2014 MLB PREVIEW: SEATTLE MARINERS
February 27, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
While the Seattle Seahawks enjoyed winning a Super Bowl, the Mariners saw nothing but a turbulent 2013 baseball season. The Mariners were nothing more than a dysfunctional organization from top to bottom by the time the season ended in September. So how does one fix the Mariners? How about spend some money. That’s exactly what ownership did by obtaining Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano as a free agent for some $240 million. And they didn’t stop there. They also signed former Brewers 1B/OF Corey Hart, INF Willie Bloomquist and traded for OF/1B Logan Morrison from the Marlins. It may not be enough for Seattle fans to start thinking playoffs, but it’s a start.
STARTING PITCHING: New Manager Lloyd McClendon has two aces and a bunch of question marks. 27 year-old Felix Hernandez is one of the best in baseball and will entering his ninth full season in the majors. Hernandez had a career best 9.51 strikeout rate but struggled down the stretch by going 1-6 with a 5.77 ERA in his final eight starts. This is the second year in a row Hernandez has struggled late.
Joining Hernandez will be forkball specialist Hisashi Iwakuma who went 14-6 with an ERA of 2.66 in 31 starts. His numbers were good enough for him to finish third in the Cy Young balloting. Iwakuma finished the season with 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a club record 1.006 WHIP and didn’t lose a game after August 10th. Left-hander Danny Hultzen will miss the 2014 season recovering from shoulder surgery. The Mariners will fill out the rotation with promising arms but very little experience including James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez. Don’t be surprised to see the Mariners try to add a veteran before the season begins.
RELIEF PITCHING: Danny Farquhar was a surprise for the Mariners in 2013 after saving 16 and finishing the season with a strike-out rate of 12.77 per nine innings, all after earning the job in August. Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen saved 19 games before the All-Star break and then lost his control. It is still to be determined if he will regain his confidence and a spot in the bullpen. Seattle will count on two quality set-up men in Lefty Charlie Furbush and Righty Yoervis Medina along with Stephen Pryor to get quality innings out of the bullpen. Pryor is coming off an injury that ended his 2013 season prematurely.
INFIELD: Mike Zunino appears to be the Mariners catcher of the future after watching Jesus Montero flop. Zunino is still learning how to hit major league pitching but his defense is already there. Zunino didn’t hit well but a big part of his troubles were because of a hand injury.
Seattle will find out very soon if their investment of $240 will help the Mariners make a run to the playoffs. 2B Robinson Cano is considered by many the best at his position. Cano is the only player in baseball history to have hit 25 homeruns and add 40 doubles in five consecutive seasons. Cano will be penciled in at #3 in M’s batting order. Joining Cano will be 3B Kyle Seager after hitting 22 HR’s and playing in 160 games in his second season. 1B Justin Smoak hasn’t become the RBI man the Mariners expected but they aren’t giving up on him yet. Smoak hit 17 HR’s after coming off the DL in June. If Smoak doesn’t live up to expectations, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison are ready to step in. Brad Miller is ready to step in as the regular shortstop despite struggling at the plate in 76 games in 2013. Seattle really likes Miller’s left-handed bat. Switch-hitter Nick Franklin appears to be the man on the outside looking in. With Cano at second base, Franklin may be looking for a new home.
OUTFIELD: Corey Hart and Logan Morrison can also play outfield and the Mariners are hoping both can come back strong from knee injuries. Hart, when healthy, can give the Mariners some pop from the right-side. Morrison may fit better at first base. Michael Saunders is a promising youngster who can hit with power and has excellent speed. If Saunders plans on playing more, he better start hitting for average (.236 in 2013). Others looking for playing time will be Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez and Abraham Almonte. Ackley had struggled against major league pitching when he played 2B. Since being moved to the outfield, Ackley hit .282. Gutierrez hit .248 with 10 HR’s and 24 RBI in 148 at-bats in 2013. Almonte is considered no more than a part-time player after hitting .264 in 2013.
PREDICTION: The Mariners have a ways to go before they start thinking playoffs but they did make some moves that will move them in the right direction. After four straight losing seasons, management decided to change its philosophy. Did they overspend for Cano? Some believe they did but they didn’t have much choice if they were to get anyone in that line-up. Cano will put up some big numbers in that ballpark. The starting pitching past Hernandez and Iwakuma is inexperienced but most scouts consider them very promising.
3rd AL West