HOUSTON — Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto engineered such an aggressive offseason revamping of his 40-man roster that what his counterpart with the Houston Astros, Jeff Luhnow, did almost pales in comparison in terms of audacity.
Dipoto orchestrated nearly a dozen trades during the offseason, reconstructing on the fly a Mariners club that experienced a 10-win improvement from 2015.
When Seattle opens the 2017 campaign against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Monday night, its talented core will be flanked by an army of newcomers brought aboard to enhance what was a winning, but flawed, formula.
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“I think we’re going to be a real explosive offensive team,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We hit a lot of home runs last year (223) and probably surprised some people, including myself. I didn’t see us having that much power but that’s the way it played out.
“I think different ways of scoring runs (will manifest). We’ve got some more speed on this team than maybe we had last year. We’re much more athletic in the outfield so run prevention is also a big part of this thing. I’m looking forward to how it plays out with (Jarrod) Dyson and (Jean) Segura at the top (of the batting order). It should put some pressure on some other teams.”
Second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Kyle Seager and designated hitter Nelson Cruz remain entrenched. That trio combined for 112 homers last season, and the Mariners finished third in the American League in runs scored with 768.
Now, with Segura likely batting leadoff, the Mariners will present a more versatile offense. And with Dyson and Mitch Haniger flanking Leonys Martin in the outfield, Seattle is positioned to track fly balls with much greater success than last season.
Seattle could use a rousing start from ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, who last year recorded a career-low 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.82 ERA, his highest mark in nine seasons. Hernandez missed seven weeks with a calf injury and subsequently pitched 153 1/3 innings, ending a streak of eight consecutive 200-inning seasons.
The Astros are looking for a rebound from their ace, too. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel missed the final month of 2016 due to a shoulder ailment and scuffled prior to that, going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA, a statistical tumble from his 2015 Cy Young campaign.
And like the Mariners, the Astros welcome imports to burnish their core of second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, and center fielder George Springer. Luhnow added veterans Nori Aoki, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran — three left-handed hitters and a switch hitter — to add balance to the Astros’ righty-dominant batting order. That quartet offers experience as well.
“I’m very bullish about the culture that we build and the camaraderie that we build,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Our guys know how to play. They’ve played together for the most part; the veterans that we’ve added have blended in pretty seamlessly.”
Unlike Seattle, the Astros regressed last season, following their surprising run to the playoffs the year before with a campaign where they contended but fell short. Now expectations are through the roof, inside and outside the Astros clubhouse.
“Obviously, we had a down year last year and guys are hungry,” Springer said. “The guys that they brought in understand who we are as a team just from playing against us. It’s been a good six weeks of spring training and we’re looking forward to (the season).”