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Seattle Mariners 2015 Team Preview

The Seattle Mariners greatly improved in 2014, could this be the season they win the AL West for the first time since 2001?

Felix Hernandez Robinson Cano

After winning 75 or fewer games in four straight seasons, the Seattle Mariners improved by leaps and bounds in 2014 thanks to a strong group of homegrown pitching talent and won 87 games. With the A’s selling off many of their top players and the Angels entering the season with a lot of questions, this could well be the year the Mariners return to the top of the AL West for the first time since 2001.

Last season the Mariners boasted one of the top pitching staffs in the league. This year it will be up to the newly-signed Nelson Cruz and the offense to get them over the hump and to the promised land.

 

Last Season:

Record: 87-75

Runs: 18th

Batting Average: 23rd

ERA: 2nd

WHIP: 4th

 

Off-Season:

Notable Additions: Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Seth Smith, J.A. Happ, Justin Ruggiano

Notable Losses: Michael Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Chris Young, Brandon Maurer, Justin Smoak, Corey Hart, Joe Beimel,

 

2015:

1B: Logan Morrison, Willie Bloomquist, Jesus Montero

Morrison is no one’s idea of an every day starter. He hasn’t reached 100 games played in three straight seasons and, though he has some pop, is a very middle-of-the-road player with a mid-200s batting average and decent on-base numbers.

Bloomquist is… a guy with a pulse. He played 47 games off the bench for the Mariners last season but it’s unclear if there’s still a role on the team for the 37-year-old.

Jesus Montero is a wild card. He’s been a massive disappointment since arriving from the Yanks in return for Michael Pineda in 2012, batting .251 with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs over three seasons.

He’s shown up to camp in the best shape of his life though, and, at just 25, Montero may finally be mature enough to play every day in the Bigs. He was very solid in Triple-A last season, posting a .286 BA, .839 OPS, 16 homers, and 74 RBI in 97 games.

2B: Robinson Cano, Rickie Weeks

Though he saw his home run total plummet away from the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, Cano remains arguably the best second baseman in the game. His .314 BA was exactly what it’s been in three straight seasons and his 68 strikeouts was the lowest total we’ve seen from him since 2009. Still, his drop in home runs (27 to 14), RBI (107 to 82), and OPS (.899 to .836) suggest that he isn’t quite the power bat he was in the Bronx. Look for similar numbers in 2015, but not the 30 home runs and 100+ RBI we saw with the Bombers.

After three straight seasons with 20+ home runs between 2010 and 2012, Weeks is batting a combined .236 with a .724 OPS, 18 HR, 53 RBI, 76 R, and 10 SB over the last two seasons. At 32, he’s not going to be returning to peak form again but he makes for a much better backup than he does starter.

3B: Kyle Seager

After two strong seasons in 2012 and 2013, Seager broke out in 2014, reaching career highs in home runs (25), batting average (.268), RBI (96), and OPS (.788), en route to his first All-Star game selection. A .250-.260 average with ~25 home runs, 90 RBI, and 70-80 runs is a good bet for the very solid homegrown third baseman.

SS: Brad Miller

Though he’s still just 25, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Miller is not the future at short for the M’s. After a half decent rookie season, Miller regressed in 2014, batting just .221 with a .653 OPS, 10 HR, 36 RBI, and 47 runs in 123 games. In the minors Miller posted a .334 BA, .925 OPS, and displayed solid pop and speed over 219 games. We’ve yet to see any of that in the Bigs except in very small increments.

C: Mike Zunino, John Baker

Though his batting average is head-shake inducing, his strikeouts are eye popping, and his walks are non-existent, Zunino gives the Mariners a nice power bat from a position that rarely figures into the game offensively. His 22 home runs finished only behind Devin Mesoraco and Brian McCann at the position and, at just 24, Zunino could still improve his all-or-nothing approach at the plate to blossom into a truly elite catcher.

John Baker is also a sub-.200 hitter but without any of the positives that Zunino has. He’s your typical veteran backup catcher.

 

Outfield:

Nelson Cruz is expected to handle the everyday designated hitter duties after posting the best season of his career at age 33. Cruz led the league with 40 home runs while batting .271 with a .859 OPS, 108 RBI, 87 runs, and 32 doubles. Of course, that 40 home runs is 11 more than he had in any of his previous four seasons, the 108 RBI is his career-best by far, and even his 32 doubles is 14 more than he posted the previous season. Can we expect another 40-home run campaign? Probably not but a .260-.270 hitter with 25-30 home runs and 75+ RBI isn’t a bad get, especially since he’s costing them just $14 million per season.

Dustin Ackley is expected to man left field and is solid at best. His .245 BA, .692 OPS, 14 home runs, 65 RBI, and 64 runs last season weren’t bad by any stretch but hardly elite outfield numbers. He improved significantly as the season went along though so perhaps this could be the year Ackley can reach an OPS in the high-700s. Or not.

Austin Jackson struggled mightily after the Tigers shipped him to Seattle mid-season, batting just .229 with a .527 OPS in 54 games. He did steal 11 bases though, running a lot more than we had seen in Detroit. At just 28 and still owning the potential to be a .270+ hitter with 10+ home runs, 10 triples, 30 doubles, and 90+ runs, and 20+ steals, he’s not a bad lottery pick in fantasy drafts this spring but he’ll need a strong bounce back season.

Seth Smith was brought in after a solid year in San Diego that saw him post a very impressive .367 OBP and .807 OPS. His 12 home runs, 48 RBI, 55 runs, and 31 doubles is a little lower than what we saw in Colorado and his first season in Oakland but that’s to be expected in Petco. Smith is a solid on-base guy with a good ability to hit the gaps and a passable glove.

Justin Ruggiano was brought in from Chicago to be the fourth outfielder and is a serviceable vet who posted a solid .281 BA, .337 OBP, and .766 OPS in 250 plate appearances last season. Though his batting lines can be inconsistent, he’s got decent pop and used to be able to steal 15 bases. The glove is far from impressive, though.

James Jones is likely to be the fifth outfielder and offers a lot of speed and nothing else. He batted .250 with a .589 OPS last season, doesn’t walk, and has no pop but stole 27 bases while getting caught just once in 108 games. He’s a burner but not a good hitter or fielder.

 

Starting Rotation:

Felix Hernandez: King Felix was by far the best pitcher in the American League last year and was robbed of a well-deserved second Cy Young award. His 2.14 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 6.5 H/9 all led the American League while his 15 wins were the most he’s posted since 2009 and his 248 strikeouts were a career high. With a better team around him, Felix is an even better pitcher than we saw on the hapless Mariners of years past.

Hisashi Iwakuma: Iwakuma was hampered by injuries in 2014 and his career-worst 3.52 ERA was the result. Still, that’s not a bad number and his 15 wins, 1.1 BB/9, 7.7 K/9, and 7.3:1 KK/BB ratio were all career bests. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason not to expect another 15 wins, low-3 ERA, and a WHIP below 1.10.

James Paxton: In 17 career starts, Paxton is 9-4 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.13WHIP. The longtime top prospect posted pretty inconsistent numbers in the minors and struggled to keep runners off the bases but his high strikeouts and aversion to the longball often saved him. He didn’t allow a lot of hits and if he can lower his walk total and increase his strikeouts he’ll quickly become one of the many elite young arms in the AL West.

Taijuan Walker: Can you say post-hype sleeper? A lot of fantasy owners were hoping to get a steal in Walker last season but injuries limited him to a mere 38 innings. Still, in those 38 innings he posted a 2.61 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. If he can just get his walk totals down, Walker is well on his way to achieving his top-5 prospect potential. His high strikeout potential makes him a worthy draft pick in fantasy leagues once again.

J.A. Happ: There’s nothing special about Happ but he’s a reliable fifth starter. Last season in Toronto he went 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 133 K/51 BB. That’s about the best we can expect from Happ but the Mariners still have plenty of young arms looking to overtake him for the final rotation spot.

Roenis Elias: One of those youngsters is Elias, who is coming off an elbow injury but a solid rookie season. In his first taste of the Big Leagues, Elias posted a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 143 K/64 BB. Elias often struggled with walks in the minors but has become less prone to the longball and, at 26, still has room to grow.

 

Bullpen:

Fernando Rodney posted the one of the best seasons of his career in his first year with Seattle, leading the league with 48 saves. His 1.34 WHIP was much higher than the M’s would like but his 2.85 ERA was the second best of his long career and he blew just three saves in 51 opportunities. At 38, Seattle can still rely on the veteran.

No longer the closer, Danny Farquhar proved a very reliable middle reliever in 2014, posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 71 innings. He’s quickly becoming a top notch late-inning arm.

Charlie Furbush has proven a reliable though not great lefty but Yoervis Medina and Tom Wilhelmsen are as good as you’re going to get. Meanwhile, young righty Carson Smith is expected to land a job out of the pen and might be better than all of them.

 

Grades:

Offense: C+ to B-

Defense: C- to C

Starting Pitching: B+

Bullpen: A

Overall: B

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