Kyle Seager: Core Mariner
We didn’t learn anything new about Kyle Seager as a player today. Presumably, nothing ought to change. I suppose it’s possible he could just up and stop trying now that he’s getting his money, but I’m going to regress that possibility very heavily to the mean. Kyle Seager now is what Kyle Seager was yesterday is what Kyle Seager was in September. Except now Kyle Seager is getting locked up for seven years and about $100 million, with an option. Locked up by the Mariners, I mean, not by some other team, or prison.
It’s simultaneously good news and a strange thing to celebrate. Kyle Seager’s becoming one of those expensive players, and those are the ones who can do the most damage if they under-perform. And the Mariners didn’t add anything; Seager was already going to stick around for the next three years, so this is something that affects the relatively distant future. Who knows what 2021 is going to look like? That’s seven years from now. Seven years ago, Alex Rodriguez was the league MVP, and the Devil Rays were wrapping up their tenth consecutive season with at least 91 losses. The guesses we make about the future now are stupid, but at least as we can perceive it, this seems like it should be more good for the Mariners than bad.
It’s the long-term extension people have long been asking for. And while the sum might be jarring, there are a couple of points to keep in mind. For one, Kyle Seager is a very good baseball player. For two, money in the future means less than money now. Prices go up. A good baseball player costs more and more every single season. Let me expand a little more on this second part. You’re already familiar with the first part — you’ve been watching Seager since he came up.
Let’s estimate that in the last year of his deal, Seager’s salary will be about $20 million. That number means something to you, as a single-year salary, but now let’s also estimate that baseball spends 5% more every year that passes. Over the past decade, annual inflation has averaged 5.4%. In terms of present money, then, that $20 million would be about equivalent to $15 million. That’s less than Hiroki Kuroda money. $15 million now buys you something in the vicinity of an average player, so it’s not an exorbitant total. No, at least, as far as professional baseball player salaries are concerned.
What I think we all love about Seager is his trajectory. It’s not only that he’s a valuable player — it’s that he’s earned it every step of the way. We used to joke that Doug Fister seemed to add a new skill every year, until he became a borderline ace. In that way, a nobody low-ceiling prospect turned into a highly valuable asset. Kyle Seager started his professional career as a low-upside infielder with contact skills, but since then he’s added power and he’s dramatically improved his defense at third. Take a guy who projects to be average. Now improve two of his most important skills. You get something like what Kyle Seager has become.
There’s no part of his game where he’s amazing, outside of his work ethic. But across the board, Seager is something like average or better. He knows his way around the bases, and though he doesn’t walk a whole lot, he doesn’t chase and he makes consistent solid contact. He handles third base like a far more athletically-gifted player, and even though Seager does still struggle some against southpaws, that much is to be expected and he’s not a complete liability. And for all I know, this is the area that Seager will select to improve on in 2015. You know, as long as he’s pushing himself. That’s how you’d turn Kyle Seager into an MVP candidate, but we don’t need to go crazy.
Bill Mueller was a common player comp. That was before. Take Bill Mueller’s profile and add more power. It’s not like Seager is any kind of threat to all fields. A home-run spray chart from Baseball Savant:
Yeah. You already knew that, even if you didn’t specifically know that. Seager isn’t a guy capable of standing in and knocking any pitch out of the park. But he seems to select his opportunities, jumping on pitches he can yank to right field. He’s been doing this for long enough now that it doesn’t seem like the league is going to figure him out overnight. Last year Seager saw fewer fastballs than ever, and it didn’t seem to bother him. He has a favorite part of the park, but he’s gone there for three years in a row, and he doesn’t hit enough groundballs for the shift to cripple his productivity.
All the elements are in place for Seager to be underrated. Underrated in the present, and underrated as a prospect. As a prospect, Seager was a safe bet to make a contribution, sort of the position-player equivalent of a pitcher with a good changeup. If you take that pitcher with a good changeup and make his command even a little better than expected, sometimes he’ll pitch like an ace. Seager never ranked higher than ninth on Baseball America’s top-10 list of Mariners prospects. The one year he was in the top-10, he was sandwiched between Marcus Littlewood and Dan Cortes. Everyone else on that list today is a question mark or a has-been. Seager’s got a nine-figure contract.
And in the present, Seager plays way over in a corner of the country for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in forever. He’s not the flashiest player, nor has he ever once commanded headlines, and players who’re solid across the board don’t get eyes like players with individual standout skills. In the first half of this past season, Seager ranked fourth among American League position players in WAR, and he was basically tied for second behind Mike Trout. He only made the All-Star Game as an injury replacement. He didn’t finish among the top five vote-getters at third base. People elsewhere don’t know anything about Kyle Seager. People locally might not be fully aware of how good Seager is.
He’s good enough to get a nine-figure contract. Good enough to get it and deserve it. Seager last year had the same WAR as Anthony Rizzo and Jose Abreu. He actually narrowly eclipsed Robinson Cano. And Cano was in no way a disappointment, so maybe that drives the right point home. Kyle Seager was just as good as the player given the biggest contract in Mariners history. It’s fun to think about how Felix Hernandez has turned out perfectly, given his skillset as a prospect. Seager’s the same kind of way, except he wasn’t blessed with Felix’s raw skills. Considering what Seager was, he’s actually close to his all-around ceiling, and that’s an uncommon thing to achieve.
We never actually really know these players as people. We don’t go on walks with them, asking them about music and family and wilderness conservation and space and the tiny-house movement. We don’t know anything about Kyle Seager aside from what we’ve been told, and what he’s done on a baseball field. But Kyle Seager absolutely busted his ass to become good enough to be worth this kind of commitment. So many similar players turn into nothing, floating around as minor-league free agents. Seager earned this — he earned this — and that sort of drive to improve isn’t a characteristic that just suddenly goes away. I trust that Kyle Seager’s going to be as good as he can be, and I’m pretty happy about having a player like that in the Mariners’ clubhouse for most of the following decade. Felix is proof of what you can become if you’re born with uncommon ability. Seager is proof of what you can become if you’re not.