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American League Two-a-Days: Seattle Mariners

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Seattle Mariners

2013 record: 71-91
2013 runs scored: 624
2013 runs against: 754
2013 pythag. record: 67-95

The Mariners underachieved relative expectations in 2013, and were labeled a dysfunctional organization in the process.  They did little to change that label this offseason, but did the next best thing, which is that they spent a crap ton of money on veteran players.  Quietly, the Mariners have a lot of talent in camp, but after years of underachieving, it’s on them to convince the world that this year will be different.

Who is having a good spring?

The Mariners finished second in the Cactus League last year, and are in first place on the morning of March 9th with a 7-3 record.  Standouts include OF Dustin Ackley, OF Michael Saunders, C Mike Zunino, 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Robinson Cano, 1B Jesus Montero, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, and LHP James Paxton.  Or basically, everyone the Mariners will rely on in 2014.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Mariners

This is the team that paid the $240 million to sign Robinson Cano.  But beyond that…

The team’s young pitching has arrived at the majors, and early returns last September were excellent.  The Mariners’ rotation could be excellent this year.  Very quietly last season, the Mariners lineup saw a power surge.  Although this lineup is still going to struggle to get on base consistently, it’s more than just Robinson Cano and the eight scrubs.  Smoak had a break out year last year, and Ackley and Saunders are at the ages where they’ll produce if they are capable.  Brad Miller is one of the game’s top young shortstops.  3B Kyle Seager is one of the best young players in the game at any position.  There’s not a lot of risk for inexperience-related struggles in the lineup: guys who don’t produce are going to lose playing time to cheaply acquired veterans.

The front of the rotation with Felix Hernandez and Hisachi Iwakuma is as good as any in baseball, including Detroit’s, and the prospects like Ramirez, Paxton, and Taijuan Walker at the back end are legit and can get major league hitters out today.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Mariners

For a team dominating spring training on March 9th, the Mariners are a banged up bunch.  Walker and Iwakuma are inactive right now with (relatively minor) injuries.  Starting OF Franklin Gutierrez is going to miss the entire 2014 season as will fireballing reliever Stephen Pryor.  Defensively, the Mariners better resemble the Washington Generals than the Harlem Globetrotters.  A starting projected outfield of CF Abraham Almonte, LF Ackley, and RF Saunders could look good defensively, but there is a good shot Almonte will begin in the minors in deference to Logan Morrison (Almonte is not established as a ML hitter and is struggling this spring).

The Mariners have a questionable roster construction that includes a lot of different 1B types.  They have Smoak, Morrison, Corey Hart, and Montero, all of whom either can’t play anywhere but first base, or won’t do it well.  They are only allowed one DH.  Meanwhile, reserve infielder and last year’s 2B Nick Franklin is blocked by Cano, and could be ticketed for AAA Tacoma to start the season.  The bench is going to be tough to construct, and won’t add any value to the lineup.  Robinson Cano thinks the team needs another bat or two in the lineup.

This is the team that paid $240 million for Robinson Cano.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Mariners is 35.8, 11th in the American League.  Their 19.2 Batters WAR projection is 12th in the AL. Their 16.6 Pitchers WAR projection is 5th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Mariners to win 84 games, a 13 win improvement over last season.  Felix Hernandez is the Mariner with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 5.7.  Robinson Cano is the position player with the best average projection at 4.7 WAR.

The Mariners vs the rest of the AL West

The AL West is a below average division, and the weakest of the AL divisions in 2014.  This despite having four above average teams and an improved Astros team.  This is the case because no teams in the AL West are a lock to win 90 games.  According to Cool Standings, the division winner is projected to win 86 games.  It’s a true four team race in 2014.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Seattle Mariners

The Mariners walk a very thin line between a total clown show and a legitimate playoff contender.  Based purely on talent as well as performance in the early spring, this Mariners roster should be pretty good and has the potential to improve considerably at the deadline.  However, if you underachieve four consecutive years like Seattle has, you don’t earn any benefit of the doubt.  Superficially, this is the best team Seattle has produced in years, but their organizational issues are problematic at the most fundamental level.  The LiveBall official prediction on the Mariners is optimistic: 87-75, but understands that the inverse of such a record is both very possible, and something the organization would try to spin as an improvement.

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