It was the same old story in 2012 for the Mariners. Another season of major disappointment including an embarrassing 17-game losing streak and pathetic offense sparked something of a sea change in Seattle who come into 2013 with a re-configured ballpark and a re-stocked, hopefully, lineup. They are still stuck in the ultra-competitive AL West, but the M's think they might finally be on their way to respectability.
Mariners on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
Hope for the Hopeless
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I’m a Dreamer (11;30 AM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)
Depth Chart (as of 2/12)
C: Jesus Montero
1B: Kendrys Morales
2B: Dustin Ackley
SS: Brendan Ryan
3B: Kyle Seager
LF: Michael Morse
CF: Franklin Gutierrez
RF: Michael Saunders
DH: Raul Ibanez/Jason Bay
SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Joe Saunders
SP: Hisashi Iwakuma
SP: Erasmo Ramirez
SP: Blake Beavan
CL: Tom Wilhelmsen
The Mariners seem to have finally grown weary of having the weakest lineup in the American League, if not all of baseball. Their master plan unfolded early as the organization made the decision to move the fences in at Safeco Field to give the offense a boost. It only makes sense that the front office doubled-down on that decision by aggressively pursuing just about every power bat on the free agent and trade market. Alas, their pursuits were not as fruitful as they hoped. Scorned by the likes of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Nick Swisher, Seattle focused on the trade market only to be rejected like a nerd asking out the Prom Queen by Justin Upton. To their credit, Seattle kept scouring the market and finally found what they were looking for, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it, in Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales who in one fell swoop give the Mariners a new heart of the order. Not quite satisfied with that, Seattle continued their bizarre desire to corner the market on veteran 1B/DH types and brought in Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay to give the lineup some depth. They also added Kelly Shoppach as a veteran insurance policy for Jesus Montero at catcher and veteran workhorse Joe Saunders to eat some innings in the rotation.
In order to acquire Michael Morse, the M's had to forfeit catcher John Jaso, who was arguably (and it is a pretty one-sided argument) their best offensive player last season, which really made the trade something of a lateral move for Seattle or even a step back when you consider that it now forces Jesus Montero into a full-time catching role that he just isn't suited for. Oft-maligned catcher Miguel Olivo was also shown the door to the surprise and chagrin of approximately no one. The only other notable loss for Seattle was veteran starter Kevin Millwood who had been a solid, innings-eating veteran presence that they have yet to replace in their promising but young rotation.
On Opening Day, there isn't likely to be much in the way of rookies worth watching, but that is something that could change in a hurry. Nick Franklin is their top infield prospect and he could force the Mariners to finally put Brendan Ryan's stellar glove and miserable bat on the bench by the All-Star break. They also have a triumvirate of fantastic starting pitching prospects in Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker who all could see time in the bigs this year with Hultzen being the most likely to earn the first call-up and possibly even a rotation spot out of training camp. However, the big prospect that everyone is eagerly anticipating is last year's first round pick, catcher Mike Zunino. The hype machine around Zunino keeps getting louder and louder. The initial thought was that he would be a late-season promotion in Seattle, but with his extremely polished game and the Mariners' glaring need for a catcher that can actually catch, there is now talk that Zunino could steal the starting gig with a strong training camp, assuming Seattle doesn't try and keep him in the minors until June so that his service time clock doesn't start too soon.
Calling these position battles is something of an insult to the word "position." Seattle has a boatload of hitters that all play first base and/or left field but really should only be DHing. Morse, Morales, Montero, Bay, Ibanez and Smoak will all be engaging in a battle royale for playing time at those three slots. You could even throw Michael Saunders and right field into the mix if Seattle decides that they no longer care about outfield defense. Morse will certainly find a full-time role somewhere, but the others could find themselves in platoon situations if nobody separates themselves from the pack. As mentioned in the section above, there could also be competition at shortstop and catcher if the Mariners decide to push the issue with their youngsters. In the rotation, four spots are pretty much spoken for. Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi are the main contenders for the final rotation slot, but those young arms are going to start breathing down their neck before long.
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is a constant injury concern as is Kendrys Morales and his surgically reconstructed ankle. Outside of them, the Mariners look to be in very good shape. So they have that going for them, which is nice.
Is the decision to move the fences in at Safeco going to be enough to ignite the team's offense or a final act of desperation?
The moved in fences help Morse go into Beast Mode all season long, Kendrys Morales is finally healthy and returns to his pre-injury form, Dustin Ackley bounces back from his sophomore slump and a fleet of rookies led by Mike Zunino make the Mariners the surprise team of the season. They grab a wild card spot to give the team its first playoff berth since 2001 and actually become a viable destination for free agents in the off-season.
All of the Mariners' off-season moves backfire. Morales' leg breaks down and Morse's power is sapped by Safeco field, even with the fences moved in. Similarly, the brutal offensive environment ruins Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin. Meanwhile on the pitching side, Erasmo Ramirez turns out to be a flash in the pan and none of the Mariners' top pitching prospects prove to be ready to contribute in 2013. The team crashes and burns into a 65-win season prompting Felix Hernandez to finally demands a trade in the wake of his extension falling through because of his elbow concerns.
It looks like GM Jack Zdurnieck is plotting to get the Mariners into a "win now" mode. His moves definitely aren't going to make them contenders this year, but they should push them towards no longer being the whipping boys of the AL West (having Houston in the division now helps with that too). The hope would be that the likes of Morse and Morales combined with the wave of new talent that is due to arrive this year and next can put Seattle in a position to go all-in and challenge for the AL West crown in 2014. The current roster probably isn't good enough to do much better than .500, but even hitting that mark would be a big step forward for the club and give them a much-needed dose of confidence as they prepare to make a more serious run at being a winner in the coming years and possibly even give the team enough positive vibes that they won't be so rudely brushed aside by their free agent targets next winter.