PEORIA, Ariz. — Travel outside the Pacific Northwest, mention the Seattle Mariners and it’s likely the talk veers toward Robinson Cano, and his offseason decision to walk away from the Yankees for a decade of riches.
It might then shift to former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez who, prior to Cano’s arrival, had been the unquestioned face of the franchise as one of the game’s top pitchers.
Some fans, the more knowledgeable ones, might point to pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, a Japanese import who blossomed last year into an All-Star and who just might have been the game’s best pitcher over the final few months.
And what of the club’s player of the year in each of the last two seasons? (Quick: Who was it? If you correctly identified third baseman Kyle Seager, it’s a good bet you’re a Mariners fan. A hard-core one.)
“The circles that I’m in,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “people like him. They consider him one of the top 10 third basemen in the league. I think we’ve got a good one, and he’s only going to get better.”
That’s intended as a compliment. McClendon is a genuine Seager believer. That becomes clear the more he talks. But top 10 in the league? In a 15-team league?
That shows just far into the shadows Seager plays. And note this: He’s durable; only eight American League players logged more games over the last two seasons. Only four played more defensive innings.
None of this seems to affect Seager, who remains one of the league’s top bargains after recently agreeing to a deal for a fistful of dollars over the minimum; he won’t be eligible for arbitration until after this season.
He just grinds through the early camp schedule with the simplest of goals.
“I want to concentrate on being more consistent defensively,” Seager said. “I learned a lot last year, but I want to continue to learn how to get myself in the right position.
“Offensively, I want to continue to work on my approach and be able to stay more consistent with it.”
OK, let’s crunch some numbers.
Advanced defensive metrics suggest Seager remains a work in progress at third base, which isn’t surprising because he didn’t become one full time until he reached the majors midway through the 2011 season.
He generally gets acceptable marks for range and fielding percentage, but his overall defensive game last year produced a minus-0.4 WAR (wins above replacement) rating.
So, yes, work needed.
Seager’s offensive numbers don’t jump. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. He batted .260 over the last two seasons while averaging 21 homers and 78 RBIs. Nice, but …
Now dig deeper.
Seager produced a 118 OPS-plus last season, which is a rating that combines on-base and slugging percentages (OPS), and then compares that number to the league average on a ballpark-adjusted basis. A 100 rating is average.
(If your eyes just glazed over, Seager’s mark ranked 26th in the league.)
Or take WAR. Seager’s 4.6 offensive mark ranked 13th among AL players. The list of those ahead of him included new teammate Cano, who was fourth at 6.8.
Adding Cano means Seager will shift in the lineup after spending much of last season in the No. 3 slot. Ideally, McClendon said, Seager will move up one spot. But he could also hit fifth or even sixth. All to be determined.
Seager has no preference.
“You have different jobs depending on what position you are in the lineup,” he said. “At the same time, after you go through the lineup once, it’s going to change depending on the situation.
“So I think you just try to take advantage of whatever situation you’re in at the time.”
There might be no better way than that – “take advantage of whatever situation you’re in” – to explain Seager’s game, his approach and an ascending career oddly stuck in the shadows.
Unless it’s this:
A recent ranking by Baseball America cited younger brother Corey Seager, a shortstop in the Dodgers’ organization, as the game’s No. 37 overall prospect.
It was the type of attention that Kyle Seager, now 26, rarely received in winning the Hi-A California League batting title in 2010, or being selected a year later as an All-Star in the Class AA Southern League.
Or in being chosen, for that matter, as the Mariners’ player of the year in 2012 and 2013. Even so, he dismissed any suggestion of sibling rivalry, even a good-natured one.
“I don’t think there’s a rivalry with my brother,” Seager said. “I’m pretty excited for him. He’s worked really hard. This offseason, I got to work out with both of my brothers, which was great.”
Another brother, Justin Seager, is a first baseman/third baseman who spent last year at Short-A Everett after his selection by the Mariners in the 12th round of the draft.
“Our whole family is very excited for (Corey),” Seager added. “He deserves (the attention), and he’s going to do a lot of really special things in this game.”
He could have added the word “too.” He didn’t.