An early-season meeting between Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon and 3B Kyle Seager helped Seager to his best season. Now, he’s cashing in.
Kyle Seager has a .262 career batting average. He’s never hit more than 25 home runs and has yet to amass 100 RBIs in a season. His manager, Lloyd McClendon, rarely hesitated to ask the third baseman for more production during his breakout 2014 campaign. Publicly or otherwise.
“Kyle is an accomplished hitter. He knows what he’s doing at the plate, but I probably expect a little more than you guys,” McClendon said in June. “I think there’s a big room for improvement.
“I have been around this game for a long time, and Kyle Seager is not a .260 hitter.”
McClendon’s bosses apparently agree.
The Mariners officially signed Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract Tuesday, with a club option for an eighth year in 2022 that could bring the contract to $120 million. The deal comes on the heels of Seager’s most productive season. He set career highs in batting average (.268), home runs (25), RBIs (96), slugging percentage (.454), OPS (.788) and WAR (5.8) while making his first All-Star appearance and winning his first Gold Glove.
“When I took this job I said this was a golden era for the Seattle Mariners,” McClendon said Wednesday. “I didn’t know there was going to be this much gold. That’s pretty damn good.”
The turning point for Seager perhaps came in May while the Mariners were in Minnesota. After seeing Seager struggle at the plate through the first six weeks, McClendon challenged him.
“It wasn’t the most pleasant conversation but…. I thought he could be better than what he was doing,” McClendon said.
Seager described the conversation as “real.” It specifically focused on what he needed to improve. He credited it for helping jump-start his season and cultivate an open relationship with his manager.
“I also remember it being not too pleasant,” Seager added. “But that’s exactly what you want. It wasn’t unnecessary. I wasn’t playing as well as I could or should have been and (McClendon) was completely upfront with me.”
Seattle’s third round pick in the 2009 MLB June draft, Seager is the rare homegrown player who climbed through the Mariners’ ranks and developed into an All-Star. He made his big-league debut in 2011, then became a major offensive producer the following year. He is the first Mariners player to hit 20 or more home runs in at least three consecutive seasons since Raul Ibanez (2005-08). At 27, Seager is entering the prime of his career.
“Ultimately, I think Kyle has the type of personality and work ethic that should take him to an MVP type of season,” McClendon said, adding that Seager could win a home run title. “Hell, he can (win an MVP) next year if he wants. It wouldn’t bother me one bit.”
Making his rise more impressive: He was drafted as a second baseman but assumed a role as a third baseman in 2011. Since, he’s rounded into one of the best at that position in all of baseball.
In 2014, Seager made gains under the tutelage of infield coach Chris Woodward, posting a career-high 1.7 dWAR and a major league-best .981 fielding percentage among third basemen, the 10th-highest mark by an American Leaguer at that position since 1948.
Not bad for a guy who moved from second to third primarily because left fielder Dustin Ackley, the club’s No. 2 overall pick in 2009, was initially slated for a big-league career at second.
“I think it was the fit at that time. We were trying bring Dustin Ackley in at second base. He played it,” Zduriencik said. “It was more that the other player (Ackley) couldn’t go there. What (Seager) did this year, tip your hat.”
When he stepped out of the Safeco Field elevator near the Diamond Club Wednesday, a crowd of Mariners employees greeted him with cheers and at least one sign featuring a cardboard cutout of his head. The press conference announcing the signing began with a video presentation of Seager highlights.
“The one thing about Kyle that’s really impressive — and this is why I know this contract is right — is because he’s not motivated by money,” McClendon said. “He’s motivated by being the best player that he can be. As a manager, it’s a treasure to have a guy like that.”
With his wife, Julie, and his son Crue watching, Seager sat inside the interview room and thanked the organization, perhaps fighting back tears. His Gold Glove trophy sat on the podium.
“From my perspective, this (contract) takes away a lot of the stresses outside the baseball field,” Seager said. “This gives me and my family a lot of security away from the field. On the field, this just makes it that much better and helps what we’ve been building.”
Here’s how Seager’s backloaded contract pays, according to MLBTradetumors.com: