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Fantasy Preview: Seattle Mariners

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John Halpin

John Halpin has been a fantasy contributor for FOXSports.com since 2007. He has written and co-hosted webcasts about fantasy football for FOXNews.com, and managed websites for the NHL, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Network. Listen to his "Fantasy 15 Podcast" on FOXSportsRadio.com and follow him on Twitter.

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The Mariners added some sorely-needed offense during the offseason. They also moved in the outfield fences at Safeco Field, but the changes don’t appear significant. Hopefully, they’ll be enough to make the park less of a power wasteland for righthanded hitters.

Offseason moves:

Traded for 1B/DH Kendrys Morales

Since breaking his ankle during an early 2010 home-run celebration, Morales hasn’t returned to his 30-homer heights. He did go deep 14 times during the second half of last season, though. Traded for 1B/OF Michael Morse Morse dropped from 31 homers in 2011 to 15 (in 98 games) last season, but injuries appeared to play a large part in the decline even when he was on the field. If Safeco’s changes help at all, Morse figures to clear the fences 25 times, and he’s a .295 career hitter. Underrated.

Signed SP Joe Saunders

Saunders would have been a better fantasy option if the Safeco dimensions had been left alone. Not many Ks, 4.15 ERA … not interested. Good control, though. Career record of 78-65, thanks to his friends Mr. Smoke and Mr. Mirrors.

Traded away C John Jaso, 1B Mike Carp and SP Jason Vargas The biggest effect here is to make Jesus Montero the Mariners’ primary catcher for at least a little while longer.

Projected Lineup

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

Ackley was a disappointment in 2012, but his BA almost has to get better, he had 12 homers with 13 steals, and he’s only 25. We shouldn’t quit on him yet. Seager was a pleasant surprise last season, and should be able to repeat. Montero figures to hit 20-plus homers with an improved batting average – remember that he’s still really young. Smoak’s hot September helped to disguise the rest of his horrible 2012; he’ll lose his job if he doesn’t hit early. Saunders’ bad BA is all that’s standing in the way of nice fantasy value, but that BA doesn’t figure to get much better. Ryan is an awful hitter.

Rotation

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Joe Saunders
3. Hisashi Iwakuma
4. Erasmo Ramirez
5. Blake Beavan
CL: Tom Wilhelmsen

Hernandez is a fantasy ace, but comes with tiny warning signs that we’ll discuss below. Iwakuma (3.16 ERA) had a strong season, with an average K rate and lots of ground balls, and could be a sub-4.00 ERA guy again. Ramirez rode a good changeup and excellent control to late-season success in 2012. Beavan doesn’t miss enough bats to be any good. Wilhelmsen had a solid season as the M’s closer, but his control started to erode just a bit in the second half of the season. That wouldn’t be a worry if 22-year-old Carter Capps wasn’t in the same bullpen throwing 1,000 mph. Capps looks like a beast, and looms as a big threat to Wilhelmsen.

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Big questions:


Can some Mariner hitters actually be drafted in standard mixed leagues this season?

Yes – can you believe it? Montero, Ackley, Seager, Morse, Morales and maybe even Saunders can be rostered in standard mixed formats. These guys might give Hernandez a few runs for a change.

Is Gutierrez back?

Don’t laugh. The poor guy had his strength sapped in 2011 by a gastrointestinal disorder that basically prevented him from eating, and struggled through an injury-plagued 2012. In 2009-10, he averaged 15 homers with 20 steals, and he’s only 30. If healthy, he could be moderately interesting.

What’s up – or down – with Hernandez’s velocity? The King’s average fastball has declined two miles per hour over the last two years, which is summed up nicely here by FanGraphs. His strikeout rate hasn’t been affected, and his ERA looks fine, but he gave up more line drives in 2012. Hernandez is still an upper-tier fantasy SP1, but has shouldered a heavy workload at a young age, and appears to carry a little bit of risk now. Most pitchers do, right? Sleeper: Ramirez’s K rate is average, but his control is terrific. He’s only 23, and maybe a light switch flipped with him last season (3.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP between Triple A and Seattle). AL-only owners should target Ramirez.

Top prospects

Mike Zunino, C – Zunino announced his presence with authority by slugging 13 homers in 44 minor-league games after being drafted in June. Most scouts don’t think he’s that good of a hitter, but he should provide above average power, and could come quickly with another strong start. The logical path to playing time for Zunino in 2013 is if Smoak struggles enough to get benched, thereby moving Morales to first base and Montero to DH. This will probably happen before the All-Star break.

Taijuan Walker, SP – Walker had a decent season in Double A at age 19 – as the youngest pitcher in his league – and is regarded as one of baseball’s best pitching prospects. For dynasty leagues, potential doesn’t get much better. He’s an ace-in-waiting if he stays on track.

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Danny Hultzen, SP – Hultzen struggled at Triple A after dominating for a half-season at Double A. He doesn’t have Walker’s sky-high potential, but he’s pretty good, and should be ready for the majors sooner. Grab him if you can, keeper leaguers.

Nick Franklin, 2B/SS – Franklin is a middle infielder with power and speed, but not a ton of either. Many scouts think his future is as a second baseman, but SS Brendan Ryan is one of the Mariners’ more replaceable players. Franklin is 22, and should be ready for an everyday role in 2014. Think 12-15 homers with the same number of steals.

Tagged: Mariners, Kendrys Morales, Felix Hernandez, Michael Morse, Joe Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Brendan Ryan, Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak

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