Seattle Mariners: 3 Up and 3 Down

2013 looked a lot like previous Seattle Mariners seasons. True, the addition of the Houston Astros to the A.L. West did bump them out of the cellar, but Seattle found themselves on the wrong side of .500 again at 71-91. The 71-91 mark was a drop from the previous season by four games (75-87), although it was better than 2010 (61-101) and 2011 (67-95). The Mariners decided to shake up the on-field leadership replacing Eric Wedge with Lloyd McClendon. McClendon brings previous management experience (5 seasons with the Pirates at a 336-446 clip), and he has spent the last eight seasons as a part of Jim Leyland’s coaching staff in Detroit.

Robinson Cano made big waves in the Pacific Northwest by leaving the New York Yankees for the Seattle Mariners.

Robinson Cano made big waves in the Pacific Northwest by leaving the New York Yankees for the Seattle Mariners.

But, that wasn’t the only shake-up that the Mariners would need to compete in a top-heavy A.L. West. Seattle became surprise major players in the free agent market landing Robinson Cano from the New York Yankees. Cano adds a steady veteran presence to a young line-up featuring Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Brad Miller, and Mike Zunino. The Mariners are hoping a couple years of experience and a massive bat like Cano will boost the Seattle offense.

The Mariners didn’t stop at Cano, though. They also shored up the bullpen landing Fernando Rodney. Rodney is coming off two spectacular seasons in Tampa Bay where he saved eighty-five games including forty-eight in 2012 with a 0.60 ERA for the season. The rotation is still spear-headed by a bona fide ace in Felix Hernandez, and the Mariners will be looking for key contributions from top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

3 Up

Best Case Scenario

This may sound like shooting for the sky, but, with this new talent in place, the Mariners can land a playoff spot. Teams have made massive jumps in the American League in the last two seasons: the A’s, the Orioles, and the Indians. Seattle has one of the best pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez and one of the best bats in Robinson Cano. The ceiling for this team is a playoff berth.

Most Important Mariners

The spotlight is going to shine bright on the Mariner outfield. The Mariners passed on Nelson Cruz and are looking at an Opening Day Starting outfield of Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley, and Michael Saunders. Ackley is the key guy here.  Seattle has invested a lot in the former No. 2 pick, and he can’t go back to his position of 2B with Cano there. Ackley had an unforeseen trip to the minors last season, and he probably won’t get many more chances to be an everyday player for the Mariners. He showed a spark after batting .138 in May, he came back to hit .390 in August and finish .253 for the season. Ackley needs to bat in the .280-.300 range for Seattle to take off.

To move forward, the Mariners need another spectacular season from Hisashi Iwakuma.

To move forward, the Mariners need another spectacular season from Hisashi Iwakuma.

The other most important Mariner is Hisashi Iwakuma. The Mariners know what they are going to get out of Hernandez, but they found a welcoming surprise in Iwakuma establishing himself as a solid No. 2 behind Hernandez. Iwakuma went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in 219.2 IP in 2013. The Mariners need more of the same with an inexperience rotation behind him. Iwakuma is battling a finger injury in Spring Training, but the Mariners are hopeful he will be able to start full strength early in the season.

Potential Breakout Players

For Seattle to break over .500 and compete for a playoff spot, it is going to have to be on the arms of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Although the rotation is still currently in flux, there is a reasonable chance both will be in the Opening Day starting rotation. Walker went three starts late in the season, limited to five innings in each outing. The 21-year old went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. In his only home start, he took quickly to Safeco Field striking out eight Astros batters in five innings. Paxton was given a bit of a longer leash last season, and he did not disappoint. In four starts, Paxton went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. The 25-year old won at St. Louis, and he beat Tampa Bay and Kansas City at home.  All three of those teams finished over .500.

3 Down

Worst Case Scenario

The signings of Cano and Rodney give the Mariners optimism in 2014. The last thing they need is more of the same. In a worst case scenario, the Mariners would repeat the last few seasons and be around the 70-win mark.

Areas of Concern

Iwakuma’s health, right now, is a major concern. His veteran presence is needed for that young rotation. All signs are pointing positively for Seattle that he should be available in the early season, but he needs to be the same pitcher he was last year. The outfield is also an area of concern going into 2014. I touched earlier in this article on Ackley, who has only been an outfielder for half a season. Logan Morrison, acquired from a trade with the Marlins, has been battling injuries for the last two seasons hampering his production. And, Michael Saunders, while showing some pop, is a lifetime .224 batter. Going toward Opening Day, the outfield looks like a weak link in the Seattle lineup.

Who Needs to Bounce Back from a Down 2013

Justin Smoak had his highest season average as a Mariner and a career high in home runs, but he ran out of gas as 2013 came to a close. Smoak batted .229 in August and .184 in September. Smoak looks like the Opening Day starter at 1st base, but he might get pushed by Corey Hart, who missed 2013 with knee problems. Mike Zunino also can be penciled in as an Opening Day starter. The Mariners’ future at catcher, Zunino struggled at the plate in 2013. He battled some injuries that limited him to fifty-two games contributing to him batting .214 on the season. Another veteran the Mariners added through free agency, John Buck, will be looking to step up if Zunino struggles.

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