The Mariners’ greatest need entering the offseason has long been blatantly obvious: more impact bats.
Step one of that plan has been executed.
On Christmas Eve, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Seattle would be signing catcher/DH Mitch Garver to a two-year, $24 million deal (later details revealed a mutual option for a third year in 2026). It is the largest contract the team has handed to a free agent position player since Jerry Dipoto took over in 2016, surpassing AJ Pollock’s one-year, $7 million deal last winter.
Garver is expected to be the primary DH, seldomly seeing time behind the plate (if he sees any at all), as the Mariners will go with the catching tandem of Cal Raleigh and Seby Zavala. This is partly because of the various injuries Garver has endured over the years. He has played over 100 games just once in his seven-year career (103 games in 2018) and has not surpassed the 90-game threshold since 2019.
Many of those injuries stemmed from Garver’s work behind the plate, and because of that, the Mariners will ask him to strictly focus on his bat with the hope that such a focus will keep him on the field for close to a full season.
That said, when he can stay on the field, Garver is a force at the plate, which is exactly why Dipoto and crew were so interested in him. The righty slugger posted a 138 wRC+ in 2023, serving as a key contributor on the World Series champion Rangers. He deposited 19 home runs in 87 games with an .870 OPS.
Additionally, Garver will help to address a couple of Seattle’s biggest problems; the Mariners need to reach base more often and strike out less. He will not be J.P. Crawford with his strikeout rate (a.k.a. striking out less than 20% of the time), but he does not rack them up either. Garver typically punches out 23-24% of the time, a perfectly manageable mark, especially when factoring in his fantastic walk rate. He has walked at a 10% clip or higher in five of his seven seasons, including each of his last three, while drawing free passes 12.8% of the time in 2023.
While Garver had a bit of a down year in 2022 with just a .207/.298/.404 slash line and a 98 wRC+, he has been a catalyst at the plate in three of the last four full MLB seasons. He had a career year in 2019 with 31 bombs and a 155 wRC+ across 91 games, along with a 139 wRC+ in 2021.
Garver can mash against both lefties and righties, but he does so in very different ways. He posted a hefty 170 wRC+ against southpaws this past season, yet none of his 19 round-trippers came off a left-handed pitcher.
Facing lefties, Garver hit .341 with a .500 on-base percentage and just a 14% strikeout rate, yet no long balls. Against righties, he put up a 127 wRC+ with an .843 OPS. He slugged at a higher clip against right-handers, but also struck out more (26.9% K%) and didn’t reach base quite as regularly (.341 OBP).
In the end, what this shows is that no matter what type of arm Garver is facing, he will do damage. The type of damage just fluctuates a little bit based on the handedness of the opposition.
Finally, Garver hits the ball extremely hard. This past season, he ranked in the 89th percentile in xwOBA, 87th percentile in xSLG and 83rd percentile in Barrel% (all per Baseball Savant).
Why does this matter? When playing in arguably the least hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball, a quality hard-hit profile is usually a positive sign that a hitter can overcome that obstacle. Based on his resume, the “Marine Layer” shouldn’t hold Garver back too much.
If you want one random Mitch Garver stat (that some will probably find concerning but is likely more random than anything), he is 0-for-31 in his career at T-Mobile Park. Which, sure, Mariners fans would prefer if he was hitting a lifetime .500 there. But in the end, he has played just eight total games in Seattle. It shouldn’t mean much.
After the Mariners traded Eugenio Suárez and Jarred Kelenic, and declined to extend Teoscar Hernández a qualifying offer, they were in obvious need of reinforcements at DH, third base, and at least one outfield spot. By signing Garver, they have checked off the DH portion of their task list. Garver should hit in the middle third of the order and complement Crawford, Raleigh, and Julio Rodríguez fantastically with his combination of power and on-base skills.
Additionally, Mariners’ designated hitters combined for a measly 91 wRC+ in 2023, sitting 23rd in all of baseball. If Garver continues to hit how he has the last few seasons, the team’s production from the DH spot will take an astronomical jump. Even if his performance dips a little bit, the team can still expect a significant increase in production, at a position that Seattle has, until now, struggled to find a true solution for since Nelson Cruz left in free agency after 2018.
The key for the Mariners now is not to get complacent – they still need to add more difference-making bats. Garver is a very good start, but he should not be the headlining move of the offseason.