The biggest news I have to report right now is Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence due to medical reasons. The immediate takes are that LeBron has some thing to do with this, however I’m going to genuinely believe Lue really does have a medical condition he needs to deal with at this point. We don’t need to deal with another Gary Kubiak situation where he suffers a mini stroke on the sideline so it’s better that he rest up. But add this on to the soap opera that is any team that Lebron is on. So with that, let’s get into the latest edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, featuring the Seattle Mariners.
Record: 78-84, 23 games behind Houston Astros, 7 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot
Notable Offseason Additions: CF Dee Gordon, 1B Ryon Healy, RF Ichiro Suzuki, RP Juan Nicasio, RP Mike Morin, UTIL Andrew Romine
Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Yonder Alonso, OF Jarrod Dyson, 3B Danny Valencia, RP Shae Simmons, RP Ernesto Frieri, SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Drew Smyly, RP Evan Marshall, C Carlos Ruiz, 2B Gordon Beckham
Best Offensive Player: 2B Robinson Cano
Best Pitcher: James Paxton
C-Mike Zunino, Mike Majarma
1B-Dan Vogelbach, Ryon Healy
3B-Kyle Seager, Andrew Romine
SS-Jean Segura, Taylor Motter
LF-Ben Gamel, Ichiro Suzuki
RF-Mitch Haniger, Nelson Cruz (DH), Guillermo Heredia
SP-James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales
Bullpen-Edwin Diaz (CP), Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, David Phelps, Mark Rzepczyinski, Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, Mike Morin
Manager-Scott Servais (3rd season with Mariners)
Hitting Coach-Edgar Martinez
Pitching Coach-Mel Stottlemyre
1st Base Coach-Chris Prieto
3rd Base Coach-Scott Brosius
Bench Coach-Manny Acta
The Mariners always seem to be on the brink of being really good but never quite reach those heights. I couldn’t tell you why that is, perhaps the 2001 team that won 116 games then got bounced in the ALCS cursed them, considering they haven’t made the postseason since that season. But this year I feel that they have the chance to be really good provided they can stay relatively healthy (no team can ever stay perfectly healthy). Here’s a look out how I’m projecting them to line up in 2018.
1. Dee Gordon-CF
2. Jean Segura-SS
3. Robinson Cano-2B
4. Nelson Cruz-DH
5. Kyle Seager-3B
6. Mitch Haniger-RF
7. Ben Gamel-LF
8. Mike Zunino-C
9. Dan Vogelbach/Ryon Healy-1B
That’s a strong lineup right there, especially the top half. Dee Gordon is arguably the fastest player in baseball and he’ll be moving from his usual second base to the outfield. I’m not sure how well that’s going to work out, considering he’s been a middle infielder his whole career, but from the small sample size I’ve seen he looks decent. Robinson Cano continues to make me look dumb for suggesting to a baseball panel that included ESPN’s Buster Olney, some Red Sox scouts, and Brewers reliever Oliver Drake that Cano’s tenure in Seattle would be a disaster. For context, my high school hosts a Hot Stove forum every year where noted alumni such as Olney and Drake come to talk baseball. I attended all four years I was at the school and after Cano signed his huge deal with the Mariners, I asked them if they thought that the signing would have a similar effect on Cano that it had on Adrian Beltre several years prior, where a great player’s career was nearly crushed by the Safeco Field confines. They felt that he would be fine, though a power decline could be in order since he’d be leaving Yankee Stadium, whose dimensions are “a joke,” as one scout put it. Last season Cano hit .280 with 23 home runs and 97 RBI and was All Star Game MVP after hitting a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the 10th inning to win the game for the AL. The switch to Safeco seems to not be affecting Cano the way I expected. Surrounding Cano in that lineup is Nelson Cruz and Corey’s Brother, Kyle Seager. Cruz continues to mash, as he hit .288 last season with 39 home runs and 119 RBI. Seager had a down year in terms of average, as he only hit .249, however he did hit 27 home runs and drove in 88 RBI while playing a decent third base and being worth 3.5 WAR. But the big breakout hitter for the Mariners was catcher Mike Zunino last season. Zunino was a former top 5 pick in the MLB Draft who was absolutely abysmal as a hitter to start his career, as he consistently struggled to get over the Mendoza Line. He was always a quality defender, but his bat was holding him back. That changed last season, as he hit .251 with 25 home runs and 64 RBI while being the second most valuable hitter on the team after Cruz with a 3.6 WAR. If Zunino can continue that trajectory, the Mariners will have an absolutely DEADLY lineup.
Pitching is kind of weird for the Mariners right now. For so long, Felix Hernandez was the be-all-end-all for that staff, however he’s been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. Battling injuries in 2017, Hernandez went just 6-5 in 16 starts with a 4.36 ERA and let up 1.77 HR/9. In fact, since finishing as runner-up for AL Cy Young in 2014 with a 2.14 ERA, his ERA has gone up in every season. It’s hard to believe he’s only 31 years old because it feels like he’s been in the Majors forever (he debuted as a 20 year-old) and now it appears that he’s in the twilight of his career. Luckily for the Mariners, though, King Felix’s decline isn’t a sign of doomsday for the rotation. James Paxton appears ready to take over the mantle as team ace, as he had a very strong 2017 (when healthy). In 24 starts, Paxton went 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings while keeping a microscopic HR/9 rate of 0.60, which would’ve been the best number in baseball had he pitched enough innings to qualify. Hernandez’s streak of 9 straight Opening Day starts could be in danger with the rise of Paxton. After those two guys, Mike Leake is an accomplished sinkerballer who had a decent 2017 between the Cardinals and Mariners, posting a 3.92 ERA overall but a 2.53 ERA in 5 starts with the Mariners. Safeco Field plays well to his strengths so I wonder if the 30 year-old could be in for a big season.
The Mariners bullpen features one of the most electrifying relievers in the game in Edwin Diaz. Diaz’s fastball can touch 98 MPH and his breaking ball practically falls off the table. I think he’s the most talented reliever I’ve seen since Carlos Marmol (who I believe is the most talented pitcher of this past generation). However, like Marmol, Diaz has had control issues. Marmol threw gas with the Cubs and had a wicked breaking ball that was pretty much impossible to hit. As a result, he got a ton of strikeouts but also walked a ton of batters because it appeared he had no idea where any of his pitches were headed. Diaz is kind of in the same boat. He had a 3.27 ERA last season and struck out over 12 batters per 9 but also walked over 4 per 9. If he can somehow find a way to master his pitches, we could be looking at another Craig Kimbrel rather than Carlos Marmol, who flamed out with the Cubs. After Diaz, there really isn’t much of note in the Mariners’ ‘pen. Nick Vincent has a nice slider while Juan Nicasio was pretty reliable for the Pirates for a while. The success of this ‘pen is going to come down to Diaz, though. If he can realize his potential, the 9th inning will be on lockdown for this club.
Overall, I think the Mariners have a talented squad. I really do believe they can challenge for a Wild Card spot. There’s no shot at the division crown for them because, let’s face it, nobody in that division is unseating the Astros. It’ll be a really tight race between them and the Anaheim Angels, however if you’ve been keeping track of my projected records and finishes for each team, you’ll notice that I have the Angels winning that race. I’ve got the Mariners narrowly missing a postseason berth once again.
Projected Record: 85-77, 3rd in AL West
That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the St. Louis Cardinals, who made a rare big splash in the offseason when they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. Let me know what you think of the Mariners’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.