Mariners Season Prediction

Dec 9, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais speaks with the media during the MLB winter meetings at Gaylord Opryland Resort . Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 9, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais speaks with the media during the MLB winter meetings at Gaylord Opryland Resort . Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports /

Opening Day is right around the corner, Seattle Mariners fans. So here’s my attempt at predicting what this unpredictable club will do in 2016.

The 2016 Seattle Mariners are tough to predict. Most predictions I’ve seen by baseball pundits over the past several weeks peg the Mariners to finish close to .500, usually a game or two over that mark. Not even FanGraphs knows what to make of this team, projecting the Seattle Mariners to finish 82-80.

The lack of bold predictions going below or above the Seattle Mariners winning half of their games is understandable. This is a team that disappointed mightily last year because of holes in their lineup turning into black holes, and a more-than-natural regression in their bullpen. They surprised the year before, falling one game shy of the wild card play-in game in 2014, largely because their mildly-touted bullpen was lights-out.

Last year’s failures produced change up and down the Seattle Mariners organization heading into 2016. Jack Zdurencik, whose constant championing of hitters like Mark Trumbo, was canned and replaced by the scouting and analytics-oriented Jerry Dipoto. And Dipoto didn’t waste time turning the Seattle Mariners upside down, starting by replacing Lloyd McClendon with Scott Servais.

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I won’t run down all the Mariners moves from this offseason. If you want a comprehensive rundown of all their moves (and I don’t blame you after the whirlwind Dipoto concocted this offseason) check out the Tacoma News Tribune’s list. With all the additions and subtractions that took place over the winter, it’s hard to predict if all the projected upgrades will outweigh all the possible regressions throughout the team.

Let’s start with what we know. We know that the starting rotation, barring some rash of injuries or Felix Hernandez suddenly falling off a cliff next year (both unlikely, but possible) will be solid. We don’t know how good they can be. Felix, even though he’s coming off a down year by his standards, will be Felix, anchoring the rotation as a true number one starter. Hisashi Iwakuma is a solid number two starter who could be a number one on another team. The issue with Kuma is when will he get hurt and how long will he be out. He’s getting up there in age and his injury struggles are no secret.

Dipoto did a good job shoring up the rest of the rotation behind Felix and Kuma. Remember that Dipoto almost lost Kuma to the Dodgers and only managed to re-sign him after Los Angeles bailed on the deal at the last minute. He was willing to roll with Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns and possibly James Paxton behind the King. The Seattle Mariners are deep at starting pitcher. Karns is a young strikeout artist with upside. Miley could have a lower floor than we suspect, but pitching in Safeco Field should keep his mediocrity in check while he eats up innings. Walker is a possible breakout candidate after an uneven 2015. Paxton, dealing with health issues of his own, was effective in limited action last year. It’s not going to be the best rotation in baseball, but they should be able to overcome any injuries to key starters throughout the season and at least keep games close.

The offense sagged last year despite the best efforts of Nelson Cruz and the second-half surge of Robinson Cano. Kyle Seager had his usual ho-hum season at the plate, but the capable core of this lineup got little help. Logan Morrison was a drain offensively all year, and because Mike Zunino was forced into the lineup for lack of better options, we had to watch him strike out 132 times and hit well below the Mendoza line. Other than Cruz and an unexpected power surge from Franklin Gutierrez, the outfielders didn’t hit much either. Seth Smith was useful at times, but he’s hardly an offensive powerhouse.

Dipoto did what he had to do to fix the Seattle Mariners lineup this year. He dumped Trumbo and his .300 OBP. He found Chris Iannetta to play catcher until Zunino figures out how to not swing wildly at every pitch. He dumped Morrison and replaced him with the capable Adam Lind at first. And even though new outfielders Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin won’t hit a ton, they’re better than Austin Jackson and they keep Cruz safely on the bench as DH. Iannetta isn’t the answer at catcher for the M’s, but he’s a warm body who will rebound from his .188 batting average last year with the Angels. These were the most glaring holes in the Mariners lineup last year, and even though Dipoto didn’t fill them with studs, he at least stopped the leakage.

Seattle Mariners
Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto replaced manager Lloyd McClendon with his boy, Scott Servais. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The true wild card (get it?) for the Seattle Mariners this season is the bullpen. Dipoto completely made it over. The closing team of Tom Wilhemsen and Carson Smith is gone, replaced by former Marlins closer Steve Cishek and the veteran Joaquin Benoit. Benoit brings a sense of stability to the bullpen, but other than him, there are many question marks. Cishek lost his job in Miami and got traded to the Cardinals last season. Charlie Furbush is the only incumbent, and the Mariners will be relying on untested arms like Tony Zych, Jonathan Aro, and Cody Martin to shut games down. These young arms have some promise. Aro was considered a good prospect for the Red Sox before he came over in the Wade Miley trade. Zych throws hard and pitched well in his audition for the big league club last year. There’s talent here, but as we all know from 2015, don’t count on anything from your bullpen, unless you have a Chapman-Miller-Betances combination.

Okay. Here goes. My guess is that the Seattle Mariners get just enough from their starters and their upgraded offense to win enough close games to stay in contention by the Trade Deadline. They make some kind of swap to bring in help for the bullpen which pitches okay in the first half, mostly because Mariners’ starters go deep into games, but will start to sag by July. Cano has a more even season and starts hot. Cruz continues to terrorize American League pitching. The improved outfield defense saves more runs in 2016, and the Mariners sneak into the playoffs as the first Wild Card team. Then we get to see Felix pitching in a one-game playoff in front of King’s Court at Safeco. Whooo—getting chills over here.

Next: Player Profile: Chris Iannetta

I’m always an optimist when it comes to my Seattle Mariners, so I’ll add some wins to the FanGraphs projection for their final record: 85-77. Disagree? Make your own prediction in the comments section then, stud.