2014 AL West Preview And Predictions

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Mar 11, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman

Robinson Cano

(22) at bat against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

4) Seattle Mariners: 82-80

Okay SodoMojo fans, here are your 2014 Seattle Mariners. You’ve been reading all offseason about the moves that would be made, the ones that weren’t and the ones we hoped for.

This team has A LOT of questions. I was asked by a fellow blogger to contribute to his preview of the Mariners. Here is the link to his post, but here are my answers to his questions:

1) How would you grade the offseason?

I would have to give the Mariners a C+ for the offseason, with the possibility of upgrading it to a solid B. The signing of Robinson Cano is huge. The Mariners needed a legit star hitter and they got it in Cano. But where the grade falls with the other additions. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison have A LOT of questions surrounding them. If they can contribute  anywhere near where they are capable of, this team could have a great year.

As for the pitching staff, this also docks their grade because they really didn’t do anything to help the staff, outside of signing Fernando Rodney to lock down the 9th. With injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker in the spring, the Mariners are relying on non-roster invitees and minor leaguers to step up and fill in the rotation.

I like the addition of Lloyd McClendon to run this group. I think that was the right choice.

Finally, where is all the money? The Mariners were very vocal in the fact that they would push their payroll to or even over the $100 million mark in 2014 with the addition of their new TV deal. Even after signing Cano and all of their other minor moves, this team’s payroll is at $73.5 million, only about $5-6M more than last year.

2) What does it mean for the organization to land probably the biggest free agent of the offseason in Robinson Cano?

It gives the Mariners that marquee name that had been missing for quite some time. Not to say that Felix Hernandez isn’t a marquee name, but it’s hard to rally a fan base around one player that plays every five or six days.

Now we have that in Cano. A guy who, presumably, will be on the field every day. A guy to lead the troops into battle each night. It also made a statement to the rest of the league that the team was serious about winning. A statement that was quickly revoked by their refusal to sign any other top free agents this offseason.

3) Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

I would say the battle at shortstop between Brad Miller (last year’s SS) and Nick Franklin (last year’s 2B who is out of a job now with the Cano signing). But with all of the trade rumors surrounding Franklin, I don’t think it’s gonna be much of a battle.

Instead, the interesting story lies in the outfield. Specifically centerfield. The job was presumably going to be Michael Saunders‘ job to lose. When the team re-signed Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal, many thought that they would split time in center. But with Guti sitting out the season, the team has been giving Abraham Almonte a lot of time in center this spring. In fact, Saunders has spent all of his time playing in right – a spot we presume will go to Corey Hart.

As it stands now, it appears that Dustin Ackley will be in left, Corey Hart will be in right with Logan Morrison spending some time there as well (and they will both DH) and it appears that Almonte may get the starting nod in center and a crack at the leadoff spot. That leaves Saunders as the odd man out. Retained as either a fourth outfielder, or dangled as trade bait.

4) What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

The popular answer would be either Almonte or Taijuan Walker, the team’s No. 1 prospect. I’m gonna say James Paxton. He was solid in his limited duty last September (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 21 K, 249 ERA+). He has impressed so far this spring as well (13 IP, 3 ER, BB, 8 K).

The Mariners are right-handed heavy in the rotation (Felix, ‘Kuma, Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer) and need that lefty as either the number three or number four man in the rotation. If he can continue to perform, I think he has a shot at 13-15 wins and a legitimate look as potential Rookie of the Year. Even over Walker, who may struggle with this shoulder issue.

5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

In my personal prediction pieces I do for SodoMojo.com, I have the Mariners with an 82-80 record, but 4th in the AL West. The Rangers and Angels are both going to be better than last year. You can never count the A’s out. Even the Astros won’t lose as many games this year.

I think they will be in the wild-card hunt well into September, but will fall short. If they sign Kendrys Morales and/or make some trades by the July 31 deadline (Matt Kemp, David Price both still possible) then this team could push up over the edge and surprise some people. But if the young players don’t step up, if Morrison and Hart don’t perform to expectations, if Ackley can’t hit, if Justin Smoak can’t hit….it’s gonna be another year under .500 and another “wait until next year” kind of year.

6) Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

It’s really hard to peg one. I have been following Dustin Ackley since his days in North Carolina. I was a college baseball blogger back then and I loved what Ackley brought to the table. He has been having a rough go of it the past few seasons (mostly because I feel the organization rushed him) but I think this year he finds his stride and justifies his No. 2 overall pick.

A close second goes to catcher Mike Zunino. As a former catcher, I love watching the little things that catchers do to help their pitchers. Zunino has that “it” factor when it comes to catching a staff. He is a genuine classy guy, a hard-worker and I think he will have a breakout year this year.