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.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.