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Mariners enter opening day coming off of unsatisfactory off season

The return of Ichiro Suzuki and Dee Gordon’s first game in a Mariners’ uniform are the biggest story lines heading into tonight’s opening day game against the Cleveland Indians. But the front office was unable to add depth to the starting rotation, which is concerning when their ace can’t stay healthy and the King is in the twilight of his career.

In 2017, we saw James Paxton emerge as the ace we were hoping for; but his durability leaves much to be desired. Last season, Paxton only pitched in 136 innings but posted an impressive FIP of 2.61 despite suffering some bad BABIP luck (.300). The Big Maple also posted career high strike out and career low walk rates at the big league level in ’17. Heading into 2018, Paxton’s durability is going to be the biggest concern; if the veteran can pitch around 180 innings this season, it’ll provide a big boost to Seattle’s playoff hopes.

Unfortunately, Paxton isn’t the only pitcher with injury concerns as Felix Hernandez has struggled to remain healthy for the last couple of seasons — in 2016 he has 153.1 innings pitched at the MLB level and in ’17 he had 86.2; and Seattle native Marco Gonzalez is entering his first full season the Major League level since he had Tommy John surgery in 2016 — he spent the majority of last season in the minors.

Seattle used 17 different starting pitchers last season due to injury; Which means that a lot of different pitchers earned major league experience. But that doesn’t mean the Mariners should have been comfortable with the group of starters and that it would have made sense for them to add more depth…especially at the Triple-A level.

Unfortunately they didn’t, and now Seattle rolls into this season with essentially the same group they had at the end of ’17. One of the ways Seattle could limit the injuries this season is by rolling out a six person rotation (hey, Angels!) to limit the number of innings and provide the majority of the staff time to recover in between their starts.

As for the relievers, there were to big news stories. Seattle lost David Phelps to Tommy John surgery and signed Juan Nicasio on a two-year, $17 million, contract. Nicasio pitched for three teams in 2017; he pitched in 72.1 innings while posting a FIP of 2.98 and racking up a fWAR of 1.4 (notbad.jpg). Despite the heavy usage last season, the bullpen was decent and it looks to be more of the same heading into 2018.

The biggest acquisition during the off-season was Miami’s second basemen, Dee Gordon. He is now Seattle’s starting center fielder, because the M’s already have a really good middle infield in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano. How Gordon transitions from the middle infield to the outfield is going to be interesting to watch, especially since he’s already demonstrated that his arm is literally a canon.

Oh and there’s this one…

It seems like the transition to the outfield went well during Spring Training, but now we get the see it in games that actually count. How effective will Gordon’s routes be? Will he be an asset defensively? These are the questions that will be answered in the coming weeks.

But the biggest, and most surprising news, is the return of Ichiro to Seattle. This signing was made necessary by the oblique injury that Ben Gamel suffered at the beginning of March. Seattle needed more outfield depth and the future hall of famer was available. The most troubling part is that manager Scott Servais is expecting him to play 4-5 days a week, when his talent level is clearly that of a role player now. This indicates that Guillermo Heredia still needs more time to get healthy enough to be an everyday player and (again) the front office doesn’t particularly trust what’s in Tacoma to provide sufficient depth.

Prediction

The starting staff doesn’t suffer nearly as many injured as it did last year, which allows the bullpen to settle into their roles and lock down the games in later innings throughout the season. As a result the offense doesn’t have to carry the team like it did last season and the team performs more consistently throughout the 162 game schedule. But it’s not enough to grab the second wild card spot as the AL East is to deep this season.

Record: 87-75

Standings: 3rd AL West, 0.5 a game out of the second Wildcard spot.

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