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Seattle Mariners

Mariners Need a Utility Player to Emerge this Spring

Peter Llewellyn/Icon Sportswire

Seattle Mariners’ new general manager Jerry Dipoto has done well at improving his team under some difficult circumstances. He was given limited funds, with most of the team’s money invested into just four players, a low-ranking farm system and the task to turn the team into “win now” contenders in the American League.

He turned over more than 40 percent of the team’s roster in his attempt to successfully complete his task. He’s also done so without making too many positions overcrowded. There will be a question of who will platoon with the Adam Lind at first base between Jesus Montero, Dae-Ho Lee and Gaby Sanchez. However, that question has already answered itself as Montero is out of options, while Lee and Sanchez can still be moved between Triple-A and the big league club.

The more interesting battle for a spot on the Mariners’ Opening Day 25-man roster will be for, oddly enough, the role as the team’s utility player. Both Dipoto and his handpicked rookie manager Scott Servais have expressed wanting a utility man with proven shortstop skills, in the event that Ketel Marte, who played well as a rookie last season, falls into a sophomore slump.

The team’s best two options who can play multiple infield positions including shortstop are Chris Taylor and Luis Sardinas. Neither have very much big league experience, but both have proven that they can successfully play shortstop at the major league level. You don’t often see a two-player battle, or much of a battle at all, for the utility position.

Most big-league clubs’ utility players are experienced veterans with a certain set of skills, or lack of skills, who already know the role they will play with their club. The other option is a club signing a super-utility man, like the Chicago Cubs did with Ben Zobrist this offseason. It will be interesting to see which young, inexperienced player is chosen for the final 25-man roster, Taylor or Sardinas.

The Case for Chris Taylor:

Twenty-five-year-old Chris Taylor was a fifth round draft pick by the Mariners in the 2012 amateur draft. He made his big league debut in 2014, playing 47 games at shortstop for the Mariners. Over that span he put up some pretty impressive offensive stats including a triple-slash of .287/.347/.346 that included eight extra base hits and nine RBI. He collected five stolen bases out of seven opportunities so he has speed but not have much power, having yet to hit his first big league home run. His 2014 WAR was 1.5, although he did commit seven errors in those 47 games dropping his fielding percentage to .962.

In 2015 Taylor appeared in 37 games but not exclusively at the shortstop position. He played four games at second, one at third and was the team’s designated hitter in three games. His numbers also dropped significantly. He batted .170/.220/.223 with just four extra base hits and one RBI. In the field he improved, making an error at second and just three at shortstop but his overall WAR dropped to -0.8. It’s hard to predict what Taylor may do if chosen to be the team’s utility player in 2016. Not only were his two seasons very different, but both sets of numbers came from a very small sample size.

The Case for Luis Sardinas:

Luis Sardinas is just 22 years old and was signed by the Texas Rangers in 2009 as an amateur free agent. He debuted the same year as Taylor did in 2014 and spent the most of the season with the Rangers big league club. He appeared in 43 games at four different positions, but the majority of those games were at second base (19). He also spent time at shortstop (13), third base (7) and DH (5). His 2014 slashline was beneath Taylor’s at .261/.303/.313. Similar to Taylor, however, he had six extra base hits, eight RBI and five stolen bases out of six attempts.

In the field, he played three positions and committed just four errors which evens out the slight difference in their slashlines because Sardinas was more versatile and better on overall defense, His WAR though was just 0.2 that season.

In January 2015 Sardinas was part of the four-player trade with the Milwaukee Brewers that brought starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers. In his second big league stint with Milwaukee, his numbers also dropped dramatically. He hit just .196/.240/.216 in 36 games with only one extra base hit, just four RBI and never even attempted to steal a base.

He did manage to play well at three positions in the field. He played 16 games at second base, 14 at shortstop and three at third base committing just two total errors. Again similarly to Taylor, his overall WAR dropped but not quite as steeply, to -0.4. Again in Sardinas’ case his 2016 numbers are virtually impossible to predict given the differences between the two seasons and the extremely small sample size.

Prediction:

In this case, it is likely that the decision between Sardinas and Taylor will come down to who has a stronger spring. Their numbers and sample sizes are very similar and one will have to really distinguish himself from the other over the next month and a half for Dipoto and Servais to be able to make a truly informed decision. That said, Sardinas may have a slight edge over Taylor to make the roster given that he is more versatile in the field and has played slightly better defense during his very brief big league career.

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