For a team that finished 2013 at 71-91 last year and has not been competitive since Don Wakamatsu led them to a 85-77 season in 2009, there is sure a bullseye on the back of this Seattle franchise. Critics think the team cannot turn it around with Robinson Cano alone and hate the hiring of new manager Lloyd McClendon. The pitching staff speaks for itself, with Felix Hernandez (12-10, 3.04, 31 starts, 216 Ks, 204 1/3 IP) and Hisashi Iwakuma (14-6, 2.66, 33 starts, 185 Ks in 219 2/3 IP) leading the way. Taiwan Walker will be the number three starter when he is ready. Both Iwakuma and Walker could possibly miss the start of the 2014 season.
The central criticism of the Cano signing is the fact that there seemed to be little to work with in the rest of the Seattle lineup. They did sign Corey Hart, who should put up numbers now that he healthy. They traded RHP Carter Capps to the Marlins to get 1B/ OF Logan Morrison. What has hurt this organization the most is their position player prospects, who have all been a disaster at the MLB level. 1B Justin Smoak (.238, 20, 50) and Dustin Ackley (.253, 4, 31) are getting another shot this season, with Ackley playing the OF. Jesus Montero (.208, 3, 9 in 29 games) is already in minor league camp. 2012 1st round draft pick Mike Zunino (.214, 5, 14 in 52 games) was already up at the big league level last season and the team brought in veteran John Buck (.219, 15, 62) to be his primary backup. A potential middle infield combination of Brad Miller (.265, 8, 36) and Nick Franklin (.225, 12, 45) has turned out to be a battle for the starting SS job, with Miller having the edge because he is a better defensive SS. Kyle Seager (.260, 22, 69 in 160 games) should be a given at 3B and as of now, Cano's most likely protection in the batting order.
Hart (.270, 30, 83 for the Brewers in 2012) and Morrison (.247, 23, 72 for the Marlins in 2011) are likely to provide some of the middle of the order help. With Franklin Gutierrez out for the season once again, Abraham Almonte and Michael Saunders will vie for a spot in the OF. If Almonte wins, he will play CF and Ackley will play LF. Ackley will play CF and Saunders will play left if Saunders (.236, 12, 46) wins. Almonte hit .314, 15, 50 with 20 SB in 94 games in AAA Tacoma last season. Cano hit .314, 27, 107 with 42 2B in New York last season and in my opinion, is a top ten player in all of MLB. I'd like the Mariners up like this: Almonte/ Ackley CF, Saunders/ Ackley LF, Cano 2B, Seager 3B, Hart RF, Morrison DH, Smoak 1B, Zunino C, Miller SS. Franklin could be traded before opening day as the Mariners would like to turn him into a back end of the rotation starting pitcher. Kendrys Morales is still a possibility to sign as a DH and could provide some more depth in the lineup. Seattle is the most logical of landing places for Morales, as the Mariners do not have to forfeit a draft pick if they sign him. Xavier Avery, Willie Bloomquist and Buck will make the bench very solid in addition to the Almonte/ Saunders loser and Franklin.
The Mariners rotation will consist of Erasmo Ramirez (5-3, 4.98 in 13 starts) and Blake Beavan (0-2, 6.13, 12 games, 2 starts). In addition, LHP James Paxton (3-0, 1.50 in 4 starts) has a good chance of cracking the rotation. Brandon Maurer and LHP Randy Wolf have a chance to be in the mix. Apparently, Wolf is healthy and looking to return to when he won 10+ games 4 straight seasons twice (2000-2003 and 2008-2011). The bullpen will be anchored by free agent RHP Fernando Rodney (5-4, 37, 3.38, 68 games for Tampa Bay last season). RHP Danny Farquhar (0-3, 4.20 in 46 games) and former closer Tom Wilhelmsen (0-3, 24 saves, 4.12 in 59 games) will likely take the game from the relievers to Rodney. Just like last season, the team's primary LHP in the pen will be Charlie Furbush (2-6, 3.74 in 71 games). I also like RHPs Stephen Pryor (0-0, 7 games, 7 1/3 scoreless IP) and Yoervis Medina (4-6, 2.91 in 63 games) and LHPs Hector Noesi (0-1, 6.59 in 12 games, 1 start), Lucas Luetge (1-3, 4.86, 35 games) and Bobby LaFromboise (0-1, 5.91 in 10 games). All have good stuff and can make the bullpen even better. Also keep an eye on former number one pick Danny Hultzen, as the left hander could make a serious puch this season.
A prediction of the playoffs for the Mariners this season would be like taking the Marlins to make the playoffs in 2012 or the Blue Jays in 2013. There is a lot that can go right and a lot that can go wrong. The Mariners will be challenged as they have to compete against the likes of the Athletics, Rangers and Angels in their own division. If they can win their share against those teams, I think the Mariners can compete. However, I do not think this is the year for them to be expected to make the postseason, even if they do re-sign Morales. Vegas has them at 81.5 for the O/U and once again, they are right on the money. I take the over, but slightly at 82-80, 4th place in the AL West.