2018 finish: 89-73, Third in AL West
SI's 2019 Prediction: 71-91, Fourth in AL West
Key additions: OF Domingo Santana, 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/OF Jay Bruce, SP Yusei Kikuchi
Key departures: 2B Robinson Canó, RHP Edwin Diaz, DH Nelson Cruz
CF Mallex Smith
RF Mitch Haniger
1B Jay Bruce
DH Edwin Encarnacion
LF Domingo Santana
C Omar Narvaez
3B Ryon Healy
SS Tim Beckham
2B Dee Gordon
C David Freitas
1B Dan Vogelbach
INF/OF Dylan Moore
LHP Marco Gonzales
LHP Yusei Kikuchi
RHP Mike Leake
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Wade LeBlanc
RHP Hunter Strickland (closer)
RHP Matt Festa
RHP Cory Gearrin
LHP Zac Rosscup
RHP Nick Rumbelow
LHP Roenis Elias
RHP Brandon Brennan
Movin On Up! It’s probably Mitch Haniger, though “nobody” is also acceptable. General manager Jerry Dipoto totally overhauled the roster—trading second baseman Robinson Cano and dominant closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets while letting slugger Nelson Cruz leave in free agency to join the Twins. Haniger has enjoyed a gradual rise to one of baseball’s most impressive outfielders over the last two seasons: his scorching hot start to 2017 was interrupted first by an oblique strain and then a hit-by-pitch to the face. But over 157 games last year, Haniger slashed an impressive .285/.366/.493 with a 139 OPS+—securing his status as the Mariners’ most potent offensive weapon. After him, however, it’s a thin lineup without much youth.
Sell! As painful as it is to admit, the end is nigh for Felix Hernandez. Already removed from his spot as opening day starter, Hernandez is labored through a brutal 2018 season that ended with a 5.55 ERA over 28 starts. It hasn’t gotten any better this spring, either; the man they once called King Felix surrendered 13 earned runs in 7 ½ total innings over three starts. It’s an agonizing conclusion to the former Cy Young winner who twice led the AL in ERA and was among the most feared starters in baseball. With his velocity gone and an inability to command his breaking pitches, Hernandez will be lucky to have a rotation spot by year’s end.
Appreciate This Man! It’s a pretty difficult lineup to like, but Mallex Smith transformed from slap-hitting rabbit into a highly productive player as a member of the Rays in 2018. Acquired in a five-person trade that sent catcher Mike Zunino to Tampa, Smith joins Dee Gordon in a Mariners’ lineup that, while lacking in power, will be an absolute terror on the basepaths.
A Modest Proposal from Joe Sheehan: The Mariners have officially taken a step back, shipping off stars Robinson Cano, James Paxton, and Edwin Diaz in an effort to build a team that can break the majors’ longest streak of no postseason play. Individual storylines, rather than team ones, will carry the day, and there’s no bigger story in Seattle than Felix Hernandez. The King, once seemingly on a Hall of Fame track, found himself banished to the bullpen last summer in the middle of a playoff race. Hernandez’s ERA has risen in four straight seasons, to a career high 5.95 in 2018. His stuff is gone; of 75 MLB pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year, just four had a slower average fastball (89.3 mph) than did Hernandez. With a run to the playoffs highly unlikely, the Mariners can give Hernandez all the starts he needs to adjust to his new reality.
MLB.TV rating: 3.8
Seattle won’t be one of the worst teams in baseball by any measure, but it’s genuinely difficult to find anything likable or notable about the team. Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce are aging power hitters who don’t seem like ideal hitters in the spacious Safeco Field. Domingo Santana is an intriguing acquisition from Milwaukee who collapsed in 2018 after a 30-homer campaign the year before. Ryon Healy is a boom-or-bust power hitter who hit 24 homers last season but still ended the season with a mere 91 OPS+. The pitching staff has some true pitcher’s pitchers between the crafty Marco Gonzales and the seemingly immortal Mike Leake. If you’re asking why you should watch this team, though? It’s awfully difficult to justify spending any evenings investing in this middling group of decent players that will likely end the year with around 75 wins.
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
How many trades is Jerry Dipoto going to make? They’ve got something like 34 fresh faces on that roster! I guess you could also say when does it end for Felix Hernandez? He’s not King Felix anymore. It happens to everybody. The velocity has dropped significantly and that hurts his changeup, which was his best pitch. He’s throwing a ton of cutters and sliders even though they want him to throw more curves. The problem is that if you lose arm strength it’s harder to spin the curve. If he’s getting his tits lit up, then he’s going to go what he thinks is his best stuff, even if the team thinks differently.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Edwin Encarnacion at this point. They were planning on flipping him and they couldn’t get it done. They want Dan Vogelbach to make the club even if he’s a liability over at first base because Dipoto likes the way he controls the strike zone. That means Encarnacion will have to play some first. He hasn’t been too bad out there, which is good because Vogelbach is absolutely terrible out there. He has one-step range to his left, one step to his right and he’s goofy and kind of fat. That means Encarnacion will have to play there even if Jay Bruce and Ryon Healey might be better defensive options.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Mitch Haniger. He’s a complete player. When they got him from Arizona, the question was what player would he be. He didn’t hit a lot of homers at that time and he wasn’t really a speed guy. Now, he hits for power and is an above-average defender. He’s probably their best all-around player.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
I really like Justin Dunn. They want to make him into a reliever, but he was a starter and has a starter disposition. He might get called to the pen because he throws up to 96 with a good slider. I also really like Shed Long. He’s made quite an impression with his energy and he kind of reminds me of Matt Lawton with those long legs and that short torso. His power will surprise you.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
J.P. Crawford. The swing is problematic and he doesn’t make the right adjustments. It’s a one-way swing and it’s like watching somebody swing underwater. He doesn’t make adjustments with two strikes. He’s ok on defense, but he’s just ok. He just doesn’t play with a lot of urgency out there. I was expecting a player who looked like Jimmy Rollins and had that electricity. He’s not even gonna start opening day. Heck, Tim Beckham is going to beat him out for the job.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Dee Gordon. He makes everybody around him better. I love Gordon. He’s out there hanging with kids with no cameras around. He doesn’t do things for the notoriety. He was a shortstop in Los Angeles who was eventually moved to second. Then Seattle they threw him in centerfield, a challenge he took without complaining. He’s a total professional. My son was in the minors for a couple years and he said Dee treated him like a 10-year veteran.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Kyle Seager. He got $100 million a few years ago and hasn’t done much since. He lost about 15 to 20 pounds and looks great and he can be one of the better hitters in the game. You just hope he steps his game up this year because he was not good last year.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Gerson Bautista. He can touch 100 with a slider that jumps out of his hands. I imagine he’ll be the sixth or seventh guy for them this year, but he should make his way to the closer’s role eventually. When you got power stuff like his, it plays at the end of the game.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Haniger. He’s a true professional and all-around player. His off-field preparation is unparalleled. He’s just a good player, especially for his size. Maybe the most underrated part of his game is how well he runs the bases.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Encarnacion. He’s still got that raw power. Anytime he gets a mistake he’ll hit it out the yard and he still loves going up there. Healy has some big-time power too but it’s more brute strength.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Yusei Kikuchi and Haniger. Kikuchi has a chance to arrive right now and impact the top of the rotation on any club. Haniger has righthanded power and is a complete player who can play all three outfield positions. Kikuchi’s curve is a true out pitch, it drops from the shoulders to the ankles. He can change speeds with it and his delivery is really hard to pick up.
Name the guy (or guys) on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.
Hunter Strickland. He’s an idiot. He almost destroyed his career in San Francisco when he punched a wall and broke his hand. He starts fights. He’s the one guy that I would happily say this about on any of these teams. He reminds me of Jonathan Papelbon, except he’s not as good. When you can throw hard and get guys out, which he’s done enough, teams will give you a chance especially in this era of bullpen management.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Ryon Healy. He was brought over in a trade from Oakland and had a golden opportunity to take the job at first. Now he needs to fight off Encarnacion and Bruce because Vogelbach is the DH. He didn’t hit for much average last year and he’s an all-or-nothing type guy who needs his strikeouts. Other teams have the book on him.
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
At-bat it’s Haniger. He can do damage either way by big hit or by homer. On the mound it’s Marco Gonzales. He’s a true trickster. He doesn’t throw hard, but he doesn’t make any mistakes. I don’t see many solid pitchers anymore. All I see are throwers. It’s a radar gun era, and a guy like Gonzalez just isn’t appreciated. Neither is Mike Leake.
Who don’t you want in that situation?
David Freitas doesn’t have any good offensive numbers. He’ll get a chance to catch a lot this year because the guy they brought in from Chicago, Omar Narvaez, just isn’t that good. And I don’t ever want Strickland on the mound.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
It’s Shed Long. He’s been having a huge impact this spring. They need that on this club because they’re just trying to change the culture. Shed brings some energy and excitement that was lacking with the exception of Gordon.
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
That’s a great question, isn’t it? With the management group they have? Yes. Scott Servais understands what Dipoto wants and we know how much Jerry is in charge over there. This is Jerry’s guy. … I guess I’ll say yes but I don’t really know. It’s Jerry’s show more than Scott’s.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
The best they can do this year is third place. They need to build some chemistry over there with all the changes. Houston and Oakland are just better. The Angels have made some changes and they should be better. They’ll be better than Texas, but I don’t see them being any better than third for the next three years.
Emptying the notebook:
This is going to be a sad year in Seattle because it’s the end of Felix Hernandez. It’s the swan song. Jerry doesn’t care who you are, usually, but they’ll want Felix to go out with class. The problem is trying to create a soft landing because he doesn’t want to go to the bullpen and if he goes to the bullpen he’ll be a long man … It’s a bland team. This is a team with no identity. You’d like to know the direction they’re going in. I can’t think the fans were happy seeing Diaz, Jean Segura and Nelson Cruz go … Robinson Cano was a cancer and it’s good that he’s gone. He was too cool for anybody and it really rubbed off on some players.