2014 Preview: Seattle Mariners

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Robinson Cano and . . . then what?

The Mariners certainly made the biggest splash of the offseason in signing Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal. Unlike a lot of teams, a big signing like this may have been necessary for credibility purposes, as the book on Seattle for years has been that no elite offensive free agents wanted to go there. But no matter how significant the signing was, one player is not a plan. It’s merely a start. Do the Mariners have a plan?

If they have one, it’s hard to see based on their non-Cano moves. Corey Hart missed all of last season. Logan Morrison has yet to live up to expectations. Justin Smoak is still around. As of a week ago there is still talk of a Kendrys Morales reunion. Maybe there is some sport where a bunch of mostly immobile 1B/DH types are the ingredients of a championship recipe, but it’s certainly not post Steroid-Era major league baseball.

Not that the Mariners had to do it all at once. They’ve been a pretty bad team for awhile and it will take some time to get better. But they don’t have unlimited time. Robinson Cano can be expected to be an elite, team-leading offensive talent for a couple more years, but as he gets into the second half of that ten-year deal, he’s going to be a role player at best. There is a window in Seattle. It could stay open for five years, but it’s way more likely to last two or three, and in that time the Mariners have to get some useful pieces around their $240 million man.

Right now it’s Cano, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and, I dunno, Brad Miller? Maybe Hart and Morrison exceed expectations. That could all make for some improvement. But they just don’t have the firepower yet. They need to do more than pay a quarter billion to a guy and hope for the best.

What else is going on?

  • There’s reason to like this pitching staff, assuming it can all get healthy. Felix Hernandez is Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker should be pretty darn good, but the latter two of those gents are going to start the season on the disabled list. If they return quickly, yes, this is a rotation that plays. If they don’t, Scott Baker is a the number two starter and it goes downhill from there. UPDATE: sorry, wrote this before Scott Baker was released. Still, point stands: if Walker and Iwakuma are hurt, the rotation after Hernandez is in trouble.
  • Another big pickup was Fernando Rodney. Not a bad pickup, but he was definitely a different dude in 2013 than he was in 2012. He has to throw more strikes this year to justify the pickup. Danny Farquhar and Charlie Furbush are pretty solid setup men, though, and Yoervis Medina can strike dudes out. This could be a pretty good bullpen assuming that an Iwakuma and Walker-free rotation don’t burn them out early.
  • There’s a new manager in town: Lloyd McClendon. It’ll be interesting to see the sort of tone he sets in the early going. Back when he managed the Pirates he didn’t do much to impress anyone, even once you adjusted for the bad teams he was given. After several years at Jim Leyland’s knee in Detroit, however, McClendon has spent this spring sticking up for his players with a quickness and seeming very comfortable dealing with the press and the day-to-day with an easygoing aplomb. Maybe things will be different the second time around.

Prediction: Cano is nice, but it’s gonna take more. Fourth place, American League West.

Chris Archer on joining Bruce Maxwell’s protest: “I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me at this time.”

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Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”

Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”

Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”

Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).

Major League Baseball issues a statement on Trump’s latest travel ban order

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Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.

The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.

To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.

Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.