2013 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 2013 season. Up next: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Are the Mariners finally on the right track?

Absolutely. After some bad high payroll teams a few years ago and then some trades which didn’t exactly inspire, it does now seem like the Mariners have a plan going forward.

They locked up Felix Hernandez. There is a young core which, admittedly, could go either way right now, but it is still a young core with upside: Hernandez, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager. Tons of good arms on the farm including  Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, which will either contribute in Seattle or serve as the basis for deals for offense at some point over the next couple of years.

There is a bright future in Seattle based on a lot of solid young players. It’s just not the kind of future likely to arrive earlier than expected due to none of them really being off-the-charts impact-type players. But unlike we’ve seen in the past, there are things to be hopeful for with the Mariners now. And that’s good, yes?

What else is going on?

  • Has anyone gotten rich cornering the market on designated hitters? Because boy howdy do the Mariners have a lot of DH types:  Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Jesus Montero and Jason Bay are all gonna break camp with this team. I mean, sure, those are all famous-to-sorta-famous baseball players, but how, exactly, is this supposed to work?
  • Moving the fences in at Safeco Field — a home run to left center is now 17 feet closer than it was before — will be worth watching. It may bother the pitchers a bit, but one wonders if part of the reason for this is to get Seattle out of that rut where they can’t sign any power hitting free agents thanks to the perception that their offense will up and die. If Mike Morse suddenly goes off for 35 homers, does that not send a signal to others that Seattle — in a state with no state income tax — may be a nice place to land?
  • The Mariners have also cornered the market on Saunderses. Michael and Joe Saunders, that is. Michael flashed some pop last year and could be something of a breakout candidate. He stole 21 bases too. One of those players who, because he plays in Seattle, people rarely notice. But he’s worth watching. Joe Saunders turned in his best season in years in 2012, based on a hot final couple of months. I wouldn’t bet on him carrying it all over or anything, but given all the arms the Mariners have hanging around he could be an attractive trade chit at the break if he pitches well.
  • Call it a petty thing or even slam on the M’s, but there has to be some moral victory involved in not finishing in last place this year, right? I mean, no matter what happens, they’ll stay out of the cellar by virtue of the Houston Astros, yes?

So how are they gonna do?

Better. But still not enough juice to pass up Oakland, Texas or Anaheim. Fourth place, AL West. But Fourth place with a bullet.

Replay review over base-keeping needs to go

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The Red Sox are off and running in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers. Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez each hit RBI singles off of Clayton Kershaw to give the Red Sox an early 2-0 lead.

Benintendi’s hit to right field ended with a replay review. Rather than throw to the cutoff man, right fielder Yasiel Puig fired home to try nabbing Mookie Betts, but his throw was poor. Catcher Austin Barnes caught the ball a few feet in front of and to the right of home plate, then whipped the ball to second base in an attempt to get Benintendi. Benintendi clearly beat the throw, but shortstop Manny Machado kept the tag applied. After Benintendi was ruled safe, the Dodgers challenged, arguing that Benintendi’s hand may have come off the second base bag for a microsecond while Machado’s glove was on him. The ruling on the field was upheld and the Red Sox continued to rally.

Replay review over base-keeping is not in the spirit of the rule and shouldn’t be permitted. Hopefully Major League Baseball considers changing the rule in the offseason. Besides the oftentimes uncontrollable minute infractions, these kinds of replay reviews slow the game down more than other types of reviews because they tend not to be as obvious as other situations.

Baseball has become so technical and rigid that it seems foolish to leave gray area in this regard. A runner is either off the base or he isn’t. However, the gradual result of enforcing these “runner’s hand came off the base for a fraction of a second” situations is runners running less aggressively and sliding less often so there’s no potential of them losing control of their body around the base. Base running, particularly the aggressive, sliding variety, is quietly one of the most fun aspects of the game. Policing the game to this degree, then, serves to make the game less fun and exciting.

Where does one draw the line then? To quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, describing obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, “I know it when I see it.” This is one area where I am comfortable giving the umpires freedom to enforce the rule at their discretion and making these situations impermissible for replay review.