Back in 2009, I was offered my first job in the United States in the fine Pacific Northwest city of Seattle. Consequently, the Seattle Mariners were the first team I ever watched on a semi-regular basis. The Mariners of 2009 were eight years removed from their famous 116 win season, which ended abruptly with a 4-1 ALCS defeat to the New York Yankees who lost the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.
Ichiro Suzuki, still my favorite all-time player, had an incredible AL Rookie of the Year/MVP season, hitting .350 with 242 hits. In 2009, he still appeared in 146 games and averaged .352. I even saw him hit two home runs in a single game, not too shabby for a guy who only three times hit double figure home runs in a season.
Ichiro is now long gone, to Miami via New York. The Mariners other 2009 stud, Felix Hernandez, is still slinging at Safeco. Hernandez is still an elite pitcher. Not quite capable of the blow-by-you speed of his earlier career, Hernandez has an array of pitches that continue to perplex batters and have kept him in Cy Young conversations since he won the award in 2010.
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The Astros and the Mariners have only met 47 times and the Astros are .511 in the series, having won 24 of those meetings. In both 2013 and 2014, the Mariners won the series 10-9.
The Mariners added Nelson Cruz on a four year, $57 million contract, and signed Kyle Seager to a multi-year extension, as well as trading Michael Saunders for veteran starter J.A. Happ prior to the winter meetings, but haven’t made any other significant adjustments to the clubhouse since then.
Cruz gives the Mariners a big bat, but one cannot help but wonder how effective he can be in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball. Certainly, last year’s big money arrival Robinson Cano struggled to go deep, hitting 14 out of the park compared to 27 in his last season as a Yankee, and although he dropped in almost every statistical category, his averages were still pretty good as he maintained a .314 batting average, the same that he hit in 2013.
Ryan Divish, in the Seattle Times, noted the disappointment that the Mariners had not completed the winter meeting schedule by adding to their roster, but the Mariners may feel that they are in a position to merely tweak at this point. Prior to free agency, Bleacher Report’s Nathaniel Reeves considered their biggest needs to be a leftie reliever, starting pitching, the outfield and a big bat to fill in at DH or first base. Certainly Cruz and Happ help with this, but the Mariners fans may feel, as they do almost every season, that the team is not quite there offensively. They ranked 19th in MLB last season in terms of runs scored, although they were only 24th in hits and 23rd in team batting average. Nor have they really seemed to seek out the left-handed relief that remains a question mark over their bullpen.
The Seattle Mariners finished the 2014 season eleven games off the pace of the Angels, but still seventeen games ahead of the Astros. It’s hard to say that they have improved enough to really challenge either the Angels or the A’s for the top spot in the AL West, but the Astros will have to really impress this season to make up even half of that deficit.
Read our preview of the 2014 Mariners here!