The Seattle Mariners are flying under the radar a bit this off-season - a stark contrast to last year's media circus when they, surprisingly, signed Robinson Cano. This off-season, they signed Nelson Cruz, which is a huge boost in power for the Mariners, especially from the right side of the plate. The Mariners are stacked with left-handed hitters, all of whom have plenty of pop:
Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, and, of course, the afore-mentioned Robinson Cano. They also have Seth Smith who's no slouch, and he definitely knows how to wear out pitchers and just get on base.
What was that? I heard someone question Logan Morrison...
You mark our fantasy-nerd words: Logan Morrison is a lock for 18+ Home Runs and 70+ RBI and a .250+ batting average, especially in this lineup. He's only 27 this year and he's in the middle of a lineup of young guys who all have that one, extra year of moderate success under their belt. You add Nelson Cruz into that mix to protect someone - any one of those guys - and you have a recipe for success, so long as Nelson Cruz stays healthy and stays away from any PED troubles.
Dustin Ackley hit 14 HR with 65 RBI in 2014, and he, too, turns 27 this season. With Austin Jackson and Seth Smith (presumably) in the outfield with him, they're a bunch of scrappy, tough outs. Jackson, especially - if he learns to be more patient at the plate - is extremely tough on opposing pitchers. The threat for Jackson to steal is significant enough to bother less-seasoned pitchers, although he may attempt fewer steals depending on how this offense jells together. If they're all hitting, Jackson may not run as much since there are so many guys to drive him in. Conversely, if the guys behind him aren't hitting, he'll be running more - maybe more than last year. Jackson only stole 20 bases in 2014, but get this: he stole 9 with Detroit in 100 games, but he stole 11 bases with Seattle in just 54 games. So, the initial indication is that he'll be running more this season, but with the addition of Nelson Cruz and the maturation of the rest of Seattle's power in the lineup, he may give the hitters behind him a few more pitches. Also, Austin Jackson is still only 28 years old this season, so he hasn't lost any speed.
Seattle's Dominant Starting Pitching
So what about the rest of the Mariners' pitching staff?
James Paxton is, perhaps, the best, relatively-unknown pitcher in all of baseball. We let you know prior to last season that he may end up being the best $1 player in an auction draft, and one of the best sleeper picks among pitchers, period. Turns out, Paxton spent a lot of time injured last season, but when he pitched, he was more than solid. In 13 starts, Paxton carried a 3.04 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 7.2 K/9 - all super-solid numbers. He's only 26 this season, so we're fairly confident the injury big will stay away from him.
Taijuan Walker is someone who will get drafted in your fantasy league a little too early because he has a cool name, electric stuff and a good flair about him on the mound. He's only 22 years old and he's ready for the big time. Last season, he only made five starts, but he posted a 2.61 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 8.1 K/9. While we would expect his ERA to go up a bit given his WHIP, we also wouldn't be totally shocked if his WHIP comes down to match his ERA, instead. We expect Walker to end up around a 3.60 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. In those stats will be a few flashes of absolute brilliance when he's on, and those flashes could also be hot streaks that last 4 or 5 games, too.
Roenis Elias is also pretty solid in the rotation, although he can be a bit sloppy at times. His ERA was under 4.00, but his WHIP was over 1.3, which is usually an indicator that his ERA should be significantly higher. Nonetheless, he, too, is only 26 years old, so the upside to his talents far outweighs the downside.
Then there's the old guy of the bunch: Hisashi Iwakuma - he of the aged 34 years in April. Make no mistake, though - Iwakuma is solid, having posted a 3.52 ERA and a WHIP of 1.05 that indicates that he could very easily drop his ERA under 3.00 if a little luck comes his way. His K/9 are also excellent at 7.7. Another fantasy note: this guy will go way later than he should in your draft because he (along with everyone else in Seattle other than King Felix) gets no media attention.
The Mariners' Bullpen is above average. In fact, the biggest issue we see with it is Fernando Rodney. Sure, Fernando Rodney led all of baseball with 48 saves in 2014, but seriously... look at his stats - they weren't that good. Rodney finished with a good 2.85 ERA, but his WHIP was bloated at 1.34. That giant WHIP is a clear indication that he's in trouble. It's also on par with his career WHIP (1.36), whereas his career ERA is a non-impressive 3.61 in terms of being a closer. For fantasy purposes, there's no way we can recommend you draft Fernando Rodney unless you're desperate. Likewise, we see him as, quite possibly, the biggest question mark for the Mariners going into the 2015 season. On top of his bloated WHIP, his age is also pretty bloated - relatively speaking to the rest of the team, of course. Fernando Rodney will be 38 this season, so we don't expect much more from him.
If Fernando Rodney melts down as the Mariners' closer in 2015 - which we kind of expect - Danny Farquhar could get another shot at closing out games. Farquhar keeps improving, posting a 2.66 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 10.3 K/9. His ERA and WHIP are both better than Rodney's, and his K/9 are the same. Farquhar is also 28 this season - 10 years younger than Rodney.
In closing, the AL West needs to be on high alert of the Seattle Mariners. They're young, talented, ready to break out, and ready to have a contagious, winning dugout all season long.
Oh, did we even bother mentioning they have the best offensive second baseman in all of baseball in Robinson Cano? Yeah... that helps, too.