As spring training gets underway, the dominant theme for the Seattle Mariners has to be considered uncertainty.
There are a few things that are known for sure: Robinson Cano will start at second. Kyle Seager at third. Felix Hernandez will be the ace at the top of the rotation. Hisashi Iwakuma behind him. Past that, many issues have yet to be decided.
The outfield is probably the biggest question mark. Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley are the most prominent names that currently reside on the roster. The two of them combined to slash .244/.307/.369 last season. Recognize the names Xaiver Avery, James Jones, Julio Morban, Abraham Almonte or Stefen Romero? Those are the rest of the Seattle outfielders, none of whom are established major leaguers.
The first base/DH situation features newcomers Logan Morrison and Corey Hart to go along with incumbent Justin Smoak. Morrison has yet to find consistency at the major league level and Hart faces durability questions coming off two major knee surgeries. Smoak has improved at the plate, but still has yet to live up to the once great expectations that were placed on him.
Once you get past King Felix and Iwakuma, the pitching staff is left with similar levels of ambiguity. 21-year-old super prospect Taijuan Walker is expected to make the staff according to new manager Lloyd McClendon. Walker is loaded with physical talent and potential but is unproven. Scott Baker and Randy Wolf were signed to minor-league deals but it would be surprising if either turned out to be massive difference makers. The team was able to sign former Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney to lend some stability to the back end of the bullpen. But the pitching staff overall is, once again, yet to be concretely decided.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team with this type of disparity between the best players and the rest of the roster. Any pitching staff that boasts pitchers of the Hernandez/Iwakuma caliber at the top of their rotation would figure to be poised to charge a team to a highly competitive level. But the surrounding pieces are, by and large, either unproven or questionable as to what type of production they will muster.
Even if it’s perplexing, this level of uncertainty does at least make this Seattle team an interesting one. The signing of Robinson Cano was crucial, as it means the M’s now have a difference-making bat. Can you imagine if he wasn’t on the roster right now and the middle-infield combo was still Brad Miller to Nick Franklin? This offense would be historic levels of futile. But with Cano, Seager, a hopefully rejuvenated Hart and a supposedly improving Smoak, the thought of an offense that’s at least competent doesn’t sound impossibly unrealistic.
Whether or not this Seattle team can be competitive in the tough AL West depends entirely on if the above-outlined supporting cast around the marquee players can perform. Time will tell if they are capable of doing that. For now, this team is mostly one big mystery.