A.L. West Preview: Seattle Mariners

After finishing in fourth place in the A.L. West with a a record of 71-91, the Seattle Mariners entered the offseason on a mission. Much like the previous winter, improving the offense was the top priority. Only this time, the Mariners went all-in. Seattle signed Robinson Cano, the crown jewel of this year’s Free Agent class, to a 10-year $240 million contract.

With two of their most productive hitters, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez, hitting the free agent market, the Mariners continued to look for more offense.  The club signed 1B/DH Corey Hart and catcher John Buck and traded for 1B/OF Logan Morrison. Ibanez has signed with the Angels and Morales is still on the market. The Mariners continue to pursue another big bat and could try to re-sign Morales. But, adding Cano gives the Mariners an extra middle infielder — making either Brad Miller or Nick Franklin the odd man out. Either of the two youngsters would seem to be a worthy pickup for a team looking to unload an extra hitter (like maybe the Dodgers).

Youngsters Kyle Seager (3B), Dustin Ackley (CF), and Mike Zunino (C) are already in place as the building blocks for this Seattle team. Michael Saunders (RF) and Justin Smoak (1B) should also see regular playing time although Smoak has been the subject of trade rumors.

Felix Hernandez (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Mariners had two of the top starting pitchers in the league with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Unfortunately, the rest of the rotation was a hot mess. King Felix had what would be considered a great year for most pitchers, but a bit below average by his standards. Iwakuma was lights out, finishing third in the Cy Young voting after posting a 1.0 WHIP and a 2.66 ERA in 219 & 2/3 innings. Joe Saunders had a dreadful year and the Mariners declined his 2014 option. The last two spots in the rotation were pretty much a revolving door.

Hernandez figures to be back on the mound when the Mariners open the season in Anaheim on March 31. Iwakuma, sidelined by a strained finger tendon, will probably start the regular season on the disabled list. Top prospect Taijuan Walker pitched well in three big league starts last September and will be counted on to hold down a rotation spot this season. Youngsters James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez appear to be frontrunners for two of the three remaining spots.

The bullpen has been strengthened by the addition of Free Agent closer Fernando Rodney. Danny Farquhar, who ended the 2013 season as the closer, will slide into a setup role along with Tom Wilhelmsen and Yoervis Medina. The M’s also have lefties Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge along with a plethora of non-roster invitees looking for bullpen jobs.

To answer some burning questions about the Mariners, I’ve enlisted the help of Dan Hughes, editor of Sojo Mojo, FanSided’s Seattle Mariners site.

Robinson Cano ( Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

CTH: Robinson Cano. Is he really worth $240 million?

DH: Robinson Cano is not worth $240 million. I can’t think of a player that is though. What Seattle had to do to land their “big fish” of the offseason was overpay Cano.

It’s interesting, Cano was the heir apparent in New York to Derek Jeter. He would’ve been the new Yankee Captain. But now, he flies 3,000 miles west to dawn the teal for Seattle. But getting back to the money, in today’s market, I guess $24 million a year really isn’t all that bad, but the 10 years is what bothers me the most.

He will turn 40 -years old with a year left on the contract. It may seem worth the money in years 1-5 or even 6. But I doubt we will feel that way in years 7-10.

CTH: What’s your take on the Mariners’ new manger Lloyd McClendon?

DH: I didn’t see a lot of him when he managed the Pirates. Of course I’ve seen the famous tirade in which he took first base with him when he left the field.

I like managers with some fire. I grew up a Braves and Mariners fan and there were no greater examples of fire and intensity in a manager like Bobby Cox and Lou Pinella. So I remain optimistic there.

As for potential success, I hope he channels all he learned from Jim Leyland over the past few years in Detroit, mixes that with his own brand of baseball. Then, Mariners fans could be in for quite a treat.

CTH: At one point this winter it was rumored that the Mariners were about to sign Free Agent OF Nelson Cruz. Is that still a possibility? If not, do you see the Mariners trading Franklin or Miller for another big bat?

DH: I think that signing Nelson Cruz is still a very real possibility for the Mariners. Cano has been lobbying GM Jack Zduriencik to bring him to Seattle and I think eventually, you have to get Michael Jordan his Scottie Pippen.

Okay, so it’s not quite the same. But what I’m saying is, Cano is a great sign, but there are a lot of question marks in the lineup spots around him. Even Cruz would be a huge question mark.

So I think at the right price (no more than $8M/year) it could be worth it. As for what they do if they don’t get Cruz, I think the Mariners trade either Franklin or Miller regardless.

With Willie Bloomquist signed as a backup/utility player, I simply don’t see the team sending the loser of the shortstop battle back down to Triple-A Tacoma.

I would personally like to see the Mariners send Nick to the Mets (who are desperate for a SS) for Ike Davis. This would allow the team to trade Justin Smoak (who I think is on borrowed time too) to a team like the Pirates for some pitching depth.

CTH: How bad is the injury to Iwakuma and who will keep his rotation spot warm until he returns? The M’s were apparently talking to Chris Capuano before he signed a team friendly deal with the Red Sox. Is there anyone else out there that the team might consider? Ervin Santana perhaps?

Hisashi Iwakuma ( Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

DH: I don’t feel the injury to ‘Kuma is all that serious. He will more than likely miss at least his first start of the regular season. I would guess three at the most.

It’s no secret that the Mariners have been looking to add starting pitching, even before the Iwakuma injury. Ervin Santana’s name has popped up multiple times. But he is drawing interest in multiple clubs and I think that will keep Seattle out of it in the end.

But the team did sign Scott Baker who they are really hoping can regain his form from a few years ago. They still may end up trading for pitching, but not David Price as was once thought.

In the meantime, they have the King, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Kuma will be back and the 5th spot will likely be the better of Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez and Scott Baker.

CTH: Recent quotes in a Seattle newspaper that were attributed to Eric Wedge and some former front office employees were highly critical of Jack Zduriencik and Howard Lincoln. Do fans consider the current leadership group to be dysfunctional?

DH: I can’t speak for all Mariners fans, but I’m pretty sure the overwhelming response to that question would be YES!

However, Chuck Armstrong stepped down as team president and the new guy, Kevin Mather, appears to have a youthful energy that has been missing from the front office. Whether he will be allowed to be his own man, or just another “Yes Man” to Lincoln is yet to be seen.

CTH: Are Mariners fans looking at another season of thanking the commissioner for moving the Astros to the A.L. West, or can this team make a run at a playoff spot?

DH: Keep in mind, the Mariners were 10-9 against the Astros in 2013. I don’t think they were thanking anyone for that move. Whether they can make a run at a playoff spot, depends on A LOT of factors.

Can Corey Hart return from knee surgeries and contribute the way the team hopes he can?

Will Logan Morrison stay healthy and be a regular contributor?

Will Taijuan Walker and James Paxton answer the call and post solid numbers?

What is John Buck’s role? Will he stay with the team for the whole season?

Will they sign anyone else?

I think on paper, right now, you can pencil in 80 wins from this club. Whether that goes up or down depends on the answers to those five questions. So I guess, right now, I would say no….not this year. But I am reserving an official answer for when I make my annual predictions in mid-March once we know more about what the teams will actually look like.

Thanks for the insight, Dan. Knowing that this team’s roster could still see some changes before the season starts, it is hard to make a prediction. But I think 80 wins sounds like a fair assessment. I’m going to predict a fourth place finish and a record of 77-85.

For more Mariners coverage, be sure to check out Sodo Mojo and like the FaceBook page.

Mariners players stretch during team workouts at Peoria Sports Complex. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Topics: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Robinson Cano

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