(2012: 75-87, Last place AL West)
(2013: FC Prediction: 4th place AL West)
Rejoice Mariners fans!! The Houston Astros have moved to the AL West, all but ensuring that the Mariners will not finish last this year. On top of that, King Felix Hernandez just signed the largest contract for a pitcher in Major League history, inking a 7 year, 175 million dollar extension this past week. This is the best thing to happen to Seattle since Starbucks!! The Mariners are used to seeing their stars leave in their prime, whether it has been Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, or most recently Ichiro (in their defense, he's well past his prime). Kudos to General Manager Jack Zduriencik (spell check??) for locking up his best player long term.
The Mariners have been active this off-season, trading for first baseman Kendrys Morales and outfielder Michael Morse to bolster their very weak lineup. The lineup still isn't the best, but it added a lot of pop with those two bats. The pitching staff is still a little thin in the rotation, but their is tons of talent in the higher levels of this system, so look for a couple of the youngsters to make an impact soon in Seattle.
How exactly do the Mariners look on paper?? Well, let's find out:
Everyone knows about King Felix. The guy is a perennial Cy Young candidate and is one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball. Felix is also one of the great guys in baseball. Despite an extreme lack of run support throughout his career, and relatively unsuccessful teams, he has not complained once, and has time and again said how much he loves playing in Seattle. Plus, the Mariners just gave him 175 more reason to love the city.
The pitchers in the rotation behind Felix might be the problem. Hisashi Iwakuma was excellent for the Mariners last year, and he'll need to repeat that success for the rotation to hold its own, especially given that they traded one of the more reliable pitchers in the game this off-season, Jason Vargas. Behind Iwakuma, the Mariners added lefty Joe Saunders. Saunders looks to fill in Vargas' role as an innings eater and a quality start machine. The 4 and 5 spots might be a problem, with Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi battling for the last two spots, but this is where I look for the Mariners youngsters to make a push.
The bullpen in Seattle is pretty good and full of names you've never heard of. There are some young, power arms, starting with closer Tom Wilhemsen. Although Wilhemsen sounds like he should be an English Duke, he has a live fastball and a power curve that should help him get batters out to close out games. Righties Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, and lefty Lucas Luetge all are good strikeout guys who will take their lumps, but have the arms to last in the bullpen, along with situational lefty Oliver Perez.
The Mariners pitching prospects are something to really get excited about. Righty Taijuan Walker, and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are all top 75 prospects in baseball. Walker is the probably the best of the bunch, but he still might be a year away. Hultzen and Paxton were both college lefties, so they should continue on the fast track this year. If the bottom of the rotation struggles and these two start off hot, they both might get a chance to crack the rotation this year.
The Mariners lineup is relatively young, and might lack in key areas, but there is some talent there. Second baseman Dustin Ackley will really have to step up his game this year and prove why he was a top 5 pick. New addition Kendrys Morales, who should stay healthy in the DH spot, will provide the Mariners with some pop in the middle of the order. Catcher Jesus Montero might not be the best defensive catcher, but he sure can hit. First baseman Justin Smoak has light tower power, but he will need to cut down on his strikeouts this year. The infield is rounded out by shortstop Brendan Ryan and third baseman Kyle Seager. Ryan is known for his glove and will provide little at the plate. Seager can definitely hit, providing 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2012, so he will have to continue those numbers to avoiding being pushed out by Alex Liddi, who is nearing his last chance with the Mariners
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is extremely talented, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy. He should be able to lead off and cover a ton of ground in the outfield, but first he has to prove he can stay healthy. Michael Morse started his career with the Mariners and he will now return, looking to anchor the middle of the order. I look for Morse to have a nice season this year, as he moves out of the crowded situation in Washington and into a role where he will be expected to hit. Right field should be manned by Michael Saunders, but one interesting guy in this mix is Jason Bay. Bay signed a contract after being bought out by the Mets, and he looks to rebuild his value after a dreadful time in New York.
The Mariners have quality hitting prospects as well. 2012 first round pick Mike Zunino is already pushing to make the club, and with Montero's shortcomings as a defensive catcher, Zunino might be in Seattle sooner rather than later. Shortstop Nick Franklin is also a quality prospect, and with Ryan's lack of hitting ability, Franklin might be able to push him in 2013, despite Ryan being a gold glove quality defender.
NON-ROSTER INVITEE TO WATCH:
There are a couple of nice names on this list including Jon Garland and Kameron Loe, who probably has the best chance to make the team, but the best story on this list is definitely Jeremy Bonderman. After injuries derailed the career of Bonderman in Detroit, he looks for another chance after a couple of years out of baseball. If Bonderman could somehow make this roster, it would be a great story, and we all know Full Count writer Chris will be one happy camper if this happens.
The Mariners should be improved in 2013, with some additions to the lineup and a solid bullpen. However, this team doesn't have the starting rotation to compete in this very tough division yet. A perfect 2013 for Seattle would be for all of their top 5 prospects (Walker, Hultzen, Zunino, Franklin, and Paxton) to progress and to avoid injury. All of them have a chance to crack this roster in 2013, but another year of seasoning couldn't hurt as this team will look to push the top dogs in the AL West in 2014.
TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE DAY:
Top prospect Taijuan Walker is very entertaining on Twitter, often conversing with fellow prospect James Paxton, so follow him @tai_walker