Playing Pepper 2014: Seattle Mariners

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Seattle Mariners
71-91, fourth in the AL West

I’ve got a confession to make.  My son loves the Mariners.

It started when we began playing Strat-O-Matic and he wound up with Felix Hernandez on his team.  For some reason, probably because King Felix is darn good, he got to where he wanted to use him every game we played.  That led to cheering for the Mariners in general, something that intensified when the Mariners signed one of his other Strat faves, Robinson Cano.

So I’m sure he’ll get quite a kick out of hearing from our bloggers today.  We’ve got:

Let’s see what those Pacific Northwesterners are up to!

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

JM: I give the offseason a B-.

SMM: D+, and I talked myself out of a D. Signing Robinson Cano was obviously the highlight. However, once the M’s signed him, they needed to go all-out and contend now. How in the world do the rest of the moves they made (and didn’t make) line up? The M’s didn’t have money for a starting pitcher, but had cash for Fernando Rodney? LoMo (Logan Morrison) and Corey Hart are redundant. How come Nick Franklin wasn’t traded for anything that might help the team win now? The M’s seem committed to a battle between Franklin and (Brad) Miller at shortstop but that’s a bad idea. Cano can’t cover up all these issues.

SM: I would have to give the Mariners a C+ for the offseason, with the possibility of upgrading it to a solid B. The signing of Robinson Cano is huge. The Mariners needed a legit star hitter and they got it in Cano. But where the grade falls with the other additions. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison have A LOT of questions surrounding them. If they can contribute anywhere near where they are capable of, this team could have a great year.

As for the pitching staff, this also docks their grade because they really didn’t do anything to help the staff, outside of signing Fernando Rodney to lock down the 9th. With injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker in the spring, the Mariners are relying on non-roster invitees and minor leaguers to step up and fill in the rotation.

I like the addition of Lloyd McClendon to run this group. I think that was the right choice.

Finally, where is all the money? The Mariners were very vocal in the fact that they would push their payroll to or even over the $100 million mark in 2014 with the addition of their new TV deal. Even after signing Cano and all of their other minor moves, this team’s payroll is at $73.5 million, only about $5-6M more than last year.

C70: What does it mean for the organization to land probably the biggest free agent of the offseason in Robinson Cano?

JM: The Cano signing hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but at least we have 1 legit bat in the middle of the order for the next several years if he stays healthy. I’m hoping we get Nelson Cruz as well to protect him as I’m not sure (Justin) Smoak or Corey Hart will be up to the task of batting clean-up.

SMM: It means the Mariners overpaid for Cano’s services. There’s only one thing that would make Cano leave a better team in a bigger market…or more like 240 million things. He seems likable, and it’s refreshing to see the Mariners splurge like they never have before, but the signing looks destined for failure based on everything else the M’s did with their offseason.

SM: It gives the Mariners that marquee name that had been missing for quite some time. Not to say that Felix Hernandez isn’t a marquee name, but it’s hard to rally a fan base around one player that plays every five or six days.

Now we have that in Cano. A guy who, presumably, will be on the field every day. A guy to lead the troops into battle each night. It also made a statement to the rest of the league that the team was serious about winning. A statement that was quickly revoked by their refusal to sign any other top free agents this offseason.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

JM: For me I want to see Nick Franklin battle it out at short with Brad Miller.

SMM: I’m glad I held off a few days on this response. I originally said center field because I hoped that Franklin Gutierrez could play regularly. He’s already done for the season, so that’s not happening. I guess I’ll say the back end of the rotation, especially with Hisashi Iwakuma likely missing the start of the season. It’s not that intriguing of a battle though. The youth (James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez) will battle the grizzled veterans (Scott Baker, Randy Wolf) but the youth will take over at some point.

SM: I would say the battle at shortstop between Brad Miller (last year’s SS) and Nick Franklin (last year’s 2B who is out of a job now with the Cano signing). But with all of the trade rumors surrounding Franklin, I don’t think it’s gonna be much of a battle.

Instead, the interesting story lies in the outfield. Specifically centerfield. The job was presumably going to be Michael Saunders‘ job to lose. When the team re-signed Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal, many thought that they would split time in center. But with Guti sitting out the season, the team has been giving Abraham Almonte a lot of time in center this spring. In fact, Saunders has spent all of his time playing in right – a spot we presume will go to Corey Hart.

As it stands now, it appears that Dustin Ackley will be in left, Corey Hart will be in right with Logan Morrison spending some time there as well (and they will both DH) and it appears that Almonte may get the starting nod in center and a crack at the leadoff spot. That leaves Saunders as the odd man out. Retained as either a fourth outfielder, or dangled as trade bait.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

JM: I’m looking for Taijun Walker (not a complete rookie) to make a big impact this year.

SMM: Easy! Taijuan Walker. Since the Mariners didn’t bother to sign another starting pitcher to go with King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma (though I should say I like Scott Baker’s deal and his chance to stabilize the back end of the rotation), it’s up to Walker to step in and be the third starter if this team is going to compete. That’s a ton to ask of such a young pitcher, though Walker is highly regarded across baseball as one of the premier pitching prospects in the game right now.

SM: The popular answer would be either Abraham Almonte or Taijuan Walker, the team’s No. 1 prospect. I’m gonna say James Paxton. He was solid in his limited duty last September (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 21 K, 249 ERA+). He has impressed so far this spring as well (13 IP, 3 ER, BB, 8 K).

The Mariners are right-handed heavy in the rotation (Felix, ‘Kuma, Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer) and need that lefty as either the number three or number four man in the rotation. If he can continue to perform, I think he has a shot at 13-15 wins and a legitimate look as potential Rookie of the Year. Even over Walker, who may struggle with this shoulder issue.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

JM: I predict a .500 record at 81-81 and a third place finish with two position All-Stars.

SMM: I’ve bashed the Mariners quite a bit in these responses, so it might be surprising to see that I think this will be the best team they have fielded in a few years. However, I don’t think it’s all that good, especially with stiff competition at the top from the Athletics, Rangers, and to a degree the Angels. I’ll predict the Mariners go 79-83 and finish fourth in the division.

SM: In my personal prediction pieces I do for SodoMojo.com, I have the Mariners with an 82-80 record, but 4th in the AL West. The Rangers and Angels are both going to be better than last year. You can never count the A’s out. Even the Astros won’t lose as many games this year.

I think they will be in the wild-card hunt well into September, but will fall short. If they sign Kendrys Morales and/or make some trades by the July 31 deadline (Matt Kemp, David Price both still possible) then this team could push up over the edge and surprise some people. But if the young players don’t step up, if Morrison and Hart don’t perform to expectations, if Ackley can’t hit, if Justin Smoak can’t hit….it’s gonna be another year under .500 and another “wait until next year” kind of year.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

JM: I enjoy watching Kyle Seager play as he is such a consistent guy and I expect a huge year from him in 2014.

SMM: Felix Hernandez. He is a bona fide ace and true face of the franchise. He somehow keeps faith in this team when fans can’t. He provides a ray of sunshine every fifth day. And he is the sole reason the King’s Court exists, which is one of the coolest traditions going on in baseball right now.

SM: It’s really hard to peg one. I have been following Dustin Ackley since his days in North Carolina. I was a college baseball blogger back then and I loved what Ackley brought to the table. He has been having a rough go of it the past few seasons (mostly because I feel the organization rushed him) but I think this year he finds his stride and justifies his No. 2 overall pick.

A close second goes to catcher Mike Zunino. As a former catcher, I love watching the little things that catchers do to help their pitchers. Zunino has that “it” factor when it comes to catching a staff. He is a genuine classy guy, a hard-worker and I think he will have a breakout year this year.

My appreciation to all those that dished on things Mariners.  Here’s hoping they have a successful season, if only for my son’s sake!

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    That lack of faith in Walker is very surprising, he’s a terrofoc prospect. Though pitchers do often get hurt and Walker has had some shoulder issues

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