The 2013 Seattle Mariners are built very differently from the dominant Mariner teams in the early 2000’s, which consistently boasted strong pitching and top-tier defense. That team composition was well suited to the pitching friendly Safeco Field, but this year the fences will be brought in to encourage more hitting and home runs.
The current iteration of the Mariners has been built to do a bit more slugging, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the team’s league worst performance in a number of offensive categories including, batting average, slugging and on base percentage, and their 77-85 record last year.
The Mariners went out and added bats, mostly power bats, in the offseason. But will this boost the team’s chances to compete against the big dogs in the division? Although a slight bump in the offensive production can’t hurt, the defense, especially the outfield defense, may suffer terribly. And Felix Hernandez , who just signed a seven year, $175 million deal to anchor the rotation, can’t be relied upon to carry the team into the playoffs.
The Mariners added breakout Washington National’s outfielder Michael Morse through a trade and added Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay, and former Mariner Raul Ibanez through free agency. Morales will most likely be slotted in at DH and Bay will be used as a platoon outfielder. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and right fielder Michael Saunders will undoubtedly be the keys to the Mariners outfield defense, but given Gutierrez’s injury history, there will probably be a huge burden placed on Mariner outfielder reserves. It’s hard to imagine a Morse-Bay-Ibanez outfield, but if the injury bug hits, this is what the Mariners may have to go with and will put a lot of stress on the pitching staff that has a large number of flyball pitchers.
The Mariners rotation is anchored by “King” Felix Hernandez, but is otherwise shaky. However, the pitching staff does have some potential. The most exciting development in spring training was the emergence of minor league prospect Brandon Mauer, who will pass up AAA and be slated in as the fourth starter. Mauer has a mid-90’s fastball and a few good secondary pitches. He has been plagued by injuries, which initially stunted his development, but Mauer looked absolutely dominant in the spring, putting up a 0.90 ERA in 20 IP.
If Felix Hernandez stays healthy all year, Mauer continues to dominate and other young pitchers like Blake Beavan, who put up a 11-11 record and had a 4.43 ERA in his second season, continue to develop, the rotation could be a strength.
Although the Mariners have a lot of holes, this team looks very much like where the division rival Oakland Athletics appeared to be last year. They were starting to pull things together at the end of 2012 and gave their division rivals all kinds of problems at the end of the year. A second or third place finish is not likely in a division with three dominant teams at the top, but if any one of the Rangers, Angels or Oakland A’s struggle, knocking one of them off is not out of the question.