Tag: Austin Jackson

Felix Hernandez

2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners


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 2015 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Did they add enough offense?

The Mariners surprised in 2014, but man, if they just got a lick of offense, they could’ve surprised a lot more. Their 87 wins and near-wild card birth was achieved almost totally on the back of their pitching staff. Overall, the M’s had the best staff in all of baseball, allowing only 3.42 runs a game. The offense, however, was forgettable at best. Seattle scored 3.91 runs a game, which was third to last in the American League.

Robinson Cano is back, of course. As is third baseman Kyle Seager, who was the only other regular besides Cano to post an OPS+ above 100 in full-time play. Other positive offensive contributors in 2014 included Michael Saunders, who only played have the season and who is now gone, and Logan Morrison who played in 99 games. To improve upon 2014’s performance, the M’s needed more offense. So they went out and tried to get some.

The biggest addition was Nelson Cruz, who hit 40 homers and slugged .525 for Baltimore last year. Also added was Seth Smith, who hit .266/.367/.440 for San Diego in 2014. Given that Austin Jackson only played in 54 games last year you can think of him as an addition too. Rickie Weeks was acquired as well, though he’ll be riding pine and hitting against lefties mostly.

I sort of don’t think that’s enough. Taking Cruz out of Camden Yards and putting him in Safeco Field is going to cause him to take a step back a bit, and that’s before you acknowledge that he likely overachieved a bit last season in the first place. Seth Smith is not a cure-all, and full seasons of Morrison and Jackson could, based on their track records, mean full seasons of anything from good production to less-than-mediocrity. For the M’s to take that next step, they’re probably going to need more than this. They’ll need better production from Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino or they’ll need to add a bat at some point during the season.

None of which is to say the Mariners are in trouble. Heck, with their pitching staff (discussed more below) they’re almost instant contenders. But they were a flawed team last season which, while likely better on offense as 2015 begins, may not be quite good enough.

What else is going on?

  • The pitching is, of course, ridiculously good. Felix Hernandez needs no introduction. Hisashi Iwakuma has been one of the best kept secrets in baseball over the past three years. His late-season falloff last year is a bit worrisome, but given how James Paxton came on late in the season, the M’s may not need him to be a number two starter like he was before. Paxton has an injury history, of course, but he has gobs of talent. But wait, there’s more! Taijuan Walker has dodged injury and perpetual trade rumors to, presumably, earn a slot in the rotation following a spring in which he has tossed 18 scoreless innings with a 19/4 K/BB ratio. J.A. Happ at the back of your rotation is way better than J.A. Happ at the front of your rotation, and pitching in Safeco should help him. Roenis Elias is hanging around when someone needs a break, gets injured or forgets how to pitch. An extremely solid crew.
  • The bullpen was every bit as strong as their rotation last season, with Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush all pitching well and all returning. Rodney is occasionally heart-attack inducing, but if he implodes, Farquhar can handle the job. Expect a bit of a step back for this crew, as all bullpen performances fluctuate from season to season, but it’s a strong unit.
  • Adding Rickie Weeks was fun. Because he’s a second baseman and the Mariners, you may have noticed, have a pretty OK second baseman. That makes Weeks a super-utility guy, who will probably get looks in the outfield. Which is hilarious given that one of the reasons he was on the outs in Milwaukee was because he basically refused to play in the outfield when they asked him to. One presumes that Weeks was aware of Mr. Cano’s presence before signing his deal with the M’s, so one presumes that he’s on board with the move to the outfield now. Should be fun, though. He’s only ever played 2B and DH.
  • Another smallish addition: Justin Ruggiano, who could platoon with Seth Smith and/or Dustin Ackley. Or maybe Weeks can platoon. A lot of flexibility here, it seems, and if Lloyd McClendon feels comfortable with doing some plate-spinning with this lineup, he may be able to squeeze a bit more production out of it even without another big name addition.

Prediction: It’s hard not to like this club’s chances to to compete for a playoff spot. I think they still have enough questions on offense to where the Angels get the nod, but I think the Mariners are contenders. Second place, American League West.

Mariners considering free agent Melky Cabrera

Toronto Blue Jays' Cabrera heads to the batters box during the first inning of their MLB baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco, California

The Mariners are hot on the trail for another outfielder after adding Nelson Cruz earlier this week. They’ve been reported as having trade interest in Justin Upton of the Braves and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. The Mariners may also consider free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune reports.

Dutton quotes GM Jack Zduriencik as saying, “A switch-hitter would be tremendous.” Dutton adds that manager Lloyd McClendon prefers a hitter who can slot into the second spot in the batting order between Austin Jackson and Robinson Cano, which would allow Dustin Ackley to be moved lower, perhaps eighth. Cabrera, obviously, fits that mold as he batted second in 112 of 139 games with the Blue Jays during the 2014 season.

Tigers face losing Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez to free agency

Max Scherzer

Celebrated Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has a very difficult couple of months ahead of him. Not only is he faced with the annual questions about the state of his bullpen, but he could lose 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and 2014 AL MVP candidate Victor Martinez in free agency.

Related: Orioles sweep away Tigers in ALDS

The Tigers prepared for Scherzer’s departure when they made the David Price trade in July, so they can subtract their best pitcher and still have one of the AL’s best rotations with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez sticking around. They’ll probably add a veteran fifth starter, too, or at least someone who can compete with internal candidates like Kyle Lobstein and Robbie Ray.

The lineup is a bigger concern. Martinez seems happy in Detroit and will be quite a bit cheaper to retain than Scherzer. There’s a good chance Dombrowski can convince him to stick around, perhaps for something like $60 million for three years. The Tigers will also have to decide whether to retain Torii Hunter in free agency. He might choose to retire. They’ll need to go out and get a center fielder after trading Austin Jackson as part of the Price deal. The shortstop situation could be resolved if Jose Iglesias makes a successful return after missing the season with shin splints. Thoughts of trading Ian Kinsler and installing Eugenio Suarez at second base should be on the backburner now after the rookie’s disappointing finish.

Of course, Dombrowski can be expected to throw some more money at the bullpen this winter. Last year, he let Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras go, replacing them with Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain. He also traded for Joakim Soria in July. Nathan is due to return in 2015, but Chamberlain is a free agent. The Tigers hold a $7 million option on Soria’s contract that they might prefer to decline. Expect Dombrowski to open the wallet for a lefty this time around. Andrew Miller , who pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings in the ALDS, would be ideal, and the Tigers might well be the favorites to land him. Zach Duke, Neal Cotts and Joe Beimel would be more affordable options. Depending on how much he spends on offense, Dombrowski could also sign one of the top righties available from the group of David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Francisco Rodriguez and Sergio Romo.

With the Royals expected to lose James Shields and no one else spending big in the AL Central, the Tigers will likely enter next year as division favorites once again. After all, they have one of the best GMs around and almost twice the budget of their competition. It just won’t be as clear cut as it has been in recent seasons, at least not unless Dombrowski has something truly special in store.