The Seattle Mariners Will Be Better Than You Think in 2016
Thursday, October 08, 2015
As a result, this year has been trying for the Mariners. They fired their general manager, Jack Zduriencik, and replaced him recently with former Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry DiPoto. The new man in charge has plenty of experience in the division, but he’s got his work cut out for him. While field manager Lloyd McLendon appears to be safe, a lot can change between the last pitch of this season and the first pitch of the next.
The bullpen was, to put it nicely, an abject nightmare. Robinson Cano experienced a massive slump in the second year of his staggering 10-year contract, due in part to a stomach illness he’s dealt with for over a year. Moreover, the reigning division champion Angels were joined by surprise contenders in the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers, making it even tougher for the Mariners to make much noise.
In spite of everything, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Mariners could again be a trendy, dark horse pick by Opening Day 2016. It’s unquestionably a long shot, considering both the state of the franchise and the division, but if everything breaks right, there may be cautious optimism in Seattle once more. Is there any other kind?
First, the rotation wasn’t as terrible as the bullpen, but there’s still room for improvement. Mariners pitchers have thrown 1463 innings this year, good for fourth in baseball. Felix Hernandez, despite being shut down for the remainder of the season, recorded his eighth straight season throwing 200-plus innings, although his 3.53 ERA is his highest mark since 2007. It was still the lowest figure on the staff, with Hisashi Iwakuma (3.54) and James Paxton (3.90) the only other starters to record a sub-4.00 ERA. All three of them had a higher FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, or a pitcher’s ERA determined by the things he controls – strikeouts, walks and home runs), which is a troubling sign. Taijuan Walker, pegged as a potential ace, threw to a 4.56 ERA in 169 2/3 innings, although in contrast to his rotation mates, his FIP was lower at 4.07.
Although they can easily turn things around, don’t forget that this year’s free-agent class is one of the strongest we’ve seen in years, especially with pitchers like Zack Greinke, David Price and Jordan Zimmermann hitting the market. Any one of them or a smattering of second-tier guys (Mat Latos, Jeff Samardzija et. al., and Washington native Tim Lincecum could possibly be had on a minor league deal) would be an instant boon to the starting staff.
Second, many hurlers in the bullpen are likely to rebound just by regressing. Of the 16 Mariners who threw at least 10 innings in relief this season, half of them had a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play, or how often a ball drops in for a hit as opposed to being caught for an out) over .300. Rob Rasmussen, acquired at the trade deadline from the Toronto Blue Jays, ranked at the top with an astonishingly unlucky .469 BABIP, which informs his dreadful 10.67 ERA with Seattle. Because they don’t pitch more than a couple of innings in any given appearance, relievers are always volatile, putting up video game numbers one year and crashing mercilessly back to earth the next. Hmm, who does that sound like…right, Fernando Rodney! Simply by seeing those numbers come down a bit (and not having Rodney in the pen), the relief corps could be significantly better in 2016.
Cano’s illness sapped him of his ability to hit with any regularity for the first half of the season, although his second half surge (.331/.387/.540, with 15 of his 21 total homers) portends extremely well. Nelson Cruz has been a godsend in the first year of a 4-year pact, hitting 44 long balls in 150 games. While power hitters don’t age well at Safeco, nobody expected Cruz to even repeat his 2014 campaign; he has now improved on it. Kyle Seager has posted career highs in all three triple-slash categories, hits, runs, homers and total bases. He’s still just 27, meaning it’s reasonable to expect even bigger numbers from him going forward.
The free-agent market also features some stellar hitters like Chris Davis, Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes. In particular, Justin Upton might be the perfect fit for the Mariners: They’ve twice tried to acquire him, once during his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks and later when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He’ll undoubtedly come with the stigma of draft pick compensation and will likely command a payday in excess of $100 million, but the three guys mentioned in the prior paragraph are proof that the team is willing to open their wallet to lure a power hitter to the PNW.
Again, a lot would have to break right for the Mariners to make it to the postseason next year. Their core players are all another year older, and the farm system will bear few fruits in the foreseeable future. I just wouldn’t immediately count them out in such a fluctuating division.
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How will the Ducks fair without Mariota?
The Ducks have been extremely fortunate to have had one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football leading their offense over the past few seasons. But with him now in the NFL there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. Can the Ducks overcome losing the reigning Heisman trophy winner? Only time will tell.
Will the Beavers finally be able to step out of the Ducks’ shadow?
Over the past few seasons the Beavers have been commonly referred to as the Oregon Ducks’ “little brother.” It’s been close to 8 years since the Beavers last defeated Oregon in the Civil War, and it’s been even longer since they’ve had the type of success the Ducks have recently experienced. Although this year’s Civil War will be played in Eugene there’s still a chance that they could pull off an upset over the Ducks.
Will the Ducks’ receiving core live up to expectations?
This year’s receiving core is deep, fast and tall. There’s no doubt that the Duck’s receivers could give almost any team’s secondary headaches if they can put it all together on the field. If Devon Allen and Bralon Addison come back healthy, and Darren Carrington decides to stop smoking marijuana before big games, the sky’s the limit for the Ducks’ offense.
Who will take more snaps between Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams?
One of Oregon’s most prized offseason acquisitions is Vernon Adams Jr. Although he hasn’t been around the team as much as Jeff Lockie has it’s still possible that he wins the starting quarterback position. Both quarterbacks have pros and cons when it comes to starting. The only difference is that Oregon’s coaching staff knows what Lockie’s pros and cons are while they have almost no idea what Adams’ are. We’ll have to trust Mark Helfrich when it comes to who starts on September 5th.
Photo via Vernon Adams Facebook page (image cropped)
Who will take the scoring load with Joseph Young now in the NBA?
Joseph Young was an offensive force last season for the Ducks’ basketball team. He not only led the team in scoring, he also won the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. He had a tendency to come up with big plays just when his team needed them the most. With him now in the NBA the team desperately needs someone to step up and take over where Young left off.
Will Russell Wilson and the Seahawks agree to a new contract before the start of the regular season?
One of the Seahawks’ biggest question marks is whether or not they will be able to agree on a new contract with Russell Wilson. Wilson has led the team to 2 Super Bowl appearances and apparently wants to be one of the highest paid players in the NFL. The only issue is that the Seahawks don’t want to fork up that kind of cash. If this remains unsettled heading into the regular season it could provide plenty of distractions for the team.
Can the Seahawks move past their Super Bowl blunder?
Obviously the Seahawks’ last play of the Super Bowl didn’t turn out the way that they would’ve liked. The bigger issue is the fact that losing a game of that magnitude can have lingering affects on a team. Will the Seahawks let that loss affect them this season, or will they use it as motivation moving forward?
How will Jimmy Graham fit in with the Seahawks’ offense?
One of the Seahawks’ biggest offseason acquisitions was Jimmy Graham. Seattle brought in the former Saint to help Russell Wilson and the rest of the receiving corps this upcoming season. It’s no secret that the receiving core was one of the team’s weaknesses last year, so hopefully the addition of Graham will help the team make it back to the Super Bowl.
Photo via Jimmy Graham Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Marshawn Lynch begin slowing down?
Running backs have a tendency to break down rather quickly in the NFL. It’s rare that you see a running back continuing to be effective well into their 30’s. With Lynch recently signing a new contract Seattle must believe that he can be effective for the next 2-3 years. By the time his contract expires he will be 32.
Will Damian Lillard be able to lead a young Blazer team?
This was one of the most stressful off-seasons that the Blazers have endured in quite some time. After not knowing LaMarcus Aldridge’s intentions for the past few years he finally made the decision to leave Portland and join the Spurs in San Antonio. With Aldridge officially gone it’s now up to Damian Lillard to lead this young team.
Who will Damian Lillard’s sidekick be?
With Damian Lillard being the lone starter who has seen playoff action he will desperately need someone else to step up. Will it be C.J. McCollum? Meyers Leonard? Or maybe one of the newcomers? If this team wants to experience any type of success this season they need a sidekick for Lillard.
Will the Blazers be able to move past LaMarcus Aldridge?
Whenever a team loses one of the best players in all the NBA there’s no doubt that there’s going to be an adjustment period. Instead of the off having the offense flow through LaMarcus Aldridge it will now run through Damian Lillard. This won’t only be an adjustment that the players will have to grow accustomed to, but also the coaching staff.
Can Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum continue improving?
If there’s one bright spot for the Blazers’ last postseason it’s that Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum showed drastic improvements. Leonard was an efficient 3-point shooter who could draw defenses out on him, while McCollum showed the ability to score the ball at will. Hopefully these 2 guys can continue improving this upcoming season.
Will Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath be able to lead the Thorns to the playoffs?
Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath are coming off of a World Cup victory. After going head-to-head with some of the best teams in the world there’s no question that Morgan and Heath have learned some invaluable lessons that they can share with the rest of the Thorns. It’s fairly uncommon for any club team to have 2 athletes who started on a World Cup team. Hopefully they can use that to their advantage as Portland continues with their season.
Can the Timbers fix their scoring woes?
After starting off the season in a rather sluggish manner the Timbers went on one of the longest winning streaks in franchise history. They currently stand as one of the best teams in the Western Conference even though they’ve had issues when it comes to scoring. If the Timbers have any hopes of advancing into the postseason they need to figure out how to score the ball more frequently.
Will Joseph Young be able to contribute to the Pacers this season?
Joseph Young has the potential to be one of the most successful Ducks in the NBA. He experienced plenty of success in college that made him the 43rd overall selection by the Indiana Pacers during this year’s NBA Draft. The first obstacle that Young must overcome is simply making the roster. Young had an outstanding Summer League that helped increase his chances of playing for Indiana during the 2015-2016 season.
Photo via Joseph Young Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Gary Payton II follow in his father’s footsteps?
It’s almost a guarantee that Gary Payton II has his eyes on the NBA. After all, how could you not when your father was one of the most iconic players to have played for the Seattle Supersonics? If he truly wants to make his dream a reality he has to prove to NBA teams that he has what it takes.
Photo via Gary Payton Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Royce Freeman emerge as a Heisman candidate?
The University of Oregon has been blessed with numerous football players that have turned out to be Heisman candidates. Dennis Dixon, LaMichael James and Marcus Mariota have all been nominated for college football’s most prestigious award. There have already been some rumblings that Royce Freeman could be the next Duck to be up for the Heisman. He had a breakout season as a true freshman. If he continues to dominate there’s no doubt the sky’s the limit for the true sophomore.
Can Marcus Mariota lead the Titans franchise?
Marcus Mariota is one of the most successful quarterbacks to have come through the University of Oregon. With him now in the NFL many are curious as to whether or not he can come in and contribute right away. The Tennessee Titans are in need of a franchise player, and Mariota could very well be that guy. We wont know for sure until this upcoming season.
Will Chip Kelly’s offseason moves pay off?
Chip Kelly made a plethora of off-season moves that have many analysts scratching their heads. He traded away one of the most effective running backs in the NFL as well as his starting quarterback. What he got in return were two players who are both coming off of ACL injuries. If Kelly has a plan it better work out soon otherwise he could quickly find himself unemployed.
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