Big Mariners Questions: Who can replace Kyle Seager’s RBI production?

While one of the most anticipated seasons in Mariners history is on hold until the MLB lockout ends, we’re not letting that get in our way of breaking down why 2022 should be a big year for baseball in Seattle. Keep your eye on SeattleSports.com as we continue our series of articles looking at important topics for the Mariners. In the coming days, we will be focusing on the lineup.

In this post, SeattleSports.com’s Brandon Gustafson looks at the top candidates to replace Kyle Seager’s RBI production. Look for more posts about big questions about the Mariners’ lineup throughout this week.

The Mariners are set to bring back many players from their 90-win 2021 season, but one franchise icon will not be on the squad.

That would be third baseman Kyle Seager, who retired during the offseason after the Mariners did not pick up his option for 2022 and he briefly explored free agency.

The Mariners will miss Seager’s leadership, durability and his consistent play over at third base, but what may have been missed the most right when Seattle returns to action is his production when it came to driving in runs.

Seager hit just .212 in 2021, but he set career-highs in home runs (35) and RBIs (101) in 159 games. Seager led the Mariners in RBIs and was second on the team in home runs behind right fielder Mitch Haniger.

That kind of production would be missed on any club, but it will especially be missed by a Mariners team that, to date, does not have Seager’s clear replacement on the roster and also finished 2021 last in batting average and 22nd in runs scored.

So, who can the Mariners look to in 2022 to help replace Seager’s RBI production?

Whoever starts at 3B

This is, of course, the most obvious answer. But while it’s obvious in the sense of they must contribute in driving in runs, it’s less obvious who exactly will be playing third base for the Mariners in 2022.

As far as in-house options, the Mariners have Abraham Toro and Dylan Moore on the 40-man roster as two guys who could start and play third base. Neither are the most inspiring, but Moore was among the Mariners’ best players in 2020 as a super-utility player while Toro was red-hot to start his Mariners career before cooling down. He played mostly second base for Seattle after the midseason deal, but he came up with the Houston Astros as a third baseman.

Another wild card could be Luis Torrens, who is a natural catcher who has struggled defensively behind the dish. He played two innings at third in 2021 and as he may be a man without a position at the moment, it’s not worth ruling him out.

There’s also Ty France, who we’ll dive deeper into in a moment. France came up through the minors as a third baseman, but he was a star for Seattle in 2021 at first base where he was stellar defensively. He appears to be penned in to that spot given Evan White’s struggles at the MLB level to date.

But the most likely outcome here is that the Mariners’ 2022 starting third baseman isn’t on the roster.

Unfortunately, we’re still in the midst of a lockout and it’s unclear when it will end. But when it does, the Mariners will almost certainly be looking to add a new third baseman to the mix.

Seattle has been heavily linked to All-Stars Kris Bryant and Trevor Story. Bryant is a natural third baseman while Story is a natural shortstop.

The Mariners could also look to the trade market with division rival Oakland, who is expected to be shopping key players like Matt Chapman, a slugging third baseman who is arguably the best defender regardless of position in baseball.

Ty France

Well I said we were going to get to France, so how about we tackle him next?

France was Seattle’s most consistent player in 2021, slashing .291 / .368 / .453 in 152 games. He missed just 10 games as he was on the injured list after getting hit by a pitch in his wrist, and his numbers likely would have been even better if he hadn’t tried to play through the injury before finally sitting out 10 games.

France played mostly second and first base in 2021 with some DH mixed in, and he was a fixture near the top of the order.

France ultimately finished the year with 18 home runs and 73 RBIs, but there’s good reason to think the Mariners can get more power and run production from No. 23 in 2022.

During his first 81 games, France slugged .412 with eight home runs. But France slugged .480 with 10 home runs in his final 71 games.

Additionally, France slugged .433 with six home runs in 75 games in Seattle compared to 12 home runs and a .455 slugging percentage on the road. If France can tap into his power more at home, that’d go a long way in helping fill Seager’s shoes.

Jarred Kelenic

The highly-anticipated start of Jarred Kelenic’s MLB career did not go as planned.

Kelenic slashed just .096 / .185 / .193 in his first 23 games before being sent back down to the minors. After a month in Triple-A, Kelenic returned after the All-Star break and, while better, still struggled in July and August to the tune of a .181 / .263 / .315 slash line between those two months.

Overall, Kelenic slashed .181 / .265 / .350 with 14 home runs in 93 games with the Mariners in 2021.

But during the final month-plus of 2021, Kelenic showed he can be an elite run producer and home run hitter.

In 29 games in September and October, the rookie outfielder slashed .248 / .331 / .524 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits. Over a 162-game season, that equates to 39 home runs, 112 RBIs and 79 extra-base hits.

Simply put, Kelenic was among the best power hitters in baseball over those final 29 games. If he carries that over to 2022, replacing Seager’s production will not be as difficult for the Mariners.

Kyle Lewis

Expectations were also very high for outfielder Kyle Lewis in 2021 as he was the reigning American League Rookie of the Year.

In 2020, Lewis played in 58 of 60 games, slashing .262 / .364 / .437 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Over a 162-game season, that would equate to 31 home runs and 78 RBIs.

Lewis was expected to be a middle-of-the-lineup player for the Mariners in 2021, but he started the year on the injured list due to a bruise in his oft-injured knee. Upon returning, Lewis slashed .246 / .333 / .392 with five home runs and 11 RBIs in 36 games before tearing his meniscus in that same knee.

Lewis has shown he can be a truly special bat who can drive the ball out of the park and drive in runs, but he has only played in 112 career games in parts of three seasons due to the pandemic and now because of his knee.

If Lewis is ready to go when the season begins and he can stay healthy, an outfield of him, Kelenic and Haniger could be very special to watch.

And speaking of outfielders…

Julio Rodríguez

Kelenic was a top-five prospect in baseball last year and that’s the case for Julio Rodríguez, who is Baseball America’s No. 2 overall prospect.

The big outfielder is considered a future All-Star and cornerstone franchise for Seattle, and assuming we have a 2022 season, Rodríguez is expected to make his MLB debut.

Kelenic tore up the minors before making his debut and while he put up some great numbers as a prospect, Rodríguez has been an even better minor league hitter.

Rodríguez in 74 minor league games in 2021 slashed .347 / .441 / .560 with 13 home runs, 47 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and 43 walks to 66 strikeouts between High-A and Double-A. For his career, Rodríguez has a .331 / .412 / .543 minor league slash line with 30 home runs and 152 RBIs in 217 games. He also shined for the Dominican Republic in the Olympics.

Rodríguez’s calling card is hit bat, primarily his power, so he’ll be expected to drive in runs at a big clip once he’s up in the big leagues.

More from our series on the Mariners’ lineup

• Brent Stecker: How high is Ty France’s ceiling?

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