One of the strengths this team should have is in the starting rotation. Felix Hernandez (13-9, 3.06, 223 Ks in 232 IP) led the AL with 5 shutouts, including his perfect game. He will make $175 million over the next 7 seasons, but is to turn just 27 on April 8th. His ERA, strikeout numbers, innings and durability allowed him to win the AL Cy Young Award in 2010 despite a 13-12 record. It also proves how dominant he has been in spite of the Mariners lack of offense and the last two seasons have not been different. Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5, 3.16 in 30 games, 16 starts) will be the number two starter. The 32 year old is expected to take the role of Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.85), who was dealt to Los Angeles to get Morales. Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 in 29 starts) quietly gets people out and should pitch near 200 innings this season. RHP Erasmo Ramirez has the stuff to be a very good starting pitcher and will be just 23 in May. Blake Beavan (11-11, 4.43 in 26 starts) gives the Mariners the most underrated starting five in MLB. None of the other four will pitch to Hernandez's level, but all (barring injuries) could make 30 plus starts and consistently give the Mariners the opportunity to win.
The bullpen has some questions that can be resolved if some top pitching prospects are ready to contribute at the major league level. It may be too much to ask for 20 year old Taijuan Walker to make an impact at this level yet, but LHP Danny Hultzen is an interesting option. If he moves to the bullpen, he could make an impact similar to Braves LHP Johnny Venters. RHP Stephen Pryor will be just 23 this season and is expected to take on the 8th inning role this season. LHP Charlie Furbush (5-2, 2.72 in 48 games) will also help get the ball to closer Tom Wilhelmsen (4-3, 29 saves, 2.50 in 73 games, 87 Ks in 79 1/3 IP). If Hultzen is used in the pen, the Mariners could potentially have four pitchers capable of getting over a strikeout an inning. Otherwise, 22 year old RHP Carter Capps is also worth watching with the bullpen being rounded out by either LHPs Lucas Luetge or Oliver Perez, who seems to have become serviceable as a short relief pitcher. I see the Mariners having a decent bullpen, but will not overachieve as much as I feel the rotation will.
Offensively, the team is better than it was a year ago. The question is, by how much? The team struggled last year producing runs, getting on base and hitting for average. Catcher Jesus Montero led the team with a .260 batting average, with 3B Kyle Seager (.259, 20, 86) leading the team in HRs and RBIs. Dustin Ackley (.226, 12, 50) had a poor offensive season, but is expected to improve. Franklin Gutierrez (.260, 4, 17 in 40 games) is expected to provide some offense at the bottom of the order, but is mainly there because of his defense in CF. How much the Mariners can score could depend solely on what Morse (.291, 18, 62 in 102 games after hitting .301, 31, 95 in 2011) and Morales (.273, 22, 73) can do to contribute. If they can become a nucleus, guys like Seager, Ackley and Montero can thrive. Michael Saunders (.247, 19, 57) is another player the Mariners feel can have a better 2013 season. Justin Smoak (.217, 19, 51) is on the verge of being given up on. In fact, I am at a point where I would start Morse at 1B and take a chance with Ibanez in the OF. I'd line the Mariners up like this: Saunders RF, Ackley 2B, Morse 1B, Morales DH, Montero C, Seager 3B, Ibanez LF, Gutierrez CF, Brendan Ryan SS. Ryan is there strictly because of defense. Smoak and maybe even Bay may earn their way into the lineup with good play. They both need to prove they can still hit.
Yes, I have chosen to paint a rosy picture of the Seattle Mariners. The young pitching reminds me of what we saw last season with the Oakland Athletics. Vegas has their over under at 76 1/2, slightly above their win total from last season. I am going with the over, with the team finishing with an 84-78 record, 2nd place in the AL West. I can see them starting off stronger, maybe being that team nobody thought would be in contention. A fade down the stretch may cost them, but not too late for the end result being a strong move in the positive direction for this young team.