At 1:05 PM, the Seattle Mariners will officially bring about the start of spring when they take on the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. It’ll be the first real game that Scott Servais will manage, the first time that Nori Aoki has worn a Mariners uniform, and the first game of the season where the King will assume his throne.
Aoki was brought in to do two things, keep Nelson Cruz out of the outfield and to get on base. He’s proven to be really good at those two things during his major league career. He’s posted an OBP of .353, .349, and .356 during the last three seasons, while striking out in less than 10% of his plate appearances during that same time frame. The left hander’s bat has never been known for its power, which has been on the decline since he debuted in 2012, but he’s been a consistent presence at the plate and that’s why the Mariners went out and signed him to a one year deal.
Servais has already stated that Aoki is going to be the Mariners primary lead off hitter throughout the season. Which is an extremely logical stance for a manager who has never managed at any level before. Aoki’s ability to get on base makes him a natural guy to get in front of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager.
The Mariners are hoping that Cruz can retain some of his offensive output from 2015, which saw him club 44 home runs while posting a wRC+ of 151 in 655 plate appearances. There is virtually no way that he is going to be able to repeat that performance again, as he’s entering his age 34 season, but he doesn’t need to repeat that performance to be valuable to Seattle this season; that being said, it would be amazballs if he did repeat his 2014 performance (where he clubed 40 homeruns and a wRC+ 137).
Cano’s health, and his offensive production, are the biggest question mark confronting the Mariners this season. If he really is beginning his decline, then the team sunk a $240 million into a player for only one year of real production; that’s not an efficient way to win.
That being said, if Cano’s second half is for real, the Mariners have a very potent offensive core. Which will take a lot of pressure off of the bottom portion of their line-up.
The vast bulk of Jerry Dipoto’s moves were centered around raising the floor for the Mariners offense — for example, adding Chris Iannetta at catcher, sending Mike Zunino down to Tacoma. Iannetta has a track record of success at the show, a career slashline of .231/.351/.405 and a wRC+ of 104 is a major improvement over Zunino’s .193/.252/.351 and a wRC+ of 71. If Iannetta is able to produce close to his average, he’s going to be a threat at the bottom of the Mariners line-up…something that the M’s have sorely been missing during the last decade.
Leonys Martin was the other bounce back candidate the M’s brought on bored to try and add some production to the bottom of the line-up. He struggled mighitly in 2015 — .219/.264/.313, well below his career average of .255/.305/.361 — and is a prime candidate to bounce back towards his career norms. His speed will be an added boost to a roster that struggled with base running during the Jack Zduriencik era.
The offense has the potential to be explosive and exciting; it also has the potential to be downright putrid. There are a lot of “if’s” and “returning to career norms” that need to happen for the Mariners to avoid putting together another year of offensive ineptitude. And that’s a scary thought for Mariners fans heading into a season where they need to win now if they’re going to cash in on the massive contracts to Cano, Felix, and Cruz.
But if they’re able to get it together, that would make it a lot easier for the patchwork bullpen to hold on while Charlie Furbush is coming back from his injury. It’ll make it easier for Steve Cishek to have the bounce back season that as the Mariners closer. The bullpen is scary, and not in a good way, and it’s going to be crucial that they aren’t put into situations where they have to prevent a one (or two) run deficit from exploding…otherwise this season could get ugly, fast.
Fortunately, the Mariners starting staff seems to be one of its strengths again. Led by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, the starting staff has seen the additions of fly ball pitchers Wade Miley (career flyball rate of 29.9%) and Nate Karns (36.6%) to the pitcher friendly Safeco Field. Taijuan Walker is also entering his second full season in the majors and has the potential to be a dominating No. 4 starter. With James Paxton and Mike Montgomery as the team’s sixth and seventh starters, the starting staff is the deepest its been in a few years.
But the only reason the Iwakuma is still a Mariner is because he failed his physical with the Dodgers, and they backed out of his contract. Servias is going to have to be pretty level-headed with how he handles the right hander if the Bear is going to make it to the end of the season in one piece.
Record: 84-78 (3rd in AL West, 4th in the Wildcard)
The bullpen holds blows a few games as Cruz comes back to earth, Cano repeats 2014, and Kuma misses a few games in August due to a some sort of blister on his pitching hand.