The Cactus League season is more than half over. The Mariners sit at 13-5 a just behind Cleveland for the season lead. I’d like to get excited, but the facts are that when the boys from Sea-town have a great spring, they have a horrendous season. Drawing any conclusions from spring training records is for suckers.
Instead, it’s best to highlight individual performances to see if they matter
The Abe Almonte Experiment
Manager Lloyd McClendon has given rookie Abraham Almonte every opportunity to win the centerfield job. Hoping to improve the centerfield defense with a legit fly catcher, McClendon has run him out as a starter almost every day. Almonte is getting the look see, and it seems he has the range to make the plays. What he hasn’t shown is a consistent bat. His .121/.189/.242 slash for spring is not impressive.
Even so, McClendon must be seeing something he likes as his young competition in the form of Xavier Avery and James Jones were both sent to minor league camp. If Almonte continues to struggle at the Cactus League dish, will McClendon give the nod to incumbent CF Michael Saunders? That remains to be seen, and he ain’t sayin’.
Is Corey Hart the second coming of Franklin Gutierrez?
Corey Hart is penciled into right field for the Mariners. He is also coming off micro fracture surgery on both knees. He is one of the few right-handed bats on this team. It’s unclear how healthy he will be over the long season, how many games he can play in the outfield, or whether his outfield defense will be of sufficient quality to keep him there.
The Mariners seem to be counting on Hart to play right field. McClendon stated he’s counting on him to play 145 games in right. I would suggest that if Hart could play 125ish games in right, it could be a key to improving the Mariner lineup. But if Hart has to play tons of time at DH or 1B due to his physical condition, it makes much less sense to add Kendrys Morales to the team. Adding the switch-hitting Morales to the very left-handed team would be smart if there weren’t Logan Morrison, Justin Smoak, and Hart logjam competing for at bats at DH and first base.
It was not encouraging that Hart missed four games this week with back and forearm injuries when the M’s are already taking it slow with him. The M’s counted on Franklin Gutierrez last year, and losing him to chronic injury was an important component to their failure on the field. Hart’s health has the same importance.
The messy rotation picture remains messy. It’s Felix Hernandez and four guys named Moe. It just isn’t clear how good or bad these guys will be. With Iwakuma and Walker likely to miss most or all of April, and with so many games against division foes, the M’s could be looking up in the standings from a many floors down. How well the James Paxton, Scott Baker, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beaven, Hector Noesi, Randy Wolf crowd can perform will be important. Given yesterday’s massive implosion by the bullpen, the rotation has never seemed more important, less certain, and more tenuous. With another pitching injury, a minor one to Brandon Maurer that will keep him from being available in April, it’s a reminder that constructing a pitching staff is one part talent, one part health and one part luck. The M’s will wish they signed one of the free agents available by the end of May. You read it hear first.
The McClendon Factor
Manager Lloyd McClendon isn’t likely to win many games for the Mariners in 2014. But his transparency, his willingness to say what’s on his mind is a breath of fresh air. Though he’s defended his guys, he’s also not afraid to identify problems. That’s a big change from past procession of M’s managers that pretty much defended Mariners management, and tried to make nice with the players. McClendon doesn’t seem like the kind of person to wait until he’s a month out the door as Mariners manager to publicly blow up his bosses if they are simply the same ol’, same ol’. Reports are there was no money to spend on Ervin Santana or Kendrys Morales despite big bucks from the national media contract and the Root Sports acquisition. You be the judge.
Pass the Tums Please
It’s getting difficult to see how this team can contend this year. The Cano signing was the one guaranteed improvement on this team. The outfield defense could be better than 2013. The offensive performance of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino might improve. The rotation quality is so untried, so coming off serious injury as to simply be Felix and a wing and a prayer. This team is not going to contend in 2014. It is getting more difficult to see it as a .500 team.