We have already looked at some cheap bullpen options for the Mariners to purse this off-season, and it is time to look at 3 cheap outfield options that the Mariners may be wise to pursue. The Mariners’ 2012 outfield had a 98 wRC + against left-handed pitching and 84 wRC + against right-handed pitching. The average MLB outfield had a 105 wRC +, so the Mariners have to improve on both sides of the plate. However, since the problem against righties is worse, I will highlight two left-handed hitters and one right-hander. The problem with this approach is that there simply aren’t many left-handed hitting options in the outfield free agent market.
We will start with the right-hander: Scott Hairston.
When you look at Scott Hairston’s career statistics, they aren’t overwhelming. He has been about a league average hitter for his career, with a 100 OPS + and 99 wRC +. Defensively, he has been slightly above average according to both major defensive metrics in his career, but has been below average the last 2 to 3 years. At age 32, it is perfectly legitimate to believe that he has regressed somewhat defensively. As far as speed and baserunning goes, I got him at 4.15-4.25 to first, so an above average to averagish runner from the right side.
Hairston doesn’t walk much, but had .265 ISO and 135 wRC + against righties (with a reasonable .297 BABIP) this year with the New York Mets. He is not a patient guy, and isn’t going to a high OBP player. His talent with the bat is his power. Even against right-handed pitchers, his ISO was .218 (while ISO isn’t park adjusted, the Mariners OF ISO was just .135. Hairston would clearly help in this regard). His average batted ball distance of 264.717 feet since 2007 is not astounding and it has been even worse in the last couple of years. His average distance drops rather significantly when it comes to curveballs and sliders as well. The Pitch F/X profiles show that Hairston whiffs much more on off-speed pitches than fastballs (most every one does, but these are compared to averages, meaning Hairston whiffs a disproportionate amount of times on off-speed pitches).
The extra whiffs on fastballs down the middle suggest that his bat may be a tad slow or that he has a long swing. Despite this, he has not been a big strikeout hitter and has really good power:
Hairston is basically what Raul Ibanez has morphed into, other than being right-handed, younger, and more athletic (so perhaps not like Raul Ibanez at all, other than having big platoon splits and being a dead fastball hitter). I don’t put much stock in Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, but one comparison is Casper Wells. I find this interesting because Wells may make a guy like Hairston redundant. The team could always trade Wells or Trayvon Robinson to make room, but they could also go with an opening day outfield of Hairston, Robinson, Wells, Franklin Gutierrez, and Michael Saunders. If added to the 40 man roster today, I would probably rank him as the Mariners 16th best player, right after Carter Capps and before Blake Beavan (I will do another 40 man roster ranking in December).
I will be honest, one of the reasons I picked these two hitters is that both have shown that they are willing to play in AAA (unlike, say, Rick Ankiel. This isn’t an indictment of players who won’t or a judge of their character, so don’t interpret it that way. I am willing to bet that I would rather sit at home than play in AAA if I had already played 10 years or so in the Majors. I am just looking at the crop of left handed hitting outfielders, and there isn’t much there, so teams will have to bring in minor league free agents).
Lewis got a taste in the big leagues in 2012 with the Mets, struggling in 18 games. He is 31 and has never had a (b)WAR of more than 1.7 (meaning essentially that he has never been an average big league regular). He has never been considered a good defender by defensive metrics, but speed score, baserunning value, and Baseball Cube’s speed rating all have Lewis as a well above average runner.
He has been a solid offensive platoon option in his career, walking 10 percent of the time (and striking out about twice as much) with a 107 wRC + (he has a high BABIP, but in 1437 PAs, it is hard to call that fluky). He was also a good hitter in AAA in 2012, with a 118 wOBA + and 139 OPS +. He played in 81 games in 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds and didn’t play particularly well, but took his walks and was above replacement level. Lewis doesn’t have great power, and you can see that it is basically all pull variety:
At this point, it is really hard to say how Safeco will play thanks to the fences being moved in, but it usually (or at least used to) saps power going that way (in 2012, Mariners hitters had more success going to left field, that is lefties going the other way and righties pulling the ball, than going to right field, that is lefties pulling the ball and righties going to the other way, according to OPS). This is what is so attractive about the right-handed Hairston, as all of his power is pulled:
What I find attractive about Lewis is the decent platoon splits and the patience. Along with the walk rate, you also get about 4.05 Pit/PA with Lewis. This is something that the Mariners were below league average at, seeing 3.8 pitches per plate appearance. Adding a guy that can play every once in a while and come off the bench and take pitches is always a nice idea. If added to the 40 man roster, I would probably slot him between Chance Ruffin and D.J. Mitchell (so probably 30-32 range, above Medina, Robles, and Peguero and the open roster spots/free agents).
I thought Fukudome was a fantastic signing by the Chicago White Sox for the 2012 season, but it didn’t work out that way. The big Cub signee from a Japan was a disappointment considering his salary, but performed at a MLB level. The 35 year old may return to his home country according to some reports, so he may be a guy that you have to offer a guaranteed contract (but obviously not a large one). He has been about league average since coming to the states, with a 99 OPS +. Athletically, he hasn’t been a good base stealer and isn’t considered a great fielder, so he really isn’t a guy you want starting consistently.
Against right-handed pitchers, he still doesn’t hit for much power, but he has gotten on base 36.6% of the time in his U.S. career. I usually dislike looking at just OBP, but the Mariners outfield had an OBP of just .287 against RHP in 2012. Fukudome would seem to provide an improvement at least in on base ability as long as his skills have not diminished too much. From the time he came to the U.S. until the end of the 2011 season, Fukudome averaged 260.357 feet per batted ball. Last year in his time with the White Sox (small sample caveats apply as he had just 51 plate appearances) he averaged just 247.162 feet per batted ball. On the other hand, he still had about his career norms in K/BB, and hit very well in 166 PAs in AAA (more walks than strikeouts with a 138 wRC +).