SEATTLE MARINERS: 71-91 (4th Place in AL West)
Projected Lineup/Batting Order:
LF Dustin Ackley
3B Kyle Seager
2B Robinson Cano
DH Corey Hart
1B Justin Smoak
CF Michael Saunders
RF Logan Morrison
C Mike Zunino
SS Brad Miller
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP Taijuan Walker
SP Erasmo Ramirez
SP James Paxton
RP Fernando Rodney
RP Tom Wilhemsen
RP Charlie Furbush
The Mariners were probably the least talked about team in the AL West last year. The Rangers and A’s were good. The Angels were disappointing. And the Astros were terrible. That left limited column inches for a 71 win team that plays in the Pacific Northwest. But the Mariners then went out to make a splash this offseason with their signing of Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million dollar deal. With a respectable number 3 hitter on this club, the Mariners hope their ancillary pieces can finally settle into their roles on this team and play within themselves. And the hope is that those players, teamed with a superstar, will be enough for Seattle to make it to the postseason.
This team was offensively challenged again last season, as it has been for roughly the last 5 years. Their leading hitter was Kendrys Morales, who played some first and some DH for them and is on the free agent market looking for a job. He hit 277 with a team leading 23 HR and 80 RBI. When a guy leads the team in all three categories, you want those numbers to be higher. Smoak will be at first and either Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, two other new additions will DH and play right field. You can’t put them both in the field though, because that would mean Dustin Ackley would go to the bench, or move to center where his weak arm is a liability. That would also mean that Michael Saunders, really the only guy who can play center for this team, would go to the bench. As far as the Morrison/Hart discussion goes, Hart is the better fielder, but is coming off knee issues, and played first more recently. I put Morrison in right for now, but if Hart is healthy expect him to play the field more with Morrison in as the DH. Both of these guys are being relied upon to provide protection for Cano. Hart missed all of last season with an injury but hit 270 in 2012 with 30 HR. The years before were 285 with 26 HR and 283 with 31 HR. So we know what he used to do consistently. The Mariners hope he won’t miss a beat getting back to action. But he is a bit of a wildcard. Morrision is arguably a bigger wildcard. He only appeared in 85 games last year with a 242 AVG and 6 HR. He’s never topped 123 games in a season, but that year he did was his best with 23 HR. That’s the hitter Seattle hoped they got, but as a career 249 hitter, power is about the only thing he potentially brings to the table. And even that’s unsure. The Mariners had to do something though. Without those 2, the only protection for Cano would be Justin Smoak. Smoak had another Smoak-like season. His AVG is abysmal (238 last season) but he showed prodigious power (20 HR in 131 games). The past 3 years he’s logged 120+ games with an AVG south of 240 and 15+ HR. That’s fine for a 7 hitter perhaps. But they need him to do more. He’s not a cleanup guy with that AVG, but at this point that may be the only kind of player he knows how to be. He’s the starting first baseman if he performs, but with a career 227 AVG, he may be sharing time. And if that’s the case things likely aren’t going well in Seattle. All those guys exist to protect the new free agent signee Robinson Cano in this lineup. He is far an away their best hitter and first legitimate hitting threat in years. Last year’s stat line of 314/27/107/81 was actually a bit of decline from his best numbers. That just lets you know how good he is. You can pencil him in for a 300+ AVG each year. The move to Seattle from the New York bandbox won’t help his power, but 20 seems like a lock with 100 RBI if men get on base in front of him. The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, though he swiped 7 last year. He will be a great addition in Seattle. The question is, will he have any RBI opportunities? The leadoff spot is a serious question. Dustin Ackley is the first choice to leadoff due to his pedigree. He was the second overall pick in 2009. So they’ve put a lot of time and energy into him and want him to work out. He struggled in 113 games last year with a 253 AVG and only 2 SB. His OBP was 319, which is okay but not great. He’s moving to a new position as he’s a natural second baseman. But with Cano in town, he’ll move to left and try to leadoff. But he’s a risk. If he can’t succeed in the number 1 spot, then SS Brad Miller will be the leadoff man. Miller was a rookie last year who hit 265 in 76 games with 8 HR. He’s not an ideal leadoff choice, which is why I put him in the 9th spot. If neither Ackley nor Miller can get it done leading off, perhaps Michael Saunders will leadoff as he’s got some speed. But at 236 with 12 HR, they see him hitting lower in the lineup, cleaning up for the heavy hitters. Their best hitter from last year, third baseman Kyle Seager, is supposed to hit second. He hit 260 with 22 HR and 9 SB last year. He also scored 79 R. He could leadoff, but they like him hitting second in front of Cano. They hope he’ll see lots of fastballs, which could lead to 25 HR. Hard to know. But the top of the Mariners lineup is messy, meaning Cano’s RBI numbers could be limited. The last member of this offense is Mike Zunino, who isn’t known for his offense. Also, expect to see a lot of Abraham Almonte as he’s a better defensive player than Hart, Morrison and now Ackley, who is in a new position. He actually led off in the Mariners’ season opener. This team has potential, but even with the addition of Cano, one of the best offensive players in the game, this offense is not a sure thing and a major question mark going into the season.
Defensively, this team doesn’t look like the surest bet. Justin Smoak is average, at best, at first. Cano is great at second and Miller is strong at short. Seager similarly, is pretty good at the hot corner. Then it gets iffy. Dustin Ackley is learning a new position in left field. He’s got a weak arm, which is why he’s there as opposed to right or center. He’s got good speed and great athleticism playing second base before this. But that’s a tough move. Michael Saunders isn’t a natural center fielder, but should be okay there. And right field is another question mark. Morrison isn’t great in right, playing more left and first base. But he’s young and fairly athletic. Hart is better in right, but has bad knees, potentially, and played first more recently. I’m not saying either one of them will be a problem, but there are questions there.
The one area where the Mariners feel great is on the mound. Felix Hernandez is a legitimate ace. He was 12-10 last year with a 3.04 ERA and team leading 216 Ks in 204 IP. He’s among the best in the business and will likely be again. If healthy, 200+ IP with 200+ Ks and an ERA around 3 should be guaranteed. What he’s hoping is that a better offense will make his Win number grow (because he generally pitches well enough to win 15-20 games) and see his loss total decline (as he gets no run support, and pitchers who give up fewer than 3 runs often don’t deserve to lose). Hasashi Iwakuma was arguably the best pitcher in Seattle last year. He led the team with 14 Wins and a 2.66 ERA. He also logged the most innings at 219. He’s less of a sure thing, but in two years he’s made 49 starts going 23-11 with a career 2.84 ERA. The other positive sign is Iwakuma’s WHIP, which fell 27 points last year from 2012 and his BAA which went from 248 to 220. All the numbers look strong and Iwakuma looks to be a legitimate number 2 starter in this league. The rest of the rotation isn’t as clear-cut. Erasmo Ramirez is expected to be one of those middle of the rotation arms. He struggled with a 4.98 in 13 starts last year. It wasn’t pretty, but the year before was much better with a 3.36 ERA in 8 starts. He’s young, so they hope he can start a full season and turn in some competitive innings for the club. If he does, he has to cut down on the walks and lower that WHIP. That’ll go a long way towards helping his overall numbers. I put James Paxton in the last spot in the rotation. He went 3-0 in 4 starts last year with a 1.50 ERA, sub 1 WHIP and 172 BAA. He struck out 21 in 24 IP. And while those numbers look great, those were his only 4 career starts. So we’ll see how he does over a full year. They plan to protect him a bit by making him the number 5 man. The most exciting man in this rotation might be youngster Taijuan Walker. He went 1-0 in 3 starts last year, the only 3 of his career. He wasn’t as hot as Paxton, but struck out 12 in 15 IP with a 3.60 ERA. They love his stuff, so we’ll see what he can do. He’s an exciting young arm and they expect him to be a future ace. But, like Paxton, we don’t know much about him yet as his experience is extremely limited. It’s nice to like the future there, but I’d expect the same growing pains that every young pitcher goes through. With all those young pitchers, you need a strong bullpen. And Seattle looks like theirs is in good shape. It’s anchored by new closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney didn’t follow his record setting season with one quite as strong in Tampa last year. But he still saved 37 games for the Rays with a 3.38 ERA. His 82 Ks in 66 IP were very impressive but his 1.34 WHIP was way too high, especially with hitters hitting only 211 off of him. He’s got to cut down on the walks, or he will be in trouble. The good news is Seattle is one of the best pitchers parks in the game, which is why so many of Seattle’s pitchers looked good last year. If he locks down the 9th, the Mariners can count on Tom Wilhemsen and Danny Farquhar in the 8th. Charlie Furbush can spot start and fill the long reliever role and give this team a strong bullpen from top to bottom. People like pitching in Seattle, and these guys are no exception.
The Mariners were in that dreaded middle area of a team that wasn’t re-building but wasn’t ready to go for it all. Then this year they decided to make a push. They signed Cano to a 10 year deal and added some offense in the form of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. They added a legitimate closer to strengthen an already strong bullpen. And their starting rotation continues to look good. So they hope to start winning now. The bad news is that they play in arguably the best division in the game and things don’t look easier for them this year.
They have some talented young pitchers as King Felix is still under 30 and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are extremely young. Ackley, Miller and Seager are still young and Cano is in his prime. The future looks okay, but not as strong as other teams. The present looks good, though again not as good as other teams. So despite the improvements, this team still looks to be a middle of the road club, just one that spent a lot more money this offseason.
I think the Mariners will be better. But I don’t know that they move up the standings very far. The Rangers and A’s are still better. The Angels are still better on paper. And Houston’s future is brighter. I’m picking the Mariners to win more games than Houston this year, but that’s about it. I’m sorry to disappoint people in the Pacific Northwest, but this offense only looks good enough to win 75 games, even with this pitching staff. Which makes me pick the Mariners to finish fourth in this division.