The Seattle Mariners have made a late addition to their roster just before the holidays by agreeing to a two-year, $24 million deal with veteran free agent Mitch Garver. While the club has not officially confirmed the deal yet, it is pending a physical examination, which is expected to take place after the holidays, delaying the official announcement until the new year.
Garver, who will turn 33 on January 15, represents the Mariners’ first significant addition to their roster this offseason. The team has been undergoing significant changes, with an emphasis from the front office on shifting towards a more contact-oriented offense, and they needed to free up financial resources to facilitate this transition.
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Primarily a right-handed batter, Garver began his career as a catcher but has dealt with injuries. The Mariners plan to utilize him as their primary designated hitter moving forward, with the option to back up Cal Raleigh as a catcher. However, his performance behind the plate in 2023 was less than stellar, with a pop time ranking in the 18th percentile and below-average blocking.
The Mariners have also bolstered their catching depth by acquiring Seby Zavala from the Arizona Diamondbacks and making a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for Minor Leaguer Blake Hunt, which should provide more stability at the catching position for the 2024 season. Furthermore, veteran Tom Murphy signed a two-year, $8.25 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, effectively ending his chances of returning to the Mariners.
In 2023, while playing for the World Series champion Texas Rangers, Garver assumed a similar role, serving as a backup catcher to All-Star Jonah Heim during the regular season and exclusively as a designated hitter during the playoffs. He posted a .226/.317/.434 slash line with three home runs in 60 plate appearances during the postseason, including a crucial go-ahead single in Game 5 of the World Series.
During the regular season, Garver delivered a .270/.370/.500 slash line with 19 home runs across 87 games, splitting time between catcher and DH. He did miss nearly two months due to a left knee sprain early in the season and had season-ending right forearm flexor tendon surgery in July 2022. Throughout his seven-year career, which includes five seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Garver’s highest number of games played in a single season is 102, which does pose some injury risk.
Garver had his standout season with the Twins in 2019, where he hit 31 home runs and boasted a .995 OPS, earning him the AL Silver Slugger Award for catchers. While his career strikeout rate of 25.6% is relatively high, especially for a Mariners team that has been actively seeking to reduce strikeouts, some underlying metrics indicate that he is one of the game’s more disciplined hitters. In 2023, he had a chase rate of 17.4%, ranking in the 98th percentile, and a walk rate of 12.8%, which was in the 90th percentile according to Statcast.
Garver’s deal with the Mariners represents a significant pay raise compared to the $3.9 million he earned last year and the $10,232,500 he has earned throughout his career. This signing also marks the first multiyear deal for a free-agent hitter that the Mariners have reached under the leadership of president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, who joined the team in the 2015-16 offseason. The cost and duration of Garver’s contract should provide the Mariners with the financial flexibility to make one or two more offensive additions. While the acquisition of Garver likely removes them from the market for sluggers like Jorge Soler and J.D. Martinez, they still have significant needs in the corner outfield and room within a payroll of around $130 million to address those needs.