SEATTLE (AP) During their 13-year playoff drought, whenever the Seattle Mariners entered a season with expectations, they managed to fall short.
Whatever the season - 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010 - if there was a public belief that Seattle was playoff worthy, the Mariners underachieved.
That will make how the Mariners handle the 2015 season a study on whether they've finally created a roster capable of handling lofty praise. Seattle starts spring training on Friday when pitchers and catchers report with many baseball observers believing the Mariners are among the favorites in the American League.
''That's OK. That's my job to take care of that in spring training,'' Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. ''If we get concerned about expectations we're not focused.''
Before getting to the regular season, the Mariners have questions to answer during the spring.
Here are some things to watch as the Mariners get started:
CRUZ CONTROL: Last year all the attention was on the arrival of Robinson Cano. Now it's the addition of Nelson Cruz and whether the league leader in home runs a year ago can duplicate that effort while playing for the Mariners.
While spring training and the arid desert conditions won't be the best barometer of what kind of power Cruz can bring to Seattle, it will be an opportunity to see how he'll fit in Seattle's lineup. Cruz will likely be sandwiched in the batting order between Cano and Kyle Seager, breaking up the two best bats in the Mariners lineup from last year and likely giving both better pitches to hit. Lack of offense was the reason Seattle missed the playoffs last season.
JACKSON'S REBOUND: Center fielder Austin Jackson was a disappointment after being acquired from Detroit before the trade deadline last summer. He struggled in making the midseason transition from the Tigers to the Mariners and didn't have the impact at the top of the batting order that McClendon had hoped for.
Getting Jackson closer to what his career numbers were in Detroit will be critical for Seattle's offense. Jackson hit just .229 with six extra-base hits in 54 games after the trade last July.
SHORTSTOP SHOWDOWN: The biggest position battle during the spring will be at shortstop with Chris Taylor and Brad Miller competing for the full-time role. Taylor has the better glove. Miller has been shown to have more potential at the plate. There were rumblings in the offseason of a positional switch for Miller, but those are essentially dead with the acquisition of Rickie Weeks as a utility player who could be a backup both in the infield and outfield.
Whoever loses the competition between Taylor and Miller likely ends up in the minors.
CLOSING THE ROTATION: Barring a change of plans because of injury, the Mariners' rotation is mostly set before spring begins. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton are set. Newly acquired J.A. Happ will be the fourth arm in the rotation, giving Seattle a second left-handed option.
The debate comes with the No. 5 spot. Lefty Roenis Elias pitched well most of last season and should be ready for spring despite having his season ended early by a sore elbow. Taijuan Walker remains one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and could be a full-time rotation option in 2015. And there's righty Erasmo Ramirez, who has been an option in the past but is out of minor-league options.
PLATOON: McClendon said he doesn't view his right field situation as a potential platoon even though it sets up that way with right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano and left-handed hitting Seth Smith. Against left-handed pitching, Ruggiano hit .305 with an .846 on-base plus slugging percentage last season with the Chicago Cubs. Smith batted .270 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs against right-handed pitching for San Diego. However the playing time breaks down, the duo should be a significant upgrade over what Seattle had in that position last year.