New Faces in Seattle Boost Mariner’s Playoff Hopes
Mix of youth and experience should put Seattle in the hunt for the AL West
The American League West got a lot more interesting this offseason thanks to the Seattle Mariners and their GM Jack Zduriencik. Like the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central, the Mariners made some serious moves this winter with the hopes that they will payoff not two or three years from now, but immediately. The Mariners finished the 2014 campaign 87-75, 11 games behind the Los Angeles Angels. To keep pace with the Angels, and to leap frog the Oakland A’s, the Mariners have brought in quite a few new faces for the 2015 season. Let’s take a look at just who will be donning the big M on their chests for the first time this spring.
The Mariners have one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in Felix Hernandez, who finished just behind Cleveland’s Corey Kluber in the AL CY Young voting last season. To give the club another arm to place behind King Felix and their number-two guy Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners acquired lefty J.A. Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays to give them a solid number three in their rotation. Happ was 11-11 for the Jays last season and saw his control improve in the latter third of the season.
In the bullpen, Seattle looks to address their southpaw options as they will bring no less than seven lefties to camp to compete for one or two spots in the pen. The latest addition to the mix is Rafael Perez, who made 338 appearances for the Cleveland Indians from 2006 through 2012. Perez hasn’t pitched in the majors since then, but he has made appearances with both Pittsburgh and the Rangers’ minor-league affiliates and has made eight starts in ten appearances for the Mexican League.
Perez will join the returning Charlie Furbush (1-5, 3.61 in 67 games), Lucas Leutage (0-0, 5.00, 12) and newcomers Edgar Olmos (0-1, 7.20 in five innings for the Miami Marlins in 2013,) David Rollins (3-4, 3.81 ERA in 27 games with Houston’s Double-A Corpus Christi in 2014) and Mike Kickham (0-3, 10.98 in 30 1/3 innings for San Francisco between 2013 and 2014) to compete for a spot in the Mariner’s bullpen. Having that many southpaws at their disposal the Mariners will have incredible depth this season in case the top two don’t pan out once the season starts. It will also provide Seattle with important trade bait should they need some help to get over the hump around July 31.
Offensively, the Mariners have added some big power in the form of Designated Hitter Nelson Cruz, who led the majors in home runs last year belting out 40 bombers for the Baltimore Orioles and driving in 108 RBIs. Cruz will slide perfectly in Seattle’s clean-up spot behind Robinson Cano and brings with him some much needed postseason experience having played in two World Series with the Texas Rangers.
The Mariners also added depth to their outfield by acquiring right fielders Seth Smith from San Diego and Justin Ruggiano from the Chicago Cubs. Smith is a left-handed hitter and finished the 2014 campaign with a .266 average, 31 doubles, 12 homers and an OPS of .807 for the Padres. To compliment Smith, Ruggiano is a right-handed batter and hit .281 with 13 doubles, 6 homers and an OPS of .766 for the Cubbies.
Also new to camp this season will be veteran second baseman Rickie Weeks, whom the Mariners picked up via the Milwaukee Brewers. Weeks is an All Star caliber player and will likely be used in a utility role, something that he was not keen to do for the Brewers, but a change of scenery may change his tune. Seattle will need Weeks to be a team player and will also look for him to be a leader in the clubhouse.
Also coming over from the National League is catcher John Baker, who arrives in camp as a non-roster invitee but has a good shot at making the roster to provide Mike Zunino with a proper back-up. Baker played in 68 games last season for the Chicago Cubs, batting .192, which was well below his career average of .247. If Baker arrives in camp healthy and can pull his average back up to the .230 range, he will likely win the job over youngster Jesus Sucre who battled with strike outs last season, fanning 17 times in 61 at bats.
Cleveland Indians Correspondent