The Seattle Mariners have opened camp in Peoria fresh off another last-place finish in the AL West, facing the same problem that’s hounded the club for the past decade—they can’t score any runs. In 2012, the Mariners ranked 27th in baseball in runs scored, and last in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. They’ve finished last in the American League in scoring four seasons in a row. GM Jack Zduriencik tried to sign Josh Hamilton, a long shot to begin with, and made a deal for Justin Upton before Upton vetoed the trade. At the very least, Zduriencik swung for the fences. Plus, the fences at Safeco Field are closer this season. Left-center, straightaway center and right center field have been moved in.
Zduriencik signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, and traded for Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales. Ibanez will turn 41 this year, and has been washed up for a few years now. Bay is looking to revive his career. Once a 30-homer per year player, he’s been derailed by injuries the past three seasons. His last above-average year was 2009, when he hit .267/.384/.537 (Batting Avg./On-Base Pct./Slugging Pct.), slugged 36 homers and drove in 119 runs for the Red Sox. He never played more than 123 games in three seasons with the Mets, and joins the Mariners at 34 years old on a one-year contract. Bay isn’t even projected to start for Seattle, but could be a spark off the bench if he can stay healthy. It’s a low-risk move to bring him in for one year. If he has anything left in the tank at all, that’s a plus for Seattle’s anemic offense.
Kendrys Morales is set to hit third for the Mariners. He had a breakout year in 2009 for the Angels, hitting .306/.355/.559 with 42 doubles, 34 homeruns and 108 RBI. He was off to a decent start in 2010 before he broke his leg celebrating a walk-off grand slam. No, really, look it up. He missed all of 2011, and had a mediocre comeback year last season, hitting .273/.320/.467. He’s a nightmare on defense at first base, and the Mariners will use him as the DH, but he’s only 29, and could still be very productive. Morse hit .303/.360/.550 in 2011 with 31 homers, but missed 60 games with injuries last season. If healthy, Morales and Morse have the talent to be an elite 3-4 combination in the Mariner lineup, but both guys only have one quality year on their resumes.
Here’s the projected lineup for Seattle this season, according to ESPN’s David Schoenfield.
1. 2B Dustin Ackley
2. 3B Kyle Seager
3. DH Kendrys Morales
4. LF Mike Morse
5. C Jesus Montero
6. RF Michael Saunders
7. 1B Justin Smoak
8. CF Franklin Gutierrez
9. SS Brendan Ryan
Ackley is laughably unqualified to hit leadoff in a major league lineup. His on-base percentage last year was .294. Seager isn’t such a great candidate to hit second, either. If this is, in fact, Eric Wedge’s lineup, these two will likely make plenty of outs at the top of the order. However Ackley’s 24 and Seager’s 25, so both guys are still developing. Jesus Montero was a highly regarded Yankees prospect, and at 23, is still an unknown quantity in the big leagues. He’s not a great defensive catcher, and will probably have to move to first base or DH in the next few years, but scouts have loved his swing since he was first signed as a 16-year old out of Venezuela. Other than Morse and Morales, there are no proven hitters in this lineup. Smoak, Gutierrez and Ryan are all AAA-caliber offensive players. One thing that can be said for this Mariner’s club is that their defense will be strong up the middle. Montero isn’t great, but Ackley and Ryan are dependable middle infielders and Gutierrez has serious range in center field. And they’re young. Ackley, Seager, Montero, Saunders and Smoak are all 26 or younger. But none of them have shown that they belong in the pros yet.
Every fifth day, the M’s will have a legit shot to win with Felix Hernandez on the mound. He and Justin Verlander have been the American League’s best pitchers for the past few seasons. At 26, King Felix is still right in his prime. It was good to see the Mariner front office finally pay a star player, after years of drafting elite prospects, developing them, and then trading them before they got expensive or letting them walk in free agency. Hernandez is someone you cannot give up. With some semblance of a team around him, he can win a playoff series for you. The rest of the pitching staff is threadbare. Hisashi Iwakuma made 16 starts in 2012 and posted 9 wins and a 3.16 ERA, but the rest of the rotation—Joe Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan, have all had unimpressive pro careers.
The Houston Astros will likely finish last as the newest member of the AL West this year, and provide some easy wins for Seattle. But Oakland, Texas and Los Angeles are all playoff teams. I would be shocked if the Mariners finished .500 in 2013. Replacement level players at key positions, zero depth, and a top-heavy pitching staff are too much to overcome. The offense should be improved, but it also can’t get much worse than it’s been in recent seasons. Expect another 70 win year.