MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - INSIDE PITCH
Despite the disappointment of a frustrating road trip followed by an oh-so-close final day, the 2014 Seattle Mariners season will be considered, by all accounts, a big step in the right direction.
Lloyd McClendon's first season as manager saw Seattle get back on the baseball map, and it has been a long time coming. Falling just short of the playoffs is reason for subdued celebration in a city where the Major League playoffs have been an unattainable goal for more than a decade running.
The final month of the season was a major disappointment, and Seattle's once-proud rotation faded down the stretch, but the Mariners still carry a lot of momentum into the offseason.
As McClendon said over the final weekend of the season: "Hopefully this is the start of something good for this organization."
Carrying the momentum from one season into another is easier said than done, especially for a Seattle organization that has fallen flat in recent years. The 2007 Mariners under Don Wakamatsu appeared to have things on the right track with an 88-win season, only to lose 101 games the following year. An 85-77 record in 2009 was followed by another 101-loss year the next season.
What makes this year different? A good place to start is a rotation that has two pitchers -- ace Felix Hernandez and No. 2 Hisashi Iwakuma -- in the primes of their careers, as well as a No. 3 in lefty James Paxton who could be on the cusp of greatness. There is also a solid core of young players like third baseman Kyle Seager, leftfielder Dustin Ackley, catcher Mike Zunino and shortstop Chris Taylor, who might be just scratching the surface of their potential. And with second baseman Robinson Cano in the No. 3 spot in the batting order, any team would have a chance to compete.
"I told you when I got here that I thought this was the golden era of Seattle baseball," McClendon said after the Mariners fell one game out of the final American League wild-card spot. "And they haven't let me down."
The Mariners have taken the logical step forward in that they were a legitimate playoff contender right up to the final weekend of the 2014 season. The big question now is whether they can add enough pieces to take another step in 2015.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - NOTES, QUOTES
RECORD: 87-75, third place in American League West
TEAM MVP: 2B Robinson Cano. The $240 million man might not have earned his entire paycheck in one season, but he almost single-handedly gave life to a Seattle offense that had been dead in the water for years. While RHP Felix Hernandez continues to carry the load at the front of the rotation, Cano was the one who had the biggest impact on Seattle going from a bottom dweller to a playoff contender this season.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: DH Kendrys Morales. The Mariners thought they knew what they were getting when the veteran switch-hitter was acquired a few days before the trade deadline, but the Morales that showed up in a deal with Minnesota was only a shell of the player who was such a big part of Seattle's offense in 2013. The return of Morales saw him get off to a slow start, and by the time he really got going, the season was almost over. Morales spent the first 3 1/2 months of the season waiting to sign a contract, he struggled during a short stint with Minnesota, then his bat never really into a groove in his second stint with Seattle (.201 average, 24 RBIs and a .637 OPS in 58 games).
TOP PROSPECT: 3B/1B D.J. Peterson. The 2013 first-round pick has shown both the offense and the power the Mariners hoped to see, even if he's yet to do it at the Triple-A level. He'll probably get a chance to prove himself at that level in 2015, and there is a chance Peterson could make his Major League debut at some point next season. Because of the success 3B Kyle Seager has enjoyed, Peterson might have to do it as a first baseman.
--DH Corey Hart, designated for assignment by the Mariners the day after the season ended, elected to become a free agent. Hart, 32, hit .203/.271/.319 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 68 games during his lone season with Seattle.
--1B Jesus Montero was activated from his suspension the day after the season ended. He was punished due to an altercation he had Aug. 26 with a Mariners scout during a minor league game. The Mariners acquired Montero and RHP Hector Noesi on Jan 20, 2012, in a trade with the Yankees, a deal that cost Seattle RHPs Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Last year, Montero served a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. This year, he reported to spring training overweight as his once promising career continued to tailspin. Montero hit .235/.235/.412 with a homer and two RBIs in six games for Seattle this year. He batted .286/.350/.489 with 16 homers and 74 RBIs in 97 games for Triple-A Tacoma.
--RHP Felix Hernandez will be among the leading vote-getters for the Cy Young again, and in many ways the 2014 season was one of his best. When he had a chance to really push the Mariners into the thick of the postseason hunt last week, he responded with his worst outing of the season. Whispers began to surface about whether Hernandez would ever be a big-game pitcher, then he threw 5 1/3 innings of one-hit, shutout baseball in a season finale that had everything at stake until an A's win down in Texas -- it started an hour earlier -- eliminated Seattle from the wild-card hunt. Hernandez had already proven just about everything the Mariners needed to see before the 2014, and then he showed just how good he can be in a big game.
--LHP James Paxton picked up right where he left off during a short September call-up in 2013, but the Mariners need to see that production over a full season. Paxton has the stuff to be RHP Felix Hernandez's left-hand man for years to come. He'll be a bigger part of the rotation next season, if he can stay healthy.
--LF Dustin Ackley was on the verge of being labeled a bust, but his hot hitting in the weeks that followed the All-Star break give hope that the No. 2 overall pick may one day blossom into a big-time hitter. He'll have to improve on his .245 batting average and 65 RBIs if he's going to continue to be an every-day player in Seattle.
--RHP Fernando Rodney led the American League with 48 saves this season, but there were more than a few occasions when it looked like he was doing it with smoke and mirrors. Rodney was on the verge of disaster during several of his save opportunities, causing manager Lloyd McClendon to label him a "top-stepper" -- that is, he causes the manager to ascend to the top step of the dugout just about every time out. Rodney was a huge part of Seattle's success in 2014, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see his production fall off next season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was surprised he gave me a hug. I thought he was going to hit me." -- Manager Lloyd McClendon, on taking RHP Felix Hernandez out in the sixth inning of a season finale in which the Mariners' ace was in total command.
MLB Team Report - Seattle Mariners - ROSTER REPORT
The Mariners are as close offensively as they have been in years, but that doesn't mean they couldn't use a bat or two this offseason.
Starting pitching appears to be the area most in need of depth, especially after Seattle's rotation wore out down the stretch this season.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The rotation could use at least one arm, and maybe two. RHP Chris Young provided a surprising, inspiring story, but doesn't look like a long-term solution after fading badly down the stretch. Two young starters, LHP Roenis Elias and RHP Taijuan Walker, will be given every opportunity to make the rotation next season but have plenty of question marks. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, who faded down the stretch, joins RHP Felix Hernandez and LHP James Paxton as the only shoo-in starters in the rotation. Offensively, solidifying the DH position is a priority. Seattle could also stand upgrades at first base and to at least one outfield position.
FREE AGENTS: OF Endy Chavez, OF Chris Denorfia, 1B/OF Corey Hart, DH Kendrys Morales, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP Chris Young
Chavez signed a minor league deal in each of the past two seasons and worked his way into a significant role on the team.
Denorfia filled a role for the Mariners after being acquired at the trade deadline, but isn't deemed as a major part of the team's future.
Hart, an injury-plagued veteran, couldn't stay on the field this season, and he hit .203 when he was out there.
Morales' bat began to heat up a bit too late in 2014, and it seems unlikely that the Mariners would make too serious of an effort to bring him back.
Beimel gave Seattle a solid lefty specialist in the bullpen this season, and the Mariners are likely to make an effort to bring him back for another year.
Iwakuma, Seattle's priority free agent, got off to a late start and struggled down the stretch, but expect the Mariners to make a big push to get him under contract.
Young surpassed all expectations in 2014 but hit a wall in September. Does he have one more year left in his 35-year-old arm?
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LF Dustin Ackley, CF Austin Jackson, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Michael Saunders, 3B Kyle Seager, LHP Charlie Furbush, RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
Ackley was on his way to a breakout season in 2014 before an ankle injury slowed him down in September.
Jackson was a bit of a disappointment after being acquired at the trade deadline, but he's still the best leadoff option the Mariners have heading into the 2015 season.
Morrison had his moments in first year as a Mariner and was the team's top hitter during the stretch run, but needs to show more consistency.
Saunders saw injuries derail his progress once again, but the Mariners like his bat when it is in the lineup.
Seager, an All-Star, is a big part of Seattle's future and a key piece in the heart of the order.
Furbush, a converted starter, has been a big part of Seattle's bullpen success in recent years.
Wilhelmsen, a former closer, re-ignited his career with a solid season as a long reliever and fill-in starter.
IN LIMBO: 1B Jesus Montero
Once considered a key piece to the Mariners' future, Montero has fallen so far that he probably won't be brought back in 2015. He struggled at the plate, with his weight and with a position change, and the final straw came when Montero and a Mariners scout nearly came to blows during a minor league game in August.
--OF Willie Bloomquist (arthroscopic right knee surgery in August 2014) should be at 100 percent by the time spring training begins.
--LHP Roenis Elias (strained flexor bundle in left elbow) is not expected to require surgery. With rest, Elias is supposed to be back pitching in October or November, meaning he should be ready to compete for a roster spot in the spring.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun