LAS VEGAS — Is it a positioning-based continuation bluff where the Mariners win the jackpot in the end in a game few saw coming?
Or is Jerry Dipoto just checking bettors and expected raisers like the Yankees and Dodgers, seeing the free agent chart and understanding that he’s holding a folding hand based on expected outcome percentages.
Or will his known early position put him on a tilt and chase at the end?
Excuse the gambling references, but a few days in Vegas will have you talking like a “Casino” character.
But after being resolved at the Mariners post-season press conference saying JP Crawford would be the Mariners’ starting shortstop in 2023 despite a class of free agents that includes four impact shortstops , all of which represent improvements to the position, Dipoto doubled down (OK, just a more benchmark) on his position during Tuesday’s media availability at MLB GM meetings.
Standing in the foyer on the roof of the new Resorts World Casino, with senior executives – mostly general managers – from the other 14 American League clubs speaking to the assembled media, the Mariners president of baseball operations reiterated the expectation that Crawford be the starting shortstop in 2023. And the Mariners would ask any potential shortstop signer to move to second base, where the team is badly needed.
“Our preference is for JP to play shortstop because I think he’s a good shortstop and all the things I said at the end of the year still hold true today,” said Dipoto. “Part of what has helped our club evolve is the static nature of the roster. There are a lot of guys who have played together now. And that means something when you’re trying to build a long-lasting, cohesive squad. , forward looking and enduring. JP is our shortstop. He has been our shortstop for three years. We would like him to be our shortstop for the foreseeable future.
The Mariners signed Crawford to a five-year, $50 million deal on the first day of the 2022 season.
After posting an unsustainable .363/.454/.582 slash with 33 hits in 108 plate appearances to start the season, Crawford had a .218/.314/.283 slash with 18 doubles, twos, triples, two home runs, 32 RBIs, 55 walks and 67 strikeouts over the next 119 games.
This has no impact on the production on the plate. And his defence, while still strong, wasn’t quite at the elite level of 2020 and 2021.
According to the measure of wins over substitution, Crawford was worth 2.0 wins over FanGraphs (fWAR), which was 17th best among MLB shortstops and 2.8 wins over Baseball Reference (bWAR), which was the 16th best.
That’s significantly less than the top four free agent shortstops:
- Trea Turner: 6.3 fWAR, 4.9 bWAR)
- Carlos Correa: 4.4fWAR, 5.4bWAR
- Xander Bogaerts: 6.1fWAR, 5.8bWAR
- Dansby Swanson: 6.4fWAR, 5.7bWAR
So why are the Mariners staying so firm on keeping Crawford at shortstop, limiting their options. MLB insiders and people close to the game had many theories as to why, with one being fairly obvious.
“In reality, Jerry can say that because he knows they probably can’t sign any of those four shortstops unless they really overpay,” said an MLB agent, who did not represent any of the four shortstops. “Even then, it might not be enough. It kind of lowers the bar for him.
Indeed, even if Dipoto came out and said he was willing to move Crawford to second base for one of those four shortstops, it doesn’t significantly improve their chances of signing one. Duration and total salary are the driving force.
A year ago, at GM meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., Dipoto made a similar statement about Crawford’s future in the role.
“One of the first conversations I had this offseason was with JP,” Dipoto said last November. “I said to him, ‘Hey, you’re our shortstop. You will see that we are courting other shortstops, but it is with the understanding that the investigation is done with the intention that this player is ready to move on to another position.
There were five premium midfielders available on the market last season, Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez.
The Mariners felt Semien was the perfect fit for them, but they never exceeded initial requests and he signed with Rangers. Seager was an obvious non-starter. Correa was initially looking for a 10-year, $300 million-plus deal, but settled for a three-year, $105 million deal with the Twins that he could and pulled out after one season. Baez’s swing-and-miss issues made him the least appealing of the bunch. Story essentially avoided the same offer from the Mariners to sign a six-year, $120 million contract to play second base for the Red Sox.
Failing to get an impact hitter from that middle group in the lockout-shortened offseason, Dipoto instead pivoted and acquired Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez from the Reds at the start of delayed spring training. .
The situation surrounding the Mariners and the midfielder is different this season. After the team’s first playoff appearance since 2001 and a successful 2022 season, expectations for 2023 will be very high. The Mariners know they need to add production to an offense that was highly inconsistent. To go from postseason qualifier to World Series champion, the roster must add impact hitters.
Although Mitch Haniger wants to return for next season and the Mariners want to re-sign him, there is no guarantee he will return. That would mean Dipoto may eventually have to find two corner fielders and an inside midfielder.
“We’re not going to sign them all through free agency,” Dipoto said. “It’s just not how we operate. We will eventually do some type of trading, and it will be a combination of trading and free will. My feeling is that the mid-field free agency market is unlikely to move quickly. But there are a number of players in both midfield and corner outfield in the free agent market that suit us well. There are also a number of guys that might be commercially available that we’re interested in. So we’re not in a big hurry.
But they move with a purpose.
“I guess of those three things, like we did a year ago, we’re likely to do one thing sooner than most just because we tend to move quickly in the market to get what we want,” Dipoto said.
But what if they can’t get what they want? Can they really be determined to keep Crawford at shortstop when a roster-changing shortstop might be available, perhaps at a contract rate they find acceptable? Dipoto left the option to switch plans in-game.
“If the impact we find to add to our roster is a shortstop who doesn’t want to change positions, and we haven’t been able to fill those other positions, we have to take that into account. at a minimum,” Dipoto said. “But our big preference is for JP to play shortstop.”
Will priority outweigh preference? It may not be in the cards.
- Age: 28
- Representing: Boras Corp.
- Rumors: Correa’s deal with the Twins was to put him back in free agency this season after failing to land the deal he wanted last offseason. The youngest of the group, he seems to want a long-term contract for more than 30 million dollars per season. The Dodgers and Yankees have that kind of money. Would the Mariners invest in that kind of commitment?
- Prediction: Dodgers sign him to eight-year, $245 million deal with vesting options to take deal to 10 years and $350 million
- Age: 30
- Representing: Agency of Creative Sports Artists
- Rumors: Most insiders believe Turner, a Florida native and resident, would prefer to play closer to the East Coast, with the Dodgers being the only team to keep him on the West Coast. The Cardinals and Phillies are motivated to add an upgrade to their infields. But he is suitable for any team.
- Prediction: After turning down a club option on Jean Segura for 2023, the Phillies sign Turner to an eight-year, $240 million deal.
- Age: 30
- Representing: Boras Corp.
- Rumors: Bogaerts has opted out of his contract but has expressed his desire to stay with the Red Sox in the future. He performed well under the scrutiny that comes with playing in Boston. There’s a belief the Sox can’t keep both Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers
- Prediction: The Red Sox re-sign Bogaerts to a six-year, $160 million deal, make Devers a bigger offer and trade him if he fails.
- Age: 29
- Representing: Excel Sports
- Rumors: The Braves have locked so many good young players into team-friendly deals that they could push out of their comfort zone and sign him for market value. And Swanson is a kid from Georgia, growing up as a Braves fan.
- Prediction: The Cardinals step in and sign him to a seven-year, $175 million deal.
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