Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers. We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper! We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends). This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom. Now, let’s play some pepper!
86-76, second in AL West
Last year’s Pepper
Seattle was in a pretty similar position to the Cardinals last year. They both won 86 games, both finished second (but not really a close second) in their division, and both went home after the last game. Seattle has stars and some young talent, but can they put it all together and get into October this season? We’ve got a couple of bloggers here who should be able to give us plenty of insight on the team in the Pacific Northwest. My special appreciation to Tim, who came out of blog retirement to give the Pepper another go.
C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?
LL: Jerry Dipoto has become well known for making moves, and for the second offseason in a row he’s largely made the right ones. Sending Taijuan Walker out of town for a (hopefully) high-level shortstop and a starting outfielder was huge. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the trade at the time, it has grown on me as Segura has hit the ball well this spring. Drew Smyly brings upside to the rotation, and Jarrod Dyson improves the outfield defense tremendously.
Jerry made a mistake, however, in acquiring Yovani Gallardo, who simply isn’t a good pitcher anymore. Unless the market for Seth Smith was completely barren and this was literally the only offer, there’s no other explanation for the trade. Moving Smith for literally a bag of balls and then signing Jason Hammel would have been a much better option.
SMM: This was a tremendous offseason for the Mariners. It went from good to great with the Drew Smyly trade. That’s the one that really made all of the moves (and there were so, so many) worth it. Since the Mariners seemed to be involved in every deal this offseason there is certainly no additional one I would have liked to see. It will be interesting to see how all of the trades look in retrospect because Jerry Dipoto put a high premium on lower ceiling prospects close to the majors. No trade epitomizes that more than giving up Alex Jackson for the likes of Rob Whalen and Max Povse.
C70: How are the Mariners going to win most of their games, by pitching or by hitting?
LL: It’s strange, but this team is going to be competitive because of its offense and its defense, not necessarily the pitching. Unless James Paxton continues to step up, there’s no Ace on this staff; Edwin Diaz is a terrific closer, but the rest of the bullpen is made up of role players and questionable assets, not dominant pieces. With Dyson and Segura in the fold, the team can improve the offense while helping the pitching staff in the field.
SMM: Hitting. I’m not sure the M’s have the best offense in baseball but I think it could be the most excited. Jean Segura and Jarrod Dyson add speed to all the extra base hits the middle of the order (Cano, Cruz, Seager) produces. Also, even lesser guys in the lineup like Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin possess individual offensive tools that are exciting to watch.
C70: Robinson Cano had an outstanding year last year. Is there any indication he’s slowing down or is that going to be the normal for a few seasons?
LL: I don’t think Cano can be a six-win player again in 2017. That being said, he’s better than the two-win player he was in 2016. Odds are, his new normal is somewhere in between, with Cano being worth about four wins this year, and then declining from there. He’s still a quality middle of the order hitter, but as he ages the defense is becoming an issue that will be progressively harder to overlook. The last three years of his contract are going to be a disaster, but at least it’s only three years and not five.
SMM: I don’t know. Cano’s bounce back in 2016 was a pleasant surprise to me. I expect the power to diminish simply because of regression to the mean, but by no means will it evaporate. I think Cano has such a broad mix of nice tools that he will age gracefully. Perhaps three years from now he will be a .270 hitter with a .330 OBP and 15 homers and we’ll realize he has decayed but gracefully.
C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?
LL: All aboard the Shea Simmons train. Simmons was a high-quality reliever with the Braves a couple years ago, but has struggled with injuries. He could be the companion to Diaz over the next few years if all goes well, bringing another big arm into a bullpen that lacked them as recently as 18 months ago.
SMM: Mitch Haniger. He raked in AAA last year and was as key to the Taijuan Walker trade as Jean Segura. Segura is the headliner of that return for the Mariners (and rightly so), but Haniger has a chance to be the everyday right fielder for the Mariners. He’s running with it in spring training so far too. The Mariners also feature a number of players that I think are known but have the potential to blossom and become household names across the sport. James Paxton and Edwin Diaz top that list.
C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?
LL: The Mariners will win 86 games and finish second in the division, but narrowly miss the wild card spot.
SMM: I predict that the Mariners will go 90-72 and finish second in the division (behind the Astros). However, they are the first wild card and thus break the longest playoff drought in baseball right now.
C70: Who is your all-time favorite Mariner and why?
LL: Jay Buhner was my favorite player when I was coming of age as a baseball fan, so I have to go with him. He was, objectively, a very mediocre player, and is now a horrific part-time announcer, but nostalgia is powerful.
SMM: Edgar Martinez for so, so many reasons. He was my favorite player growing up thanks to his poise and balanced approach to hitting. It doesn’t hurt that he authored the greatest hit in franchise history (the double that won the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees), or that he’s a borderline Hall of Famer edging towards enshrinement!
Again, thanks to Zach and Tim for their thoughts on the Mariners. This also may be the only Seattle preview that doesn’t mention Felix Hernandez as well, which would have been impossible to believe a few years ago. Look forward to seeing how the club does this season!