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2018 MLB preview: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners 2021 Opening Day Roster

2017: 78-84 (third place in AL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2001

Last World Series Title: NEVER WON A WORLD SERIES (Joined the AL as an expansion team in 1977)

2017 Recap

In 2016, the Mariners won 86 games, but finished three games out of the Wild Card. With some big additions for 2017, Jean Segura, Yovani Gallardo, Mitch Haniger, and Jarrod Dyson, Seattle fell below expectations and won just 78 games. This marked the 16th straight season in which the Mariners failed to make the postseason, which is not only longest current streak in the MLB, but also the longest postseason drought within the Big Four North American Sports.

So what went wrong? Among the 15 AL teams, Seattle’s offense finished sixth in batting average and on base percentage, seventh in runs and hits, which isn’t terrible. As far as pitching, the Mariners staff finished seventh in the AL in runs, and allowed the fifth fewest walks. So when you look at the numbers, Seattle is pretty average at everything, which is not the worst characteristic in baseball.

A glaring number that defines Seattle’s 2017 season was 26. Last season, the Mariners blew a league-high 26 saves. A few less blown saves and this team is easily in the hunt for a spot in the Wild Card Game.

Nelson Cruz hit 39 home runs and had a career high .375 OBP in 2017. (Grantland)

Of course, there were plenty of players who performed well for Seattle in 2017. Nelson Cruz’s 39 home runs was good for sixth in the MLB. He also finished fifth in RBIs, ninth in adjusted OPS, and had a career high .375 OBP. Cruz was the best DH in the league this year, and should continue to mash in 2018.

Mike Zunino finally looks like the catcher the Mariners had hoped for when they selected him third overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. Zunino was sixth in WAR among catchers, and hit 25 home runs with a .331 OBP. In the second half of his breakout year, the 26-year-old hit .281 with 13 home runs.

Seattle’s best pitcher was James Paxton. Paxton had multiple stints on the disabled list, but made the most of his time on the field. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month in July when he went 6-0 with a .79 WHIP. Paxton finished the year with a 12-5 record, 2.98 ERA, and 156 strikeouts in 136 innings.

2018: Around the Diamond

Like the previous offseason, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made plenty of moves to spruce up his ball club, in hopes of finally getting back to the postseason. The biggest move was the trade for Dee Gordon. Seattle already has future Hall of Famer, Robinson Cano, at second, but the Mariners traded for Gordon to play centerfield. He is clearly quick enough, having led the majors in steals in three of the last four seasons, and he has shown great ability with his glove, having won a Gold Glove in 2015. With Miami in 2017, Gordon hit .308 with 114 runs scored and a .341 OBP. He also stole 60 bases last season, which is almost double the amount that the AL Steals leader, Whit Merrifield (34) had in 2017. With that said, the Mariners should easily lead the AL in steals.

Last season, Dee Gordon hit .308 and stole 60 bases  (Seattle Times)

With Gordon at the top of the order, Seattle now has a pretty lethal offense. Especially with the addition of Ryon Healy to play first base. Last season, the Mariners got little to no production out of the first base positon, finishing 23rd in WAR for 1B. In comes Healy, who hit 25 home runs last year, and .314 against lefties. He doesn’t walk enough, and strikes out a bit too much, but he is clearly an upgrade at the position. Healy will be out 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to remove bone spur from his right hand, but it is not considered a big deal and he should be fine for the season.

On paper, this Seattle team should do some damage. Even though Cruz is getting up there in age, he is still the best DH, and one of the best power hitters in the game. Zunino is one of the best power-hitting catchers in the league, and Cano is still a top-5 second basemen. In 2017, Cano hit .280 with 23 home runs and 33 doubles. The Mariners will also have a healthy Jean Segura, who hit .300 with 11 home runs with 22 steals in just 125 games, at shortstop. Let’s not forget that, in 2016, Segura was an MVP candidate.

If they hope to make a playoff run, The Mariners desperately need Kyle Seager to get back to his 2016 self. That year, he finished 12th in MVP voting and hit 30 home runs with a .359 OBP. Last season, he hit just .249 with a .323 OBP, and his 107 OPS+ was the worst of his career since becoming a full-time starter. He still hit 27 home runs, but needs to be better in 2018.

Joining Gordon in the outfield will be Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger. Haniger was fantastic in 2017, that is, when he was on the field. He missed a lot of time because of injury but was able to hit .282 with 16 home runs and .352 OBP in only 96 games. Ben Gamel hit .323 in the first half and finished at .275 with 11 home runs.

On the Bump

Not only did Seattle make moves to help with the offense, but they also brought in veteran pitcher Mike Leake. Leake is coming off a solid season, in which he posted a 3.1 WAR, the highest of his career. He had a rough second half, but this is a guy who can give you innings. Leake has thrown at least 175 innings over the last six seasons.

Paxton looks to be in line to start Opening Day, but let’s not forget about Felix Hernandez, who was the face of this organization for so many years. Hernandez was banged up last year and posted a 4.36 ERA, which was his worst since 2006. He also gave up 1.77 HR/9, a career high for the former CY Young Award winner. Yet, this was only in 86.2 innings, and Felix is healthy and ready to go in 2018. Although the man has already thrown over 2500 innings, there has to be something left in the tank.

Rounding out the rotation will be Erasmo Ramirez, and Ariel Miranda. Although, Hisashi Iwakuma, when healthy, and Marco Gonzales should also start some games. Edwin Diaz, who finished eighth in saves last year, will remain the closer. Diaz has great stuff, but gave up 10 home runs in 66 innings last season. If Diaz struggles, Seattle has guys like Juan Nicasio, David Phelps, and Nick Vincent, who are all capable of giving you quality innings out of the bullpen.

The Future

The Mariners top prospect is their 2016 first round pick, Kyle Lewis. Lewis, a 22-year-old outfielder, missed half of last season while recovering from knee surgery. Still, he was able to 7 home runs and 31 RBIs in 49 games between R/A+. In six playoff games for Modesto, Lewis hit .393 with six RBIs. He is now fully healthy, and the plan is to work his way up to AA at some point in 2018.

 

2018 Prediction: 86-76

They will have to fight off the Angels, but Seattle should end their playoff drought in 2018. Had they not blown 26 saves last season, they would have had a shot, and now, with key additions to the lineup and a healthy rotation, there is no reason for Seattle to struggle again. They have a legitimate offense and if they can play better against Houston and Los Angeles, they will be fine.

Featured image by MLB.com

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