Remodeled Mariners believe they can be contender in AL West
SEATTLE (AP) Jerry Dipoto was thrilled by the results from his first year in charge of the Seattle Mariners, when they won 86 games and were in contention for a playoff berth until the final weekend of the season.
And yet there were flaws. The Mariners didn't play the way Dipoto expected or wanted. He wanted more speed. More athleticism. More reliance on defense and less on hitting the home run.
So instead of just tinkering with a roster that was on the cusp of the playoffs, Dipoto embarked on the second phase of Seattle's makeover this offseason, based around trying to take advantage of the current window with stars like Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez not getting any younger.
''We maintained what we think are the good parts of our team and this was kind of an inevitable reality, more change, although I couldn't have told you it was going to be as broad as it's been,'' Dipoto said.
Seattle will go into the season facing mixed expectations. Some believe they are contenders in the AL West and have a real shot at ending the longest playoff drought in baseball as a possible wild card team with an outside shot at the division title. Others feel Cano, Cruz and Hernandez are about to regress and that the other moves made by the Mariners won't be able to make up for a drop in production by Seattle's stars.
Whatever the answer, Seattle will be an intriguing team because there is so much uncertainty. Has all of Dipoto's tinkering - somewhere around 40 trades since he arrived in September 2015 - created a viable winner or are the Mariners a collection of pieces that fail to solve the puzzle?
''You see all the pieces that he got and that tells you a lot about a GM, that he wants to win. As a player that's what you want,'' Cano said.
Here are other things to watch as the Mariners get started on April 3 at Houston:
NEW LOOK: The most notable changes will be in the outfield and at shortstop with the additions of Jean Segura, Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger. Segura and Haniger arrived in the trade that sent Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to Arizona, while Dyson was one of the final pieces added over the winter. Segura led the National League in hits last season after two down years in Milwaukee. Segura and Dyson will be responsible for extending the top of the batting order and being on base for Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager.
Defensively, the additions of Haniger and Dyson are significant upgrades to the speed and athleticism in the outfield and, combined with Leonys Martin in center field, should give Seattle one of the best outfield defenses in the league.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: The Mariners will still be a mostly veteran team, but there are a few youngsters being counted on in key roles. Haniger is at the top of the list as the primary option in right field. Also important to the outfield will be Guillermo Heredia or Ben Gamel, whoever wins the backup position. Dan Altavilla is being counted on to help solidify Seattle's bullpen. Altavilla throws hard, but other than 15 appearances for the Mariners late last season never pitched above Double-A.
THE KING IS HERE: Hernandez underperformed last year, and he still finished with 11 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA despite missing nearly two months with a leg injury. But Hernandez was rarely up to what's become his standard. Seattle's management challenged Hernandez to get in better shape in the offseason and working out with the same trainer used by Cruz and Cano seemed to do the job. Hernandez showed up to camp stronger and his performance for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic showed Hernandez may be able to rediscover his King-like form.
LONG BALL: While Seattle wants to be more versatile in how it scores runs, it would take another big season from Cano, Cruz and Seager. The trio combined to hit 112 home runs last season, and the Mariners were third in baseball with 223 homers.
IN ROTATION: While much of the attention will be on Hernandez, the Mariners significantly improved the back end of the rotation with the additions of lefty Drew Smyly and right-hander Yovani Gallardo. Smyly was a major offseason target for Dipoto and could end up being Seattle's best starter. Gallardo will be trying to rebound from a poor 2016 season with Baltimore.
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