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Can the “Mariners” Right the Ship?

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30:1………..10 pays 300

What do we make of the Seattle Mariners, kings of the Pacific Northwest?  That’s the million dollar question; this team has been kinda on the brink but not really for years now.  They’ve made splashy front page news like their 10 year, $240 million deal with Jay-Z to steal Robinson Cano from the evil empire Yankees.  They’ve made shrewd signings like their 4 year, $57 million deal for veteran slugger Nelson Cruz.  They even made an under-the-radar trade this offseason acquiring Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Ketel Marte and erratic but uber-talented starter Taijuan Walker.  All commendable moves that upgrade any team’s roster, but is it enough to put them over the top?

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are not just good ballplayers, they’re unbelievable.  The production Cano throws up on a yearly basis is 2nd to none, he’s a machine.  Speaking of machines, the ironman has NEVER missed more than 6 games in the last 10 seasons.  Thus far the biggest investment in franchise history has been worth every penny.

Cruz has also been absolutely RAKING his first two years in Seattle hitting career high HR of 44 and 43.  In not-so-hitter-friendly Safeco Park, his monstrous HR and his cumulative .295 average have been near-MVP worthy.  I love these two players and what they’ve provided, but it’s a sad state of affairs when Seattle STILL hasn’t been able to make the playoffs.  These players have reached their absolute peak hitting career numbers in their mid-30s.

Kyle Seager is another huge bat in the middle of the order, and he’s another star who had career numbers last year.  The Jean Segura acquisition in the offseason was as unheralded yet brilliant a move as any.  And he’s (wait for it)………another guy coming off a career year.  Yes, Segura is young at 27 and didn’t even play on the Mariners last year.  But Seattle’s 4 best players all had career numbers last year by a wide margin and will have to replicate it while staying completely healthy.  Doable?  Sure.  Likely?

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The pitching staff remains similar, with the equally talented yet frustrating Drew Smyly replacing Taijuan Walker.  At the top of the rotation, Kings stay Kings.  Or do they?  King Felix is coming off his worst season in 10 years, and at age 30 the grass is certainly not getting any greener.  He had a pauper-like 4.48 ERA post All-star break last year as he dealt with injuries.  Everything looks good in Spring training, yet the risk definitely remains.  The rest of the rotation and lineup remains very…

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MEH.  James Paxton, 35 year old Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo…you’re not exactly scaring the daylights out of me with that journeymen crew.

After the 4 big-timers in Segura, Cano, Cruz, and Seager, there remains both nice upside and a couple of productive veterans.  Mitch Haniger was an under-the-radar piece in the Segura-Tiajuan Walker trade; he’s a young outfielder who packs a lot of pop.  Outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill also provides some potential middle-of-the-order power as the #36 prospect in MLB and may get a summer call-up.  Danny Valencia has long been one of my favorite players who just gets it done, his .287 avg and 17 HR should only improve after migrating from the hitter’s hell of Oakland.  Jarrod Dyson is lightning around the bases and an incredible defender…kudos to GM Jerry Dipoto for those under-the-radar moves.

I desperately want to jump in on this team’s bandwagon.  As Gonzaga and Oregon proved this March Madness, nobody pays any attention to the Pacific Northwest.  Nobody cares.  I want to care.  I’m really impressed with a lot of the moves they’ve made (Segura, Haniger, Valencia, Dyson).  It’s just not enough to push them over the top.  Factor in that one off year or injury to any of their best players and their season is cooked. After King Felix, the rotation remains a question mark (and Felix himself needs to prove he’s healthy).  Sorry Seattle, something still stinks out there (it’s the fish, it’s definitely the fish).

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BREAK OUT STAR:  Mike Zunino — The kid with the big stick will go down swinging, that’s for sure.  A high strikeout/high power type of player, Zunino has more than flashed his scintillating potential.  Last year he slugged 12 HR in only 55 games showing again the 30 HR+ upside he displayed two years prior when he hit 22 HR in 131 games.  The key difference though was his ability to improve his OBP from an atrocious .254 to an abominable .230 to a respectable .318 during the last 3 seasons.  At just 26 years old and with more playing time, look for continued strides on the OBP front as he slugs 25+ HR.

UNDER THE RADAR:  Mitch Haniger — The prospect made a little bit of noise during his brief debut in Arizona knocking 5 balls over the fence in just 34 games.  Scouts like the kid’s potential, and a 20 HR season is more probable than not.

DUE FOR REGRESSION:  Kyle Seager/Jean Segura — While it’s definitely possible we see slight regression from the otherworldly stats Cano and Cruz have put up, Seager and Segura will be the ones who come flying back to earth after stellar years.  Seager will return to his middling .260 average with 20 HR (he averaged 23 HR before last season).   I’m a fan of Jean Segura and the M’s got him on the cheap.  But he absolutely exploded last year going from a career .260 hitter to .319 with 20 HR when his previous career high was 12.  Expect a solid year, but after leaving hitter-haven Arizona expect some regression.

FINAL VERDICT:  LAY OFF

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