While Brad Miller’s athleticism makes him a candidate for a position switch, multiple Seattle Mariners officials contend he is far more likely to open next season as the club’s starting shortstop.
“Look, there’s all sorts of speculation (about Miller),” one club official said, “and it’s easy to see why. The guy’s an athlete, and everybody — and I mean everybody — thinks he’s going to hit.
“That’s why lots of teams ask about him. But understand this: We’re not looking to trade him. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it’s a lot less likely than some people seem to think.”
Miller was part of the package offered by the Mariners in an effort to acquire outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That deal stalled when the Dodgers insisted that a pitcher, either Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, be included in the deal. Los Angeles subsequently traded Kemp to San Diego.
Miller also emerged as a candidate to shift to right field if the Mariners fail to fill that hole through a trade or a free-agent signing.
“I think that’s a last resort,” another club official said, “but it shows how much we like his bat. His defense at short needs work, but we might have to live with that to get his bat (in the lineup).”
The Mariners view Chris Taylor as a steadier defensive player, and he batted .287 last season after a July 24 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma. But he had just eight extra-base hits, all doubles, in 151 plate appearances.
While Miller batted .221 last season, that largely reflects a dreadful start. He batted .268 after the All-Star break with a .330 on-base percentage and a .464 slugging percentage.
For comparison purposes, All-Star third baseman Kyle Seager finished the season with a .268/.334/.454 slash.
Miller also had 29 extra-base hits, including 10 homers, in 411 plate appearances. Only two American League shortstops had more homers, and both — Alexei Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts — had far more at-bats.
Club officials project a spring battle between Miller and Taylor, and the loser could return to Tacoma to maintain regular playing time. It’s much the same situation as last spring, when Miller battled Nick Franklin for the job.
“I think we’re in a unique situation,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “because we have two major league starting shortstops. We’ll let them play in spring training and see which is best. Open the season and go from there.
“We’re in a nice position. A lot of clubs don’t have that depth. We certainly have some depth.”
If the Mariners, after signing Nelson Cruz, find another right-handed hitter (or switch-hitter) to play right field, that makes it easier to include Miller’s left-handed bat in what was a lefty-heavy lineup last season.
“I think this kid (Miller) is going to hit,” McClendon said. “You look at what he did in the minors. That doesn’t just happen. And we’ve seen a little of that up here. He’s a good athlete. He can do a lot of things.”
The general industry view as the winter meetings concluded Thursday in San Diego is the Mariners will eventually sign free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera.
ESPNdesportes.com reported Friday the Mariners made a three-year offer to Cabrera, which would be in line with The News Tribune’s earlier report that they were unwilling, at this point, to go beyond three years.
The Mariners also appear unwilling to offer a bigger per-year salary than $14 million, which is what Cruz will receive under terms of his recent four-year, $57 million deal.
Cabrera, 30, sought a five-year deal, although he now shows some willingness to consider four years. Industry sources say a deal could come together within a week or so.
If the impasse extends beyond Christmas, the Mariners will likely ramp up efforts to go in a different direction.
General manager Jack Zduriencik, speaking in general terms on the pursuit of another outfielder: “We are going to continue to have these discussions until they exhaust themselves. Then we’ll go to the alternatives.”
Ramirez, 24, finished 2-0 in five starts while yielding just one earned run in 30 innings for a 0.30 ERA. He gave up 15 hits, struck out 22 and walked four while holding opponents to a .149 batting average.
The Mariners face a decision next spring on Ramirez, who is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. He was 1-6 with a 5.26 ERA last season in 17 games, including 14 starts.
Rollins, 24, is 0-2 but has given up only two earned runs and six hits in 81/3 innings. He was 3-4 with a 3.81 ERA last season in 27 games, including 12 starts, for Double-A Corpus Christi in the Houston system.
Rule 5 rules require a player to remain on an active major league roster for the next year or be offered back to his former club.