Seattle Mariners (78-84)
Additions: Dee Gordon, Juan Nicasio, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryon Healy
Subtractions: Yonder Alonso, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Valencia
The Mariners enter the 2018 season with a similar atmosphere that has surrounded them for the past five years. On paper, it seems like they have the offense to keep them in the playoff hunt, but we’re all just waiting for injuries to the pitching staff to thwart a late season surge and keep the M’s in the depths of the longest playoff drought in sports, which has stretched back to 2001, when the team won a record 116 regular season games.
In an effort to end the painful hiatus from October baseball, the Mariners have brought back one of the cornerstones of their last postseason run, signing free agent and former Seattle fan-favorite Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year deal. Ichiro will likely be the team’s starting left fielder on Opening Day, as Ben Gamel is expected to miss another month with an oblique strain.
With Ichiro, the Mariners fill an immediate and temporary need to round out their outfield, Still, the pitching staff, decimated by injuries last season, could use some work. Seattle starting ranked ninth in baseball in team ERA in 2016, but plunged to 18th in 2017. Felix Hernandez has already taken a line drive off of his pitching arm and should be okay for Opening Day, but the rotation depth is something that has to be addressed.
Erasmo Ramirez, currently the team’s projected third starter, has a strained lat muscle and seems unlikely for Opening Day. Seattle ace James Paxton is healthy and looking to build off of a solid 2017 campaign, but he and veteran Mike Leake appear to be the only sure things for the Mariners’ rotation right now, at least until Hernandez and Ramirez are given clean bills of health.
The early injury bug has actually spread beyond the pitcher’s mound and over to the infield, where first baseman Dan Vogelbach took a ball off the foot and wound up in a walking boot, while newly acquired Ryon Healy will be cutting it close with his recovery from hand surgery as he looks to be ready for the start of the regular season. Mike Ford, Seattle’s 22nd-ranked prospect, may have to handle first base until either Vogelbach or Healy are ready to return.
Until Healy returns, the Mariners will have plenty of pop in their lineup with Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano and newly acquired Dee Gordon highlighting an offense that can run and hit for power. Gordon and Jean Segura combined for 82 stolen bases last season, while Cruz remains a legitemate power threat and Cano arguably still holds the mantle as the best second baseman in the game. Because of Cano, Gordon will be taking center field duties where he will be able to cover a lot of ground. Given the acquisition of Gordon and Healy, the Mariners’ offense will be fun to watch this season.
The bullpen will have a familiar face in the closer’s role in Edwin Diaz, but the M’s picked up a solid setup man in Juan Nicasio, who pitched to a 2.61 ERA in 2017. His strikeouts per nine innings saw a noticeable decrease, but his ability to get outs earned him a two-year deal with Seattle, where he figures to be the setup man for Diaz.
The Mariners could use more of what they needed (and haven’t gotten) the past few years as they’ve teetered on the brink of being a playoff team. Pitching depth and overall team health are crucial for a group that will have to take on the AL West-juggernaut Astros and the much-improved Angels 19 times each this season. In the health department, they’re not off to the best start. Who knows, maybe they’re getting their injuries out of the way early this year, and they’ll finally be able to avoid a late season dropoff and get back to the postseason for the first time in 19 years.