Feb 23, 2014; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (18) stretches during camp at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Fresh off of a disappointing season, the Mariners went into the off season looking to make some drastic changes to become contenders in baseball’s most rapidly improving division. One of the best ways to make teams start taking you seriously as contenders is to go out and haul in a big fish.
The Mariners not only hauled in a massive free agent in Robinson Cano, they blew all other teams way out of the water with their winning bid. Kudos to you Seattle, your NFL team won the super bowl and your MLB team picked up one of the top 5 players in the majors in the off season. Now is a good time to be a Seattle sports fan, Macklemore is probably ecstatic being a Mariners fan himself.
Seattle has been a good team the last few years but they haven’t been able to take that next step towards becoming a powerhouse yet. They have a solid farm system. According to MLB.com their two top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen were the best right handed and left handed pitching prospects respectively in the MLB in 2013. All signs point towards Walker starting in the majors this year. He uses mainly a three pitch mix with his fastball, nasty curveball, and solid changeup. If he pans out like most scouts think he will, Walker will be a dominant number 2 starter behind King Felix Hernandez.
Pitching has not been the problem for the Mariners the last few years. They have had one of the best pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez and last year Hisashi Iwakuma proved himself to be a dominating second starter behind the King after he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting behind winner Max Scherzer and Ranger’s ace Yu Darvish. Unfortunately for the M’s, Iwakuma injured his finger during some drills when he got it caught in a protective netting. According to Greg Johns of MLB.com
"The initial report was Iwakuma would be sidelined 4-6 weeks from the start of camp and McClendon said he didn’t think anything had changed to this point."
This might be the reason the Mariners stopped pursuing Nelson Cruz with much intensity. His bat would have slotted in very well behind Robinson Cano. However, I’m inclined to believe that the Mariners might be looking for at starting pitcher to help cushion the blow of losing Iwakuma for this amount of time.
Even after the off season they had, I still don’t believe the Mariners will contend in the AL West. The other teams in this division have too much talent for the M’s to make a serious run this year. One of the main factors that will help them compete for an AL West title is Justin Smoak taking that next step towards reaching the potential the Mariners thought he possessed when they traded Cliff Lee for him. Smoak was perceived as a switch hitting power first baseman. He had many comparisons to Mark Texeira when he was in the Ranger’s farm system. Smoak hasn’t progressed at the rate at which the Mariners have wanted but he made serious steps last year when he hit .272 before the All-Star break only to fall of the table in the second half of the season and hit .202.
Bottom line, I think the Mariners will finish 4th in the AL West this year. They have a solid club with a very good starting rotation, but one hitter, even if it is Cano, is not enough to propel this team into contention. I believe, depending on how well their young talent plays, they could finish as high as 3rd if the Angels start to regress, but I’m more confident they will finish with somewhere around 70-75 wins. If they keep developing young talents and are wise about the large contracts they give out, the M’s could be contending by 2015 or 2016, but this is not their year. Sorry Seattle, go celebrate your Superbowl because the Mariners probably won’t be winning rings before the Seahawks have their second.