As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers. So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?
Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League. They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average. They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers. All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time. So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work. Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date. But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too. It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.
Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.
This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense. Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap! It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course. The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:
- Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
- Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
- Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
- Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)
Let’s break this down. Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger. Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity. Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season. By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits. His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air. The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks). And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack. He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed. This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.
Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee. Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics. Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control. Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties. Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year. If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.
The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte. Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring. He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura. I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day. Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March. I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April. But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners. So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.
Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field. Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense. This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up. Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game. Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder. When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single. This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.
So, yeah, the hitting looks good! As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories. Leaving us with the ultimate question: will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?