The American League West is probably the most complete and arguably the best division in Baseball. Down south you have the World Champion, Houston Astro's and the ever competitive Texas Rangers. Out in Los Angeles you have the best player in baseball teaming up with one of the most exciting international talents Major League Baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani. If you venture up the Pacific coast and across the bay you'll find Billy Beane's young squad. Ever the underdog and ever the optimist, write them off at your peril (Check out Ben's piece on the 2018 A's - here).
Finally, if you carry on up the Pacific Coast you'll probably stumble across a little town that claims to have given the world Nirvana, Starbucks and Ken Griffey Jr. Of course they have and of course this town is Seattle, home of the Mariners, the team with the longest playoff drought in US professional sport. Even longer than the Cleveland Browns. Sheesh thats tough.
With a lineup boasting the talent of Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager its hard to imagine why the Mariners haven't competed more in recent years. Well its largely not their failing. In 2017 the M's finished 2nd in the AL in home runs (223), fifth in OBP (.326) and fourth in hits (1446).
Seattle's flaw's can be easily traced back to one of the three main components of baseball. Their pitching. In 2017....
They used a Major league record 40 different starting pitchers.
Their SP finished with 6.2 wins above replacement (25/30 in MLB)
Not one of their starting pitchers threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
Only 3 of their rotation mustered 100 innings pitched.
Its very easy to take a holistic view which maybe unfairly judges the 2017 Mariners starting pitching. For instance King Felix Hernandez had the worst year of his 13 season career largely due to injuries limiting him to just 16 starts. James Paxton the leader of the rotation and a guy many believe to have the ability to be an ace within the league mustered just 136IP from 24 games,
The injuries didnt stop there, Drew Smyly didn't throw a pitch in 2017, Hisashi Iwakuma only managed 6 starts. The Mariners lost Drew Smyly to free agency (Chicago Cubs) and are likely to be without Iwakuma in 2018 who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The two 'healthy' pitchers of the rotation were Yovani Gallardo and Ariel Miranda. Their health was pretty much the thing they provided for the Mariners in 2017 with the two combining for an ERA of 5.48 in 51 collective starts.
Despite the deficiencies of their starting pitching in 2017, it seems that the Mariners are relatively content with their current staff approaching the 2018 season. James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are locks atop of the staff followed by Mike Leake (acquired from St. Louis on Aug 30th), Ersamo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales. Whether this is by design or their patience in waiting for the starting pitching free agent market to develop (At time of writing Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb & Lance Lynn are all without deals).
Their payroll currently ($164m) exceeds last years record breaking one ($154.1m) so the chances of the M's going out and acquiring a headline starting pitcher look relatively slim. Despite this it may be worth the Mariners taking a look at someone such as AJ Griffin, Mike Pelfrey or Scott Feldman on a 1 or 2 year low risk deal to sure the back end of the rotation up.
2017 saw the graduation of outfielder, Mike Haniger who despite spending nearly 2 weeks on the disabled list after concussion from an errant pitch mustered a .282 average with 16 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Despite both his arrival and the surprise resurgence of catcher Mike Zunino who batted a career high .251 with an .331 OBP, 25 home runs and 64 RBI's, the Mariners have felt the need to go out an address the offense as a primary objective.
Dee Gordon has escaped from the South Beach fire sale and will play in the OF in lieu of the departed Jarrod Dyson. Despite being a role only played in a dozen Dominican Winter League games 4 years ago, he is expected to primarily take up the day to day duties of CF. However arguably the biggest upside of the addition of Dee Gordon is his ability to not only get on base as a lead off hitter but then make things happen once aboard the basepads. The idea of someone like him with his speed getting on base the ahead of a contact bat like Cano's and before the power of Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Ryon Healy is something which makes fantasy owners like a kid on Christmas eve.
Talking of Ryon Healy, the Mariners acquired the first baseman from inter division rivals, the Oakland A's in November in exchange for right-handed reliever Emilio Pagan and Minor League infielder Alexander Campos. He is expected to be the Mariners day to day first baseman after losing both Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso to free agency.
Despite using a Major League record, 40 starting pitchers in 2017 the Mariners have done in reality very little to address the evident deficiency of last years campaign. Whether that is by design or relative ignorance to the problem remains to be seen. However the thing to take forward into 2018 with the Mariners in my view, is 100% their offense. This is a team which ranked fourth in hitting with runners in scoring position during 2017 and since then they have added one of the leagues best lead off hitters (and base runners).
The Mariners pitching is undoubtedly a story to follow moving into the 2018 season, but certainly don't let an unfamiliar name on the mound kid you into thinking that this isn't a really good ball club.