Anticipation and excitement fill the air for baseball fans in the northwest as pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month. A disappointing 2015 campaign for the Seattle Mariners resulted in the firing of Jack Zduriencik and a majority of the coaching staff. Jerry DiPoto was brought in, to lead the Mariners in a new direction. Mariner fans hope that direction leads to post season play in Seattle.
Jerry DiPoto was hired in late September. Since Dipoto was brought in, the Mariners have made 10 trades, bringing in players that fit the mold of Jerry DiPoto’s plan. It makes sense that new players would follow a new general manager. Plenty of questions were answered at the Mariners spring training press conference.
The outfield defense has been improved dramatically by the acquisition of Leonys Martin, and Nori Aoki. Martin was added from the Texas Rangers. Martin is known for his range and throwing arm. Aoki was signed as a free agent to play either corner outfield spots. Aoki plays tremendous defense, and is one of the toughest outs in all of baseball. in 2203 career plate appearances, Aoki has struck out only 169 times. The pesky outfielder will lead off for the Mariners in 2016, almost guaranteeing the first out of the M’s line up will not be an easy one.
Adam Lind wad added to the Mariners to play first base. Lind is has batted .274 with 166 home runs and 228 doubles in his 10 year major league baseball career. Lind provides solid contact from the left side of the plate to the Mariners line up. I am interested in the back up first basemen role. Jesus Montero has had a roller coaster of a career in baseball. Montero proved that he can hit at a triple A level last year. In 98 games, Montero hit .355 with 18 home runs, and 18 doubles. Montero makes the most sense to back up Lind at first base, but Gabby Sanchez and Stefan Ramero could also find their way on the roster. It will be interesting to see who earns one of the last spots on the roster this spring.
New Manager Scott Servais anticipates several one run ball games. The 2015 Mariners played in 57 one run ball games, posting a record of 28-29 in those games. Only Charlie Furbush remains of a bullpen that was the best in baseball in 2014. Jerry DiPoto has brought in veteran players like Joaquin Beniot and Steve Cishek. Their experience could be a crucial factor in coming out on the winning side of those one run games.
“We have 6 to 9 candidates for the 5th spot in the pitching rotation.” – DiPoto
As a fan, it is not comforting to have nine possible players who could potentially fill one spot. With so many options, first time manager Scott Servais has plenty of opportunities to choose the wrong guy. The front runner for the position is James Paxton. Paxton’s biggest problem has been health issues. The lefty has never thrown more than 75 innings in a season. However Paxton has a career 3.16 earned run average in his short sample size. Paxton has lost 25 pounds over the offseason. Carrying less weight on his six foot five inch frame will hopefully lead to more innings and more success from James Paxton.
“It’s paramount that we understand that we are here for that player. This season is going to be about what is best for Mike Zunino.” – DiPoto
The offensive play of Mike Zunino has left a lot to be desired. In 295 games, Zunino has batted .193 and struck out 339 times. Mike Zunino’s greatest offensive attribute is his power. However Zunino has only hit 38 home runs in his major league career, averaging 12 bombs a year. Zunino’s high strike out rate does not fit well with DiPoto’s philosophy. The Mariners organization is committed to starting Zunino in triple A Tacoma. It would not surprise me one bit, if Zunino had outstanding numbers in triple A, leading Dipoto to use him as trade bait. Defensively Zunino is as good as catchers come. Hopefully, Zunino can find his swing in Tacoma, and become the Mariner catcher for years to come.
The offseason has been extremely interesting to watch. Jerry DiPoto took the general manager position with a plan, and appeared to never stray from it. The team has been retooled entirely, leaving questions unanswered. Spring cannot come soon enough, as the new look Mariners fight to stay alive come fall.