After building momentum in 2014 with a surprising 87-win season, the Seattle Mariners fell back to earth in 2015, finishing fourth in the American League West with 86 losses. The team changed up management, bringing in Jerry Dipoto as GM and first-time manager Scott Servais to the dugout.
Instead of throwing large wads of cash at free agents, Seattle opted for a more measured approach and aggressively attacked the trade market while making smaller, cheaper moves. Will the offseason tinkering improve the underperforming club?
Depth Chart (as of 3/2)
C: Chris Iannetta
1B: Adam Lind
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Kyle Seager
SS: Ketel Marte
LF: Nori Aoki
CF: Lenoys Martin
RF: Seth Smith
DH: Nelson Cruz
SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma
SP: Wade Miley
SP: Taijuan Walker
SP: James Paxton
CL: Steve Cishek
New Faces: Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Justin De Fratus, Carlos Quentin, Wade Miley, Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Chris Iannetta, Leonys Martin, Ryan Cook, Ryan Cook, Evan Scribner, Steve Clevenger, Boog Powell, Nathan Karns and Luis Sardinas.
Departures: Roenis Elias, Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones, Mark Trumbo, C.J. Riefenhauser, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Danny Farquhar, Joe Beimel and Rob Rasmussen.
Position Battles: The Mariners’ revamped bullpen is bloated right now, and the final two spots are up for grabs. Right-handed Ryan Cook, who flamed out hard in 2015 after becoming one of the most reliable relievers in the league, is expected to compete for one of them. Justin De Fratus, who made 61 appearances with a 5.51 ERA as a long reliever with the Phillies, is also in the mix. There will be competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, with left-hander James Paxton the likely choice. The 27-year-old excelled in 13 starts, posting a 2-3 record with a 3.90 ERA and a 7.5 K/9, but he isn’t a lock. Also under consideration will be Nathan Karns, acquired in the Brad Miller deal, who threw 147 innings and posted a 7-5 record and 3.67 ERA with Tampa Bay, along with left-hander Vidal Nuno, who made 10 starts in 2015.
Among position players, Franklin Gutierrez could grab a starting role in center field if Leonys Martin continues to struggle.
Injury Concerns: The Mariners enter 2016 fairly healthy, as the only players on the DL are reliever Charlie Furbush (shoulder tendinitis) and backup catcher Jesus Sucre (broken leg). Second baseman Robinson Cano underwent offseason hernia surgery, but he told the Seattle Times he’s “98 percent” healthy and reportedly had to make no adjustments to his normal spring training routine. Servais told The News Tribune the Mariners were considering starting Nelson Cruz at DH more regularly to protect his body.
Key Player: The Mariners offense finished with the 10th-fewest runs in MLB, and once again, production will be largely dependent on Cano. Cano was brutal in the first half of 2015, hitting only six home runs in his first 86 games and posting a paltry .290 OBP. The 33-year-old returned to form with 15 home runs and a .387 OBP in the second half, but considering his enormous $24 million per year salary, he can’t struggle as badly as he did. On the pitching side, it’s almost a given Felix Herndandez will dominate, but the key to the Mariners’ rotation behind him is Iwakuma. He signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which fell through due to physical concerns, but the Mariners were obviously OK with those results. The 34-year-old has been the model of consistency in his Seattle tenure.
Underrated Asset: Shortstop Ketel Marte, 22, flew under the radar as the Mariners struggled, but he put together an impressive half-season with the club. In 57 games, Marte hit .283 with a .351 OBP, two home runs and eight stolen bases — all while being a plus defensive player. He’s got a chance to be a table-setter and provide consistency at a position which has dogged Seattle for years.
Burning Question: How many of the new guys can make big contributions to the offense?
Seattle did make a bevy of moves, but none of them were high-impact. On the offensive side, Martin has a good chance at being a plus center fielder, but his hitting is a concern (.219 average last season) and he’s probably best suited as a reserve. Nori Aoki can get on base, but doesn’t exactly provide pop. Adam Lind can smash righties (.291 average, .883 OPS, 20 home runs), but can’t hit lefties (.221) worth a lick. New starting catcher Chris Iannetta may be familiar with Dipoto from his Angels days, but starting a catcher coming off a .188 batting average season is risky. All of these guys carry a certain amount of risk. Seattle struggled badly offensively in 2015, and none of these additions are guaranteed to fix that.
Best Case Scenario: Servais experiences no bumps in the road as the Mariners’ offseason moves pay off, and their stagnant offense becomes a weapon instead of a hindrance. Cano stays consistent all year and Cruz continues to mash. The rotation becomes one of the best in the league and the revamped bullpen doesn’t miss a beat. Seattle finishes above .500 and makes the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Servais has trouble managing all of his new players, and the Mariners offense continues its downfall as the new players are exposed in a new lineup. Cano struggles and/or gets injured and his contract becomes unmovable. The bullpen doesn’t click, and the Mariners lose 90 games and face a pending rebuild.
Realistic Prediction: The Mariners are an improved club from 2015, and there’s reason to believe they won’t be as bad in 2016. Their offense looks capable, their rotation very good and the bullpen could be a plus. With that said, Seattle has a rookie manager and a ton of new players, which means finding an early groove may prove difficult. This isn’t likely a playoff team, but the Mariners should find themselves hovering around .500.