With the start of the season a mere five days away, the Mariners roster is shaping up. The Hot Stove and Cactus League seasons will soon be memories and we’ll be up to our necks in the daily grind of pitching, catching and hitting baseballs, reading box scores, clapping our hands or swallowing Excedrin.
When the HSL fired up in November, I stated pretty clearly what I believed the Mariners needed. First on the list was good, veteran center fielder. They could have coughed up the bucks for Jacoby Ellsbury. They could have traded for Peter Bourjos or Dexter Fowler. This team needs a talented fly-catcher, somebody who can really catch balls. The Mariners didn’t get one, and it remains to be seen if Abraham Almonte is an upgrade over the Michael Saunders/Endy Chavez/Dustin Ackley triumvirate that patrolled position 8 for the M’s in 2013. It’s not clear he can hit enough to stay at the major league level. But Zdurencik and McClendon have chosen the to heap burdens on the 24-year old.
The Mariners went in to November with Felix, Iwakuma, and a host of youngsters to fill their rotation. I suggested the M’s sign at least one of the veteran pitchers available. With a protected first round draft pick, the M’s were less exposed to risk than many other teams who took on Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, or some of the lesser availables like Chris Capuano. When Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker turned up injured, followed by Brandon Maurer, they erased one of the best number two starters in baseball, and stripped out the depth of their young stable of starters. Instead of paying for veteran certainty, the Mariners took the cheap route, signing injury reclamation projects Randy Wolf and Scott Baker.
Baker flamed out, and the M’s played patty-cake with Wolf’s contract status leaving Felix and four young ‘ens. For the first three to five starts of the season, the M’s will have a starting five that looks something like The King, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Roenis Elias and Blake Beaven. It’s a group with little experience, and if one of them goes sideways there is little to replace them inTacoma. In retrospect, not signing a healthy veteran arm seems like a mistake. Failing to agree with a utilitarian Wolf for what seems like a pittance in baseball dollars for a guy who will provide some experience and depth also seems foolish. Though Texas and Oakland have their own pitching and injury problems, they may be better able to withstand them. It’s all on the kids now, and it’s all on the bullpen if they crash and burn.
I was excited by the Robinson Cano signing because he was the best free agent available. He offers a veteran bat, a championship presence, and a high quality glove this team needs. I was happy about the Corey Hart signing, but confused by Logan Morrison, because it seems to me the M’s created a logjam at DH. Neither one of these guys are players to run out to the outfield on a regular basis. My prediction that Hart would not play much outfield has come true. Maybe that’s a good thing as the M’s take a long hard look at Stefan Romero. The young right-hander has had some big hits in Spring Training, and shows some athleticism. But it remains to be seen if he can translate that to the major leagues.
The Mariners are relying a great deal on their kids to succeed this year. For some, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders, its probably their last shot with this team. They improve or they are done. They are depending on a new crop of kids to take them to the next level-Brad Miller, Abraham Almonte, and Stefan Romero. And that leaves aside the very green rotation.
We don’t know what we have, so it’s hard to be dismissive, but it seems like a lot to expect this team to be very much better than it was last year. It seems the outfield will be more athletic and thus not as terrible defensively. The team has the potential to be better offensively, but it’s just potential. The pitching rotation looks downright scary, but that’s just based on its lack of experience. You be the judge. How much better than 75 wins is this bunch likely to be?