This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23 and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, and now jump to the AL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Seattle Mariners.
2012 finish: 75-87 (4th place, AL West)
LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Jon Garland, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Michael Morse, OF Jason Bay, 1B Kendrys Morales, 1B Mike Jacobs, 2B Robert Andino, C Kelly Shoppach, C Ronny Paulino.
LHP Jason Vargas, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Shawn Kelley, OF Scott Cousins, INF/OF Chone Figgins, OF Trayvon Robinson, C John Jaso, C Miguel Olivo.
Why they will improve this year
I'm in love with this team. I'll just put that out there. The young talent is amazing and you'd have to be crazy to dislike Felix Hernandez. But in order to improve, the M's need big progressions from guys like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero.
One of the things holding Seattle back in recent years has been their lack of pop in the lineup. Safeco Field was where home runs went to die (Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre can confirm), but they have moved the fences in for 2013.
Even if they hadn't, the additions of sluggers Morse and Morales might still have added 25 homers each. The lineup is instantly upgraded with those two, as well as Ibanez off the bench as a designated hitter. I really like Vargas, but it was necessary to unload him for a big bat, and they may have found a better replacement with Saunders anyway.
The pitching staff should be strong again this season, but it's the strides they made on offense that intrigue me the most. Adding Morse, Morales and Ibanez are huge moves that will definitely improve a team that finished dead last in the American League in both runs scored and batting average a season ago. With the new bats, plus growth from the young guns, they could climb those ranks rapidly.
Why they will regress this year
One thing Mariners fans never wanted to hear, even if just a whisper, was that there could be something wrong with Hernandez's throwing arm. In a worst-case scenario, there actually is something wrong with that golden arm and the Mariners are absolutely sunk for 2013.
Without Hernandez, the team is significantly worse. But another big worry in Seattle is if Ackley continues to struggle with the bat (he definitely did not meet expectations in 2012), and Seager regresses from his powerful rookie season.
Both are very real possibilities. However, assuming the best for those two, what if Morse and Morales' power don't translate to Seattle? They can both hit the ball a mile, but as previously mentioned, that didn't help former big bats that came to Seattle. Even if they all have great years, will the offense be good enough? It will be tough to measure up to the Angels and Rangers in their own division.
Behind Hernandez, the Mariners figure to line up Saunders, Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beaven and Erasmo Ramirez. Really? That's it? That's even more evidence that losing Hernandez would ruin this team's season. There's potential in that rotation, but it could be shockingly mediocre this year.
The outlook for 2013
Like I wrote, I do really like this team. The lineup excites me and I really do expect Seager to continue growing and Ackley to turn it around after last year. Morse and Morales are two of my favorite "under-the-radar" players and I think they were exactly the right moves for Seattle.
If Hernandez is healthy, he will be one of the best pitchers in baseball again, but the biggest question marks for me come after that. Saunders has been pretty solid over the last few years, but can he be consistent? Even less of a sure thing is the rest of the rotation who is either inexperienced, young or both.
One thing I'm really looking forward to is seeing the impending call-ups of Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. All three have been studs in the minor leagues and could make immediate impacts in the rotation down the stretch. And don't forget about top catching prospect Mike Zunino and top infield prospect Nick Franklin, who should get a shot at some point this year.
For me, watching the development of all the young talent will be the most exciting aspect of this Mariners season. I don't think 2013 is their year, but they are very close. In 2014, they could legitimately contend for the division title, as long as health and regression don't become huge issues.
It's the opinion of this writer that the Mariners stay stuck in fourth place, but finish at .500 and start opening some eyes around baseball. Once the aforementioned minor league pitchers, as well as Ackley, Montero and Seager really get comfortable, this team is a force to be reckoned with.
Potential changes before Opening Day
According to Pete Abraham on Twitter, the Red Sox have "internally discussed" acquiring Mike Carp, who was recently designated for assignment by Seattle. The Mariners have nothing to lose with him, and might as well try to pick up a prospect or two from Boston there.
I doubt that general manager Jack Zduriencik will make a run at Kyle Lohse, but it wouldn't hurt if they can afford to give up that draft pick. If anything, I could see the M's making a run at another bullpen arm or two and a veteran bat like Casey Kotchman would have been nice if he didn't just sign with Miami.
Biggest surprise: Joe Saunders
Biggest disappointment: Jesus Montero
Bold prediction: Mike Morse hits 35 home runs, drives in 125 runs
1. Dustin Ackley, 2B
2. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
3. Kyle Seager, 3B
4. Michael Morse, LF
5. Kendrys Morales, DH
6. Jesus Montero, C
7. Justin Smoak, 1B
8. Michael Saunders, RF
9. Brendan Ryan, SS
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Joe Saunders, LHP
3. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
4. Blake Beaven, RHP
5. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
Projected finish: 81-81, 4th place
For more preseason evaluations:
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.
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