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2014 Preview: Seattle Mariners

Mar 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

Robinson Cano AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Robinson Cano and . . . then what?

The Mariners certainly made the biggest splash of the offseason in signing Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal. Unlike a lot of teams, a big signing like this may have been necessary for credibility purposes, as the book on Seattle for years has been that no elite offensive free agents wanted to go there. But no matter how significant the signing was, one player is not a plan. It’s merely a start. Do the Mariners have a plan?

If they have one, it’s hard to see based on their non-Cano moves. Corey Hart missed all of last season. Logan Morrison has yet to live up to expectations. Justin Smoak is still around. As of a week ago there is still talk of a Kendrys Morales reunion. Maybe there is some sport where a bunch of mostly immobile 1B/DH types are the ingredients of a championship recipe, but it’s certainly not post Steroid-Era major league baseball.

Not that the Mariners had to do it all at once. They’ve been a pretty bad team for awhile and it will take some time to get better. But they don’t have unlimited time. Robinson Cano can be expected to be an elite, team-leading offensive talent for a couple more years, but as he gets into the second half of that ten-year deal, he’s going to be a role player at best. There is a window in Seattle. It could stay open for five years, but it’s way more likely to last two or three, and in that time the Mariners have to get some useful pieces around their $240 million man.

Right now it’s Cano, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and, I dunno, Brad Miller? Maybe Hart and Morrison exceed expectations. That could all make for some improvement. But they just don’t have the firepower yet. They need to do more than pay a quarter billion to a guy and hope for the best.

What else is going on?

  • There’s reason to like this pitching staff, assuming it can all get healthy. Felix Hernandez is Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker should be pretty darn good, but the latter two of those gents are going to start the season on the disabled list. If they return quickly, yes, this is a rotation that plays. If they don’t, Scott Baker is a the number two starter and it goes downhill from there. UPDATE: sorry, wrote this before Scott Baker was released. Still, point stands: if Walker and Iwakuma are hurt, the rotation after Hernandez is in trouble.
  • Another big pickup was Fernando Rodney. Not a bad pickup, but he was definitely a different dude in 2013 than he was in 2012. He has to throw more strikes this year to justify the pickup. Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are pretty solid setup men, though, and Yoervis Medina can strike dudes out. This could be a pretty good bullpen assuming that an Iwakuma and Walker-free rotation don’t burn them out early.
  • There’s a new manager in town: Lloyd McClendon. It’ll be interesting to see the sort of tone he sets in the early going. Back when he managed the Pirates he didn’t do much to impress anyone, even once you adjusted for the bad teams he was given. After several years at Jim Leyland’s knee in Detroit, however, McClendon has spent this spring sticking up for his players with a quickness and seeming very comfortable dealing with the press and the day-to-day with an easygoing aplomb. Maybe things will be different the second time around.

Prediction: Cano is nice, but it’s gonna take more. Fourth place, American League West.

  1. timmmah10 - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    ZERO mention of Dustin Ackley… he had a nice second half, and is hitting in spring.

    It would be nice if you could add projected lineups and full projected rotation to these articles.

    • churdus - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

      Agreed. Ackley is killing it this spring and Miller is also hitting the ball hard. I’m a little worried about Seager but it’s only ST. Most worried about the rotation although all the AL West rotations are pretty much in shambles at this point.

    • asimonetti88 - Mar 25, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      If Ackley lives up to his draft status that would be a big boost for the Mariners.

  2. cmp78 - Mar 25, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    Granted it’s only ST, and those stats mean nothing, but I’d say Brad Miller is less of a question mark than Michael Saunders on that list after Cano and Seager. He’s bulked up by 25lbs and it hasn’t affected his defensive range. He’s taken the “shortstop battle” seriously and just run away with it.

    And I’m sure you wrote this before it happened, but obviously Scott Baker has been released. That rotation is going to be Felix followed by some order of James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Randy Wolf, and Roenis Elias. Though less prestigious than Walker, Paxton’s looked good since his call-up last September (obvious SSS caveat); and Ramirez has worked hard this winter to fix the mechanics from last season. Elias and Wolf are OK placeholders until Kuma and Walker are back, but it sure would be nice to have another solid, or at least established pitcher between the studs and the prospects.

    • spudchukar - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      The Mariners are better than you think. And none of the minor injuries are reported to be lingering, or to cause significant delays. For me this is the toughest division to call. Even before the Rangers and A’s were clobbered by injuries, Seattle was underrated. Now they are in the mix for a WC spot.

      Throughout the divisions there are a lot of “ifs” but I like the Mariners better. Seager is already one of the top third basemen in the league, and Miller continues to impress. Ackley and Saunders aren’t chumps either, and either could break out in 2014,

      Zunino is a question, mostly offensively, but the Mariners were wise to bring in experienced back-ups to spell and help him. Soon Hart should be recovered enough to move to right, and Logan et al to platoon and man the DH spot.

      The bull pen is fine, and the only real questions lie in the rotation, but it isn’t like the Mariners don’t have more answers than questions. Hernandez, Iwakuma, Walker, Paxton, and Ramirez make a quintet that could quietly surprise, and then they still have Franklin and Smoak to move, and the former ought to result in significant talent.

      4th place Craig? Nah, more like second at 87 wins and a WC berth.

  3. largebill - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    Not sure when this was written, but I thought Scott Baker was released yesterday.

  4. seahawksbmx - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    Miller is tearing it up and Ack is finally resembling a #2 overall pick. Starting rotation depth is a concern with injuries. A typical Mariner season is likely, but I think McClendon is the type of manager to get these guys to finally play to their potential and they may definitely surprise.

  5. manifunk - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    Uh Scott Baker was released yesterday. Stop focusing on the NL East and you might actually learn something about the other 25 teams out there.

  6. phillysports1 - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    They need a right handed bat. A SOLID right handed bat ..Corey Hart is not the answer .

    • dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 25, 2014 at 3:09 PM

      Hart batted .279/.343/.514 over his last three years before getting injured. That isn’t solid?

  7. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 25, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    My bad on the Scott Baker thing. This was written a couple days ago. Should have updated and will do so now.

  8. bluemoonking - Mar 25, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    And Baker was flat out bad… The Mariners do have a few other starters that might do well… What about Erasmo Ramirez or even Roenis Elias? As for the offense, Ackley has improved and if you are paying attention, you can see it in his body language. There are a couple of other bright spots and the future would be a little brighter if it was Jack-less. If there is a plan, no one else I have listen and talked to sees it either. Jack seems content to put this team on the field as is. He gave Cano 24 million dollars and a vacation in October. Greed… What about trying to aquire George Springer? THINK THE ASTROS BURNED A BRIDGE? At the end of the day, Jack had no experience putting a roster together and this team will get mowed down by every decent left handed starter they go up against. Does Jack know that there are THREE outfield positions that can’t be filled by kids or over the hill infielders?

  9. thekingdave - Mar 25, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Lol @bluemoonking thinking the Astros would entertain the thought of just dumping off Springer

  10. bluemoonking - Mar 25, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Not dumping but it might be interesting to explore what it would take to aquire a young right handed power bat…

  11. bigharold - Mar 25, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    While I’m glad the Yankees didn’t give Cano that ridiculous contract I do understand the Mariners thinking. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t get more of a supporting cast for the line up. While I think he has the potential to be a force offensively for the foreseeable future it was clear last season that without protection he can be pitched around. A good portion of the year he was hitting around .300.

    If the Mariners were going to spend $240 mil they should have went “all in” and got a right hand power bat to go with him.

  12. bluemoonking - Mar 25, 2014 at 5:28 PM

    That’s the whole point. People understand what the Mariners were thinking with Cano… But it does not appear to be what the Mariners should have been thinking. Ok, now that we have Cano, lets go get a couple of other impact bats. If they were thinking that, it sure did not happen. And if it was not going to happen then why spend 240 million on one player…

    If the Mariners believe that Cano would add 30 points to the team batting average, they have not been paying attention to the past 10 years. don’t get me wrong, Cano could 5-6 good years but he is now a second baseman and in 6 years might not be able to play the position. What the Mariners do have is a kid by the name of Nick Franklin, who could become something. Now, he has no position. I wonder if he can play outfield like Ackley… I know, no arm.

  13. hugejass - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:50 PM

    I will enjoy watching the Mariners and that traitor Robbie Cano burn this season

  14. thekingdave - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    @bluemoonking

    Are you going to give up Walker or a comparable (equally rated high level, cheap prospect under team control for years)? Obviously you’re not, you falsely think the Astros would trade him for cents on the dollar because of the service time issue. Burned bridge or not, Springer’s under team control for years. The Astros are in the midst of their worst period in team history. Why the hell would they dump a top prospect at the doorstep of the majors for anything less than equal value? Jesus.

  15. bluemoonking - Mar 26, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    @thekingdave When the BLEEP did I say aquire him for nothing. You have to give something to get something. Right now this team can’t compete against Texas, Los Angeles and Oakland.

    You sound like an idiot apologist for the moron GM and the team in general. Granted there are a couple of bright spots but it is a left handers wet dream. They will be lucky to win 70 games.

    Players remember how they were treated as I am sure that you do. And it makes a huge difference. All I was saying is that maybe there is an oportunity to fill a huge need. The last thing a losing club wants is a law suit by it’s top prospect. Niether of us knows what the Astros are thinking. Why would they have traded for an outfielder and neglect their other needs given that their top prospect is an outfielder.

  16. thekingdave - Mar 26, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Moron GM? Dude, I assume you’re a Mariners fan (Jack Z anyone?). There’s a post yesterday about him stiffing Randy Wolf as well as other stuff that’s been floated around about his exaggeration of analytics use if you want to talk about front offices acting “unethically”. Either way, what does the Astros sucking have to do with anything? No one debates they’re likely going to lose 90+ games and I never suggested otherwise. Evan Longoria got over being kept in the minors and Springer will to. When the time comes, he’ll be appropriately compensated, this is merely the system the union agreed to. But hey, Jon Singleton tested positive for weed last season. Maybe there’s an opportunity there for you to acquire him for .80 cents on the dollar as well. Delino DeShields Jr. had a DUI or something a few years ago. Maybe we’ll throw him in to?

  17. bluemoonking - Mar 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    Z has managed to somehow screw up just about every move he has made. I could write a book about the moves that did not work out and a 1000 word essay on the ones that did.

    I hold some interest in statistics but at the end of the day, they don’t win games. Isn’t that the goal?

    I am a Mariners fan, but I have no idea why I continue to be outside of the fact that they are the closest major league team in my area.

    My whole point again was, that you never know who might be available if the price is right. You’re not stock piled with prospects. You are going to have to trade for someone or over pay with money that you apparently do not have.

    And if Z was not enamored with the players have now who knows, heck they traded for Josh Lueke. Milton Bradley ring a bell? DeShields is interesting given Z’s unnatural fondness with middle infielders.

    I don’t like the way Wolf, Chavez (recently) or even Ichiro were treated… Yes, it is happening all over baseball but given that decent free agents are not willing to sign with the Mariners, would it not make sense to change the perception with actions?

    No, the Astros are not going to win the division but if you could get a pitcher and a position player or two, why not? Other franchises are making trades of this caliber. Oh, right, the work is that Jack does not play well with others…

    I saw that the Mariners franchise was valued at $710 million… does that include Cano’s contract?

  18. thekingdave - Mar 26, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Why not?
    A) we’re in the same division
    B) the Astros are in no position to make one of those prospects for proven veterans moves to get a team over the hump. We are nowhere near the hump and it would make zero sense to trade a cheap top prospect under team control for years for an expensive veteran that gets us to what, maybe 73 wins? There’s no point, just like there was no point in us going after veterans like Josh Hamilton, paying for their past performance in another uniform, only to still be below .500. Drayton McLane left things that poor sadly. You won’t see moves like that until 2016 when our prospects start to establish themselves (hopefully).

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