My Favorite Marti—er, Mariner
Sam Haggerty steals a base against the Angels
Not long ago, on a day like this I would be spending a couple of hours writing an opposition primer for the series the Seattle Mariners are about to embark on for grandsalami.net. And then three or four people might read part of it. Wasn't a good ROI, if you will, which is why I'm not doing that today in advance of the Mariners' three-game set in Oakland vs. the Athletics.
But this is a landmark year for the M's and I'm following closely even if I'm not keeping up that site. Currently in position to make the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years, the Mariners have been fun to watch. Also frustrating to watch. Because they are still the Mariners, managed by a guy (Scott Servais) that by all accounts is outstanding when it comes to keeping up morale and handling all the egos but by all observable evidence is, shall we say, intellectually challenged when it comes to actual baseball strategy. But thanks in large part to personnel moves made by Servais' boss, Jerry Dipoto—and by a new rule in Major League Baseball that I do not like but works to advantage here, a limit on the number of pitchers a team can carry—Servias' strategic deficiencies have been minimized and the team is flourishing. (Relatively speaking.)
Having just swept the hapless Los Angeles Angels of Orange County Not Really Los Angeles at All, the Mariners play their next five games against teams at the bottom of the standings, Oakland (43-76) and Washington (40-80). Those two are in a race to see which will be the first of the 30 MLB clubs to be eliminated from playoff contention, so it looks like a good next few days.
Especially since there was a personnel move I expected to be made that wasn't.
The M's had been enduring a number of injuries and absences for much of the year and now everyone (mostly) is healthy again, which created a roster crunch. Some guys were going to have to be sent down or let go, and based on Servais' history with various players I thought that infielder Abraham "Fatty Tuna" Toro would remain with the team despite his near-uselessness this season, while utilityman Sam Haggerty, who had already been relegated to the minor leagues twice this year, would again be demoted. Because history.
Instead, Fatty Tuna got optioned out. I mean, that should have happened months ago, but instead Servais kept putting him in the starting lineup to provide a black hole in the order (.180/.239/.322 batting line in 84 games) while Sammy and his .369 on-base percentage stayed at Triple-A until the end of June.
I'd been a Sam Haggerty booster since the M's acquired him after the 2019 campaign. In five minor-league seasons he'd put up great on-base numbers and stolen lots of bags while playing solid defense at six different positions. He looked like a speedier version of José Oquendo. Here's what I wrote in his player profile over at gs.net when he was first called up to the Major League club in August of 2020:
No one paid much attention to the line on the transactions page when this switch-hitting infielder was claimed off the waiver wire last winter, but you might want to sit up and take notice now. Haggerty started his pro career in Cleveland's organization, but despite exceptional on-base numbers and stellar baserunning, he didn't hit much so the Indians deemed him expendable and traded him to the Mets for next-to-nothing. The Mets didn't respect his abilities that much either, despite a nice performance at three of their minor-league levels last year, and put him on release waivers. Thankfully, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto thought he was worth a look and snagged Haggerty for the M's.
He was having a nice spring training before the pandemic shut everything down, but with manager Scott Servais' penchant for overstuffing his bullpen, there was no room for Haggerty when the truncated season finally got going. The M's finally promoted him from the satellite training facility in Tacoma in mid-August, though, and all he's done since then is hit, drive in runs, and steal bases. With Shed Long struggling to perform as an everyday player, Servais and the M's might be wise to give Haggerty a shot at that everyday second-base job.
Meanwhile, we'll keep enjoying seeing Sam get aboard and run the basepaths. One other observation: Haggerty has one of the best slide techniques of anyone playing now. Check it out next time he steals a bag—it's short, quick, and gets him back to a standing position right away in case of errant throws. It's a small thing, but with so many players sloppily diving headlong from eight feet away and struggling to either stay on the base after they get there or keep from hurting themselves and getting spiked, it's refreshing to see someone slide with such fundamental elegance.
Sam finished 2020 batting only .260, but it was a tiny sample size (13 games). He started the next year with the M's but did poorly (.186) and hurt his shoulder (or, maybe, did poorly because his shoulder was hurt), causing him to miss most of the season. This year he wasn't even given a chance to make the team out of spring camp over the likes of Toro and Dylan Moore (.202 career BA). So you can understand why I figured he'd get the short end of it again despite the fact that he's been the Mariners' best hitter since he was called up on June 29th (.330/.371/.536).
Also, I've been negatively prejudiced by the Mariners' historical tendencies (in the Servais era as well as before) to live and die by the home run, and Sammy is most definitely not that kind of ballplayer. Sam is a throwback to the style of baseball played by the favored teams of my youth: a switch-hitter that relies on swiftness, putting the ball in play, smart baserunning, and exceptional defense. He might occasionally crank a homer, but it's never the plan. It's decidedly more fun than swinging for the fences all the time, and I'm surprised the Mariner brass even noticed.
But they did. At least, Dipoto did. “It may be the most fun that we have every day is smiling every time Sam does something else that’s just awesome in a game,” the Seattle GM said to a radio show earlier this month. Servais is still batting Sam at the bottom of the order for some reason (I'd bat him second), but hey, I'm glad he's starting at all. I'm glad he's on the team at all.
Sure, Seattle has bigger names—your Julio Rodríguezes, your Mitch Hanigers, your Ty Frances—and those guys are great. Love ’em. But me, I want more Sam Haggerty.