2018 MLB preview: Seattle Mariners

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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Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

Shohei Ohtani is the king of the offseason at the moment. The MLB has not seen anything like him since Babe Ruth was smacking home runs nearly a century ago. Ohtani has the potential to be a two-way star, so when he was posted, every team in the majors wanted a piece of him. Right away though, Ohtani has slashed the field down to seven teams already. Out of those seven teams, where might he sign?

The only two teams that are deeper into the mainland of the United States who still remain are the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The other five teams are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani prefers the west coast

The west coast has a much more prevalent Japanese population compared to elsewhere in the country. On top of that, it would be closest to his homeland. Ohtani has already informed 23 teams that he would not sign with them, and they almost all are outside of the west coast.

You can’t blame Ohtani for picking the California teams as well as Seattle, as he still wants to remain close to his roots and there is nothing wrong with that. The 23-year-old has the freedom to choose whatever team he wants as he is the hottest commodity this offseason. Many people thought that his preference would have to do with money or a DH, but it always came down to geography for him.

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

Dipoto and the Mariners have been working on their pitch for Ohtani all year long (Photo Courtesy of NW Sports Beat)

The DH position may be more in Ohtani’s scope now that he has narrowed down the west coast. Money is not a huge factor at this point though. Due to rules on rookie contracts, there is only so much money he can make at first. That is, he will make the maximum salary for a rookie the first three years before he is available for arbitration.

It has also been reported by the New York Times that Ohtani prefers a smaller market. Considering Los Angeles does not fit that bill, it will be unlikely he goes to the Angels or Dodgers even though he is expected to meet with both teams.

Although it has not been reported how big of a factor the DH is, it would not be wild to assume that an American League team would make much more sense for the Japanese star. That would knock out the Padres, Cubs and Giants from the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers would the remaining candidates.

The Mariners have a history of Japanese ballplayers playing for them. Most notably, one of the all-time baseball greats, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro built up a real reputation for players across the pond, as if you were to combine his NPB and MLB hits, he would have the most in baseball history. Along with that, the Mariners fit the bill for being on the West Coast, more so than the Texas Rangers.

That is why the Mariners are the most likely destination for Ohtani. Seattle is not far off from being a contending team, so a spark from Ohtani could boost them into the playoffs.

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

MLB teams will try to figure a way to get Ohtani’s bat into the lineup (Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi–Getty Images)

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Ohtani’s pitching will translate to the United States. He has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio and has a career 2.52 ERA in his five seasons in the NPB.

Some wonder if his hitting will be at the same level in the major leagues. He has been able to hit over .300 the past two seasons, and has shown signs of power as well. It would be hard to believe him not getting steady opportunities throughout 2018 to prove his ability at the plate.

The one thing that Ohtani is not custom to is the grueling process of a 162-game season. Also, the month of spring training along with a month long playoff can be very physically demanding. Former NFL and MLB athlete, Brian Jordan, stated that playing a 162-game baseball season is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Ohtani has not come too close to that mark, however he may not when he is playing in the majors anyway. In order to ensure he is an effective pitcher and hitter, it will be imperative that the coaching staff is able to manage his fatigue well in order to get maximum effectiveness from the star.

Overall, Ohtani could prove to be one of the best players that has come from Japan. Only time will tell if he will be able to make the jump to the majors, but signing with Seattle could give him the opportunity to showcase everything he has in a place he would be happy to be.

 

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