Seattle Mariners: Kendrys Morales and the Make-or-Break Players in 2013
The Seattle Mariners have stayed out of the major offseason spotlight for the most part this winter. They haven't signed any franchise players or agreed to any six-digit contracts, but the recent addition of first baseman Kendrys Morales was pivotal for the team, and his success will largely correlate with the success of the organization in 2013.
Morales' 2013 season will be heavily analyzed under the microscope, especially in comparison to how Jason Vargas performs. The Mariners gave up their second best starting pitcher for Morales, so naturally their seasons will be compared.
Morales is a quality hitter when healthy, averaging 28 home runs and 98 RBI per 162 games. His major downfall is his strikeouts. His career 2.75:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio would be great for a pitcher, but that area needs improvement from a hitter's standpoint.
Along with Morales, here are the make-or-break players for the 2013 Mariners.
For Justin Smoak, 2013 is his make-it-or-break-it year to resurrect his career. Smoak needs to show the M's something, as well as every other team around the league.
Granted, Smoak is still just 26, but a career average of .223 is a bit concerning. Smoak also has more K's than hits in his career.
One encouraging sign is Smoak's home run totals, which have increased every season thus far. He still struggles with off-speed pitches, and out of 483 at-bats last season, only 93 went to three-ball counts.
With Morales coming in and in all likelihood winning the first base job, Smoak will have much less pressure on him, and that could be a big part of it. I can see this season going one of two ways: his best season yet, or he gets traded before the All-Star break.
Former Gold Glove-winning center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is another guy who could be on his way out of Seattle following the 2013 season. The deciding factor will be his health.
Since 2012, Guti has missed 212 games because of injuries. He's a top-tier outfielder when healthy, but the Mariners can't afford to wait around much longer for him to get back to full strength. With several outfield prospects waiting in the wings and superstar outfielders Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury and Nelson Cruz set to become free agents after next season, Gutierrez's fate with the organization will be decided this year.
If he manages to stay healthy, Seattle will have a solid hitter in the lineup who can hit anywhere in the order, and a Gold Glove-caliber captain of the outfield.
The departure of Jason Vargas means 31-year-old righty Hisashi Iwakuma will likely be second in the rotation behind King Felix to start the season. Iwakuma recently signed a two-year contract worth $14 million, and he'll be leaned on heavily, maybe in relief as well.
Iwakuma struggled through the first three months of last season before settling in and being one of the M's most reliable starters. In 30 games (16 starts), he went 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA and two saves. He'll probably bounce back and forth again this season, but ideally he'll be Seattle's No. 2 starter. Either way, he's going to play a huge role in the M's success in 2013.
There's doubt as to whether Jason Bay will even make the team out of spring training, but he has the potential to be a huge contributor. A change of scenery might have been just what the doctor prescribed for Bay to turn himself back into the 36 home run, 119 RBI MVP finalist he once was.
Bay could turn it around. Doubtfully to the level of his prime, but enough to make a difference and be on the positive end of MLB Memes.
Or he could continue his downward spiral into baseball oblivion and struggle to find a job in the league after this season.
I predict Bay makes the team out of spring training, then gets designated for assignment before the end of June.