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2016 Seattle Mariners Spring Preview: The Rotation

Friday, January 29, 2016


This time of the year some of us have grown accustomed to watching the Seattle Seahawks play for a couple of weeks longer, but as it turns out getting to the Super Bowl three years in a row is actually pretty difficult. The Seahawks made it seem like a very reasonable task, though, dominating several opponents late in the season even after having lost many key players to injury along the way. Here’s to a great year for coach Pete Carroll and his entire staff. And here’s to winning it all next year. 

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. 

The Positives

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. 

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#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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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

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#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.


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