AL West 2016: Mariners’ improvements not enough
Perhaps the most improved team in the division, the Seattle Mariners’ trade of power for on-base proficiency and improved bullpen will add another .500 team to the now deep AL West.
The Mariners may not have done enough to claim one of three possible postseason spots this season, but they did do enough to add five wins to their record and get the 81 win mark. A mark they have achieved only once (2014) since 2009.
Losing a total of 41 homeruns from their starting lineup, Seattle replaced the regular threat of a round trippers with an improved knack for getting to first.
First baseman Logan Morrison – 17 homeruns, 54 RBIs, 47 runs in 2015 – and shortstop Brad Miller (11-46-44) were traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. Mark Trumbo (22-64-62 between the Arizona DBacks and Mariners) is now a Baltimore Oriole. Of the three only Miller (.329) boasted an on-base percentage (OBP) above .310.
To fill the vacancies, the Mariners acquired former Milwaukee Brewer Adam Lind (20-87-72) and 2015 San Francisco Giants outfielder Nori Aoki (5-26-42). Both newbies are coming off of seasons in which they got on base at a clip above .350 — .353 for Aoki and .360 for Lind.
Miller’s loss is of less consequence as the shortstop duties were assumed by rookie Ketel Marte (2-17-25) after his major league call-up in July. He got on base just over 35 percent of the time as well (.351).
The Mariners also swiped outfielder Leonys Martin from the clutches of the reigning division champion Texas Rangers. Coming off a down season – .219 batting average (AVG), .264 OBP and 14 stolen bases – the Seattle brain trust is looking for the 28 year-old to revert to his 2013-14 form – 36 and 31 stolen bases respectively. Along with Marte (eight stolen bases in 57 games), Martin will look to revitalize a running game that pilfered only 69 bases in 2015 (No. 11 in the AL).
Although the M’s sacrificed their top-to-bottom power threat, the lineup will still feature 20-plus homerun hitters in the 3-4-5 spots. Designated hitter (DH) Nelson Cruz led the team in homeruns (44), RBIs (93) and runs (90) while second baseman Robinson Cano led it in hits (179), adding 21 homeruns and 79 RBIs. Third baseman Kyle Seager adds further left-handed power – 26 homeruns and 74 RBIs.
A lineup that now pits a high on-base guy, Aoki, in front of the power collection of Cano, Cruz, Seager and Lind, will also have the speed of Marte and Martin at the bottom. The improvements will add to what was already the third-highest scoring offense in the AL (656 runs).
The runs clearly didn’t amount to much, given their 86 losses, as the pitching staff finished with the fourth-worst ERA in the AL (4.16).
The problems were not in the rotation, however, as one of baseball’s best hurlers, Felix Hernandez (18-9, 3.53 ERA), received quality support. With five pitchers posting 10 or more quality starts – led by Hernandez with 20 – the Mariners finished the season with 88 (T-4 in the AL).
With two of those five starters now gone, Roenis Elias (5-8, 4.14 ERA) and J.A. Happ (4-6, 4.64 ERA), Seattle actually improved upon the already strong rotation. Additions Nate Karns (7-5, 3.67 ERA) and Wade Miley (11-11, 4.46 ERA) prove to be upgrades joining Hernandez, 2013 All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5, 3.54 ERA) and rising star Taijuan Walker (11-8, 4.56 ERA).
While the top performing starters stayed in Emerald City, three of the Mariners most oft-used relievers have left in search of greener pastures. Carson Smith (2.31 ERA), team leader in appearances (70) and holds (22), Tom Wilhelmsen (13 saves, 3.19 ERA) and Danny Farquhar (8 holds) are all gone.
Called on to replace the 37 holds and 27 saves are the additions of Joaquin Benoit (6-5, 2.34 ERA), Nick Vincent (0-1, 2.35 ERA) and Steve Cishek (2-6, 3.58 ERA). The incoming trio combined for 34 holds and six saves of their own.
Defensively, the Mariners commit the sixth-most errors in the AL (94) – the Oakland Athletics’ 126 made them the ominous league leaders. Departed shortstop Miller (17) led the team in boots, his team-worst minus-1.6 defensive wins above replacement (DWAR) supplanted by Marte’s 0.6.
A repeat performance of Seager – the only other Seattle defender with 10 or more errors (16) – should not be expected as his Gold Glove winning form of 2014 would suggest. Not coincidentally, the Mariners AL-best fielding percentage .986 (league-low 82 errors) was a driving force behind an 87-75 2014 record and third place AL West finish.
While an 87-win season will be a bit out of reach in a much improved division, the Mariners once again boast a left-heavy record, with 82.