Cactus League preview: Seattle Mariners
FEB 12, 2014 1:50p ET
As teams begin to report for another spring training, there's little doubt the Seattle Mariners were among the off-season's busiest contestants. Translating that activity into wins, however, is another matter, though it's hard to fault the Mariners for shuffling the deck.
With a new manager in Lloyd McClendon and a new headliner in Robinson Cano, the Mariners enter camp looking to make good on their first winning season since 2009.
It's been even longer since the Mariners were a playoff team -- their last postseason appearance came in 2001 -- but the additions of Cano, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Fernando Rodney, combined with two All-Stars in the starting rotation, have given the team a reason to believe it's getting closer to a postseason berth. It won't be easy in the stacked AL West, though, and the Mariners may need time to adjust under new manager McClendon.
Here's a look at what's in store for the Mariners this spring and what to watch for in the Cactus League.
2013 in a nutshell
The Mariners finished 71-91 and fourth in the AL West with only a few real highlights to speak of. In his second major-league season, Hisashi Iwakuma won 14 games, earned a spot in the All-Star Game and finished third in AL Cy Young voting. Fellow starter Felix Hernandez was also an All-Star again, and 41-year old Raul Ibanez provided a surprise offensive boost. Still, the Mariners had no hitter finish with a batting average of .300 or better and went 9-18 in the final month of the season.
Comings and goings
Arrivals: IF Willie Bloomquist (free agent), C John Buck (free agent), 2B Robinson Cano (free agent), OF Corey Hart (free agent), OF Logan Morrison (trade with Miami), RP Fernando Rodney (free agent).
Departures: OF Raul Ibanez (free agent), 1B Kendrys Morales (free agent), SP Joe Saunders (free agent).
3 burning questions
1) What's the impact of Lloyd McClendon?
After seven seasons as hitting coach for the Tigers, Lloyd McClendon took the reins of the Mariners this offseason, replacing Eric Wedge. With any managerial change comes changes in philosophy, approach and identity. McClendon, who has prior managerial experience with the Pirates, could have a big impact on some of the team's young hitters who have failed to develop as much as expected. He also needs to plug some holes on the back end of the rotation and shore up the bullpen. As important as players are a to a manager's success, so too is the manager's approach important to forming a team's identity. McClendon has the spring to start molding that identity and creating a new atmosphere on a team that has been a stranger to success.
2) Will the makeover take?
Former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano headlined the Mariners' offseason haul, signing a 10-year mega deal for $240 million. Also added were outfielders Corey Hart, a former all-star, and Logan Morrison, both of whom are battling back from injuries. Cano, coming off back-to-back finishes in the top five of AL MVP voting, should give the Mariners some much-needed power. Hart and Morrison are capable hitters, if healthy, who could fill the Morales and Ibanez spots in the lineup. All three additions come with risks, though. Cano, 31, faces the pressure of living up to his huge contract while playing in a less-friendly hitting environment than Yankee Stadium. Hart missed all of 2013 with knee injuries, and Morrison missed half the season with a knee injury of his own. But given their 12-year postseason drought, the Mariners figured the risks were worth taking.
3) Which young arms will emerge?
At 27 and 32 years old, respectively, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are the veterans of Seattle's rotation. A slew of young arms will compete to fill out the rotation this spring. Most prominent among them is 21-year-old Taijuan Walker, widely regarded widely as one of the top five prospects in baseball. He comes to camp with big expectations and a good chance to earn a spot in the rotation. Not far behind Walker is left-hander James Paxton, 25, who also could win a spot this spring. Among the returning candidates with big league experience are Erasmo Ramirez (23), Brandon Maurer (23), Blake Beavan (25) and Hector Noesi (27). The group gives Seattle a lot of young options, but they'll have to prove they're ready to step up.
And another thing
The closer's job was up for grabs until the Mariners made the late addition of former All-Star Fernando Rodney, who saved 37 games for the Rays last season. Tom Wilhelmsen struggled as Seattle's closer last season and lost the job to Danny Farquhar. Both will now presumably hold down setup roles in front of Rodney.
Player to watch
Mike Zunino. The 22-year-old catcher hadn't even played 100 games in the minors before getting the call to the majors. He struggled to hit in 52 games last season, but the Mariners remain high on him and would like him to emerge as their everyday starter -- backed up by veteran John Buck. His defense is major-league ready, but they'll want to see progress at the plate.
Pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday, Feb. 12. Full squad reports Monday, Feb. 17. Games begin Feb. 27 at Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria. Visit Mariners.com for full schedule and tickets.