SEATTLE — Kyle Seager was initially “the other guy.”
When the Seattle Mariners held the No. 2 pick in the 2009 amateur draft, it was clear they were targeting North Carolina outfielder Dustin Ackley. But in the process of scouting Ackley, the Tar Heels’ third baseman caught the attention of Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara and general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Nearly six years later, selecting Seager in the third round might be the best draft pick of Zduriencik’s tenure in Seattle.
“A player can change the destiny of an organization and you never really know where it comes,” Zduriencik said Wednesday after Seager signed his $100 million, seven-year contract with the Mariners. “You have to have success in other rounds.”
The Mariners continued their big spending of the past few years by locking up Seager in his prime. At 27, he passed up salary arbitration and pushed back his potential free agency for the security of being under contract with Seattle for the next seven years and perhaps an eighth — the Mariners hold a club option for 2022.
It’s a major commitment, with most of the money coming on the back end of the deal. Seager will make $4 million in 2015, but from 2018-21 he will earn $74.5 million. By that point, the Mariners believe Seager will be a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner.
The financial commitment to Seager is on top of the deals signed by Felix Hernandez ($175 million) and Robinson Cano ($240 million) the past two offseason, and a deal with slugger Nelson Cruz expected to be for $57 million.
“When I took this job I said this was going to be a golden age for the Seattle Mariners. I didn’t know it was going to be this much gold,” manager Lloyd McClendon joked.
Seager is one of the few stars to be developed by the Mariners in the past two decades. Before him, the last position player to be drafted and developed by Seattle and make his first All-Star team with the Mariners was Alex Rodriguez. Bret Boone was drafted by the Mariners and came through Seattle’s system, but his first All-Star game came with Cincinnati.
Seager’s rapid rise, and the fact he came through Seattle’s system, was part of the reason the Mariners made such a strong commitment.
“We know what we have here. We know we have a good group of guys here. We know we’re going to be competitive and we’re going to play well and we’re going to take it to the next level,” Seager said. “It was a very easy decision.”
Seager hit .268 with a career-high 25 homers and 96 RBIs last season, getting selected to his first All-Star game and winning his first Gold Glove after posting the 10th-highest fielding percentage for an American League third baseman since 1948.
But the season was far from smooth. In mid-May, while on a road trip in Minnesota, McClendon held a blunt conversation with Seager about his performance.
“Not too pleasant,” was how Seager described it.
At the time, Seager had rebounded slightly from a miserable start to the season, but was still batting in the low .200s and had already committed five errors in 39 games.
Over the next 118 games, Seager hit .282 and committed just three errors in the field.
“I really challenged him because I thought he could be better than what he was doing and I thought this guy could be one of the elite players in this league,” McClendon said. “He hasn’t disappointed.”