Seattle's acquisition of designated hitter/outfielder Nelson Cruz addressed the club's biggest glaring need of right-handed power. But with the earlier trade of Michael Saunders to Toronto for left-handed starter J.A. Happ and the club subsequently losing out on the services of free agent Melky Cabrera, the possibility started to become a little more real that Cruz could be forced into more time in the outfield than the club wants. Alex Rios was thought of as a possible option by some, too, but he is gone now to Kansas City. But while the remaining free agent and obvious trade options that we discussed earlier this week don't seem to have a clear winner, there is one more option out there with some family ties to the organization that seems like a strong fit.
There were reports that the Mariners and Dodgers had discussions about outfielder Matt Kemp before L.A. dealt the former MVP to San Diego, but even with Kemp out of the picture it is possible that the two clubs could still match up in a trade.
Kemp's exit from Hollywood did lighten their load, but it still leaves the Dodger's with a glut of outfielders. And one intriguing option who could be available that maybe should pique Seattle's interest is Scott Van Slyke. Los Angeles figures to enter 2015 with a starting outfield of Carl Crawford, rookie Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. They still have Andre Ethier -- who is probably unmovable thanks to his contract -- and newly added Chris Heisey, a right-handed hitter and well-regarded, versatile defender that can handle all three outfield spots. Van Slyke looks to be the player in the equation slated to get the least amount of playing time out of that bunch. And when you compare his numbers to those of other outfielders that could be had in the market now -- trade targets Marlon Byrd, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino and Dayan Viciedo and free agents Chris Denorfia, Delmon Young, Nori Aoki and even Ichiro -- Van Slyke looks like he could be the best of the bunch.
Van Slyke hit .297/.386/.524 in 98 games for the Dodgers last season and has hit .261/.348/.476 overall in 455 plate appearances for them over the last three seasons. A majority of those chances, 51.0% actually, have come where the 28-year-old had the platoon advantage, but his production over that time against right-handed pitchers (.254/.333/.421) hasn't been bad, either. He also hasn't exactly been protected or "hidden" as young players sometimes are, instead hitting in the heart of the Dodgers order. 62.0% of his plate appearances and 73.5% of his starts have come in the 5 or 6 spot in the batting order. To compare Van Slyke to Seattle's current options, Stefen Romero had the platoon advantage in 64.2% of his plate appearances last season and James Jones had it in 71.6% of his for the 2014 Mariners and those two combined to hit .236/.266/.304 with a 21.8% strikeout rate in those 357 trips to the plate in that situation.
Van Slyke's weakness does came in that same area as he has a 26.8% strikeout rate for his career, but he also walked at a much higher rate than any Seattle regular did in 2014 at 11.4%. The fact is that the proven offensive upside in Van Slyke far outweighs anything that Romero or Jones have accomplished to this point. His .524 SLG in 2014 was the same number that Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera put up. He averaged hitting a home run every 19.3 ABs, better than Justin Upton. And only seven National League hitters with 200 or more trips to the plate posted a better OPS than his .910 mark while his .226 ISO was the 11th highest mark in the NL. And if you use Baseball-Reference's Neutralized Batting feature and convert them to a 2014 Safeco Field factor, his career numbers come out far ahead of all of those names mentioned above. While acknowledging that isn't a perfect predictor of what will happen going forward, there isn't an obvious perfect fit for Seattle waiting out there anywhere else.
He's young, cheap, under team control through 2019 and has experience in all three outfield spots and at first base. Scott has a strong throwing arm and is generally considered a good defender with surprising speed and range for his size. Oh, and he is the son of Mariners' coach and five-time Gold Glover Andy Van Slyke. Do the Mariners view Van Slyke as an option? Do the high-payroll Dodgers truly consider Van Slyke expendable, and if so, do they view the Mariners as a good trading partner for him?
We don't know the answers to those questions, but if Van Slyke is available, the numbers seem to point to the fact that Scott Van Slyke could make a nice fit in right field for the M's.
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