With the Mariners season now long past, it's time to look ahead to the future for the organization, starting with Kyle Seager and third base. Seager's performance in 2012 was a pleasant surprise as he outshined more heralded young teammates Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero, and finished the campaign as the club’s second most valuable position player (per WAR). With no in-house prospect knocking on the door to displace him, his starting spot next season is all but assured barring the signing of a major free agent. But is Seager the long-term solution at third base for the M's?
The 24-year old Seager hit .259/.316/.423 over 650 PA this year for a wOBA of .321. Only John Jaso had a higher wOBA on the team at .372, but did so in fewer plate appearances and most of those came with the platoon advantage. Combined with his totals from the second half of 2011, Seager's career slash line is .259/.315/.412. He's been slightly above league average hitter (105 wRC+) over the past two years, making him one of the team's most reliable and consistent bats.
Seager’s production appears sustainable. His BABIP is an unremarkable .290, meaning that his value has not been dependent on a high BABIP. He has average plate discipline, as he has a low walk rate (7%) but makes up for it by limiting his strikeouts well (17%).
With almost two years of plate appearances in the majors, most of his rate stats (BB%, K%, HR/FB, OBP, ISO, etc.) have stabilized, so we can be pretty confident about what to expect from Seager next season and beyond. He'll provide average offense with some power at the corner.
With less than three years of UZR data, judging Seager's defense statistically would be more guesswork than anything, but the general consensus is that Seager is decent at third and rates out around average among his peers.
It's also worth considering that Seager broke into the majors as a relatively old prospect. He'll turn 25 next month, so it's unlikely that Seager will develop drastically over the next few years. A player with a peak value of 3-4 WAR player is nothing to sneeze at, but he’s not a great bet to post a breakout season.
In all, Seager is a young and cost-controlled player who won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2015. He’s a solid starter, and one the M’s should have no concerns about. Yet are there more viable candidates that could displace him at third?
Among third baseman in the weak free agent class of 2013 only David Wright’s name stands out, and even he’s unlikely to reach the market as the Mets hold a relatively cheap club option. But even if Wright did become available he’s an unrealistic alternative for the M’s. He’s coming off one of his most valuable seasons (7.8 fWAR) and will command a large contract. He would certainly be an upgrade, but he’s likely to be unavailable, and his extravagant price makes him a poor fit for the Mariners. If the club has enough money for a player of Wright’s caliber, they’d be wise to invest it elsewhere in the roster.
The farm system is a bit more interesting. The M’s have no grade A, “can’t miss” players ready to steal the starting spot from Seager, but there are a few intriguing prospects coming up. Many suspected Vinny Catricala would be the one to eventually win the job after a breakout 2011. However, he followed up his M’s Minor League Player of the Year campaign with a very disappointing season. He struggled to hit all year, and was converted to outfield. At this point, his odds of threatening Seager are slim to none, though the team may move him back to third base after a poor defensive showing in left field.
Alex Liddi and Francisco Martinez also have both fallen out of favor with scouts recently. Earlier in the year Jason A. Churchill described a conversation with one scout who thinks Liddi is not a major league caliber player, and no longer a prospect. Similarly, expectations regarding Martinez are changing quickly from full-time regular to bench player.
While it’s possible that one of those three develops into an every day player, none are currently in a position to steal a job from Seager. With no impending free agent or top ten prospect waiting in the wings, Seager is likely to remain the club’s starting third basemen for several years.