Saunders or Seager

Dave · March 5, 2012 at 9:51 am · Filed Under Mariners 

With Franklin Gutierrez set to miss all of April and potentially more time depending on his rehab, the working assumption has been that the main benefactor of the open roster spot will be Michael Saunders. He’s probably the best defensive outfielder on the team besides Guti, and as a left-handed bat, he’d form a pretty natural job-share partner with Casper Wells. And, despite his miserable Major League performances to date, he was still a pretty highly rated prospect, and the team maintains some hope that he can translate his minor league numbers to the big leagues and become a useful player.

However, going with Saunders/Wells in CF until Guti gets back is not the only option, and may not even be the team’s best option. Chone Figgins has been getting some time in center field early in camp, and while he hasn’t played out there since 2006, I think there’s a pretty compelling case to be made that he should get a decent amount of his early season playing time in center.

Essentially, the options break down like this:

Vs RHP: Figgins (3B) and Saunders (CF)
Vs LHP: Figgins (3B) and Wells (CF)


Vs RHP: Seager (3B) and Figgins (CF)
vs LHP: Figgins (3B) and Wells (CF)

If Figgins shows that he can play a half-decent center field during March, the team could essentially use his ability to move between CF and 3B to create a platoon of Seager and Wells, giving Seager the roster spot that Saunders is the presumed favorite for. There are several advantages to going that way instead.

For one, Seager is likely to be quite a bit better than Saunders this year, especially at the plate. ZIPS doesn’t love either player, but projects Seager for a .267/.323/.372 line compared to Saunders’ .220/.298/.339 mark. Neither is likely to be an offensive force, but Seager could be a competent hitter against RHPs, and help the team score more runs and win more games early in the season.

There’s also the fact that Seager is the more likely of the two to have a real future in Seattle. Even if Saunders shows some improvement at the plate, he’s probably still not going to be more than a fourth outfielder going forward, and he’ll have to prove more useful than Casper Wells to wrestle that job away going forward. Meanwhile, Seager has a real chance to be the team’s regular third baseman for the next couple of years, and even if the bat doesn’t prove up to the task for a starting job, he’s the best in-house candidate for a utility infielder/super-sub role. There’s an open spot on the roster for Seager going forward, which is not true of Saunders unless he shows remarkable improvement.

Finally, there’s also some potential added value for Figgins if he shows he can play center field. Right now, the Mariners are hoping that he has a nice start to the season so they can try to unload some of that contract this summer, but in reality, there aren’t many teams shopping for a third baseman with absolutely no power. Figgins’ skillset is much more commonly accepted in center field, and if he hits well while holding down CF at a respectable level, the team could expand the pool of clubs that would potentially be interested in his services. As strictly a third baseman, you might only have one or two teams that could be talked into taking some of Figgins’ remaining salary, but if he’s showing some positional versatility and could profile as either a 3B or an OF, you could have five or six clubs looking at him as an option for the second half of the year.

Seager and Wells are probably the two young guys on the team who aren’t currently slotted in as starters that the team should be most interested in looking at, and they’re the two most likely to produce at the plate in the early part of the season. Bouncing Figgins between third and center field could also help his trade value, and give the team a better chance of getting him off the books sooner than later. If Saunders shows some real improvement in his contact abilities during March, I’m not opposed to giving him a chance, but that’d probably be Plan B for me. I’d rather have Seager and Wells get that playing time rather than hoping Saunders has figured out how to hit something on the outer half of the plate over the winter.


12 Responses to “Saunders or Seager”

  1. Mariners35 on March 5th, 2012 9:58 am

    I’d rather have Seager and Wells get that playing time rather than hoping Saunders has figured out how to hit something on the outer half of the plate over the winter.

    Very well reasoned post, and I agree with this last bit. As much as I’m not happy to see Figgins out there at all, if he has to have playing time, it does make sense to make room for Seager this way.

    Isn’t there a chance that it’s kind of academic from a roster point of view anyway, since there seems to be a non-zero chance that Brendan Ryan starts the season on the DL? Guti on the DL means Saunders has that spot as the 4th outfielder; Ryan on the DL could mean Seager has that spot as 3b (assuming Kawasaki has pretty much locked up the backup infielder job).

  2. Westside guy on March 5th, 2012 10:00 am

    and if he hits well while holding down CF at a respectable level,

    That seems like a really, REALLY big “if”.

  3. maqman on March 5th, 2012 10:57 am

    I much prefer Saunders in CF to Figgins. The question both have to answer is can they produce enough offense to justify the spot? I like Saunders chances better. Hey rubber bands and a five pound bat may be the future.

  4. msfanmike on March 5th, 2012 11:51 am

    Agree with the analysis in that positional flexibilty for Figgins is critical, because he does not profile as a 3B for anybody, really. He doesn’t really profile as an MLB player any longer except in spring in spring trainng where hope springs eternal.

    Does the team have any remaining options on Saunders? I know they have remaining options on Seager. Seager is going to be a pretty good player for a long time, but he might become a victim of the numbers game to begin the season, unless he is absolutely crushing it throughout ST.

  5. Dave on March 5th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Both have options left.

  6. MKT on March 5th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Has Figgins lost much speed? He was an exciting outfielder to watch when he was with the Angels. Long drives and flies into the gaps that might’ve been doubles or triples, he could run down with his great speed. But I don’t know if he can still do that.

  7. Badbadger on March 5th, 2012 12:28 pm

    I’m still not especially convinced by the “showcase and sell Figgins” plan. I’m certainly not of the Baker camp that believes budgets to be illusory, but I do actually want to enjoy some baseball games this spring and Figgins continuing saga of suck makes this more difficult. I think it’s a pretty long shot that we’re going to save any money on Figgins and having to watch him stink up the leadoff spot for a month is a high price to pay.

  8. Paul B on March 5th, 2012 12:53 pm

    Normally, I’m fully in the “spring training stats are meaningless” camp. But with Figgins and Saunders, I’d be looking to see some sort of evidence that one of them can actually drive the ball before making a call on which one goes in the lineup. And with Figgins, also whether he can draw a few walks.

  9. msfanmike on March 5th, 2012 1:13 pm

    Thanks Dave. Since there are options remaining on both players, I think Saunders is the early favorite to be the odd man out unless Figgins is absolute “suck” as a defensive center fielder. I get the feeling that Wedge is very much “pro Seager” and would like to have a reason to keep him.

    In the interim, Figgins is currently providing the team with a convenient and somewhat defendable excuse to move Ichiro out of the leadoff spot.

    I think Saunders will win the job for getting extra minor league time and allow himself to fill at least one of the dozen holes within it. In the meantime, Figgins’ current (and perhaps only) claim to fame as a Mariner is that he allowed the Manager to make an easier transition decision for Ichiro to be moved to a new spot in the batting order (right, wrong or indifferent). That sure isn’t much of a claim to fame, but it is something.

  10. CMC_Stags on March 5th, 2012 4:20 pm


    Figgins has a season and a half of playing time in CF between 2003 and 2006 with a UZR/150 of -8.5. Most of that poor UZR was due to a bad Range Factor.

    I doubt that he’s gotten faster or takes better routes these days. Any premise based on his ability to play CF is flawed as I can’t imagine whatever the coaches see in practice and a few games in Spring Training would outweigh 2000 innings of MLB defense.

    I’d agree that the team wants to build some value in Figgins so it can trade him, but that is best done by having him be an above average every day 3B than a poor CF. If the goal is to give him a chance and get out from under the contract, having him play CF isn’t going to get it done.

    Have Seager start the year in Tacoma, get time playing 3B, SS, and 2B without the MLB pressure while playing every day and then call him up when Figgins goes away, someone gets hurt, etc.

  11. BackRub on March 5th, 2012 4:22 pm

    I agree with keeping Seager up and playing Figgins in CF at times. I think the point about Figgins increasing his trade value by playing CF is especially important. As it stands, some (nonsenical) teams would never trade for Figgins-regardless of his ability- because hes a 3B without power. Many of these same teams do not have a problem with a CF without power, so if Figgins is thought to be able to handle CF then trade possibilities immediately open up.

  12. Badbadger on March 6th, 2012 12:31 pm

    >Many of these same teams do not have a problem with a CF without power, so if Figgins is thought to be able to handle CF then trade possibilities immediately open up.<

    But don't you think that teams already know Figgins can play CF? He's done it before, so I'm not sure what running him out there now proves.

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