DiPoto has been known for his emphasis on analytics, which punctuates the importance of defense and base running in accordance to the standard pitching and hitting. There really are two ways to look at the Mariners of this coming season, one positive and the other negative. Positively, the Mariners are an extremely balanced team, with a strong offense with power and speed; a pitching staff that is powerful and deep in both the starting rotation and bullpen; and a team that possesses great team speed and defensive capability. On the negative side, it is fair to question how the team is going to make out from a chemistry standpoint. Several examples can be made of similar teams that have made a drastic amount of change to their team in one off season, only to have the unfamiliar (with each other) players struggle to develop any sort of commodore.
Looking at this from a glass half full perspective, the Mariners core players Hernandez, Cano, Cruz and Seager have been with the Mariners for a while. In fact, no player acquired since the beginning of DiPoto's tenure could be measured with the likes of the previously mentioned core players. Seattle made a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to add shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger. The Mariners also added starting pitcher Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays and outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals. They also traded for longtime Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, and infielder Danny Valencia. Additional deals netted them pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Chris Heston, and Shae Simmons.
From a pitching standpoint, the Mariners return three of their top starting pitchers. Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers in the game for the past decade but is coming off a down season, one in which he was limited to just 25 starts due to injury. Iwakuma made a team high 32 starts and also led the Mariners with 199 innings pitched. Paxton has a lot of talent, but has struggled to stay healthy over the past three seasons, making just 46 starts over that span (17.6 starts per season). Smyly comes over from the Rays and pitched in his first full season (30 starts after being limited to just 12 in 2015 due to injury). Gallardo is coming off a dismal season, but one that could have been predicted based off his previous season. Even though Gallardo pitched to a 3.42 earned run average in 2015, he managed to strand an unhealthy number of base runners to a point where it would have been very difficult to duplicate. His ERA went up to 5.42 in 2016, but his WHIP only increased by 0.169. Left handed pitcher Ariel Miranda and righty Heston are solid insurance candidates with right handed pitching prospect Andrew Moore possibly close to being major league ready. Gallardo has to be at his absolute best if he wants to avoid DFA by mid season.
A lot of stock has been put into almost 23 year-old right handed fire baller Edwin Diaz. Diaz appeared in 49 games last season, amassing just under 52 innings. He struck out 88 batters, pitched to a 1.116 WHIP and had a FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 2.04. He should be the team's closer to start the season, especially with the injury to incumbent Steve Cishek, who was very effective last season himself. Miranda can double as a late inning relief option, with plus arms Nick Vincent, Evan Schriber, and Simmons competing for late inning- innings. Left hander Marc Rzepczynski was signed to a two year deal as a free agent to serve as the team's left handed specialist. Right hander Dan Altavilla gave up one run in just over 12 innings last season. Former Giants right hander Jean Machi is trying to make the team on a minor league deal.
The Mariners lineup will be set around Segura, who had a breakout 2016 with the Diamondbacks (.319 average, 20 HR, 64 runs batted in, 203 hits, 102 runs scored, 33 stolen bases). Segura will be moving back to shortstop, where he played in the big leagues from 2012-2015 for the Angels and Brewers. Cano (.298, 39, 103, 195, 107, .882 on base plus slugging) and Cruz (.287, 43, 105, 96, 169, .915) combine with Seager (.278, 30, 99) to form a very dynamic middle of the order. Dyson and center fielder Leonys Martin are very similar players, speed dependent players who are excellent defensively. Left hand hitting first baseman Dan Vogelbach had just 12 MLB at bats last season but seems ready to handle most of the time at the position. Right handed hitting Valencia is there to mash lefties, but can also spell Dyson, Martin and Haniger in the outfield. Ruiz will get a bulk of the time behind the plate, with longtime prospect Zunino looking to finally earn the starting nod, which he has spent the last couple seasons not doing.
The lineup I would open the season up with is Dyson LF, Segura SS, Cano 2B, Cruz DH, Seager 3B, Vogelbach/ Valencia 1B, Haniger RF, Ruiz C, Martin CF. Guillermo Heredia should make the team as an extra outfielder with former Tampa Bay Rays infielder Taylor Motter serving as the utility infielder. Micah Owings is an interesting option as he can possibly make the team as a reliever/ pinch hitter.
Haniger and Moore lead the list of the Mariners' top prospects. Haniger is known to play some good defense but did hit a total of 30 home runs last season in the Arizona system. Moore could be the number five starter by the 2017 mid season. The 2015 competitive balance pick has risen through the Seattle system with hopes of rising through the Mariners rotation. Outfielder Tyler O'Neill is another long term option that could be ready this season. If Haniger struggles or the decision is made to move on from Dyson after the season, an regular outfield position could belong to the British Colombia native. Vogelbach will get a chance to be the everyday first baseman with pitchers Altavilla and Robert Whalen worth the Mariners eye this season. 2013 first round draft pick DJ Peterson had an injury mess up his progress in Triple- A last season, but is on track to build on it this year.
The reason I have belief in the Mariners this season is that DiPoto has not messed with the core of the team. The question comes down to whether one believes in this core- and I do. The player movement has put a certain look to the team and it gives them more of a balance of speed and defense to go along with the solid power and pitching. Felix is going to be the determining factor for them this season. Where he goes, does the 2017 Mariners. In a very competitive American League West, I think the Mariners can win it. However, because of reasons I have mentioned earlier in the previews, 89 wins will win this division. Las Vegas has the Mariners at 85.5 and I am going with the over. I have the Seattle Mariners at 89-73, first place in the American League West division.