For an all-too-brief period of baseball in 2020, roughly two months of MLB games, Kyle Lewis represented all that the Mariners could be, as a foundational player for the team’s rebuild toward sustained success.
But the unrepairable damage to Lewis’ right knee simply never allowed his potential to be fully realized. Following a frustrating 2022 season with more health issues and minimal production, the Mariners knew it was time to move on.
With the deadline to tender contracts for the 2023 season looming and a questions about whether Lewis, who was out of minor-league options, would make the opening-day roster out of spring training, the Mariners on Thursday solved the dilemma by trading the former American League Rookie of the Year to the Arizona Diamondbacks for catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel.
Hummel, 27, played in 66 games with the Diamondbacks in 2022 and had a .176/.274/.307 slash line with eight doubles, three triples, three home runs, 17 RBI and four stolen bases. The Portland native played catcher (18 games), left field (21 games) and right field (two games), and he was the designated hitter in 16 games.
The return may not seem like a lot for Lewis, but questions surrounding his health and his limitations sunk his value. The Mariners were considering not tendering him a contract for 2023, because he was arbitration eligible and couldn’t be sent to the minor leagues if he struggled.
Lewis, 27, played in only 18 games for the Mariners in 2022 because of injury and lack of production. He had season-ending surgery in June 2021 to repair a torn right meniscus, and the setbacks that followed lingered into to spring training. With both sides wanting to make sure the knee was healthy, Lewis was cautious during spring training. He began the season on the injured list and wasn’t activated until May 24.
He played in four games, hitting two homers and driving in three runs. But a slider that ran up and in May 28 during a game against against the Astros struck him on the shoulder and behind his ear, where he wasn’t protected by his helmet. It led to a concussion that kept him out until July 22.
With it difficult to play in back-to-back games because of knee discomfort, even as the designated hitter, Lewis played in just 14 games upon his return. He posted an .098/.196/.171 slash line with four hits (one homer) in 46 plate appearances, with five walks and 18 strikeouts.
The Mariners, who were frustrated by the unpredictability of Lewis’ day-to-day availability and his determinations on his health, optioned him to Class AAA Tacoma on Aug. 8, much to his dismay.
Lewis didn’t initially report to the Rainiers out of frustration. The Mariners were patient in the process. Lewis joined the Rainiers on Aug. 19 and finished out the season, posting a .235/.342/.469 slash line with two doubles, seven homers, 17 RBI, 16 walks and 35 strikeouts in 26 games.
Lewis was named the AL Rookie of the Year by unanimous vote in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, posting a .262/.364/.437 slash line with three doubles, 11 homers, 28 RBI and five stolen bases. He looked solid in center field while playing in 58 of the 60 games.
It was feel-good story, considering the injury issues he had endured.
The Mariners’ first-round draft choice (No. 11 overall) in 2016 out of Mercer University, Lewis got off to a strong start to his first professional season with the short-season Everett AquaSox. He had slash line of .299/.385/.538 with eight doubles, five triples, three homers and 26 RBI in his first 30 games. He hit .364 with a 1.114 OPS over the final 20 games.
But his season, and his development, came to a painful halt July 19.
In a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils at Everett Memorial Stadium, Lewis tried to score from second on a single. As he neared home, the catcher came up the line to field a throw. Trying to avoid a major collision, Lewis took an awkward step while trying to slow down. His right knee buckled, and he felt a pop and searing pain while ending up on the ground. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial and lateral meniscus.
After moving near the Mariners’ spring-training complex in Arizona and religiously rehabbing the knee to full strength, Lewis returned to the field on June 11, 2017. In the first game of his return with Class A Modesto, Lewis slammed the knee into the outfield wall while trying to make a catch. He suffered a bruised knee that would lead to complications, which hampered him the remainder of the season. He played in 49 games, hitting. 257 with a .740 on-base plus slugging percentage, six doubles, a triple, seven homers and 31 RBI.
The Mariners planned to have Lewis make up for the missed time in the Arizona Fall League in 2017. But recurring discomfort limited him to two games. The Mariners shut him down to allow him to rest and prepare for spring training. They did not invite him to 2018 MLB spring training, wanting him to focus on preparation for the minor-league season. The pain returned as Lewis ramped up workouts. He opted for another surgery — an arthroscopic clean up of the knee. The procedure provided relief, and he returned May 12.
After a healthy season in 2019, which earned Lewis a September call-up that included six homers in his first 10 games, and his success in 2020, issues with the knee arose in 2021. He suffered a bone bruise during spring training that delayed to the start of his season.
His return lasted 36 games. On May 31 at T-Mobile Park against the A’s, he injured the knee while trying to make a leaping catch.
A few days later Lewis was diagnosed with a torn meniscus, and he underwent surgery June 11. The Mariners hoped he might return as a designated hitter and help an offense that was heavily reliant on the top of its order. But he suffered a setback while running and sliding during a rehab session and was shut down for the season.