It has been no secret throughout Major League Baseball that the Seattle Mariners offense the last few seasons has been, well, offensive. Lowest scoring output in the American League since 2009. The only team in all of baseball last season to have a team On-base Percentage of less than .300. The last time the Mariners did not finish last in the American League in runs scored, more than half their infield was constructed of Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, and Kenji Johjima.
Needless to say, the Mariners needed an upgrade in their lineup. General Manager Jack Zduriencik tried to get big names like Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton only to have Hamilton go to Anaheim and Upton use his no-trade clause against him (eventually winding up with his brother in Atlanta). So the upgrade became a retrograde, reclaiming former Mariners Raul Ibanez and Mike Morse, and trying out veterans Jason Bay and Kendrys Morales. The team also moved the fences in at Safeco Field, a move that may not help as much as the team would like.
Outfield: Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Bay/Ibanez/Morse. Part of getting more offense out of the team will be seeing if Saunders lives up to his hitting potential, and if Gutierrez can get on base. While Saunders did swat 19 home runs last season, those 132 strikeouts need to come down and his .306 OBP needs to go up. The steel trap in center that is Gutierrez is mostly counted on for his defense in Seattle's spacious outfield, but getting his strikeouts down would be a big help for Seattle.
Infield: Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Morales/Justin Smoak
The massive youth movement for Seattle is shown in the small army of prospects surrounding the pitching mound. Ackley performed well for half a season last year, but his performance took a nosedive after the All-Star break, and he finished with a .226 average and an OBP of .294. Not exactly what Seattle was looking for from its top prospect. Montero showed a lot more pop behind the plate, however his defense behind the plate was suspect (83% of runners successfully stole on him) and it seems designated hitter will be his eventual home. Seager was a pleasant surprise at third, with 20 home runs and a respectable .260 average. The team would like to see a defense improvement at third, and Seager should be able to oblige. As far as Brendan Ryan goes, a .194 average will not keep him around long.
Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez
With King Felix extended for Seattle for seven more years, the Mariners have a good rotation just based on that. Hernandez's performance has been supernatural, and a better hitting team likely would have earned him more than his one Cy Young award. Expecting him to pitch well is like projecting the sun to rise in the morning. Iwakuma had a terrific second half of the season last year, and if he can keep up his stellar 2.50 ERA (not likely, but would be nice), or anywhere close to it, the team will be happy. Saunders will not win many games by himself, but he can always be counted on to throw 200 innings and keep his ERA below 5. Ramirez became a strikeout machine late in the year, and will be counted on heavily to keep that up. The fifth spot in the rotation is a mixture of players that are trying to hold their spots on the team (Oliver Perez, Blake Beaven) and players trying to reclaim lost glory (Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman). I would love to see the Bonderman of old where he led an excellent Detroit pitching staff, and I like comeback stories.
Bullpen: Tom Wilhemsen, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Josh Kinney
The bullpen is the Mariners best weapon, without a question. Wilhelmsen is a solid closer with a powerful fastball, Pryor's even faster speedball crackles when it flies, and Capps can light up the radar gun as well. If the Mariners can take the lead through 6, getting through that army of artillery poses a daunting task for any lineup. Getting to that point may be tricky, but this is one area of the Mariners that can be counted on to do some real work.
Taijuan Walker (Pitcher), Danny Hultzen (Pitcher), Nick Franklin (Shortstop), Mike Zunino (Catcher)
Walker looks to be the future of the Mariners rotation, even though he is only 20 years old. His combination of speed and breaking pitches give him the tool needed to succeed. He will likely start the season at Double-A Jackson, but a late season tryout seems likely. Franklin might be rushed up to the majors if Ryan cannot improve his average, but he will have to improve his numbers from Triple-A Tacoma last season. Zunino is the Mariners 2013 Top Prospect, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, and his polished college skills may see play late in the season for Seattle, earlier if he can continue his meteoric rise through the system. He will start the season at Jackson.
Asking the hitting to improve so rapidly is asking a little too much. The team will flirt with .500, especially with the bottom-feeding Houston Astros in their division, but 81-81 might be the best they can do. The next seasons, however, will be fun to watch.