Mariners Fantasy Baseball Preview

Sep 25, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Mariners have several fantasy-relevant players on the team this season. Here’s where you should draft them and what you should expect from them in 2016.

In fantasy baseball, you have to set your love for your favorite team aside to win. All of your decisions as fantasy baseball manager have to be about the numbers, not the names. Still, fantasy baseball wouldn’t be as fun if you totally disengage from rooting for the Mariners, and if you happen to land Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, or Nelson Cruz, winning with your favorite players is all the better.

So, here are five fantasy-relevant Mariners and their outlook for 2016:

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For each player, I’ve included their Yahoo! ranks, the fantasy baseball platform I use (also note that I play in a head-to-head league, which affects rankings), along with my approximate ranking for 2016. My rankings are subject to change as we draw closer to fantasy draft time. Included are batting and pitching lines from 2015.

Nelson Cruz. 90 R, 44 HR, 93 RBI .302/.362/.566. Y! rank: 29. My rank: 28.

I drafted Nelson Cruz in the 8th or 9th round last year because I had already named my team Cruzin for a Bruisin and featured his picture as my team logo. I couldn’t imagine the monster year he would have on draft day and he propelled me to a league championship (I also drafted Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta).

I feel the Yahoo! ranking for Cruz is on par. It’s easy to mark him as a regression candidate because of his unexpectedly gaudy numbers in 2015, but he hit 40 home runs in 2014, too with Baltimore. Only 17 of his 44 home runs from last year flew out of Safeco Field, but he still managed a .304 average at home and slugged .517. I don’t expect him to hit over .300 again this year, and he’s never been much of a bases-on-balls kind of guy, but his power is real, and even at age 35, he’s a good bet smash 35 home runs, hit for a respectable average, and drive in around 100 runs. That’s good value for a late third-round pick.

Felix Hernandez. 18-9, 201.2 IP, 3.53 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.5 K/9. Y! rank: 41. My rank: 44.

Not much disagreement here, either. I have The King ranked 15th among starting pitchers right now, just behind Matt Harvey but way ahead of Stephen Strasburg, who I consider second-tier because of relentless injury concerns. There are plenty of good pitchers out there, gamers. For Hernandez, it’s all about consistency. He logged over 200 innings for the eighth straight year and racked up 191 strikeouts in 2015.

The King came back down to earth in 2015 after finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2014. Perhaps most concerning last year were the 23 home runs he allowed, the most in his career since 2006, his first full season in the major leagues. Some of his advanced stats like FIP and ERA+ were also far worse than his career numbers. Still, he won 18 games for a mediocre team and figures to be around that mark again this year with an improved team behind him. Improved defense will especially help the King this year. I won’t be scared off by his sagging numbers compared to 2014. He turns 30 this year and has rarely had any injury concerns. For a guy who routinely went in the second round in fantasy drafts in recent years, his 5th round ranking could produce significant value. His ability to change his game and consistently turn in quality starts is valuable in head-to-head leagues. My only concern is the pitchers that will be drafted near him. It’s very possible that guys like Harvey and Gerrit Cole, both ranked in the 5th round, have breakout seasons. Felix is a great high-floor starter, but I see greater upside in Harvey, Cole, and Jacob DeGrom.

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Robinson Cano. 82 R, 21 HR, 79 RBI .287/.334/.446. Y! rank: 56. My rank: 50.

I’m banking on a bounce-back year from Cano, who hit for his lowest average since 2008 in 2015 and set a career high in strikeouts. It’s not often that a second baseman knocks 21 home runs and hits .287, then needs a bounce-back year, but that’s how high expectations are for Robby. There is reason for optimism here: Cano’s career average is .307, and for the three seasons before 2015, he was remarkably consistent, hitting .313, .314, and .314 2012 through 2014, his first year in Seattle. Cano was awful for the first half of the year and put up MVP-type numbers the second half. His walk-strikeout ratios were the worst of his career, but 64 of his 107 strikeouts in 2015 were in the first half, as were only 17 of his 43 walks. Basically, if you waited it out on Cano through the first half, you probably dominated your league in the second half.

There are age concerns here, of course. Cano will turn 33 at the end of the season, and there is no doubt this is a different player than the 30 HR a year masher he was with the Yankees, but it’s unlikely he’ll hit less than .287 this year, his power numbers are at least consistently solid away and at home, and he’ll be much cheaper on draft day than he traditionally is. This is the year you can get good value out of Cano. He’s a solid option at a perennially thin position. If you miss out on Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve, Cano is a good alternative.

Mariners third baseman
Mariners third baseman /

Kyle Seager. 85 R, 26 HR, 74 RBI, .266/.328/.451. Y! rank: 90. My rank: 85

It appears that Seager has leveled off at the numbers he posted last season. His home run total has improved every year he’s been in the league, albeit very slowly. He hit 25 in 2014 and 22 in 2013. Seager’s numbers aren’t what you would call sexy, especially at third base, which is loaded this year. But they are consistent and solid. He turns 28 this season, and while I wouldn’t necessarily bank on him dramatically improving on his line from 2015, you’re getting 20-plus home runs, an average that won’t kill you, good run-scoring numbers, and the possibility of high upside in the ninth or tenth round. He’s not as good as his brother, but he’s a worth a mid-to-late-round flier if you can’t grab guys like Josh Donaldson or Kris Bryant at third base.

Taijuan Walker. 11-8, 169.2 IP 4.56 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.3 K/9. Y! rank: 139. My rank: 152

I’m a huge Walker fan this year. He gives the Mariners some serious upside at the back end of their rotation, flashing high potential at times in 2015. In fantasy land, however, I’m fading him. It’s no doubt he has the stuff to be much improved in 2016. If he can figure out how to keep the ball in the park (Walker allowed 25 home runs last year), that ERA will drop considerably. I like him as a player, I just don’t want to draft him if Carlos Rodon, Shelby Miller, Josh Reddick, Jorge Soler, Jake Odorizzi, Scott Kazmir, and even Hisashi Iwakuma are still around. This is the end of the 14th round that we’re talking about here, but there are useful players with upside at this point that I’d rather take with that pick.

Next: 2016 Seattle Mariners: Cautious Optimism

Remember, you don’t have to draft Mariners in fantasy, but it’s much more fun if you do. Stick with these five and maybe Kuma, and you’ll be set.