Seattle Mariners Overview - State of the Team
Pessimism mixed with a healthy dose of cynicism seems to be the natural state of most baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest. This dreary outlook is not undeserved – the Mariners are coming off four straight seasons with total losses ranging between 87, at best, and 101, at worst. However, after a fairly eventful offseason to complement the existing young talent, there may be glimpses of sun in the Seattle future.
Infielder Kyle Seager provided a serviceable fantasy bat last year, hitting .260 and popping 22 HRs. However, most of the buzz around the Mariners in fantasy baseball revolved around the strong, young rotation led by King Felix himself. While Hernandez (12-10) garnered much of the attention, posting a 3.04 ERA and 1.131 WHIP, youngster Hisashi Iwakuma actually outperformed him, statistically. Iwakuma (14-6) supplied the Mariners with an impressive 2.66 ERA and 1.006 WHIP, in addition to averaging 7.6 Ks per 9. The Mariners’ young talent doesn’t end there – potential fantasy sleeper Taijuan Walker looked impressive through three games last season, with a 3.60 ERA/1.000 WHIP all the while fanning 7.2 batters per 9 innings.
Unfortunately, the bullpen situation is much gloomier. Both Tom Wilhemlsen and Danny Faquhar enter the 2014 season with 4+ ERAs, and neither one inspires much confidence in their ability. Making matters worse, neither one has done enough to run away with the clear title as closer. To bolster this squad, GM Jack Zduriencik found himself in the enviable position of having a large purse going into the offseason, and made several noteworthy moves.
2014 Preview - Key Offseason Acquisitions
While all of the noise surrounding the Mariners’ offseason acquisitions centered around one notable second baseman with a former Empire State of Mind, Seattle also quietly made a conscious effort to add power and some veteran leadership.
Logan Morrison: The Mariners acquired Logan Morrison from Miami, in exchange for RHP Carter Capps. Many fans and analysts greeted this move as “underwhelming,” which is a claim with more than a little merit. LoMo, a formerly promising prospect (ranked #18 going into the 2009 season), appears to have peaked in 2011, where he hit 23 HRs and 72 RBIs. Since then, a clear and steady power drop-off has left him with a pedestrian batting average, a high ground out rate (46%), and a low BAPIP (.284). However, the Mariners needn’t look far for examples of power batters who didn’t hit their stride until later in their career – Raul Ibanez was 29 before he truly found his stroke at the plate. While LoMo played all 85 games last season at 1B as he recovered from knee surgery, he does provide some versatility in his position eligibility and may play in the OF to clear up the current logjam at the 1B/DH position. Though apparently “underwhelming” in light of his previous two seasons, if LoMo can return to form and reached the promise of his potential he could be a good source of runs and RBIs next season.
Corey Hart: Sticking with the 1B/DH position, the Seattle Mariners acquired Corey Hart in a heavily-incentivized one-year deal, with a potential value up to $10.6 million. This two-time All Star did not play last season, after having micro-fracture and meniscus surgery in his right knee between 2012 and 2013. This is certainly concerning for fans and fantasy owners alike, as this is the type of injury that has the capability of devastating careers. To alleviate some of this injury concern, the Mariners will likely see him at play as a DH, with the possibility of playing 1B as needed. This injury likely eliminates any speed he may have had at the position, he still has the ability to produce in the power categories. Hart cranked 30 HRs in 2012, and 29 in the two consecutive seasons prior, while also providing a strong BA of .277 between 2007 and 2012. Hart also dropped weight this offseason and claims to feel good enough to play outfield if called to, which bodes well for his value this coming season. If he can manage to bounce back from the knee injury, Hart batting fourth could provide a strong contribution in the power categories while also serving as protection for the Mariners’ most highly touted (read: expensive) acquisition.
Robinson Cano: Coming in from New York with a staggering and highly-criticized, ten year, $240 million deal, the 31 year old Robinson Cano is hopefully the cure to the Mariners’ aches in power production. The doubts have certainly been raised – he’s going to a less favorable stadium, to a team with less production, and fewer runs scored, while raising question marks as to his desire to win. I’m optimistic (at least relative to the Seattle standard). Sure, Safeco is less friendly than Yankee stadium. Sure, the production in New York isn’t matched by Seattle. And he absolutely made this decision to follow the dollars, rather than to join an immediate contender. Nonetheless, I firmly believe all of these factors are vastly overstated and he will contribute at an elite level in Seattle. Yankee stadium was the seventh most favorable stadium for hitters last season, while Safeco wasn’t far behind at fifteenth. Moreover, Cano’s home/road split as Yankee was relatively even – in fact he hit more homers on the road (16) than at home (11) last season. Granted, this included several friendly AL parks, specifically Toronto and Baltimore. Regardless, his career BA at Safeco matches his total career average (.309), and he posts a .487 slugging percentage in Seattle. Finally, the Mariners only produced 26 fewer total runs than the Yankees last season, despite the historically large gap. This two time Gold Glove winner could be the power hitter that the Mariner’s desperately need, after hitting 27 HRs and 107 RBIs. If Hart play to his potential and offers some protection for Cano, another season of 20+ HRs and 90+ RBIs is easily conceivable in Seattle.
Willie Bloomquist: Finally, the Mariners signed 36 year-old veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist. A career .270 hitter, he posted a .317/.360/.367 slash line in Arizona. Bloomquist, while unheralded, is thus coming in with a higher batting average than most of his positional teammates. However, while he may provide some veteran leadership and a serviceable bat to the Mariners’ squad, he will likely have little to no relevance for most fantasy owners.
2014 Preview - Key Offseason Departures
Carter Capps: The Mariners gave up right-handed reliever Carter Capps in the trade with Miami. Capps was a high-upside pitcher with flashes of brilliance and the ability to throw 98-99 mph. However, after going just 3-3 last season with a 5.49 ERA, this likely won’t be a large gap in the bullpen.
Questions at 1B and 2B
More importantly, the offseason acquisitions create several questions at two infield positions. We now have a Smoak v. Hart v. Morrison competition at 1B, while Cano displaces Nick Franklin, once considered the Mariners top prospects. Franklin’s shaky defense at second and less-than-stellar arm make a transition to the outfield unlikely. These questions have yet to be resolved, and we’ll likely learn more about the Mariner’s plan this Spring.
With that, the Mariners are a relatively young team with a strong rotation, and could be one of MLB’s biggest surprises if their new bats bring the power GM Jack Z. is hoping for. Either way, stay tuned for more in-depth team previews from the great Northwest!