The Seattle Mariners threw their young talent into the fire and saw some very positive results. Much of the offseason has been spent loading up on veteran leadership and power potential. They brought in Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay to go along with their solid core of young talent and one of the best farm systems in baseball.
Starting pitching has been a strong point for the Mariners in past seasons and finished 4th in the AL in ERA in 2012. As usual, their rotation was anchored once again by The King – Felix Hernandez – and his 232 innings, 3.06 ERA, 223 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP, and perfect game on August 15th that all contributed to his 4th place finish in the Cy Young voting. To bring in Kendrys Morales from the Angels, they traded away Jason Vargas, who led the team in wins and was the only other Mariners pitcher to eclipse 200 innings pitched. Hisashi Iwakuma was a big signing for the Mariners coming over from Japan last year. He began the year in the bullpen, but was moved to the starting rotation at the beginning of July and went 8-4 in 12 starts with a 2.65 ERA. The M’s are counting on him to repeat that success in his first full year as a starter and help fill the spot left by Vargas. Kevin Millwood opted for retirement after a year that saw his ERA fluctuate drastically by month. The Mariners did bring in Joe Saunders to replace Vargas as the veteran southpaw in the middle of their rotation. The former first round pick is returning to the AL West where he had back-to-back 16+ win seasons for the Angels in 2008 and 2009.
The youth movement in Seattle will be a big determining factor on the level of success the Mariners see in 2013. The back end of their rotation is widely up for grabs between pitchers with a little major league experience (Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, and Hector Noesi) and prospects with no major league experience (Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker). Noesi lost his starting spot after posting a dismal 2-12 and 6.24 ERA in 18 starts. Ramirez began the year in the bullpen, but was effective in 8 starts with a 0.98 WHIP and a .218 batting average against despite only going 1-3. Beavan turned around from a brutal June (0-2, 15.43 ERA) to finish the season strong from July through September (8-5, 3.40 ERA). Although rated the #5 prospect by MLB.com, Walker is unlikely to break into the majors this year at 20 years old. Hultzen (#18) and Paxton (#61) are two talented lefties that could take a rotation spot coming out of spring. Non-roster veterans Jeremy Bonderman and Jon Garland are also in the mix looking for a chance to extend their careers after injuries kept them out of 2012.
The Mariners bullpen is deep, young, and strong going into 2013. They traded Brandon League and his 6 blown saves in only 15 opportunities to the Dodgers on July 30th. On the same day, they traded Steve Delabar and his 9 homers allowed in only 36 2/3 innings to the Blue Jays. Those moves opened the door for flame-throwing youngsters Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor who are both capable of hitting triple digits on the radar gun. Pryor notched his first career win during the six-pitcher combined no-hitter on June 8th against the Dodgers. In lieu of League, Tom Wilhelmsen stepped in and proved to be a very effective closer. In late and close games, the “Bartender” was nothing short of dominant with his 1.42 ERA, .164 batting average against, and 0.95 WHIP. There are also three very effective lefthanders in the Seattle ‘pen. Charlie Furbush had a breakout year as a lefty specialist, holding lefties to a paltry .147 average. The Mariners Rule 5 pick, Lucas Luetge, was very strong through the first half (1.61 ERA, .187 average, 1.25 WHIP, and no ER through May), but struggled in the latter part of the season (6.87 ERA, .311 average, 1.80 WHIP) though still holding lefties to a .193 average for the season. Oliver Perez had a renaissance coming out of the bullpen and led Mariners relievers with a 2.12 ERA that earned him a new contract for 2013.
A lot of eyes are going to be following the catchers in Mariners camp this year. After letting Miguel Olivo go in free agency and trading John Jaso in the deal that brought back Mike Morse, Jesus Montero was the only catcher on the 40-man roster for a three week period. Montero was originally expected to be only a part-time catcher and spend a lot of time at DH, but Seattle is obviously putting their faith in his defensive ability to play every day behind the dish. To shore up their depth, the Mariners signed veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach to a major league deal and Ronny Paulino to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Mike Zunino will be entering his first full season as a professional after he won the Golden Spikes Award for the University of Florida in 2012. In two levels last year, Zunino blew away expectations by putting up a .360/.447/.689 slash line, hitting 14 doubles and 13 homers, scoring 35 runs, and driving in 43 in 44 games. The 21-year old was rated the #23 prospect by MLB.com and is an outside shot an earning a spot on the roster out of Spring Training. The Mariners are likely to play it safe with Zunino, in which case he would start out the season playing every day in AAA.
Unlike most positions, the Mariners infield is pretty straightforward. They need to upgrade production at all four positions using essentially the same players as last season. Kyle Seager quietly put in a very solid year and finished third in RBI among AL third basemen behind Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre. His most impressive stat was his 44 RBI with two outs that placed him third in the majors behind only Cabrera (47) and Andre Either (45). Dustin Ackley is looking to rebound from an ankle injury that hindered him all season and required offseason surgery to clear up. The former second overall draft pick has said he is back to full strength and is ready to improve upon his .226/.294/.324 slash line and only 36 XBH. Ackley and shortstop Brendan Ryan did put up the best fielding percentage from a middle infield tandem. However, Ryan’s inability to keep his average above the Mendoza Line prompted the Mariners to bring in Robert Andino to compete for the starting job at shortstop. Justin Smoak did finish second on the Mariners in home runs, but that was only with 19 and his .217 batting average caused him to spend some time in AAA. Seattle brought in Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse via separate trades this winter to improve their power potential and force Smoak to earn his spot. If he does, Morse is likely to spend the year in the outfield and Morales at DH. One prospect to look for in the Mariners infield this spring is Nick Franklin. Ranked #47 in baseball, Franklin can play second and shortstop, is a switch-hitter, and put up a 20-20 season in 2010. He could make his own statement for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
The Mariners outfield has seen a major overhaul in the offseason. In the ongoing effort to improve offense, GM Jack Zduriencik brought in Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay. Franklin Gutierrez hopes to finally put together a full season after being limited by injury to only 40 games in 2012. Michael Saunders finally had his breakout year with 19 homers and 21 steals. He is projected to be the starting right fielder or center if Gutierrez succumbs to injury for the third straight year. Eric Thames and Casper Wells also will be strong contenders for roster spots.
It is a very new-look Mariners roster heading into 2013. There is a focus on adding power and continuing to improve the offense with the same core of young talent. Seattle is difficult to project because of the wide range of results this season could see. Many analysts are keeping the Mariners in the category of a potential dark horse candidate to vie for a Wild Card spot in a very competitive AL West.
Andy Houk is an alumni of Washington State University and a writing intern for Whiztix.com. Whiztix.com is a free to use ticket search engine which compiles results from all the best and reliable websites on the resale market in one place. The price they show includes the transaction costs for the marketplaces they search through, so what you see is what you’ll wind up paying. This is a pretty useful tool for finding the best deals, or the cheapest tickets on the web.
You can check out Andy’s other articles on our blog, as well as his own personal site Hollywood Houk Blog