2016 Seattle Mariners Spring Preview: The Rotation
Friday, January 29, 2016
Now that we’ve all had a few days to mourn, it’s time to start talking some serious baseball. It’s almost February, and pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training in a few short weeks. Between now and then, let’s delve into a Mariners roster that is barely recognizable from this time last year. With so many changes, I’m choosing to break the team down into position groups, so we can focus a little bit closer on each area the team. Combined, the five position groups we’ll be talking about make up the entirety of the 25-man active roster of the Mariners. This week let’s start by talking about the rotation.
The Mariners will go into spring in better shape than anyone thought they would. Hisashi Iwakuma signed a contract with the L.A. Dodgers and the Mariners said goodbye to one of their best pitchers of the last few years. But in a rare turn of events, the Dodgers tried to restructure his contract after finding something they didn’t like during a mandatory physical, and Iwakuma turned them down and resigned a much friendlier contract with Seattle. Nice move, Jerry Dipoto. Nice move.
Before the resigning of Iwakuma, the Mariners starting rotation looked like it might be due to take a step back in 2016. The team traded for Nathan Karns, the young hurler from Tampa Bay, as well as Red Sox starter, Wade Miley. Those two starters certainly did help me and other fans feel a little better about losing a pitcher of Iwakuma’s caliber. Then when we found out that Iwakuma was returning after all? All of the sudden, I can see a ray of light shining on the mound at Safeco Field. This rotation is one former Cy Young Award candidate deeper than expected.
We have six quality big league starting pitchers. Let that sink in for a second while you reflect on the beginning of last season, when we lost James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma to long stints on the disabled list. If one thing was made obvious last spring, it was that having depth in your rotation is huge. It’s absolutely vital to winning over the course of a six-month season. In that area, the Mariners have taken a giant step in the right direction.
With Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma at the top of the order, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Nathan Karns will have to occupy the three remaining spots. Taijuan Walker had a decent season in 2015, and Wade Miley is a consistent innings eater, which you want out of a back-of-the-rotation guy. My guess is whoever looks healthiest and more polished between Karns and Paxton will start the year in the rotation and the odd man out will start the year down in Tacoma.
Areas of Concern
Iwakuma and Paxton have both been kept from contributing as much as they were expected to for the last two seasons. The additions of Karns and Miley should significantly raise the Mariners chances of putting a quality starter on the mound for every game. But Iwakuma, when healthy, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. And James Paxton has shown glimmers of utter dominance against major league players. Those players staying healthy could easily be a difference of three or four wins, which could be the difference between making the playoffs and patiently waiting thru October for football season to get rolling.
Who Makes the Cut
Hard to say, because I think health could be a big factor. But I’m guessing that if all are healthy, James Paxton starts the year in AAA and Nate Karns makes the team.
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. Taijuan Walker
4. Wade Miley
5. Nathan Karns
While the Mariners didn’t go out and spend $300 million crazy-dollars on David Price or even show interest in any of the top pitchers on the free-agency market, they managed to add three very good pitchers, including Hisashi Iwakuma, who had all but moved to Hollywood. They did it for fairly cheap, and I think our rotation will match up against most in the American league, if they stay healthy.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the bullpen, the outfield group, the infield group and the catchers. Hopefully by the first game of spring training we’ll have some idea of which players will be playing for a roster spot, which will be adjusting to new roles, and what this very different Mariners team might look like when the finally take the field for opening game. My oh my, it feels good to be talking about opening day.
Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films.
#8 The Longest Yard
Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.
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