It looked like the Seattle Mariners were going to go big. They made a giant splash this offseason by signing top free agent Robinson Cano to a $240 million, 10-year deal. They also brought in Logan Morrison via a trade with the Marlins and signed slugger Corey Hart, who missed all of last season recovering from surgery on his knees, as complementary pieces. Then: Nothing. Cano aside, that’s not exactly a Murderer’s Row.
With that in mind, the Mariners will need some of their young position players to finally turn that potential into results. Now that Cano is firmly implanted at second base, infielders Brad Miller and Nick Franklin are going to have to duke it out on the field for shortstop. Dustin Ackley, the number-two pick in the 2009 MLB draft, is also going to have to live up to his prospect hype to stay in the lineup.
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The Mariners did make one last significant signing that should take care of a trouble spot from last season. They brought in Fernando Rodney, a bona fide closer, to end games. With Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge and a host of young arms in the mix for set-up and LOOGY duties, this should turn the Ms’ bullpen into an area of strength.
By signing Cano, one of the best hitters in the game, the Mariners have an actual threat in their lineup. Cano, who owns a .309 career average, had been a workhorse for the Yankees, averaging 160 games a year. It will be interesting to watch how the 31-year-old second baseman fares at Safeco. Yankee Stadium with its enticing short porch was made for his sweet swing.
The Mariners’ young players should benefit from the veteran leadership of a guy who is a five-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and most importantly, a World Series champion. Cano has already taken Justin Smoak under his wing. He introduced the first baseman to a hitting drill designed to help batters generate more power from the lower half of the body.
Cano will need some protection in the lineup otherwise he’s not going to get much to hit. If healthy, both Hart and Morrison are capable of doing some damage. However, the Mariners have a lefty-heavy lineup and they’re going to need more than Willie Bloomquist coming off their bench to face southpaws.
I do think this is the year that a few of the young players will start to shine, most notably top catching prospect Mike Zunino and the speedy Brad Miller. If the Mariners can get some consistency from their youngsters at the plate and good health from their new additions, their lineup may actually be fun to watch.
The Mariners did not make any splashy moves for a starting pitcher in the offseason and this could come back to haunt them. The only certainty right now for the rotation is their ace Felix Hernandez. Hisashi Iwakuma, the Ms’ talented number-two starter, is going to miss four to six weeks with a strained tendon in his middle finger. It remains to be seen if this injury will become a lingering problem throughout the year. Let’s hope not because the rest of the rotation will be filled out with young, unproven arms and reclamation-project veterans.
Their top-pitching prospect, 21-year-old Taijuan Walker, was shut down for about a week because of shoulder inflammation. While it could be nothing, ongoing shoulder problems are always a cause for concern, especially with young pitchers. At best, this has set Walker back a few weeks delaying his start to the season. As for the rest of the youngsters, lefty James Paxton and righties Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer are all battling for a spot in the rotation, but Paxton looks to be the favorite.
Also in camp are veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf, both of whom are coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2012. The Mariners seem to be leaning towards Baker to round out the back of the rotation, but they may end up with the pair, at least for a little while if injuries continue to be a problem.
Opening day lineup
1. Brad Miller SS
2. Michael Saunders CF
3. Robinson Cano 2B
4. Corey Hart RF
5. Kyle Seager 3B
6. Justin Smoak 1B
7. Logan Morrison DH
8. Mike Zunino C
9. Dustin Ackley LF
Most of the Mariners’ Major League-ready position players were called up last season. Down on the farm, D.J. Peterson, who will most likely begin the season in low-A ball after injury cut his 2013 season short, is currently their number-one position prospect. The Ms, however, continue to be pitching-rich thanks to such arms as James Paxton, Logan Bawcom, Victor Sanchez and Tyler Pike, a couple of whom may end up seeing playing time in the big leagues later this season.
Robinson Cano is a game changer for the Mariners, but it remains to be seen just how much so. There are a lot of ifs in both the lineup and rotation. Fortunately for the Mariners, the bar has been set so low that just getting to .500 will seem like an accomplishment.
A bold move like the Cano signing befits a bold prediction and I wish I could give you one. Instead, here’s what I see: the Ms will make incremental strides this year, win a bit more than they lose and finish above an underperforming Anaheim to take the third spot in the American League West.