When Seattle traded budding catcher Austin Nola to the Padres one year ago, it was never the plan to acquire the best defensive first baseman in the American League.
The Mariners weren't on a pre-deadline search for their cornerstone first baseman, mainly due to the presence of Evan White, last year's Gold Glove winner at the position. What they did want was an impact bat that could play multiple infield positions.
They wanted San Diego's Ty France in the deal, and they got him.
A month into 2021, Evan White went down with a hip flexor injury that required surgery. France, mainly Seattle's second baseman to that point, filled in.
France wasn't a first baseman — nor did the Mariners expect him to be one — when acquired last summer. But sometimes, you can't judge a book by its cover, manager Scott Servais said.
Sometimes, you have to open a book up and read it — and that is exactly what they did.
"The chapters have been much more interesting to me than maybe we thought."
In 629 innings at first base this season — roughly 70 full games — France's fielding percentage is 1.000. He has been, quite literally, perfect.
It's France's confidence that contributes to his success at the position, Servais said. Compared to Gold Glove-winning shortstop J.P. Crawford, there's no doubt he can make a play when a ball is hit to him.
He wants the ball hit to him.
"When I look at J.P. (Crawford) out there, J.P. wants every ball into him, so you know it's gonna be an out," Servais said. "And Ty's got the same look about it. (He) comes through with a lot of reps, working his tail off, feeling good about himself, and knows he can help the team in a number of different ways."
Through Friday, France leads American League first basemen in WAR (wins above replacement) since the All-Star Break with 1.6. He's turned as many double plays as anyone in the league from the position, and, astoundingly, has yet to make an error at first base.
His teammates are taking notice. Marco Gonzales says the first baseman is making it look easy. Jake Bauers said he believes France "knows himself."
It's been "freaking impressive to watch," Bauers said.
"I mean, every ball on the ground, I don't even have to look up," Gonzales said. "It feels like he gets (hitters) out everywhere... scooping the ball at first base and running things down. He's just a sure thing right now."
What France was acquired for was his bat, and he's lived up to expectations, and then some. His .290 batting average ranks eleventh in the American League, and his .340 average for the month of August leads the team.
Around the time of White's hip injury, France caught the injury bug, spending ten days on the injured list with wrist inflammation. He battled through discomfort in June, but exploded after the All-Star Break. There's no question his health made that difference.
"Fortunately, I've always been able to hit," France said earlier last week. "When I'm 100 percent healthy, there's nothing in the back of my mind. I can just go out there and be myself. And like I said, it comes down to being healthy and being able to get my (best) swing off when I need to."
Servais praised France's situational hitting ability. Last week, the first baseman cranked game-tying, ninth-inning home runs in consecutive games. On Sunday, he put the Mariners on the board with a first-inning, RBI single.
France knows what pitches to look for, and when. He's able to avoid slumps — and shifts — by spraying the ball to all areas of the field, and pitchers are unlikely to fool him on consecutive pitches.
"He doesn't really take a conventional (batting practice)," Bauers said. "I mean, the guy is yanking balls down the line for five rounds. ... I think he knows his swing, he knows what it takes for him to feel good, and he knows what it takes for him to feel right."
In recent weeks, the Mariners have prioritized the additions of veteran relievers for their on-the-rise bullpen, and Thursday was no different.
Seattle announced the acquisition of Sean Doolittle off waivers from Cincinnati, a ten-year veteran that bolsters the bullpen and adds postseason experience to the roster.
Originally selected in the 2007 draft as a first baseman, Doolittle transformed his career into one of an experienced reliever with 20 postseason appearances. He won a World Series with the Nationals in 2019, and sported a 4.46 earned run average across 38 1/3 innings with the Reds this season.
He made his Seattle debut Friday, lasting one scoreless inning despite allowing three hits. Doolittle went nine days between appearances, but threw in his backyard to stay fresh, Servais said.
"Certainly, he's got a ton of experience," Servais said of his newest reliever. "He's left-handed, he's been around. He's always had a good arm. ... He's an interesting guy, (with an) interesting story. I'm excited to have him join the club."
Doolittle, 34, will enter free agency this winter. To make room on the active roster, Seattle designated Keynan Middleton for assignment, and subsequently outrighted him to Triple-A Tacoma after clearing waivers.