Two 2021 All-Stars, two struggling hitters, two plates of food — one unpleasant conversation.
After a day game last week, the Mariners’ Adam Frazier and Jesse Winker went out for dinner. They usually don’t talk about baseball when dining together, but the topic seemed unavoidable this time.
At one point during the meal, Frazier mentioned to Winker that they were both All-Stars last year but were currently hitting in the low .200s. According to Adam, Jesse paused for a second or two before replying, “Damn, tough game.”
Let’s be real for a second — the Mariners (29-39) have zoomed past bad and are in full-fledged disaster territory. They have lost seven of their past nine games, 33 of their past 51 and have been shut out in four of their past nine. The hitting is far more to blame than the pitching for their struggles, and if you’re looking for a pair of players epitomizing the offensive disappointment, it’s Frazier and Winker.
Sentences like the one above are never pleasant to write. The two recent acquisitions might each be making over $7 million per year, but they’re still competitors with pride and all the other human emotions. Nevertheless, the Grand Canyon-sized chasms between their production this year vs. last year are impossible to overlook.
Frazier had a WAR of 4.1 in 155 games with the Padres and Pirates last season and a career-high OPS of .836. This year, the second baseman has a WAR of -0.1 and a career-low OPS of .600.
Winker had a WAR of 2.7 in 110 games with Reds last season and a career-high OPS of .949. This year, the outfielder has a WAR of -0.5 and a career-low OPS of .626.
They aren’t not helping the Mariners — they’re outright hurting them. So Saturday, I popped into the clubhouse to get their perspective on their shortcomings.
First up was Frazier, whose demeanor was even-keeled but frustration apparent.
“I’ve never had it go on for this long. I’ve had a bad month or so and then figured it out, but I’ve never had a bad two and a half months,” said Frazier, who is batting .227 with a .306 slugging percentage. “I felt great in the spring, then it was kind of hit and miss for the first couple weeks of the season, and then there was some tough luck and that’s when you start pressing.”
What do you think happened?
“I don’t know. That’s part of hitting. You go from being in nice weather in Arizona, then you go play in snow for a few days and that makes it a little tough to be consistently where you want to be. But you go through that every year,” Frazier added. “Baseball is a tough game. You can be on top of the world at one point and other times you’re searching and feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Next up was Winker, who clearly didn’t want to talk. Can’t really blame him. Our (brief) conversation took place after the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when he struck out looking in the 10th inning to give the Angels the win.
“I’m not playing well and that’s just as simple as it can get,” said Winker, who leads the American League with 42 walks but is batting .209 and slugging .299. “I just gotta figure it out.”
Expectations were obviously high. Can you speak to the level of frustration you’re feeling and maybe what you expected of yourself?” I asked, more than somewhat awkwardly.
“Things are obviously not going well,” replied Winker, insisting his slump is not due to a mechanical issue. “What I expected was not that, and it’s my job to figure out why and to turn it around.”
It’s hard not to think that Mariners manager Scott Servais has lost some confidence in this duo. Winker didn’t start in either game Saturday. Frazier didn’t start in the first game Saturday or in Sunday’s 4-0 loss. This is what happens when you have a negative WAR and, out of 158 qualified MLB players, rank 142nd (Winker) and 147th (Frazier) in OPS.
What’s going on, Scott?
“It’s been a struggle for Wink and Fraze to get it going. Their track record says one thing, and what we’re seeing this year says something totally different, which is concerning,” Servais said. “Those are two guys coming into the season that we were weighing heavily on. They needed to carry out a big chunk of the offensive load.”
“They need to make adjustments. One thing about this league is that if you’re deficient in a certain area, a certain type of pitch or part of the strike zone, you will get exposed. And I think with both guys, teams are recognizing certain areas or pitches they’re struggling against and that’s what they’re getting flooded with.”
I don’t know how things will turn out for Frazier or Winker. I’d like to say that things can’t get worse, but we’re talking about a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for 21 years.
A season ago, Frazier and Winker were playing at an All-Star level. I think at this point, the Mariners and their fans would settle for them simply playing at a Major-League level.