Seattle Mariners Predictions
The Seattle Mariners have been one of the worst teams in baseball over the past four seasons. They have managed to win 75 or fewer games each year, and they are coming off a 71-91 campaign in 2013. Ownership finally said enough is enough. The Mariners have started to spend money just like their other AL West counterparts in the Rangers and Angels, taking a completely different approach than the A’s and Astros within their division.
In the biggest move of the entire offseason, Seattle signed former Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal. The Mariners were linked to almost every big free agent on the market, proving that ownership wasn’t afraid to throw around some cash. They also signed 1B/OF Corey Hart and 1B/OF Logan Morrison. Let’s see if these big moves will pay off in 2014.
Dustin Ackley (CF) – Ackley was sent down to the minors for a month mid-season last year due to his struggles to open 2013. The move worked as he came back a much better hitter. Ackley would go on to hit .285/.354/.404 (average/on-base/slugging) over his final 68 games after his return to the majors. The former No. 2 overall pick has to try and learn that taking walks will only get him so far. He has a career .315 o-base percentage in the majors, but only a .245 average. The key will be identifying pitches earlier and taking aggressive swings on offerings to his liking instead of passing up on them, which is what he tends to do too often.
Kyle Seager (3B) – The former third-round pick proved to be a gem for the Mariners last season. He hit .260/.338/.426 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs, proving that his ’12 season where he hit .259/.316/.423 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs was no fluke. He is one of just five second basemen in the majors to have homered at least 20 times in each of the past two seasons, doing it in the toughest pitching park of the group to boot. Seager became a more complete hitter last year by improving his walk rate from 7.1% in ’12 to 9.8% in ’13. The sky is the limit for this 26-year-old, who could be in line for an even bigger year with the protection he’ll get from Cano.
Robinson Cano (2B) – Cano was a steady force in the Yankees’ lineup over his entire career in the Bronx. He is coming off a season in which he hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs. Those numbers were right in line with his career slash line of .309/.355/.504. Cano accounted for 68 percent of the Yankees’ batter WARP (wins above replacement), which was the highest percentage by any player on a non-last-place team. He did that all while extending his streak of seasons with at least 159 games played to seven. The result was the the highest contract of the offseason. There’s no question that the Mariners will be paying the 31-year-old more than he’s worth in the last few years of the deal, but the goal here is to rejuvenate a deflated fan base, and that mission should be accomplished.
Corey Hart (DH) – A knee injury cost Hart the entire 2013 season. However, considering he hit 87 homers over his last three seasons in Milwaukee, Hart was worth a flier. He can play first base and outfield, but he will likely be used in the role of DH for the most part to try and preserve his health. It will be essential to keep him in the lineup and give Cano some protection. Hart is a lifetime .276/.334/.491 hitter with some decent speed on the base paths, swiping 23 bags twice in his career. As long as his knee doesn’t act up, Hart should prove to be a solid investment for the Mariners in 2014.
Logan Morrison (LF) – If you take a look at Morrison’s injury history over the past three years, you will find 11 different items related to his knee. He had surgery on his patellar tendon that cost him 123 games over the past two years. When he did return last season, he hit .242/.333/.375 with the Miami Marlins. His swing rate of 45 percent was five percentage points higher than his previous season high, which meant he was more aggressive at the plate. It also led to a 16.8% strikeout percentage, the lowest slugging percentage of his career, and thus the lowest isolated power (slugging minus average) of his career as well. The Mariners bought low hoping for a return to health for Morrison in 2014.
Justin Smoak (1B) – The 27-year-old Smoak hasn’t quite developed into the player the Mariners had hoped for. He has battled through some injuries, but the fact remains that he has been a disappointment to this point. However, he took a step forward in trying to save his career by coming alive after returning from injury in mid-June last year. In 85 games from that point-on, Smoak hit .237/.326/.447. Sure, those numbers don’t stand out to you as great for a first baseman, but you have to consider that slash line represented 15 more points of on-base percentage and 74 more points of slugging over his career marks up to that point. He hit just .192 from the right side of the plate compared to .260 from the left side last year, so only half of his swing was fixed. He’ll need to take another step forward in 2014 if he wants to remain with this team.
Michael Saunders (RF) – Saunders only hit .236/.323/.397 last year. That’s really bad when you consider he hit .289/.386/.632 with eight extra-base hits over his final 12 games of the season. He held a .689 OPS (on-base plus slugging) up until the final two weeks of ’13. Still, he has been a quality player for the past two seasons with the Mariners overall, but he’ll have to earn his way into a starting spot in 2014. That’s because Abraham Almonte started in Saunders’ place at times down the stretch and impressed. Saunders has hit 31 homers and stolen 34 bases over the past two seasons, so he does possess some speed and pop.
Mike Zunino (C) – Zunino missed 34 games last year due to a wrist fracture toward the end of the season. Even when healthy, his bat wasn’t impressive at all. He struck out over 25 percent of the time at both the Triple-A and major league levels. He did hit 11 homers in only 229 plate appearances in Tacoma, but that power didn’t translate into the majors, where he had only five homers in 193 trips to the plate. Making matters worse, Zunino only threw out six of 34 basestealers with Seattle. You do have to remember that he’s only 23 years old, and the Mariners probably introduced him to the majors too early. He still has plenty of time to work through the struggles, and I fully expect him to become a solid regular with the organization going forward. He killed Single-A and Double-A pitching in 2012, and the former first-round pick came out of a big college program in Florida, where he excelled.
Brad Miller (SS) – Miller earned comparisons to Seager during his minor league career. Fittingly, he had a breakthrough 2013 campaign as a rookie. Miller hit .265/.318/.418 with eight homers, 41 runs scored and 36 RBIs in only 335 plate appearances. While he does not grade out as a great fielder, his bat more than makes up for it, especially at the shortstop position. The 24-year-old has shown solid power and contact skills in the minors, and he has a tremendous future ahead of him in the big leagues.
Felix Hernandez (RHP) – Despite earning a massive contract last offseason, Hernandez was his usual self in 2013. He went 12-10 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 204 1/3 innings. He also struck out a career high 9.5 batters per nine innings last year, while coming up with a career-low 2.0 walks per nine innings. His devastating changeup (89.5 mph), which is only three miles per hour slower than his fastball, is one of the best pitches in the game. Hitters swung at it 60 percent of the time, and of those swings, over 70 percent of them whiffed. The 28-year-old is coming off the best season of his career to earn that contract, yet somehow this guy remains underrated.
Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP) – Speaking of underrated. It is hard to imagine that Iwakuma was coming out of the bullpen to begin the 2012 season. In 49 outings since becoming a starter, the right-hander has compiled a 2.66 ERA over 314 innings while striking out four times as many batters as he has walked. Iwakuma features one of the nastiest splitters in the league despite only traveling at 86 mph. Hitters swing and miss 32 percent of the time against that pitch, which drops off the planet by the time it arrives at home plate. He also commands his fastball, sinker and slider. You could argue that he’s the best Japanese product in baseball today.
Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – Ramirez had success out of the bullpen with Seattle in 2012 due to a nasty changeup. Opposing hitters managed just five hits off 178 changeups that year with only one of them going for extra bases. They also swung and missed on more than a quarter of them. He couldn’t carry that success over to 2013 as a starter. Ramirez went 5-3 despite a 4.98 ERA and 1.45 WHIP over 13 starts and one relief appearance last year. Of his 199 changeups, hitters managed three homers and a double, and their whiff rate dropped by a third. After giving up just 9.8% home runs per fly ball in ’12, Ramirez surrendered home runs on 14.3% of fly balls in ’13. The 24-year-old needs to work on his change-of-pace to make his breaking pitches more effective.
James Paxton (LHP) – Paxton got his first taste of big league action in 2013 and made the most of it. The 25-year-old went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with 21 strikeouts over 24 innings pitched in four starts last year. He spent most of his season in Triple-A Tacoma inducing 51 percent ground balls. Paxton features a mid-to-high 90s fastball to go along with a plus-curve. His changeup went for a ball nearly 50 percent of the time, and if he can learn to command that pitch, he is going to be a real good one. Paxton is one of many potential young front-line starters that has come up from the Mariners’ farm system.
Taijuan Walker (RHP) – Like Paxton, Walker made his major league debut late last season. He went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over three starts while striking out 12 batters in 15 innings. His fastball touched 99 mph, which is the sign of a starter that can really be effective in this league if he can command it. He did just that by walking only 2.4 batters per nine innings, and he has always been able to keep his walk rate down in the minors, too. The only problem he did have was controlling his curveball, a pitch that he’s still developing. He’s also experimenting with a cutter. However, with the way he pitched at hitter-friendly Tacoma in the minors, the 21-year-old is likely another star in the making.
Making matters worse for the Mariners last season was a bullpen that was simply horrendous. Their relievers went a combined 16-33 on the season with a 4.58 ERA, which was the second-worst mark in all of baseball. Only the Houston Astros’ bullpen was worse. That’s why the Mariners went out and signed former Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney. He will handle the 9th inning duties after the Mariners suffered 13 walk-off losses and 14 more defeats in which the winning run was scored in the opponent’s final at-bat.
Rodney saved a combined 85 games for the Rays over the past two seasons. He had arguably the best season ever for a reliever in 2012 when he posted a 0.60 ERA while allowing just 43 hits and 15 walks over 74 2/3 innings. He wasn’t nearly as effective in ’13, but still managed a solid 3.38 ERA. The regression was due to walking 36 batters over 66 2/3 innings. Rodney will be set up by Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush. Farquhar nailed down 16 saves in 18 chances after getting the closer’s job in August, and Furbush posted a 3.74 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 65 innings in ’13 with an 11.1 K/9 ratio.
- To Win World Series: 28/1
- To Win AL Pennant: 14/1
- To Win AL West: 7/1
2014 Season Win Total: 80
The Mariners have won 75 or fewer games in four straight seasons. They have averaged just 68.5 wins per season during this stretch. However, this team is going to be much-improved in 2014, so much so that I believe the oddsmakers have set a very good total by predicting they’ll win 80 games. That just so happens to be my prediction as well.
Prediction: 4th Place AL West (80-82)
If there was one sleeper to come out of not only the AL West but the entire American League, it might be the Seattle Mariners. There is a lot to like about this team heading into 2014 despite all the misery suffered by fans over the past four years. General manager Jack Zduriencik is pulling out all the stops, and he has a farm system that is finally starting to pay some dividends.
I love the additions of Cano and Hart to go along with the underrated Seager, Miller and company. This lineup will be infinitely better than last year’s version. With Hernandez and Iwakuma forming one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball, the rotation has a chance to be dominant, especially with the up-and-coming Paxton and Walker taking on starting roles in 2014. The bullpen can’t be any worse than it was last year, either. While vastly improved, I believe the Mariners are still slightly lagging behind in the talent department when compared to the Rangers, A’s and Angels.
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