The Mariners should be glad that the Astros are joining the division. At least this way they won’t be the only punching bags in the West. Still the Mariners are hoping to be better, and now that they have a reasonable chance of escaping the cellar (albeit by default), they will cross their fingers and hope some of the young talent they possess will start to mature so that 2014, 15 and 16 will be much better than the present.
To aid this, they’ve brought in the fences for the upcoming season, so the offensive production might go up a tick, though the pitching might take a small step back. That said, while the well isn’t deep, they aren’t devoid of fantasy talent and interesting storylines.
Here are 10 players to watch in 2013.
Jason Bay (OF): Speaking of interesting, the signing of Jason Bay certainly is that. Bay, who flopped mightily, with the New York Mets will get another chance at redemption. He still has some pop in his bat, but there are a lot of questions about Bay’s ability to be productive or an everyday player. Age and injury history are certainly factors against him, but the question of just how much of his baseball skills have really eroded may be the biggest issue. If his failure was due to the pressures of playing in New York (and we’ve seen plenty of players suffer from that) there is a fair chance of a bounce back. Certainly Seattle will offer a lot less pressure and at 34 those baseball skills shouldn’t be totally gone.
Kendrys Morales (1B): The acquisition of Kendrys Morales almost certainly means that Justin Smoak is in for a lot less playing time or is even destined to be traded. Morales is the team’s best hitter and the only Mariner who you can pencil in for 20-plus home runs, although there are a couple of youngsters who should make a run at it. Odds are he won’t be bothered too much by the dimensions of Safeco as he’s always hit well there and shorter fences should only make him more formidable.
Felix Hernandez (SP): While Morales is by far the M’s best hitter, Hernandez is far and away not just the team’s best pitcher but possibly the best pitcher in the division. Odds are the shorter fences won’t aid him much, but he’s so good that there is no reason to think that King Felix is going to take more than minor step back, provided he can stay healthy. That certainly has to play on your mind when drafting him considering that his fastball velocity has continued to decline every year since 2008 and that there were some questionable things on the pre-contract medical exam he had in the offseason.
Hisashi Iwakuma (SP): While King Felix is the big gun, Iwakuma often gets overlooked. He’s got great control and doesn’t walk very many batters. Still at age 32 he probably doesn’t offer a lot of upside beyond what he showed in the second half, but that was plenty good as he managed eight wins against four losses in just 95 innings. With a little run support and some luck he could post 12-15 wins and give you a sub 3.50 ERA
Erasmo Ramirez (SP): If you are looking for a starter with upside the young Ramirez might well be the man to target. He flashed some serious skills in his 136 innings last year and put up some quite respectable numbers, peripheral and otherwise. That said he won’t be an ace, but at age 23 he has enough upside to warrant a closer look. Because he walks so few batters and strikes out 7-plus per 9, you have to like the chances that he can build on last year’s success.
Jesus Montero (C): Montero is another guy who’s all potential: the potential to hit 20-plus home runs and the potential to hit .280. I’d bet more on the power than the average this year but Montero should develop into good hitter over the next few seasons. The biggest plus to Montero in 2013 is that he qualifies at catcher and not just at DH. With his upside he’s a solid catching choice and you can enjoy the benefit of a “catcher” who doesn’t have to deal with the everyday wear and tear that the position usually entails.
Michael Morse (OF): Morse could easily be a bit of an overlooked player coming into 2013 since his stat line from last year only included about four months’ worth of stats. His injury history is very concerning but .280 with 20-plus home runs seem to be almost a given. However at age 31 there isn't a lot of upside left.
Kyle Seager (3B): Seager has power and should once again reach double digit steals, but that won’t elevate him to anywhere near elite levels but the potential to match his .259-20-88 with 13 steals will make him a nice late round option.
Michael Saunders (OF): Saunders is a 20/20 candidate again after missing it by a single home run last season. He could definitely benefit from the improved lineup, but he’ll have to prove that the gains in batting average, especially against righties are real, and that the improvement is a trend. If not, he might well find himself a bad situation and on the wrong side of a platoon by midseason.
Tom Wilhelmsen (CL): Even a bad closer on a bad team has the potential to get 30-plus saves so long as he can hold the job. Wilhelmsen had moments of elite dominance last season, but that dominance wasn’t a consistent thing. He’ll enter the season with the job in hand, which is a very good thing. The only problem is that his control and strikeout to walk ratio took a step in the wrong direction in the second half. Let’s hope it’s not the start of a trend.