2013 Seattle Mariners Preview
After signs of marginal improvement last season, the Mariners are going to have to rely on a mix of their young talent and some grizzled veterans to keep them afloat in the stacked American League West this season.
For Seattle, 2012 was a difficult year to swallow. The ball club won 75 games, 8 better than the previous season, but they showed neither signs of progress or regression throughout the year. There were some incredible high moments, such as Felix Hernandez throwing a perfect game on August 15, but the year also saw the departure of beloved Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees and a number of their young hitters falter against big league pitching. This offseason, the Mariners attempted to add some experience to their line-up by going for free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton and were close to making a deal with Arizona for Justin Upton. Unfortunately, both deals fell through and the Mainers were forced to dig deeper into the free agent bin and picked up Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, and traded with the Angels and Nationals to pick up Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse. None of these moves did anything to wow an already suspect fan base, so the team decided to do something to prove that they were serious about making a run at contention and signed Hernandez to a contract extension that will keep him in town for the next seven seasons and made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball. The ball club also moved their outfield fences in with the hope that it will aid their developing offense at home. The ball club did try to improve themselves, but until their offense gets used to big league pitching, the team is going to struggle to keep up with the top dogs in the AL West.
Felix Hernandez enjoyed a very successful season given the amount of run support he had to work with on a regular basis. He finished with a 13-9 record and a 3.06 ERA and he did have that night of perfection in August. Hernandez is the real deal, and once the Mariners are able to hit the ball for him, he will be a 20 game winner for this ball club. Behind him, Hishahi Iwakuma will assume the second spot in the rotation in his second season since coming over from Japan. Last year, Iwakuma went 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA, not bad for a guy who was getting used to playing in the States, and the second half of the season saw him really step up and become one of the best pitchers on the roster. If he continues that trend, he could be good for 11 or 12 wins this year.
Veteran Joe Saunders will pitch third for the club and he should feel fairly comfortable pitching in Seattle given the bulk of his big league experience has been in the AL West with the Angels. The southpaw went 9-13 last year and finished with an ERA over 4 in 28 appearances with Baltimore and Arizona, a far cry from his 17-7 and 16-7 seasons in 2008 and 2009. He struggled with Arizona in 2010 and 2011, so perhaps a move back to the AL for a full season will do him some good. It almost has to, as behind him the rest of the rotation is going to be a rotating door of veterans and inexperienced minor leaguers until young prospects Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are ready to make the jump into the big leagues.
Blake Bevan (11-11, 4.23), Erasmo Ramirez (1-3, 3.36) and Hector Noesi (2-12, 5.82) will be competing for the two spots in spring training, and the team also brought in veterans Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman to keep things interesting as well. Regardless of the outcome this spring, the real fun will begin near the All-Star break when Hultzen, Paxton or Brandon Maurer is called up to join the fray.
After the unpleasantness of closer Brandon League’s meltdown last season, the Mariner’s bullpen began to emerge as a potential bright spot for an otherwise mediocre team. After League lost it, the team relied on Tom Wilhelmsen (4-3, 2.50) to close out their games and he did just that, saving a respectable 29 out of 34 games and also recorded 7 holds for the club. Wilhelmsen will once again get the nod this season and he is hoping that some of the other young arms that began to come of age last season can continue to shine ahead of him this year. Lefties Charlie Furbush (5-2, 2.72) and Oliver Perez (1-3, 2.12) began to make names for themselves in the second half of the season, and Furbush will likely be used along with right hander Stephen Pryor (3-1, 3.91) as the set-up men for Wilhelmsen in the 8 th. Josh Kinney was another young arm that began to emerge for the club last season and he will almost certainly be in the mix again this year along with Lucas Leutge and Carter Capps to round out the rest of the bullpen.
The Mariners’ fans have been waiting an awful long time for the ball club to have an offense that was exciting to watch on a regular basis. Given the state of things following this off-season’s’ moves, they could be waiting a while longer. The Mariners lost little this offseason, but they gained even less by picking up veterans Michael Morse (OF, from Oakland), Kendrys Morales (1B, from Angels), Raul Ibanez (OF, free agent) and Jason Bay (OF, FA). None of the four have had great offensive production as of late, and if they struggle this season, they won’t have much support from the rest of the Mariners’ young line up to help them get through their rough spells.
The trio of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley were thought to be the brightest of their young talents coming into the 2012 campaign, but none of them managed to make much headway against big league pitching. While they struggled two other players excelled and outfielder Michael Saunders and third baseman Kyle Seager turned in surprise seasons, giving the ball club averages around the .250 mark and a combined 39 homers and 143 RBIs. For centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez and shortstop Brendan Ryan, the ball club hopes they will get some production out of the two of them as they wait for some of their other minor leaguers develop to take their place. It would not be surprising if they begin to jettison guys like Bay and Ibanez as well as Gutierrez at the trade deadline to free up some space for the more talented youngsters to get a shot at the big league club.
How relevant the change of dimensions in Safeco field will be to the success or failure of the Mariners’ season remains to be seen. If the offense improves this season, will it be able to be attributed to a true maturation of their players, or the shortening of the outfield due to moving the fences in? Who’s to say? The truth is it probably won’t be much of an issue as it doesn’t look like there will be a whole lot of improvement in that department this season. The pitching staff could be very good once Hultzen and Paxton are brought into the mix, and the club should have a very solid bullpen, but without any run support they are destined to be stuck in neutral for another season or two. Help is on the way for Seattle’s fan base, and they will return to contention in the near future, but until their younger players are fully developed as major leaguers, the team will continue to struggle and the fans will continue to wait for a winner in the Emerald City. They will finish above the Astros this season, as will every other team in baseball, but they could actually go backwards in win totals and slip to 71-91 before starting to really make strides in improvement in 2014.
By Robert Gonzalez