The hot stove has really warmed up over the last week or so. There were rumors that some free agents would sign new deals ahead of the expiration of the CBA on December 1st, and that has indeed been the case. Eduardo Rodríguez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Verlander are already off the market. Corey Seager, the subject of today’s free agent target profile, could sign before the end of November too.
Scott Boras represents Seager and it’s unusual for Boras clients to sign early in the offseason. We’ve seen the players he reps wait until late January to put pen to paper, but perhaps this year will be an exception because of the potential lockout. Either way, Seager, who turns 28 in April, is in for a massive contract as one of the game’s best shortstops. The Yankees have been connected to him, so let’s dive in.
Seager was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and grew up in the nearby area. He’s the youngest of three professional baseball player brothers; you’re likely familiar with Kyle, the longtime Mariners’ third baseman who’s also a free agent, but perhaps unfamiliar with Justin, who peaked at Double-A.
While Kyle and Justin signed out of college, Corey went pro out of high school. The Dodgers picked him with the 18th overall selection in 2012 and paid him a $2.35 million bonus to pass on his commitment to the University of South Carolina.
Seager appeared in 46 games in rookie ball after the draft, but made his full season debut the year after. It didn’t take long for him to climb the minor league rungs. He reached Double-A by late 2014, started there again in 2015, but quickly forced the Dodgers hand. Seager made his major league debut at 21 years-old as a September call up. He tore the cover off the ball too: in 113 plate appearances, Seager posted a ridiculous .337/.425/.561 (175 wRC+) as LA won the division title.
From there on out, Seager has been the Dodgers’ starting shortstop. And for the most part, he’s been terrific, at least offensively. There were a couple of so-so seasons marred by injuries (2018 and 2019 — more on those shortly), but even then he still recorded a 111 wRC+ in 160 games. For his career, Seager is a .297/.367/.504 (132 wRC+) hitter who makes plenty of contact (18.5 percent strikeout rate). He’s right up the Bombers’ alley, especially as a left-handed bat.
On the defensive front, Seager is arguably the worst among the top free agent shortstops. Nonetheless, he represents an upgrade at shortstop in comparison to Gleyber Torres, though I acknowledge that’s not saying much. Now, it appears that Seager has made some big improvements defensively since early in his career. In ’16, Seager recorded -16 OAA. He posted +5 OAA from 2017 through 2020, only to net -6 OAA this year. Other defensive metrics, like FRAA and DRS, peg Seager as slightly below average. Seager tends to make the plays he can get to, as his error count isn’t particularly high, but his range leaves a bit to be desired.
Long story short: Seager offers an elite left-handed bat and should be able to play tolerable defense at shortstop. He may not be long for the position, but fortunately, the Yankees do have prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza waiting in the wings.
Seager is no stranger to the injured list, especially in recent years, though I don’t think it’d be fair to call him injury prone. He’s been on the injured list for extended periods three times since 2018, and two of those three injuries seem like one-time issues.
In 2018, Seager started the season healthy but didn’t play after the calendar flipped to May because of Tommy John surgery. He was ready to go for Opening Day 2019, but a left hamstring strain in June cost him a full month of play. Pre-injury, he had a 117 wRC+, but afterward he had a 107 wRC+ that season, indicative of him not feeling quite right that entire second half.
This year, Seager suffered a right hand fracture on a hit by pitch, resulting in him playing just 92 games. The good news is that it wasn’t an issue when he came off the injured list at the end of July: he raked to the tune of a .335/.417/.592 (169 wRC+) over the final two months of the season.
Ultimately, it seems like Seager’s been a victim of bad luck more than anything else. That hamstring strain is the only one that could portend trouble, and we know the Yankees themselves have had issues managing those in recent years, but the organization seems to have turned a corner. Plus, it’s not like the hammy has been a problem for Seager ever since.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
Yes. I can more or less write the same thing I did when profiling Carlos Correa. Seager is still young, is a terrific hitter, and a competent defender at shortstop. He may not be for long at the position like Correa, but the Yankees have a couple of prospects who could reshuffle the infield in the near future anyway.
Although MLBTR’s contract estimate says otherwise, I’ll be stunned if Seager’s deal starts with a 3. In that sense, he represents something of a bargain for Hal Steinbrenner. He also comes without the baggage of Houston’s cheating scandal. Those two things could make him a more palatable choice, even if Correa is the better player.