PEORIA, Ariz. – The cherubic face that looked like it would never grow a beard in 2011 still can’t really grow a beard 10 years later.
There have been past unsuccessful attempts at a stubble beard, and the current endeavor has produced patches of whiskers similar to the grass on an old sandlot field that kids these days would never play on.
But it’s the noticeable specks of gray in those strips of whiskers that offer a reminder of just how long Kyle Seager has been with the Seattle Mariners.
Sitting on the fan-less bleachers on the backfields of the team complex, he’s now considered baseball old at 33.
Asked about his time with the Mariners, he stares at a group of his teammates finishing up their morning work. They are all either nine, 10 or 11 years younger.
“There’s a constant reminder that I’ve been here for a long time when pretty much everybody that I came up with and started with, in every area of the Mariners, is different now,” he said. “From upstairs, downstairs, training staff, everything has changed so much.”
And barring something unforeseen, that time will end after the 2021 season. The seven-year, $100 million contract that he signed before the 2015 season will be done. Technically, the Mariners could bring him back by exercising a club option that would pay out a minimum of $15 million and up to $20 million for the 2022 season.
“That’s ultimately their decision,” he said. “Me worrying about whether they’re gonna pick up the option, not pick it up, that doesn’t help me go out and do my job.”
Even before now-former CEO Kevin Mather called him “overpaid” and said this would “probably be his last season as a Mariner,” Seager knew it was trending that way based on the team’s direction and financial thinking. That sort of one-year investment doesn’t really fit with the team’s rebuilding plan or budgetary constraints.
When it’s mentioned that Mather was also the team president when Seager signed the contract extension in December 2014 under former GM Jack Zduriencik, whose contract Mather extended in 2015 and then fired 10 months later, a smirk appears on Seager’s face.
“Well, there is that too,” he said.
As for Mather’s “overpaid” comments …
“I’ve had plenty of interactions with Mr. Mather over the years,” Seager said. “And we’ve always got along well. You certainly don’t love hearing comments about you like that. It doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies, obviously, but that stuff is out of my control. And if I got frustrated every time someone complained about me, I’d be having a tough go of it.”
Indeed, there was a time when plenty of fan irritation was directed toward Seager and the amount of money he made vs. production, particularly in 2017 and 2018, seasons that weren’t quite up to his previous standards. Though to be fair, he played through a pulled oblique muscle in 2017 for almost two months and played with a broken toe in 2018 for just as long, trying to help the team fight its way to the postseason. Those injuries were not made public at the time by Seager or the team. With no real options to take his place, the consensus was to keep him out there, believing that him playing at 75-80 percent health was better than the replacement options.
“I tend to disagree,” Seager said of being overpaid. “I tend to think I’ve given everything I could to this organization. I have played hard. I’ve thought I’ve played pretty well a lot of times. It’s not something where I’m gonna be thinking about it when I’m hitting. There’s really no point in me getting all bent out of shape. If that’s how they feel, that’s how they feel.”
Seager has played in 1,321 games in 10 MLB seasons. The only seasons where he played less than 154 games were in 2011 (53 games), when he made his MLB debut, 2019 (106 games) when he suffered a fluky hand injury, which required surgery, while diving for a ball during a spring training game, and 2020 because, well, there were only 60 games to play.
Per FanGraphs, he has been worth 32.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career, which, per their metrics on the monetary value of 1.0 WAR, means he’s been worth $247.3 million. Over the first six years of is current contract, he’s earned $70 million while yielding a WAR value of $147.7 million. Conversely, in his first four years of making the MLB minimum salary, a combined total of $2 million, Seager produced 13.8 WAR worth $99.6 million. So even if Mather thinks Seager was overpaid on his contract, he was severely underpaid before it.
Perhaps the one true thing that Mather said about Seager was his future place in the organization’s Hall of Fame. In the Mariners’ career leaders, he ranks in the top three or four in almost every offensive category. The players ahead of him — Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez — have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Ichiro’s induction is a foregone conclusion.
Yet those three players, and other players in the Mariners Hall of Fame like Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer, have all done something in a Seattle uniform that he hasn’t and likely won’t — play in a postseason game.
With the roster still resembling an unfinished rebuild, payroll limitations that didn’t allow much to be added this offseason and no expanded playoffs, Seager and the Mariners will likely be done playing baseball on the final day of the regular season … again.
“When we signed the deal, the intent was to be here for the entirety of it,” he said. “Certainly in the beginning, when you sign that deal, you thought we were right on the cusp of something great. You want to be here. You want to be a part of it.”
If he were told hours before he signed that contract extension that he would never experience the playoffs during its entirety, would he have believed it?
“I wouldn’t have enjoyed that conversation with you,” he said. “I wouldn’t have liked it at all. But it is what it is, right? It’s a business, first and foremost. And the people that are in charge know it’s a business. You learn real quick that if you’re not winning, then that’s not a necessarily a good business or smart business move to spend more money and not win.”
During his career, the team was only close to a postseason spot three times — 2014, 2016, 2018 — and after that 2018 season, the Mariners went into rebuild mode, meaning playoffs weren’t a priority or a much of a possibility.
“That has been difficult,” he said “I was able to take care of the financial aspect of this game, was able to take care of the family and all that stuff. Then the only thing you’re playing for at that point is winning. If I hit 200 home runs this year, I’m still making the exact same, so there’s no financial part of it. It is purely about winning. So when you have to do the stepbacks or whatever it’s referred to, it definitely puts you in a little different mindset.”
Players don’t understand the 10,000-foot view of an organization. That’s for the front office. They live more in the moment. It’s hard to focus on future success when you have to compete against the best in the world every day. That day’s win is more important than wins two seasons from now.
“I can promise you, there’s never been a day where the guys that stepped on the field were worried about anything other than trying to win,” Seager said. “That’s definitely been very reassuring. But that’s not always the organizational goal, right? It’s not a 10,000-foot view.
“That definitely,” Seager paused, and then said, “it hurts. It’s tough at times.”
He watched his brother, Corey, win a World Series and World Series MVP with the Dodgers last season. And while he’s good-natured about it, there is true professional envy.
“I love Corey to death, but to act like there’s not some real jealousy there is ridiculous,” he said. “He’s been in the big leagues for 5 to 6 years and he’s been to the postseason six times.”
His best bet at the postseason is with another team, but probably not this season.
When Dipoto culled the roster of arbitration-eligbile players and veterans on MLB contracts after the 2018 season, Seager was one of the few left. A poison-pill clause in his contract that turned that club option for next season into a player option if he was traded became a major obstacle.
“That was purely for me to have a little control,” Seager said. “So if you get traded to a place that you don’t want to be you don’t have to do it, or if you get traded to a place that you love, you can pick it up. It gives you a little bit of control. And the thought was if they’re gonna trade you, this is a big part of it, and they have to at least have conversations with you.”
Seager will have even more control 89 days into the season when he reaches 10 and 5 rights — 10 years of service time with the last five consecutive years with the same team — which gives him veto power over any trade.
To this point, Seager has had no conversations with Dipoto about being traded or much of anything. They’ve never asked his input or his intentions about the option.
“I’ve seen all the rumors,” he said. “But they’ve never come up to me about anything. I don’t know how far they got. They obviously don’t need me to OK anything. But you kind of think that you’ve been here long enough that you’d at least get a little bit of a heads up, I guess.”
Without the unique trade clause, would he be sitting here now?
“Well, I mean they’ve traded everybody,” he said laughing. “So obviously.”
Neither he nor his agent, Andrew Lowenthal of Jet Sports, have tried to manipulate a trade through the media with comments on or off the record.
“It’s goes back to talking about being professional,” he said. “My job is to go out and play third base for Seattle Mariners. So I just figured I will do that. When guys make it about them, you kind of lose sight of the whole doing my job. My job isn’t to complain or not complain about whether I’ve been traded or not traded. That’s out of my control and in all honesty, it kind of becomes a distraction. I never really wanted all the extra attention.”
If this is his last year in a Mariners uniform, he hopes to avoid what happened to Felix Hernandez in his final season. There was a noticeable detachment felt from both sides — Hernandez and the front office. The relationship was fractured.
“I did hate how it ended with Felix, if we are being completely honest,” Seager said. “It was sad. For me, I’d never played with a pitcher that dominated a level the way that he did. I’ve played with guys that were really good players, but the way that he absolutely dominated big-league hitters, there for a while, it was something I’ve never seen. He was truly incredible. And I did hate how things were separated. The relationships weren’t as great at the end with all that other stuff.”
There was an uncomfortable tension that lingered over the entire season.
“It was real,” Seager said. “It was tough and I certainly don’t want that to happen me.”
They will likely both leave the Mariners having never been to the postseason.
“How many times did we lose 1-0, where he just went out there and shoved for eight shutout innings?” Seager said. “They would squeak one run in there and we couldn’t score there for years. He was so much better than everybody else and you look back on that type of stuff, and it was an absolute privilege to play with and behind him.”
When Seager talks about his time with the Mariners, he admits that his legacy never crossed his mind, though he hopes people will remember that he played almost every game and played hard. He’ll cherish the relationships and teammates that grew into lifelong friends. But his lasting moments on the field never came quite the way he expected. One of those summed up his time so perfectly.
“As of now, I still think one of my top four or five moments in a Mariners uniform is in 2016 when we got eliminated the last day in like the fifth or sixth inning or whatever it was,” he said. “I’ll never forget being on-deck, and everybody starts giving us a standing ovation and they’re cheering. It felt weird. It gave me chills and all that other stuff. But then at the same time, you’re like, man, we’re getting this ovation and we didn’t make the playoffs. We didn’t make it.”
Seager sighed after the comment.
Each spring training has offered hope for a summer of success, but then reality struck as summer turned to fall and always an end with nothing but next year.
“At some point, it has to be about winning,” he said. “You just want to win.”