This offseason, we’ve already covered outfield trade targets, plus free agent shortstops and middle-infielders conceivably available via trade. So, let’s shift our focus to five intriguing free agent outfielders potentially capable of helping Seattle’s lineup in 2023 and perhaps beyond.
Notes to consider before beginning.
+ Two of the players we’ll discuss received the qualifying offer (QO) from their former team. If the Mariners sign a player tagged with a QO this offseason, the team loses its third-round pick in the 2023 draft.
+ There will be no talk about contract terms, only on-field value.
+ Unless noted, rankings are against qualified hitters.
+ The age illustrated in tables reflects how old a player will be on July 1, 2023.
|Stats and MLB averages are from 2021|
Conforto didn’t play this year due to a right shoulder injury suffered last offseason so severe that it required season-ending surgery. Now reportedly healthy, he re-enters the free agent market.
Selling points: A balky hamstring limited Conforto’s 2021 season to 125 games, although his 106 wRC+ suggests a better-than-average run producer. It’s worth noting he rebounded to clobber 13 doubles and 14 home runs with a .445 SLG in his final 72 games. Furthermore, the left-handed hitter’s 133 wRC+ from 2017 to 2020 was 25th best in MLB.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.
Conforto’s possesses a strong command of the strike zone, a trait the Mariners organization values. His 12.6% walk rate was 25th best among 198 hitters with 1,500-plus plate appearances since 2018.
Potential concerns: Obviously, Conforto’s health is a point of emphasis. There’s the shoulder costing him this year. Plus, the hamstring issue he dealt with in 2021 also affected his availability and productivity the season prior. Finally, the Oregon State product underwent surgery for a separated left shoulder and a torn posterior capsule in 2017.
On the defensive front, Conforto’s -4 DRS in right field in 2021 ranked 13 of 19 among players with 750-plus innings at the position. Perhaps the Seattle, Washington native’s recurring hamstring issue contributed to the subpar defense.
Defensive runs saved (DRS) quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. – MLB.com
Selling points: Judge was baseball’s most potent offensive weapon in 2022. He paced MLB in home runs, hard-hit rate, OBP, SLG, wOBA, xwOBA, wRC+, and fWAR. The right-handed slugger also boasted the fifth-highest AVG and second-best walk rate.
Hitting 62 home runs in 2022 may have been a career highlight. But Judge has delivered superior offense numbers throughout his seven big-league seasons. More recently, the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year leads the majors in multiple stats and is near the top of the heap in many others since the beginning of the 2020 season.
Judge’s Numbers (and MLB Rankings) since 2020
110 HR (1st in MLB)
13.6 BB% (7th)
.296 AVG (9th)
.395 OBP (4th)
.611 SLG (1st)
.420 wOBA (1st)
.436 xwOBA (1st)
176 wRC+ (1st)
18 fWAR (1st)
Over the last three seasons, Judge’s 16 DRS in right field ties for sixth-best among 56 players with 500-plus innings at the position. It’s worth noting he made a career-high 74 starts in center field this year. His above-average arm strength was also top-six among right fielders in 2022.
Potential concerns: Since the beginning of 2017, Judge has played in more than 120 games just three times – 2017, 2021, and this year. In 2020, he appeared in just 28 of the Yankees’ 60 contests.
Injuries keeping Judge off the field include multiple oblique strains and lower leg injuries. The Fresno State product has rebounded each time. But it’s reasonable to wonder how much longer he can sustain his outstanding run.
Selling points: Compared to 98 outfielders with 350-plus plate appearances this year, Nimmo was top-20 in wide array of categories.
Nimmo’s Offensive Numbers And MLB Ranking vs OF’ers
30 Doubles (13th in MLB)
7 Triples (t-1st)
.278 AVG (19th)
.367 OBP (9th)
.433 SLG (29th)
.352 wOBA (14th)
.342 xwOBA (17th)
132 wRC+ (7th)
5.4 fWAR (7th)
The left-handed hitting Nimmo didn’t suffer a significant decline in production when facing southpaws this year (786 OPS). The only left-handed batters with 200-plus plate appearances against lefty hurlers and a higher OPS than the Wyoming native were Yordan Alvarez (.998), Nathaniel Lowe (.920), Freddie Freeman (.824), and Shohei Ohtani (.787). Impressive company.
Nimmo has demonstrated the versatility to play each outfield position. In 2022, he was New York’s regular center fielder, although his -3 DRS reflects a below-average glove at the position. During his career, the veteran has accrued -11 DRS in 2,988.2 center field innings compared to 7 DRS in left field (870.1 innings) and 2 DRS in right field (616.1).
Nimmo’s legs have aged well. His above-average 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed is identical to what he produced in his rookie season in 2016.
This may sound trivial, but it’s worth pointing out. Nimmo hustles all the time. He literally runs to first base every time he draws a walk.
Potential concerns: Like T-Mobile Park, New York’s Citi Field has a reputation for being a pitcher-friendly venue. Nimmo’s home/away splits are proof positive of this reality. Could this be a potential red flag for Mariners management?
Nimmo’s Home / Away Splits In 2022
PA – 309 / 364
HR – 4 / 12
AVG – .234 / .309
OBP – .321 / .406
SLG – .366 / .492
OPS – .688 / .898
As with Judge, concerns have been raised regarding Nimmo’s availability. Since the start of the 2018 season, he’s appeared in 83.4% of Mets games. Moreover, the 2022 season was just the second time he’s played 100-plus games. That said, the 29-year-old did appear in 55 of 60 contests during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Selling points: Since his rookie season in 2017, Benintendi’s .351 OBP is 20th-best among players with 3,000-plus plate appearances. The left-handed hitter also possesses superb plate discipline with a 22nd-ranked 14.8% strikeout rate and a top-40 walk rate in 2022.
Benintendi has been an above-average left field defender with 25 career DRS. The 2021 Gold Glover did play center field on a limited basis (71 games, 525 innings) with the Red Sox. However, he hasn’t appeared at the position since the 2019 season.
Benintendi is the youngest of our five outfielders. The Ohioan is two years away from his age-30 season.
Potential concerns: Benintendi’s career 36.6% hard-hit rate is slightly below average. In 2022, the Arkansas alum hit five home runs in 2022 and has averaged 25 doubles over the last two seasons. It’s unclear whether this would work on a full-time basis at T-Mobile Park, which depresses offense.
Benintendi hasn’t been a disruptive force on the base paths. His 27.5 ft/sec rates as slightly above-average. But he’s been caught stealing in 12 of 28 stolen base attempts over the last two seasons.
Selling points: During Brantley’s four seasons as an Astro, he’s been a superb offensive performer. The left-handed hitter stacks up well against players with at least 1,500 plate appearances since the start of the 2019 campaign.
Brantley’s Numbers (And MLB Rankings) since 2019
98 Doubles (35th in MLB)
.306 AVG (5th)
.368 OBP (15th)
.464 SLG (60th)
.356 wOBA (36th)
.358 xwOBA (54th)
128 wRC+ (28th)
Brantley has been an extremely reliable performer whether playing at home or away. At Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Bellevue, Washington native had a .304 AVG/.366 OBP/.471 SLG slash-line in his four years as an Astro compared to a very similar .308/.369/.457 on the road.
Potential concerns: Brantley appeared in just 64 games this year due to a right shoulder injury requiring surgical repair. He had surgery on the same shoulder in 2016. A troubling development for a player entering his age-36 season in 2023.
Brantley was an average-ish left field defender. But left field at his home park is much smaller than at T-Mobile Park. This matters considering his 25.6 ft/sec sprint speed over the last two seasons ranked 162nd among 176 players with 250-plus competitive runs.
My order of preference would be Nimmo by a large margin followed by Benintendi, Judge, Conforto, and Brantley.
Nimmo is exactly what the Mariners need. He’s a versatile outfielder capable of serving as a table-setter ahead of Hernández, Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez, and Ty France in Seattle’s lineup. Yes, his availability could be an issue. But even if Nimmo averaged 120-130 games a season, he could still be valuable contributor to the offense.
Perhaps acquiring Hernández makes it more palatable to add a hitter not known for a power bat – like Benintendi. As with Nimmo, he’s demonstrated the ability to hit at the top of the batting order. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he can deliver results at Seattle’s home yard. I’m not out on Benintendi. Just unsure of what to expect from him. Maybe he’d prove my hesitation to be unwarranted. That would be just fine by me.
The history of large men sustaining success late into their thirties doesn’t inspire about the 6-foot-7 Judge’s outlook. Only two players 6-foot-6 or taller have made 500-plus plate appearances at age-35 or older and delivered a bWAR of 2.5 or better. They are Hall of Famer Dave Winfield (twice) and Dave Kingman (once).
Due to his recent spate of injuries, Conforto is a risky acquisition for a contender. Especially if he were being relied upon to be a full-time contributor. Then again, a healthy Michael Conforto could lengthen any team’s lineup – including the Mariners.
Brantley has been a superb hitter over the last five seasons capable of producing at any MLB venue. Still, advancing age and a banged up shoulder are troublesome.
Perhaps adding Hernández reduces the Mariners’ interest in a prominent free agent outfielder. But I don’t see why the team wouldn’t at least kick the tires on our five candidates.
Remember, Hernández only represents a replacement for the expected production of departed free agent Mitch Haniger. More is needed to improve an offense that was average-ish in 2022.
I suspect the Mariners’ front office agrees, which means the stove is about to get hotter.
My Oh My..
Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins