Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs: Adam Frazier Comes to Seattle

In an accord between familiar and frenetic trading partners, the San Diego Padres sent Adam Frazier to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday in exchange for prospects Ray Kerr and Corey Rosier. It’s a bit of an odd move. The Padres, nominally in win-now mode, just shipped off a 3.5-win player for prospects. Meanwhile, the Mariners beefed up their thin infield, but at the risk of incurring a considerable opportunity cost in a free agent market that seemed tailor made for their needs.

Let’s touch on San Diego’s side first, since it’s the more perplexing one at a glance. Frazier is the big name in the deal. The National League’s starting second baseman in last summer’s All-Star Game, the 29-year-old hit .305/.368/.411 last season while accruing the aforementioned 3.5 WAR, though his production dipped following the trade. Always a good contact hitter, Frazier joined the game’s elite in 2021 with a 10.8% strikeout rate — only Michael Brantley, David Fletcher, and Kevin Newman whiffed less often. While 2021 may well have been his peak, Frazier’s been a pretty good player for a long time: Since debuting in 2016, he’s notched a 103 wRC+ and has averaged 2.4 WAR per 162 games. Contending teams looking to gain ground don’t usually trade away this kind of production, particularly from a player they just acquired last July.

Despite that, you can understand why the Padres considered him surplus to requirements. With no path to a starting job in the infield, and Ha-Seong Kim around to fill a multi-positional utility role, Frazier was a bit of a square peg on a roster of round holes. Yes, the Friars could have used him in the outfield — as they sometimes did last summer — but it’s not the best use of his skills. In theory, exchanging him for players who could offer the Pads more stick in the outfield or depth in the bullpen makes sense.

The trouble for San Diego is that Frazier has just one year left before reaching free agency. The only teams interested in acquiring a player in that situation are prospective contenders — the very clubs least likely to offer San Diego productive big league talent in exchange. The Padres didn’t get anyone guaranteed to help the big league club immediately, but realistically, they weren’t positioned to do so. Given that context, and assuming the Padres came into the winter wanting to deal Frazier, they did about as well as they could expect here. Neither farmhand heading to the other side of Peoria next spring has any big league service time, but Kerr at least could contribute sometime in 2022.

Kerr is an athletic southpaw and one of the hardest-throwing prospects in baseball. After a pandemic-era velo breakout, he now sits 97-98 and regularly touches the triple digits with his four-seam fastball. Kerr pairs the pitch with a low-90s cutter and a low-80s breaker that has two-plane slider shape and curve-like velo separation from the fastball. Heading into 2020, even considering the velocity gains, evaluators weren’t sure he’d miss bats, particularly with his offspeed. 2021 was thus something of a breakout for him, as he maintained his elite velocity while throwing far more strikes than in any previous season. In 32 innings split between Double- and Triple-A, his CSW% was just a shade under 35%. Lefties in particular were often caught flat-footed by the bender:

We can’t know yet how Kerr’s stuff will translate against big league hitters. On paper, he has late-inning ingredients, and he should compete for innings as soon as this spring.

The Padres also landed Rosier, an interesting low-minors flier who helps restock San Diego’s suddenly thin farm system. He played just one season of Division-I baseball, where a stellar spring at UNC-Greensboro earned him a 12th-round draft selection and a $125,000 signing bonus. Once in pro ball, he picked up where he left off, batting .390 with pop and nearly as many walks as strikeouts in a month in the Cal League.

At about 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Rosier is a good athlete with below average pop. His swing is short and quick to the ball, geared more for regular contact than over-the-fence power. He’s quick enough to handle center, and as a lefty hitter who can control the zone and put the ball in play, he has a lot of fourth outfielder characteristics.

The lingering question for San Diego is whether it was worth passing on Frazier’s final pre-free agency season in the first place. He may not have had a starting spot on Opening Day, but he could have been excellent depth for a team that struggled to stay healthy last season. It’s not hard to imagine ways Frazier could have seen the field: An injury to Fernando Tatis Jr. or another step back from Eric Hosmer are just two plausible scenarios that could prompt an infield shuffle next season. Without Frazier around, the Padres floor is considerably lower if their starters struggle or get hurt. We’ll see if A.J. Preller is able to invest any of the $8 million or so Frazier is set to earn in arbitration into his bullpen to offset that loss.

Things make more sense on Seattle’s side. With Kyle Seager off to free agency, the Mariners had a gaping hole in their infield and Frazier’s acquisition helps the puzzle pieces fall in place. He’ll likely take over the everyday duties at the keystone while Abraham Toro slings back to his familiar position at third. Between those two, J.P. Crawford, and Ty France, Steamer projects the M’s infield to rack up 10 WAR next season.

On the one hand, that’s a tangible improvement. A Toro-Crawford-Frazier-France infield is undoubtedly a better core than what Seattle had on hand last week, and that crew that should eclipse the production the Mariners received from their infield in 2021. Indeed, if the only change Dipoto makes to his starting nine is swapping Seager for Frazier while shifting Toro to his natural spot at the hot corner, the team will have gotten better.

There is one part of Frazier’s game that gives me pause. For a player with little over-the-fence power but a knack for making contact and finding holes, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park was a perfect fit. It’s one of the larger parks in baseball, and the outfield acreage helped open up space for Frazier to dump his singles and hustle doubles.

Seattle is the opposite situation. After moving in the fences early in the last decade, T-Mobile Park now has the sixth-smallest amount of fair territory in the league, which comes to about 5,000 fewer square feet of outfield real estate. This has had the obvious effect: Since 2013, T-Mobile has seen more homers but now has the lowest BABIP factor in baseball. Maybe it won’t matter in the small sample of 81 games, but to my eye, the new field seems like a worse fit for Frazier than his old digs.

Regardless, the interesting part is what comes next. Oddly, what may worry Mariners fans the most is that you can squint and see a functional lineup in Seattle. If you assume Jarred Kelenic’s second half production is a floor for his 2022 performance, and you’re optimistic that Kyle Lewis and Julio Rodríguez will contribute in 2022, you can talk yourself into going to battle with this group:

That would be a mistake. Despite a 90-win season, the Mariners were outscored by 50 runs last season. The club finished 18th in the league in wRC+ and 26th in positional WAR. If Seattle is going to end the longest playoff drought in the four major men’s North American pro sports, they’re going to need to get quite a bit better. Frazier, as good as he is, doesn’t fundamentally change the equation.

His presence, however, could preclude Seattle from splurging on the kind of premier free agents who could legitimately raise the team’s ceiling by several wins. In fact, it very well might have kept the Mariners out of the hunt for new-Ranger Marcus Semien, a player Steamer projects to accrue 4.5 WAR and one whose skill set suited the org’s needs to a T. Moreover, Jerry Dipoto has all but said the Mariners won’t be signing one of the star shortstops, and with Semien now off the board too, he’s running out of ways to make big upgrades among the team’s position players. This seems like the appropriate time to mention that Seattle’s estimated 2022 payroll is just $65 million — a laughably paltry number for a losing but profitable franchise in a wealthy city and suddenly competitive sports market.

This isn’t to say that trading for Frazier was a mistake, of course. He’s a good player who makes the team better in the short run, and he comes at no cost to the 2022 team. But while this is a nifty piece of business, Seattle still has a lot to do this winter. If this is an opening salvo for Dipoto, it’s a fantastic start. But a start is all it is.





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dl80
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dl80

I like the trade, but they really need outfield help.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

They desperately need a center fielder since Kyle Lewis is pretty fringy out there and can’t stay healthy anyway. But good luck trying to find one. Unless they want to take a chance on a Jackie Bradley rebound there aren’t a lot of obvious options. Maybe they could convince the Rays to trade Kiermaier or Margot. The other guy I’d be checking in on is Daulton Varsho, who is woefully miscast as a catcher and much better in the outfield.

Kevbot034
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Kevbot034

You don’t think Kelenic can fake it there for a little bit longer? He was horrible this season, but he was so bad at everything that I don’t want to judge him just yet. He’s fast enough, at least.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I haven’t seen any evidence he can stick there. But I did just check baseball savant and it had his performance at just a tick below average. His arm hasn’t played well in the outfield though and statcast doesn’t measure that. His sprint speed is only about the 53rd percentile, which isn’t great.

While I still think he’s probably going be in a corner, maybe it’s not the worst thing to send him out there in CF again. Although since there’s no one coming up in their system who is a natural center fielder and there are no good free agent options until Harrison Bader two years from now, they probably should be thinking about plans now.