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2016 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 2016 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

There was certainly a lot of activity at Mariners HQ this offseason. New GM Jerry Dipoto added a new manager in Scott Servais and all sorts of new players including Adam Lind, Nori Aoki, Wade Miley, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Cishek, Leonys Martin, Luis Sardinas, Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger and Nate Karns. In a shocking turn he also brought back Hisashi Iwakuma after he was presumed lost to the Dodgers.

Does it amount to a better team than the 2015 model which went 76-84 despite some high(ish) expectations? Possibly. First base has been improved with Lind. Chris Iannetta is a major improvement behind the plate. Aoki is a solid add but Franklin Gutierrez will probably not be as good as he was in limited play last year. Robinson Cano was hampered by injuries last year and seems healthy now but second baseman of his age and caliber have had a somewhat disturbing history of rapid decline, so Mariners fans will understandably hold their breath a bit in the early going. Meanwhile, it’d be unreasonable to expect anything other than at least some decline from Nelson Cruz who was astoundingly good last year. Indeed, people have been predicting a decline from him for a few years now. Leonys Martin was a disaster at the plate last year but his defense is excellent and will allow Cruz to play his natural position of DH this season. In all, it’s a good offense with the chance to be a very good offense, but there is risk.

The rotation starts off wonderfully, at least if you believe that Felix Hernandez‘s second half last year (4.48 ERA in 13 starts) was an aberration. Iwakuma has been a solid number two for a good while now, but the issue between him and the Dodgers regarding his physical sticks in one’s mind. Assuming that was all in the Dodgers’ heads that leaves a rather uncertain back end of the rotation, solidified somewhat by Wade Miley and boosted to the extent you believe that Taijuan Walker will finally emerge as the star he is expected to be. But it’s also full of a lot of question marks from the four and five slots (as well as the three or four guys who may rotate through them via a drive up from Tacoma). The bullpen, meanwhile, has trended sharply downward over the past couple of years and there isn’t a lot of confidence to be had that it’ll be a good crew this year.

Overall, I have a bad feeling here. I worry about the mileage on Cano and Hernandez and I think it’s time for Cruz to fall back a bit. That puts a lot of pressure on the guys who should be the core of the Mariners for some time — Kyle Seager, Walker, and shortstop Ketel Marte. Seager is legit, but if Cano and Cruz fall back, he may need to find another gear to be the offensive star on a playoff-caliber team. Marte is excellent — a candidate to be the new “best guy you haven’t heard of” — but he’s painfully young and may need a bit more time to fully emerge. Maybe Walker makes the leap. But even if that happens there’s that mess of a bullpen and a tough division.

Prediction: I could see them surprising some people and, finishing third. I could more easily see them passing the Athletics into fourth. But I also could see a couple of not-shocking bad things happen and have them wind up in Fifth Place, AL West. Which is the prediction I’m the most uneasy about making of all of the ones I’ve done, but I’m gonna make anyway.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next, 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation while demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on it, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.