumstances. MLB sources have said that spoken flexibility has tightened after a monster season where he posted a .279/.366/.496 slash line with a career-high 26 homers, a fWAR of 5.8 (the highest of any shortstop in baseball) and won the Gold Glove over Crawford. As the youngest member of the free-agent class, the 27-year-old Correa has reportedly been looking for a contract in the eight- to 10-year range. With Seager getting $325 million, does Correa, who is a year younger and projects to play shortstop for years to come, want a similar deal?
The Mariners aren’t poor. They could make a $300 million investment in Correa. But would it limit them in other aspects. They signed reigning Cy Young award-winner Robbie Ray and were in the bidding for Seiya Suzuki before baseball shut down.
From reports, the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Braves have all been in contact with Correa’s reps. The Mariners haven’t been linked to Correa for a multitude of reasons. But it seems more about financial commitment and player interest than anything.
Trevor Story: With Semien off the board, the Rockies shortstop seems like the most logical fit. His price tag should be closer to Baez/Semien than Correa/Seager, which would allow the Mariners to pursue Suzuki and another starting pitcher in free agency or pick up salary in a trade with the A’s or Reds. Seattle reportedly made an official contract offer to Story just before, trying to get a deal done before the lockout. Whether that has any carryover after this labor fiasco ends remains to be seen. The Yankees and Astros are also said to be interested in Story.
The status of Crawford at shortstop shouldn’t be a deterrent for Story and the Mariners to get a deal done. Most scouts believe that the 29-year-old Story would benefit from a shift to second base due to diminished arm strength. He’s dealt with elbow strains over the past few seasons and a shift to second base might reduce the overall wear and tear on a player that plays with a similar intensity to Crawford, who turns 27 in January.
It doesn’t seem like playing shortstop was a factor for Semien, a top target while neither Seager nor Correa seemed like realistic possibilities for a multitude of reasons.
Looking at the circumstances of the free-agent class, it seems easier for Dipoto to say he wants to stick with Crawford at shortstop knowing that they could maintain his value there while still hopefully adding offense at second base or third base.
“Every year, he has gotten better and better,” Dipoto said. “He’s a guy whose development was not linear. He didn’t take a straight path. This last year he was a three-win player. If you’ve got a shortstop, who’s giving you 3-plus WAR, who is a Gold Glove-quality defender and an emotional leader, why would you move him? I appreciate that he grinds at-bats, that he has on base skills, that his power has developed a little bit more in each passing year. If we move him off of shortstop, we took what is a catalytic player for us, and we move them off of the position where he makes us go, and that doesn’t make sense to me.”