Don’t expect much drama here.
The Mariners’ infield is set, barring injuries: A combination of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Jean Segura and newcomer Ryon Healy for first base.
Cano is under contract for six more years, Seager for four years and Segura signed a five-year, $70 million contract extension in June. They’ll be three of the Mariners’ seven highest paid players this season, with Segura just hitting his prime.
“You think about our team moving around the diamond, I know we have our flaws like everybody else,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said during his season wrap-up press conference. “But we have Robinson Cano who is roughly a .800 OPS (on-base plus slugging) second baseman on a hall-of-fame trajectory.
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“Jean Segura is a .300 hitter playing shortstop. Sans missing about a month with acute injuries he did exactly what we thought he would do.
“And Kyle Seager is like a metronome. You think he’s struggling and you look up and he puts up his numbers like he always does.”
Cano was ranked as the No. 2 current second-baseman in baseball behind the Astros’ Jose Altuve by MLB Network, which had Segura as the No. 6 shortstop and Seager as the No. 10 third baseman.
The need was at first base.
Healy is projected to be the Mariners’ fifth different starting first baseman on opening day in the past five years – coming after Danny Valencia (2017), Adam Lind (2016), Logan Morrison (2015) and Justin Smoak (2014).
That was their worst position last year, based on wins-above-replacement, ranking 23rd out of 30 teams. And acquiring Healy was as much about upgrading that as it was taking away someone who seemed to rake against them – he hit .314 (22-for-70, three home runs) against the Mariners when he played for the Athletics last season.
“Ryon has worn us out the past couple of years,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s swung the bat against us as well as he has against anyone in the league.
The 26-year-old is coming off his first full big-league season, and he had a slash line of .271/.337/.524 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 25 home runs.
He has mostly played third base and designated hitter in his two major league seasons with Oakland. He wasn’t so great as a defensive third baseman, but that’s why the Mariners have Seager, so Healy can just focus on first base.
“Us keeping him at first base will really help him,” Servais said. “The importance of a good defensive first baseman goes under the radar. I think he’s more than capable over there just locking in and staying there will help his development.”
But they also have some other options.
Daniel Vogelbach was a contender for the starting job last spring training but went to Triple-A Tacoma instead and was a Triple-A All-Star. The 25-year-old slashed .290/.388/.455 for the Rainiers.
But he hit .214 (6-for-28) in 16 games with the Mariners last season, striking out nine times.
And can he be viable enough defensively?
“He came into camp last year and the view was this was going to be our first baseman,” Mariners director of player development Andy McKay said. “It didn’t work for various reasons.
“But you look at his numbers the past two years, what he has done in Triple-A – there are very few people who can create offense the way he has.”
Last year they made an August trade for one-year rental Yonder Alonso to play first base and platoon with Valencia. Now Alonso is with Cleveland.
There’s also left-handed hitting Mike Ford, who was their Rule-5 draft pick from the Yankees this offseason. And Evan White is the No. 2 prospect in the Mariners organization behind outfielder Kyle Lewis, according to Baseball America (which overall ranked the Mariners’ prospects as the worst in baseball). He was Seattle’s first-round pick out of the University of Kentucky last year.
“We want to make sure we are maximizing our potential at that position,” Dipoto said during his season wrap-up press conference. “Do we think we need to address first base for 2018 and beyond? Yes. Do we think we have future answers like Daniel Vogelbach and Evan White? Yes. Is it their time in 2018? That remains to be seen.”
Not that there aren’t issues elsewhere in the infield.
Cano, the 2017 All-Star game MVP, is 35 years old. His .280 batting average in 2017 was his lowest since 2008, when he played for the Yankees.
Segura played his fewest games since breaking into the big leagues with the Brewers in 2013 because he spent two stints on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and later a high ankle sprain. And it will be interesting to see if he’s affected by batting second behind offseason pickup Dee Gordon instead of leadoff.
Then there’s Seager — it’s hard to believe he just turned 30. He’s coming off the lowest batting average in his seven seasons (.249), but he did hit 27 home runs with 88 RBIs. He’s had at least 20 home runs in six consecutive years, which only Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez have accomplished in club history.
And he’s reliable, having started more games at third base than any other player in baseball since 2012, ahead of Evan Longoria and Chase Headley.
But he never did surge at the plate like he’s been prone, too. Like in 2016 when he hit .159 in April, but .361 in May.
“Kyle Seager is very motivated to get back to where he was,” Servais said. “I think he was a little disappointed kind of at the end of the year. Last year he didn’t really have that extended hot streak. That as the difference we saw.
“We talked to Kyle a lot this offseason. He is determined to get back and to get back on top of his game because he did have a good year. It just wasn’t a typical Kyle Seager year and we all want to see it back, and nobody more than himself. He’s working his tail off to make sure that happens.”
Seager did hit .253 in April before hitting .277 in May.
“Maybe I’ll just put it on the opening day lineup card that it’s June 1 and see how he reacts to that,” Servais joked. “Maybe that will help.”
But it’s clear of all the position groups, infield would be the least of the Mariners concerns. They also have utility guys Andrew Romine and Taylor Motter on the 40-man roster, and extended spring training invites to Gordon Beckham, Kentwood High School graduate Mat Hague, Kentlake High School graduate Jordan Cowen, Rey Navarro and Zach Vincej.
“We got to play better and we know that,” Servais said. “First year here for me and Jerry (in 2016), everything kind of clicked. We brought a lot of new players and ideas and a different environment for our team. Everything came together very nicely. Sometimes you got to take a step back before you can take the ultimate step forward. That’s how I’m looking at this season. I learned a lot – our coaching staff and our players did.
“Now we can get back on top of it and get it moving in the right direction.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
WHO’S IN CAMP? (eight on 40-man roster)
2B ROBINSON CANO
Bats left, throws right, 6 feet, 210 pounds
The eight-time All-Star and reigning MVP of the Midsummer Classic turned 35 years old at the end of the season. He had the fourth-highest wins-above-replacement by a second-baseman in baseball last year (3.1) and he still appears capable of carrying a lineup. Option status: not applicable.
1B MIKE FORD
Bats left, throws right, 6-0, 225
Dipoto said he’d like a left-handed bat as one of his final bench spots. Might Ford be that? He was their Rule 5 draft pick from the Yankees and the 25-year-old played with Servais’ son, Tyler, at Princeton University, where he was the Ivy League player and pitcher of the year in 2013 as a two-way player. He hit .270 with a .404 on-base percentage between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wikes-Barre last season. Option status: three remaining
Bats right, throws right, 6-1, 195
Acquired off a trade from the Athletics for reliever Emilio Pagan and minor league infielder Alexander Campos in November. The 26-year-old hit .271/.302/.451 with 25 home runs in his first full-time big-league season a year ago, splitting time between third base and first. He’ll focus solely at first base this season. Option status: three remaining.
UTIL TAYLOR MOTTER
Bats left, throws right, 6-1, 195
Did he cut his hair? He posted an ominous picture to his Twitter that has some believing his long locks might be no more. As long as that helps his bat. He hit .198 last season, including a .107 mark (3-for-28) in September. Option status: one remaining.
UTIL ANDREW ROMINE
Switch hitter, throws right, 6-1, 200
Claimed off waivers from the Tigers in November. The 31-year-old played all nine positions during the 2017 season – including pitcher and catcher – in one game in a 3-2 win on Sept. 30 against the Twins. He posted a slash line of .233/.289/.36 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in a career-high 318 at-bats last season.
3B KYLE SEAGER
Bats left, throws right, 6-0, 210
The now 30-year-old Seager is looking for a breakout season after never really taking off on one of his trademark hot streaks and having to watch his brother, Corey Seager, start for the Dodgers in the World Series. Kyle had the lowest WAR since his first year in the big leagues (2011) last season (2.5) after his highest in 2016 (6.9).
SS JEAN SEGURA
Bats right, throws right, 5-10, 205
Had a slight regression from his breakout season in the Diamondbacks in 2016 … and he still hit .300. He’s been a major offensive upgrade at the position and is just hitting his prime. He’ll turn 28 years old in March. But he was on the bottom end of shortstops in the league defensively in his first season returning to full-time duty there. Option status: one remaining.
1B DANIEL VOGELBACH
Bats left, throws right, 6-0, 250
He’s no longer on the fast track to being the Mariners starting first baseman, like it seemed in spring training last year, but he’s still on a track, coming off a season where he hit .287 with a .390 on-base percentage in 125 games with Triple-A Tacoma last season. If he breaks out, that gives the Mariners a legit option if Healy doesn’t work. Option status: two remaining.
NON-ROSTER INVITES (5)
Gordon Beckham (R-R, 6-0, 190): Former White Sox first-round draft pick in 2008 and middle infielder is now 31. He was promoted to the Mariners in September for 11 games, and hit .176. He’s played nine big-league seasons with five clubs and he hit .262 in 83 games with Triple-A Tacoma last season.
Jordan Cowan (L-R, 6-0, 160): Third baseman is 22 years old and a graduate of Kentlake High School. He hit .271/.345/.335 at Advanced-A Modesto last season.
Matt Hague (R-R, 6-3, 225): Another local product. Helped Kentwood High School reach the 4A state title game in 2004. The former TNT All-Area pitcher is now 32 and has three big-league stints with the Pirates (2013-14) and Blue Jays (2015). Hit .297/.373/.416 with Triple-A Rochester last season.
Rey Navarro (S-R, 5-10, 185): The 28-year-old second baseman and former third-round draft pick hit .278/.342/.380 at Triple-A Salt Lake City last season. The Mariners signed him to a minor-league contract last month.
Zach Vincej (R-R, 6-0, 190): The shortstop was claimed off waivers from the Reds in November. The 26-year-old hit .270/.325/.370 in Triple-A Lousiville and was 1-for-9 in nine big-league games.
SPRING TRAINING PREVIEW
Wednesday: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Feb. 20: Position players report.
Feb. 23: First spring training game.
March 29: Season opener (vs. Cleveland at Safeco Field).