Hisashi Iwakuma and the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to a three year contract worth $45 million dollars, ending the righty’s tenure with the Seattle Mariners. Everyone in Seattle was bummed, as Iwakuma is an exceptionally talented pitcher who’s been a huge part of the last several Mariners teams. Losing him sucked, but fortunately it didn’t last long – Iwakuma flunked his physical and the Dodgers backed out entirely, leaving a gift-wrapped Iwakuma available for Seattle’s taking.
Ever since re-signing Iwakuma to a one-year deal with two vesting options, Jerry Dipoto‘s been inactive. Right before the signing he assured us that he was done, for the most part, and that the team he had assembled was just about exactly the team he’d hoped to assemble. That team looked uncomfortably similar to last year’s team, which was supposed to be pretty good but ended up being pretty bad. Funny how a number two starter can change things – the Mariners, as of this writing, look strong.
Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Nate Karns, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Vidal Nuno, Mike Montgomery. That’s your starting five, except that that list includes eight names, all belonging to guys who performed well in the majors last year. This is some of the best rotation depth the Mariners have ever had.
Steve Cishek, Joaquin Benoit, and Charlie Furbush anchor a bullpen that still seems plenty prone to volatility, as all bullpens always are. The closer was bad last year, the righty setup guy is older than dirt, and the lefty setup guy is coming off a season where his strikeouts plummeted. But then there’s Tony Zych, Secret Weapon. Justin De Fratus and Evan Scribner are interesting. And it’s not like all of starters six through eight are going to be lurking in the minors. The ‘pen doesn’t look good, but it’s easy to see how it could look good. The newfound rotation depth is a big reason for that.
The presumed starting nine: Nori Aoki, Ketel Marte, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Adam Lind, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta, Leonys Martin. That’s a steady on-base guy at the top, followed by an exciting young athlete who’s uncertainty is in part negated by the team’s numerous options at short. The “core” of the lineup now extends all the way to the seventh spot, and is then followed by a catcher who’s only offensive downside is a crazy-low 2015 BABIP. Martin looks like the only surefire below-average hitter of the bunch, and he’s buried at the bottom and starting because of his defense. The offense could be the team’s biggest strength in 2016. The offense. The offense.
Franklin Gutierrez returns as a defensively limited slugger off the bench, which is still just so insane and amazing. Is he a good bet to repeat his 2015? Not particularly, no, but it’s not like he’s projected to be worthless or anything. Steve Clevenger and Jesus Montero aren’t particularly inspiring bench pieces, but that’s why they’re bench pieces. And besides, the backup infielder – be it Chris Taylor, Shawn O’Malley, Luis Sardinas, or someone else entirely – is probably going to be an above-average reserve. Good teams don’t have black holes. The Mariners’ biggest weakness is probably their backup catcher. Which makes them a lot like most teams.
This is pretty rose-colored, sure. But this isn’t coming out of nowhere – the projections like the Mariners, and so we probably should like the Mariners, too. As Mariners fans it’s safe to say we already like the Mariners, but now we can safely like their odds of not being an embarrassment. Yeah, they were supposed to be the cream of the American League last year, and yeah, they stunk. But 2016’s projections are more relevant to 2016’s performance than 2015’s under-achievement ever could be.
There’s also the fact that this team will be born from an entirely different philosophy than last year’s. Athleticism is a safer bet than solo home runs. Obviously. Jack Zduriencik built stupid, clunky teams, and Dipoto’s most visible difference from his predecessor has been his insistence that the pieces fit. Dipoto doesn’t want lumbering players, unless they have a proven ability to get on base. Zduriencik told Brendan Ryan to try to hit more home runs.
Based on what we know now, the 2016 Seattle Mariners should be pretty good, putting them right back in the admirable position they were in a year ago. Last year things went wrong, but the beauty is that this year isn’t last year. Things could still go wrong, but they aren’t guaranteed to. Which, in December, is really all we need to hear.
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