Mariners realize progress is a must in 2013

Banking on potential is no longer acceptable in the rebuilding

of the Seattle Mariners.

General manager Jack Zduriencik knows this. So does manager Eric

Wedge, as do the young players the Mariners are counting on to be

the foundation in their effort to return the franchise to

competitiveness.

Seattle will begin the 2013 season with expectations. Not

expectations to win the AL West or even earn a playoff berth. This

is the year Seattle needs to be competitive. Needs to improve the

worst offense in baseball. Must prove that making Felix Hernandez

the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history was a shrewd maneuver

and that the surrounding pieces are in place for Seattle’s ace to

be the centerpiece for baseball revitalization in the Pacific

Northwest.

That is the task for 2013, with the Mariners acutely aware of

the talent on the farm, the moves made to bolster the offense and

the changes to its home park that all point toward a team on the

verge of returning to success.

”I know there are a lot of questions and that’s a good thing.

But in regard to how we see our future and where we see ourselves

at right now, we feel we’re in a very, very good place,” Wedge

said. ”I get questions often in regard to the timetable of us

being a championship team. The only thing I can tell you is we’ll

be better, we’ll continue to get better. That’s what happened the

last couple years. And at some point in time sooner than later, we

will be a championship team.”

It’s been a dozen years now since the Mariners last reached the

postseason in 2001. They have just four winning seasons during the

span and a fan base that was once among the best in baseball has

eroded to where even Safeco Field – one of the gems in the game –

isn’t much of a draw anymore.

That’s just one of the reasons why winning is so important in

2013. Seattle chose the right path in trying to correct the past

problems of the franchise when Zduriencik arrived and the emphasis

was placed on restocking the farm system to developed continued

success from within.

But the situation far different now. Progress must be seen.

Prospects must start developing into consistent players and no

longer see their future based around potential.

”What we wanted to do, and we have accomplished, was to

continue to let these kids grow, continue to keep this system where

it’s at, but augment it with middle of the lineup hitters as well

as experience,” Zduriencik said. ”That’s where it’s at.”

Seattle was among the busier teams last offseason, staying in

the national conversation with its aggressive pursuit of offense

and the signing of Hernandez to the richest contract for a pitcher

in baseball history. The Mariners failed to lure Josh Hamilton to

Seattle, but Zduriencik quickly responded by trading for Kendrys

Morales and Michael Morse to give the Mariners a set of

middle-of-the-order power hitters they have sorely lacked.

While the leadoff spot remains unsettled going into the season,

the arrival of Morales and Morse will put hitters in more natural

spots in the order. Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero no longer have

to be cleanup hitters. Dustin Ackley can bat in the bottom of the

order and Kyle Seager can slot into the No. 2 hole coming off a

breakout season with 20 homers and 86 RBIs.

Couple the offensive upgrades with shorter porches at home – the

fences at Safeco Field moving in from 4 to 17 feet in places – and

a dynamic power surge during spring training that was hard not to

notice, and it seems likely Seattle’s offense should be drastically

better.

”This is where I pretty much started out. This is where it all

started for me. There are ties here. I love this city. I think the

fans are amazing,” said Morse, who came up in Seattle’s farm

system before blossoming in Washington. ”Teams like this and

cities like this you want to have a good team and you want them to

win. With the whole trade I felt like this was a great opportunity

to go over there and help the team be a championship

ballclub.”

The pitching staff beings with Hernandez and his new $175

million contract that includes a no-trade clause that will keep him

in a Seattle uniform through the 2019 season. Beyond Hernandez and

a bullpen led by closer Tom Wilhelmsen and some dynamic young arms,

there are questions. Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders will hold

down two spots in the rotation, but the final two starter roles

could be in flux for the early part of the season with Blake Beavan

and rising prospect Brandon Maurer likely getting the initial nods.

Seattle has quality arms down on the farm in Taijuan Walker, James

Paxton and Danny Hultzen, but they won’t be ready for the majors

until later in the summer.

”I believe in this team and I know we’re going to win,”

Hernandez said.