The Seattle Mariners headed into the 2020 season with Al West Division Title and World Series aspirations. The team seemed to be better than the year before with some of their young stars a year older and wiser, pitching staff tweaked and the line-up seemed to be solid throughout. Even though they managed to secure the second Wild Card spot in the AL, the feel around Seattle was the team underperformed expectations with their loss to Boston in the single-game elimination playoff.
The Mariners focus this offseason was to somehow improve the team to compete with the strong AL West teams but yet shed some salary after brutal arbitration hearing results. They dealt Christian Yelich and Johnny Moore who were slated to make $22m this upcoming season. Taijuan Walker, Kevin Quackenbush and Chris Taylor were lost in free agency. Seattle did make a deal for Avisail Garcia in the hopes he can return to his 2019 form and boost run production, but most of their acquisitions were younger players who will spend 2021 in the minors.
Here is a look at the Mariners heading out of spring training and into the 2021 season.
Once again Felix Hernandez will anchor the Seattle rotation, although his claim to the No. 1 spot isn’t as firm as in years past. Hernandez struggled down the stretch last season and may have had his worst start of the year in the Wild Card game. The Mariners are hoping he gets back into form because he will make $34m this season in the first year of his new 4-year contract.
Some consider Joe Ross the Mariners’ ace, but Ross hasn’t quite lived up to his potential since being acquired from San Francisco in 2019. He is still in his prime, so it isn’t unreasonable to expect 15-17 wins this season and an ERA in the mid-3 range. By the All Star break he may be the Mariner No. 1.
Lewis Thorpe put up the second-best team pitching numbers last season with a 13-6 record and 3.52 ERA. The Aussie also had 182 K’s in 176.2 innings and a 1.21 WHIP. He was Seattle’s only lefty in the rotation before Smyly was acquired at the trade deadline. Many in the organization feel Thorpe still hasn’t reached his potential and have had him working on his control and cutting his 3.3 BB/9 walk rate down.
Seattle was excited to see what Adys Portillo could do going into 2020, and was projected to be a 3 or 4 starter in the rotation. He was lost for the season in spring training with radial nerve decompression surgery in his elbow. Portillo has worked on getting back to form this spring training, and will start the season as the No. 4.
Drew Smyly was acquired from Tampa last season at the deadline to add another lefty arm in the rotation. Initially he struggled, but finished off the season strong. His pitching style matches Nelson Cruz’s philosophy in keeping the ball down, so Seattle is expecting good things from Smyly even though he is No. 5 in the rotation.
Jose De Leon
Seattle headed into this past offseason looking to re-work the bullpen with several players headed into free agency. They wound up bringing back Claudio and Simmons after solid contributions, but looked for replacements for Kevin Quackenbush, Grayson Garvin and Vinnie Pestano. The Yelich deal with Vancouver brought back Bradley and Gutierrez – two arms Seattle management are excited about. Both should be heavily used in middle relief and setup situations. They also signed Paxton to replace Grayson Garvin as the long man, and he almost forced is way into the rotation with a lights-out spring.
Heading into the 2021 season, Leone will once again serve as the closer after performing well in that role for the first time in 2020. Simmons and Gutierrez will serve as setup men working the 7th and 8th innings. Bradley, Claudio and Lindgren will work this middle innings with Lindgren occasionally working late if needed. Paxton and De Leon will work long relief with Trey Ball – the Rule 5 player brought in for his hitting – working some innings from time to time. The pen looks promising on paper, but will need to follow through to help keep Seattle in and close out games if they have any chance of competing in the AL West.
C Tyronne Ibarra
C Reese McGuire
1B Joe Mauer
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Jorge Mateo
2B Chad Robinson
3B Ryan McMahon
SS Brad Miller
LF Avisail Garcia
LF Terrell Joyce
CF Dan Bilardello Jr.
RF Trey Ball
RF Alex Jackson
Seattle will return most of its line up from the end of the 2020 season to start the 2021 season. Christian Yelich, Johnny Moore and Chris Taylor are gone, but most of these holes will be filled by younger players moving up in the system.
Ibarra and McGuire will once again handle the catching duties for Seattle with the latter getting the bulk of the work against right-handed pitching. Last season Ibarra had a strangle-hold on the Mariner catching position after a 30 HR, 92 RBI, .271 AVG 2019 season, but his play dropped off significantly which led to Seattle acquiring McGuire. Ibarra may see a game here and there at 1B to get at-bats during the season.
Mauer and Zimmerman will platoon at 1B as they did last season where each will play on alternate days unless pitching matchups dictate a change. Both had solid seasons last year, and both are leaders on the team. Expectations are they will continue to perform, but if either faulters, Bob Hollis in AAA Tacoma is knocking on the MLB door.
Jorge Mateo will enter this season as the Seattle starting 2B, and should lead off most line ups. Management felt he was ready, and let gold-glove 2B Chris Taylor move on to free agency as a result. The pressure will be on, but Mateo has the ability to equal Taylor’s hitting and fielding. What Mateo does bring to the table is the ability to steal – he had 64 stolen bases in AAA Tacoma in 2019. He will be backed up by surprise 26-man member Chad Robinson. Robinson was acquired from the Cubs in the offseason, and has the ability to play 2B, 3B, SS and all three OF positions. He hit .340 in AAA Iowa last season, and can also steal bases.
Ryan McMahon will be the Seattle 3B in every game he is capable of playing.
Brad Miller will start most of the Seattle games this season at SS with Mateo moving to SS on his days off. Miller had his power numbers drop off in 2020 – he hit 28 HRs in 2019, 10 in 2020. He also had 98 RBIs and 101 runs in 2019 vs. 61 and 50 in 2020. The Mariner front office still feel Miller can produce at his 2019 level, and will get the opportunity with Taylor gone and Mateo not-stealing some of his starting time. Miller is also one of the team leaders in the clubhouse, so the Mariners would benefit from a happy, producing Miller.
The Seattle outfield and DH will consist of some combination of Joyce, Garcia, Jackson and Bilardello Jr with Rule 5 pick Trey Ball getting starts here and there. Joyce, Garcia and Jackson will hit in the middle of the line up with McMahon, while Bilardello Jr will fluctuate between the top and bottom of the order as needed. Ball will be a nice lefty bat off the bench while he gets re-oriented with playing an outfield position. The Mariners hoped he would get a lot of time in spring training to develop as a RF, but a broken finger in the first spring training game prevented that. Seattle has several OF options in AAA if injuries occur or if Bilardello Jr struggles (Eric Caine, Mallex Smith, Chris Bryan).
The line up plans for the season should be:
Against RHP Against LHP
2B Mateo 2B Mateo
SS Miller SS Miller
RF Jackson RF Jackson
3B McMahon 3B McMahon
DH Garcia DH Garcia
LF Joyce LF Joyce
C McGuire C Ibarra
CF Bilardello Jr CF Bilardello Jr
1B Mauer 1B Zimmerman
All in all, the Mariners are in win-now mode, and have the ability to produce runs and have decent pitching. We shall see if this team can possibly over-perform this season and shoot for its first World Series Title.
Image from: Mike Tigas on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop), CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons