The MLB regular season is less than two weeks away and after a disappointing 2015, the Seattle Mariners are looking for a rebound in 2016 with a rebuilt roster crafted by new General Manager Jerry Dipoto and manned by first time manager Scott Servais.
After taking over for Jack Zduriencik following the 2015 season, Dipoto had a clear goal in mind for the offseason. Tailor the team to the spacious Safeco Field. The Mariners teams built on power bats and strikeouts coupled with poor defense and speed have been tossed out the window.
No more Mark Trumbo or Logan Morrison. Fans will also see considerably less of Mike Zunino who will spend most of the season in Tacoma to work on his swing and batting approach. Enter Leonys Martin and Norichika Aoki, both of whom provide excellent defense in the outfield and speed on the base paths. Enter Chris Iannetta who is a veteran presence behind the backstop and is known for a high on base percentage (.351 for his career).
The Mariners have already seen improvements in Spring Training. They are ranked 3rd in stolen bases and 8th in batting average. While you cannot put a lot of stock into spring training numbers, it is a welcome sight to see this team delivering on the plan Dipoto set forth, that being to make this team more athletic and less one dimensional.
The rotation was also beefed up with the additions of Wade Miley and Nathan Karns along with the return of Hisashi Iwakuma. It remains to be seen whether James Paxton or Karns will grab the fifth starter spot but having depth waiting in Triple-A if someone goes down with an injury is always a good thing.
One area of need in the offseason was the bullpen. The Mariners were 25th in bullpen ERA in 2015 after leading the league the previous year. Dipoto added the consistent reliever Joaquin Benoit but traded away arguably the M’s best bullpen arm last year in Carson Smith as well as Tom Wilhelmson. The rest of the reworked bullpen includes numerous bounceback candidates including former Marlins closer Steve Cishek, Ryan Cook, Evan Scribner and Justin De Fratus.
The patch job in the bullpen is already showing cracks with three of Dipoto’s bounceback signings doubtful to make the opening day roster. Cook and Scribner are dealing with injuries and De Fratus has had a rocky spring with reduced velocity. Combine this with the nagging injury to Charlie Furbush which will keep him from being available on Opening Day, and arm soreness felt by the 39 year old Benoit and you have massive question marks for your bullpen.
Despite a shaky bullpen, the rest of this Mariners squad is well crafted and should have a real chance to get into the postseason this year, either as a division winner or a wild card team.
Houston is the team to beat with their copious amounts of young stars and are the clear favorites to win the AL West. They have the reigning Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel and one of the best second baseman in baseball in Jose Altuve. The Astros will also look forward to seeing a full year of reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa as well as George Springer. Besides first base, no position appears to be an area of weakness. The team also acquired Doug Fister to beef up the rotation and Ken Giles to improve a bullpen that blew the ALDS against the Kansas City Royals last season. The Astros should be very competitive and will likely compete for the division title and beyond.
The Texas Rangers are looking to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and will have a full season of Cole Hamels as well as Yu Darvish. The Rangers have a sturdy rotation and can expect good years from Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo among others. However, Adrian Beltre is getting older and dealt with injuries last year and it is unsure as to how converted shortstop Ian Desmond will do in left field. The Rangers still have a good shot to defend their division title.
The Los Angeles Angels are a big unknown this year. While they have the best player on the planet in Mike Trout, they also have question marks in their rotation by the names of Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson. In order to remain below the Luxury Tax and avoid paying a fee, the Angels opted not to sign one of the big outfielders on the market and are left with a Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry platoon in left field. In the bullpen, beyond Huston Street and Joe Smith, many of the arms struggled in 2015. While the Angels could compete for a Wild Card spot, it may be an uphill battle.
The Oakland Athletics were the worst team in the American League last year and decided to retool rather than rebuild this offseason. The only big moves made were the acquisition of Khris Davis (not Chris Davis) from the Brewers to play left field and the signing of reliever Ryan Madson. Davis provides some pop with a lot of strikeouts and Madson had a revival last year with the Kansas City Royals after sitting out the previous four years due to injuries. While these small moves should make the team marginally better, it shouldn’t make for much of a difference from the last place finish in 2015.
The AL West looks to be a three team race, possibly four depending on the Angels. If the Mariners can stay healthy this year and play to their ballpark, they should have a good chance to end their postseason drought in 2016.