For a team that finished with 91 losses like the Seattle Mariners, the offseason is exceptionally crucial. The roster is full of an interesting but not necessarily intriguing or promising mix of youth and experience, and it was ineffective last season.
The pitching staff was one of the worst in baseball (mostly the bullpen), and the offense improved its power but hit just as poorly as in years past. The right combinations simply weren't there. The team looked promising at times and feeble at others, performing wildly inconsistent and without a true leadoff hitter.
Speaking of a true leadoff hitter, that should be one of Seattle's points of emphasis this winter. Players hitting first in the order hit just .247 this season with 88 runs scored—both near the bottom of the league.
They plan to pursue Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Both of those guys have been leadoff hitters throughout their respective careers and would be great fits in Seattle.
Choo has struggled against left-handed pitching (.220 against lefties the last three seasons) but has some power and netted career highs in OBP (.423), walks (112) and runs (107) last season. He's 31 years old, but unlike Ellsbury, the majority of his value doesn't lie in his legs.
Ellsbury is one of the best base stealers in the game but has an injury history and recently turned 30. That being said, the high reward probably outweighs the risk, mostly because he's also a .297 career hitter and well above average defensively (career 27 defensive runs saved above average).
Neither of these guys will be cheap, but the fact that the Mariners will be pursuing them indicates their willingness to spend.
Joe Saunders. Aaron Harang. Jeremy Bonderman. Signing fringe starters like these will take the team nowhere, as evidenced by the trio's combined line of 17-30, 5.41 ERA and 1.50 WHIP last season.
Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are a scary one-two, and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton can shore up the back end, so Seattle just needs that third starter in order to have a legitimate starting rotation. Maybe it'll come from within in the form of Erasmo Ramirez or Brandon Maurer. Most likely, though, they'll have to go out of the organization and sign a free agent or trade a package of prospects for a veteran.
Seattle starters' ERA was a combined 4.18 last season, and while that's respectable, it's an obvious downgrade from 3.93 the year before. Phil Hughes could be a viable addition, as would former Mariner Jason Vargas. Both pitchers have had success in Seattle—Hughes is 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA at Safeco Field (22 innings pitched) and Vargas is 22-21 with a 3.33 ERA in 376 innings at Safeco.
Neither should be overly pricey and both would be perfect third starters in the rotation.
The Mariners bullpen was one of the worst in baseball last season. Relievers went 16-33 with a 4.58 ERA while opponents hit .253. However, the same unit by far totaled the most strikeouts (535) yet gave up the third-most walks (224). Part of it was youth. Part of it was injuries.
With everyone a year older and Stephen Pryor on the mend, the unit should naturally be better. The frustrating part is not knowing why they digressed so much from 2012 when they had a collective 3.39 ERA. The ballpark dimensions could have had something to do with it. The ERA of the pitching staff at home in 2012 was 2.96. In 2013, it climbed to 4.17. Tom Wilhelmsen should be back to old form, but if he's not, someone like Pryor or Danny Farquhar will have to take the reins as closer.
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