Mariners: Three Key Newcomers

Sep 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Adam Lind (24) hits a two run home run during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Adam Lind (24) hits a two run home run during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

The Mariners retooled their team to shake off the disappointment of 2015. This is the first year of a new era of Mariners baseball. Sifting through all the new faces, which ones are the most important?

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto put on a show during the offseason. No, he didn’t lure any big-time free agents or make any blockbuster trades, but he did improve a team still recovering from the effects of the Jack Zdurencik era. FanGraphs projects the Mariners to win 83 games, up from the disappointing 76 they posted last season. Most analysts are in line with the FanGraphs projection.

Projecting a near-.500 season for this year’s squad seems like a safe bet if you’re trying to be objectively accurate. There’s logic to projecting 83 wins. The Mariners appeared to fill some of their glaring holes from last year: first base, catcher, outfield, but on the whole, no one knows just how all the new faces will help improve the bullpen, which was a huge drain on the M’s last year. Most importantly, no one knows how all of these new faces will fit together to win games next year.

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To help get a grip on all the new players the Mariners will be relying on in 2016, I’ve identified three that will be integral to the success of the team next year. Remember, this is a team that not only has many new players, it also has a new manager, new front office leadership, a mostly new coaching staff, and a new organizational approach to developing prospects. I have no idea how all of the change will affect this year’s team, but I can guess which three new players will need to have the largest positive impact to see a change in the standings in 2016:

  • Nori Aoki. The Japanese defector has hit .287/.353/.386 in four major league seasons with the Brewers, Royals, and Giants. His best year was his “rookie” year in 2012, in which he hit 37 doubles, 10 home runs, and stole 30 bases. Heading into his age-34 season, his numbers have dropped every year in the majors. He hasn’t stolen more than 20 bases in a season since 2013, and in the two years since, Aoki has stolen 31 bases combined. Still, his on-base ratios have remained steady, and he has two more walks than strikeouts in his major league career (an astonishing 171 to 169 ratio). The presumed lead-off hitter will have to continue to get on base at his normal clip to help this team, which struggled to put runners on and not make outs in 2015. Aoki doesn’t offer much in the ways of power or speed, at least not based on his most recent numbers with other clubs, so he’ll have to play well in the outfield, stay healthy (he played 93 games last year), and be a pesky hitter to be valuable on a team that struggled to put together a competitive outfield in any aspect of the game last year.
New Mariners Outfielder Nori Aoki
Aug 28, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) stands on second base after hitting a double against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning of their MLB baseball game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports /
  • Wade Miley. If you’re like me, the term “innings-eater” isn’t much of a compliment. Yes, staying healthy is a skill, a very valuable one in the world of major league pitchers, but so is missing bats. Miley comes into the Seattle rotation as the presumed third or fourth starter, a durable pitcher who has been over or near 200 innings in every full season he has played for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Betting Miley will start 30 games or more this year is one of the safest you can find. But, this is a man with a career ERA just under 4. While his FIP is lower (a respectable but not great 3.80), Miley has allowed over 200 hits in each of the past three seasons. During his first full season in 2012 with Arizona, Miley gave up 193. He’s hittable. Miley has also only played in pitcher’s hell ballparks in Arizona and Boston. Last year, he also had Hanley Ramirez trying to run down fly balls for him. If the Mariners’ outfielders can actually catch a few more fly balls, Miley could be an important cog in the rotation after Hisashi Iwakuma inevitably gets hurt. If Miley gives up 20-plus home runs this year (he gave up 17 last year, 23 in 2014), he could be just another mediocre starter.
  • Adam Lind. Acquired in a trade with the Brewers for basically nothing, Lind could be the most valuable offseason pickup by Dipoto this year. The Mariners desperately needed a first baseman and an extra bat in their lineup. Lind provides power and veteran approach at the plate to stabilize the lineup after Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. The Mariners need Lind to put up similar numbers to last year, when he slashed .277/.360/.460 and knocked 20 home runs. His splits are pretty extreme, hence Dipoto’s scrambling to find someone to platoon with him to face lefties (against whom Lind has slashed .221/.277/.575 in his career), but if Lind can do his normal damage against right-handed pitching, he adds some much-needed thump to the middle of the lineup. What will be crucial for Lind (as it is for anyone) is staying healthy. He has alternated 140-plus game seasons with less than 100 game seasons the past four years. If that pattern continues, he’s due for a less than 100 game season in 2016. He has to buck that trend to give the Mariners a much-needed bat against right-handed starters to help Cano and Kyle Seager.

Next: Mariners Spring Training Preview

All three of these players will have to play essential complimentary roles for the Mariners to be successful this season. For Lind and Aoki, the challenge will be staying healthy, for Miley, it will be to string together quality starts and be a stopper for the rotation. Fangraphs and others see a .500 team in 2016, probably because they don’t really know what to make of the new-look Mariners. If Lind, Aoki, and Miley all simply perform as they are expected to and stay mostly healthy, the Mariners will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001.