I need to start growing the grit beard again - USA TODAY Sports
This is the third installment of my AL West preview series. In the first two installments, I looked at the Angels and Rangers.
If the Angels offseason was marked by big money, the Rangers marked by missing out on upgrades, the Mariners' offseason was just weird. First and foremost, they did sign Felix Hernandez to a 7 year/$175M contract, ensuring that he will make approximately a year's worth of starts against the A's during that time, and will start the next 7 consecutive opening days. It's a big number, but he's King Felix, and he's as good of a bet as anyone to be able to fulfill the money guarantee there when you take into account his age and effectiveness.
Everything else they did, though, falls into a mixed bag. They are sort of the opposite of the A's, who seem to have emphasized athleticism under the Melvin-Beane regime, and with the departure of Chris Carter, have reasonable defenders at every position. Seattle, conversely, has managed to add Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and Kendrys Morales to their collection of relatively immobile baseball players. Here is the totality of their transactions:
Acquisitions and departures
(Again courtesy of MLB Depth Charts):
C Kelly Shoppach - Free Agent (NYM)
1B Kendrys Morales - Trade (LAA)
1B/OF Michael Morse - Trade (WAS)
OF Abraham Almonte - Trade (SEA)
OF Jason Bay - Free Agent (NYM)
OF Raul Ibañez - Free Agent (NYY)
LHP Joe Saunders - Free Agent (BAL)
C John Jaso - Trade (OAK)
C Miguel Olivo - Free Agent (CIN)
1B Mike Carp - Trade (BOS)
RHP Shawn Kelley - Trade (NYY)
LHP Mauricio Robles - Waivers (PHI)
LHP George Sherrill - Free Agent (KC)
LHP Jason Vargas - Trade (LAA)
Obviously, Felix anchors this rotation. He's practically the definition of an ace, and he even has his own section at Safeco Field. The rest of their rotation is not very scary. While Erasmo Ramirez had one pretty good start against the A's last year, nothing about him screams ace. After that, they have some average starters if they are lucky: Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, and Blake Beavan. Hector Noesi, Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman, and super prospect Danny Hultzen also figure to be in the mix at some point during the year.
Projections wise, it's really pretty simple. To paraphrase, there's Felix, then there's 50 feet of crap, then the other guys. Okay, it's not that bad, but Felix's projections are really good in comparison to the other members of their rotation. With an ERA-/FIP- of 79/78, and K/BB of 22.9%/6.1%... he's elite no questions asked. Iwakuma checks-in at average-ish with a 100/105, after that it's either downhill or very unpredictable. What can Jeremy Bonderman do? What about Jon Garland? Hector Noesi has been inconsistent. Their saving grace rotation-wise may be Hultzen (or even Taijuan Walker). Indeed, Hultzen has shown excellent strikeout ability in the minors, but walks have been problematic for him in AAA: 23.9 K%, but a ghastly 17.9 BB% in his 12 starts there last year. He has to figure that out before he has any chance at cracking the MLB rotation. By comparison, Walker is at 21.5% and 9.1%, respectively, and is 3 years younger (but also ended the season in AA.)
A partial season of starts for either of those guys will at least serve them well in order to ready themselves for full-time rotation spots in 2014, and by that time, they'll probably be as good as Iwakuma is now.
The bullpen is an interesting mix. Here are some of the guys vying for spots:
RHP Danny "Lord" Farquhar
RHP Kameron Loe
RHP Chance Ruffin
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
RHP Carter Capps
LHP Charles Furbush
RHP Stephen Pryor
LHP Oliver Perez
LHP Lucas Luetge
RHP Josh Kinney
Since Farquhar will somehow end up back with the A's in Sacramento, I guess we don't have to bother including him. Of the other guys, Wilhelmsen, Furbush, Capps, Perez, Luetge, Kinney, and Pryor figure to at least start the year in Seattle. Ruffin and Loe could definitely be midseason callups. Here are their projected K% and BB%:
Wilhelmsen 26.4, 9.2
Furbush 26.6, 9.2
Capps 24.0, 8.9
Kinney 18.8, 9.4
Perez 18.8, 13.7
Luetge 17.7, 10.4
Pryor 22.4, 15.5
Ruffin 15.9, 13.3
Loe N/A, N/A
Honestly, this isn't a bad group. The top 3 are just as good as anyone else in the division, provided they can keep their walk rates in check. Everyone else falls into pretty standard "Team B" bullpen arms. Again, remember that league-average is 18.5% for K's, and 8.5% for BB. This will likely be the strength of Mariners in 2013.
Here is what the Mariners ought to be rolling out on Opening Day, again courtesy of MLBDC:
3B Kyle Seager
LF Michael Morse
DH Kendrys Morales
C Jesus Montero
1B Justin Smoak
SS Brendan Ryan
With a bench of Kelly Shoppach as the backup catcher, Robert Andino to backup in the infield, Jason Bay, and Raul Ibanez.
This could get ugly. There are not many bright spots by wOBA projections here. Kendrys Morales is projected to be their best hitter, at .325 wOBA. After that, everyone hovers around .300 or so: Ackley at .305, Seager at .311, and Montero at .305, Saunders at .300, Morse at .311, Smoak at .305. Yes, they also let Mike Carp walk away for essentially nothing. Gutierrez, with all his injuries, is essentially a big question mark. And Brendan Ryan, while he will manage some annoying hits against the A's, is truly a below-average hitter.
That said, they did acquire power in Morse, Morales, Bay, and Ibanez. Safeco Field is also undergoing an outfield fence makeover, bringing them in from left field all the way to right center. Most notably, the left field power alleys will come in by 12 feet, which is not insignificant. Given that Bay, Morales, Morse, and Montero all have significant right-handed power, it's not hard to see how the Mariners might hit a few more HR this year. Whether that makes a significant difference to their run totals, however, remains to be seen.
Again, not a bright spot. At 2B, SS, and CF the Mariners are pretty strong, which is where defense makes the biggest difference. After that... let's just say with the right lineup, a beer-league softball game might break out. Morse, Morales, Montero, Smoak, and Saunders aren't winning any gold gloves anytime soon. Well, I guess they could bring in defense off the bench. Oh, right. Their bench has Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez on it. If you're a Mariners fan, you're hoping for 10 K nights from the pitcher and weak contact.
In summary, there is a clear distinction between the A's/Angels/Rangers, and the Mariners and Astros. The Mariners do not have a good offense, have a questionable rotation, above-average bullpen, and bad defense. In all likelihood, they will be scrambling for 75-77 wins. A .500 season would be a true accomplishment for this group.
One more team for next week remains, the Houston Astros. It may just be 1200 words on Chris Carter.