The 2013 Major League Baseball season will be here before you know it, and the Seattle Mariners are looking forward to a positive year.
Will the young Mariners finally start to mature and move toward contending in the American League West? Or will it be yet another year where fans are asked to be patient and hope for development in the future?
Predictions about the performance of a particular team can be tough, just because there are so many moving parts. Still, there are certain aspects of the Mariners that may be possible to anticipate.
With that in mind, here are seven things that every fan needs to know about the 2013 Seattle Mariners.
All predictions are not guaranteed, but hope does spring eternal.
Will the Seattle Mariners be in last place again in 2013? No.
That spot could be occupied by the newest member of the American League West, the Houston Astros. How the Astros are "west" is a bit of a mystery. But Major League Baseball does not teach geography, and the Astros will now be hanging out with the M's, Texas Rangers, Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels.
Could the Astros be an improved team in 2013? Certainly.
However, it is difficult to imagine a team that was 55-107 overtaking a franchise that was 75-87 in 2012. Seattle will hope that Houston proves to a manageable opponent so that it can accumulate some divisional wins. Of course, the other teams in the division will theoretically be able to do the same thing.
Granted, the fans in Seattle will obviously want the team to accomplish more than avoiding the cellar. However, an ascension to the top has to start somewhere, right?
The Mariners hit a league-worst .234 as a team in 2012. You probably won't find a lot of prognosticators that will predict a league-leading team average in 2013, but improvement seems like a real possibility.
Adding Kendrys Morales will help, as the former Angel has a .281 career average and will hopefully provide a level of confidence and experience to the young lineup.
In addition, the Mariners traded for Michael Morse (via Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post), which adds another potential slugger to the lineup.
Beyond Morales, management has to hope that this is the year that the young bats start to develop into solid professional hitters.
Players like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Moreno, Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager must show that they are the young core of batters that the team hoped they would be.
A healthy and productive Franklin Gutierrez would certainly help, as the athletic center fielder has struggled to stay in the lineup over the last couple of seasons.
Seattle will hit better in 2013.
The signing of Raul Ibanez did not necessarily make huge news around the league. It was obviously noted, but a one-year deal for an aging player is usually not front-page news. For Ibanez, joining the Mariners represents a homecoming (again), and Seattle is hoping that Raul will provide a boost to this team.
The question is whether Ibanez has much left in terms of hitting prowess.
Then again, did the Mariners bring Ibanez in to boost the lineup? Certainly, management will want him to hit, but will he provide something else as well?
An interesting article on Scout.com suggests that Ibanez may provide hits, but more importantly he may provide a measure of leadership to a lineup that is still fairly young.
There is certainly wisdom to this suggestion, given that few would expect a 40-year-old Ibanez to suddenly hit .290 again. He hit .240 with 19 home runs in 2012.
Seattle has been somewhat aggressive in the free-agent market during the offseason. The Mariners did get Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse via trades, and they made an attempt to deal for Justin Upton.
In addition, they signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay to one-year deals.
Will Bay return to 2009 form when he hit 36 home runs and drove in 119? A more pressing question may be whether Jason will actually make the team.
As noted by CBSSports.com, Bay gets $1 million if he makes the 25-man roster. If he gets sent to the minors, he receives half of that amount.
Bay may rebound, but the odds are arguably against him. He is 34 years old, and he hit .165 while playing for the New York Mets in 2011. Plenty of youngsters will be vying for a roster spot while Jason attempts to recapture success from the past.
The addition of Morse may make the outfield even more crowded.
Danny Hultzen. James Paxton. Taijuan Walker. There should be some cool intro music when those names are said, right? The future of Seattle Mariners baseball is connected, at least in part, to the success of these three pitchers who are being touted as potential stars in this league.
Will Seattle get to see these glorious talents make the big club in 2013? Perhaps.
The vision for the future includes King Felix and these three guys filling out a devastating rotation and leading Seattle to a title on the strength of great pitching.
Now, there is the reality that these three could be future stars in Seattle, but they could also be prime trade bait for a big bat.
Jack Zduriencik recently failed in his attempt to acquire Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks. One or more of these pitchers were rumored (via ESPN) to be part of the package.
Fans probably won’t see these guys right away, but they could make appearances in 2013. Stay tuned.
Speaking of prospects that might make an appearance, there is also the possibility that Seattle fans might see Nick Franklin or Mike Zunino in the future.
Again, it is hard to know whether they might join the big club in 2013, but the franchise is high on these two prospects that may represent offensive production for a long time.
If Bleacher Report writers are correct, Zunino could conceivably make the 25-man roster out of spring training. That is a potentially bold prediction, but given Zunino’s talent, there may be credence to this argument.
If he were to make the roster, it would interesting to see how Seattle would handle the catching duties between Zunino and Jesus Montero. Perhaps Montero would play more DH, particularly since some expect this to be his eventual position anyway.
The same goes for Nick Franklin, who has split time between shortstop and second base. Seattle is hoping that Dustin Ackley will rebound in 2013 and regain the promise he showed in 2011. If Frankin makes the roster, it could be at shortstop, where Brendan Ryan is a reliable defender but not much with the bat in recent years.
2013 might be the year of the youngsters.
As widely reported by just about every media outlet, and as analyzed by Lookout Landing, the fences are coming in at Safeco Field. Hooray! We’re saved!
For an offense that has definitely struggled in recent years, this may be good news. Perhaps the ability to reach the seats will inspire some of the young batters and turn Safeco Field into an actual home-field advantage.
What fans have to realize is that change may come with a cost. The Mariners will theoretically have an easier time hitting home runs, but so will everyone else. In addition, this change could hurt Seattle’s strength, which has been the effectiveness of the pitching staff.
Also, keep in mind that moving the fences closer to the plate will not help the lineup hit singles. Certain gender groups may be reputed to dig the long ball, but the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants had the lowest team home run total in 2012.
The Giants did, however, have the fifth-best team batting average. The runner-up Detroit Tigers were sixth. Seattle? Thirtieth. Despite the dimensions of Safeco, the M’s were still 19th in home runs.
So, will the closer fences help? They will help something...in theory. We will know more at the end of April.