2014 Mariners preview: Did club add enough to join Cano?
Offense: Seattle made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal to address the team’s lack of offense in ’13. While Hart, who is coming off a second knee surgery, and Morrison were brought in as well, the lineup might still be missing a piece or two to be considered elite, not to mention the lack of right-handed everyday hitters could hurt. Cano will likely continue to have big numbers in his new home, but the Mariners are relying heavily on their younger hitting talents such as Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller to have breakout seasons in order to make the jump to contenders in the tough AL West.
Rotation: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are considered one of the best starting pitching duos in baseball. Add in top prospect Taijuan Walker to the mix this season, and the Mariners could have one of the best rotations as well. Unfortunately for Seattle, Iwakuma and Walker have battled health issues in spring training and could start the season on the DL, leaving the Opening Day rotation looking vulnerable. Another Mariners top pitching prospect, James Paxton, could be turned to early as the team pieces together a rotation for the beginning of the season.
Bullpen: Last season, the Mariners bullpen ceded 13 walk-off losses along with 14 more defeats in which the winning run scored in the opponent’s final at-bat. Rodney, with a one-year deal, will take over closing duties as Seattle hopes he can bolster a bullpen that ranked 29th in the MLB with an overall 4.58 ERA. With the new closer in place, Danny Farquhar, who pitched exceptionally well after taking over the closer role last August from struggling Tom Wilhelmsen, will slide into the setup role to provide a more reliable punch for the Mariners in the late innings.
Player to watch: Dustin Ackley was the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, but has yet to see consistent success at the major-league level. With the Cano signing, Ackley made the transition to the outfield from second base. The 26-year-old University of North Carolina product has had a productive spring training, leading the Cactus League in hits and ranking in the top 10 in doubles, while maintaining a .400-plus batting average. While spring training success doesn’t necessarily mean regular-season success, Ackley certainly has momentum heading into Opening Day.
Why they will in: Cano can’t do it all, but if the rest of the lineup full of former premier prospects, such as Justin Smoak and Ackley, can finally find their groove, along with the other young hitters in their first full-time season in the majors, the Mariners could be surprise contenders in the AL West with a strong, and hopefully healthy, pitching staff.
Why they will lose: If Iwakuma and Walker’s health problems continue during the course of the season, the rotation after Hernandez will likely struggle, not to mention if the other eight guys in the lineup not named Cano fail to produce, it could be a long season for the Mariners.
Rob Neyer’s outlook: Just one month ago, it wasn’t really so difficult to look at the Mariners and dream, at least a little. With Cano aboard, and reclamation projects Hart and Morrison looking to revive their once-promising careers, it seemed that this club might finally score enough runs to support a fine pitching staff. That was before phenom Walker and 2012 Cy Young candidate Iwakuma went down, Walker with a shoulder problem and Iwakuma with a finger injury. Sure, maybe both of those guys will be in the rotation by May. But the Mariners’ margin for error was already pretty slim. Now it’s a whole lot slimmer.