Sailors and Mitch Garver have agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (via). The deal will become official when Garver passes a physical. Garver is represented by ISE Baseball.
While Cal Raleigh is still Seattle’s primary backstop, Garver gives the Mariners a top-tier bat who can act as both a backup catcher and a regular presence at designated hitter. That’s the role Garver filled with aplomb for the Rangers last season, as he hit .270/.370/.500 with 19 homers in 344 plate appearances while serving primarily as a DH to allow All-Star Jonah Heim to regularly pass behind the plate. . Garver was then the Rangers’ exclusive first-choice playoff DH, as he hit .226/.317/.434 with three homers over 60 PA to help Texas win its first World Series title.
It wasn’t an entirely perfect platform season for Garver, however, as he missed nearly two full months early in the season with a sprained left knee. This continued a string of injuries that have plagued Garver throughout his career, as he has only played in 232 games out of a possible 546 since the start of the 2020 season. These health issues (ranging from surgery to forearm, intercostal strain and knee, groin and back issues) have contributed to Garver’s increasingly limited use at catcher as the move to a role of DH should help him stay on the field with a little more consistency.
This led to a somewhat awkward entry into free agency for Garver, because even though he was technically the best receiver on the market, it would have been risky for a team to rely on him for anything other than a timeshare at the position. As MLBTR’s Nick Deeds suggested in October, Garver’s ideal landing spot could be “a team with another reliable catching option, so Garver can have a clear path to DH playing time and make facing less pressure to dress regularly behind the plate.”
The Mariners fit the bill perfectly, with Raleigh establishing himself as the No. 1 catcher and a big source of energy over the past two seasons. Raleigh, who hits a switch, has much better numbers against righties than against lefties, which dovetails well with right-handed hitter Garver’s ability to crush left-handed pitches.
Tom Murphy signed with the Giants last week, although the M’s apparently prepared for the departure by acquiring catcher Seby Zavala as part of the Eugenio Suarez trade with the Diamondbacks. If Garver is going to be primarily a DH, the Mariners could still have room for Zavala on the roster to act more like a traditional backup catcher. This could avoid some roster maneuvering since Zavala is out of minor league options, so the Mariners would have to designate him for assignment and put him on the waiver wire if they wanted to send him to the minor leagues .
Seattle was known to be looking for a power bat for its DH spot, and a right-handed hitter in particular to help balance the lineup. Names such as Jorge Soler, JD Martinez and Rhys Hoskins have reportedly been on the Mariners’ radar, but Garver will now join the roster on a two-year pact. That’s a bit less than the $39 million over three years MLBTR projected for Garver, although it’s still a good salary for a player teams might have viewed as a pure DH rather than a regular backstop .
Adding a big bat at all costs also helps change the narrative of what has been a painful offseason for Mariners fans. The Mariners are set to become fully owned by regional sports network ROOT Sports Northwest on Jan. 1, and the associated additional costs would have limited the team’s ability to spend on player payroll. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said in early December that the Mariners’ payroll would increase from its estimated $140 million starting in 2023, but most of the moves the club made before Garver’s signing were designed to reduce costs. The Suarez trade took a big salary off the books, and Seattle then parted ways with a lot more money in the five-player trade with the Braves that saw Jarred Kelenic dealt essentially as a way to offload contracts by Marco Gonzales and Evan White.
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