Ranking the Seattle Mariners' Most Important Players Heading into 2014

Matt Schneidman@@matt_schneidmanContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2014

Ranking the Seattle Mariners' Most Important Players Heading into 2014

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    After amassing a meager 71 wins in 2013, the Seattle Mariners made the one of biggest splashes of the offseason by signing Robinson Cano to the fourth-largest contract in MLB history.

    Cano will be asked to fill the void of departed power hitters Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, who combined to hit 52 home runs last year.

    In addition to Ibanez and Morales, Seattle will also have to do without its Nos. 3 and 4 pitchers from last year’s starting rotation: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang.

    With these four departures, players like Cano, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will be expected to produce even more than in past seasons.

    Based on last year’s main statistics for hitters (AVG, HR, RBI, hits and OBP) and pitchers (record, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and saves for relievers), combined with this year’s expectations, here are the Seattle Mariners’ most important players heading into 2014.

Honorable Mentions

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    Logan Morrison, OF/DH: After being traded from the Marlins in December, Morrison will be expected to produce a lot more than last year, as he will try to fill the void left by Ibanez in the outfield. He'll be a full-time starter, whether at DH or in left field, so the .242 batting average, six home runs and 36 RBI he had with Miami will need to increase.

    Michael Saunders, OF: Along with Morrison, Saunders is the other sure-fire starter in the outfield. He had a .236 average last year, one of the lowest among this year’s projected starters. If he wants to help Morrison make Mariner fans feel like Ibanez never left, his offensive production will also need to see a sizable increase.

    Mike Zunino, C: At a position that saw seven different starters over the course of the 2013 season, Zunino will hopefully provide some defensive stability. As for the offensive side of the ball, expectations are low. His five home runs, 14 RBI, .214 average and sub-.300 OBP last year left fans with much to be desired. Hopefully, Zunino can fulfill those desires this season.

    Justin Smoak, 1B/DH: Smoak could be a serious X-factor for the Mariners, as he’ll most likely bat in the 5- or 6-slot and has serious power potential. If Smoak can somehow get his average to around .270 or above (from .238 last year), it would be a pleasant surprise for a Mariners team whose best hitter (Morales)—in terms of batting average—only hit .277.

8. Kyle Seager, 3B

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    2013 stats:

    AVG: .260

    HR: 22

    RBI: 69

    Hits: 160

    OBP: .338

    Seager led the team in OBP and was second in hits and RBI, which is why he ranks higher than the four aforementioned hitters. One of the team’s most consistent performers, Seager will be relied on as the everyday third baseman to most likely precede Cano in the lineup.

    Besides Cano, he’s proven himself as the most consistent and reliable hitter on the team, making him that much more significant in Seattle's revamped lineup.

7. Erasmo Ramirez, SP

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    2013 stats:

    Record: 5-3

    ERA: 4.98

    Strikeouts: 57

    WHIP: 1.45

    The reason Ramirez is ranked so high is because of what he’s going to be expected to do this year in the rotation. He didn’t put up impressive numbers last year, but with the departure of Harang and Saunders, Ramirez will most likely start the season as the No. 3 pitcher. He only started 13 games last year, but that number should be up to around 30 this year.

    He’s certainly a big question mark, but there is no doubt that Ramirez is an extremely important player heading into the season because of the roll he’ll fill.

6. Fernando Rodney, Closer

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    2013 stats:

    Saves: 37

    ERA: 3.38

    Strikeouts: 82

    WHIP: 1.34

    The Mariners have themselves a closer. The signing of Fernando Rodney gives Seattle a legitimate ninth-inning option as opposed to the occasional uncertainty it had last year between Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar.

    After a career-best season in 2012, Rodney dipped a little in 2013 but is still a flame-throwing closer who can be one of the best in the league. This may be the signing the Mariners needed to really propel their bullpen forward.

5. Corey Hart, OF/DH/1B

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    2012 stats (with Brewers, sat out entire 2013 season with knee problems):

    AVG: .270

    HR: 30

    RBI: 83

    Hits: 152

    OBP: .334

    Hart is the biggest question mark at the plate but has the most potential out of every hitter besides Cano, which is why he ranks higher than the previous five. He’ll most likely hit cleanup, filling the spot in which Morales, last year’s best offensive player, hit.

    If Hart can show he’s back to full health and perform as he did two years ago, a would-be first option on offense would turn into a stellar second behind Cano.

4. Taijuan Walker, SP

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    2013 stats:

    Record: 1-0

    ERA: 3.60

    Strikeouts: 12

    WHIP: 1.00

    After reading Walker’s stats from last year, any sensible person would question why he’s even in the top 10. There’s a concise answer: potential. The 21-year-old Walker was the No. 2 prospect for the Mariners in 2012, according to Baseball America, and he’s expected to burst onto the scene this year after his three late-season starts last year.

    He’s ranked ahead of Ramirez solely because of his higher ceiling, but Walker could very well put up stronger numbers than Ramirez, especially if his shoulder is 100 percent

3. Felix Hernandez, SP

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    2013 stats:

    Record: 12-10

    ERA: 3.04

    Strikeouts: 216

    WHIP: 1.13

    Nobody will argue with the statement that King Felix is the Mariners’ top ace. The 2010 Cy Young Award winner is coming off a down year, but more run support is expected from more balanced hitters in Cano and Hart. Expect the strikeout machine to return to his normal self.

    Hernandez will most likely lead the team in all starting pitching categories, but he’s not the most important hurler. 

2. Robinson Cano, 2B

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    2013 stats (with Yankees):

    AVG: .314

    HR: 27

    RBI: 107

    Hits: 190

    OBP: .383

    There is no such thing as low expectations after you sign the fourth-largest contract in league history. Often regarded as the best second baseman in the game, Cano will be expected to carry this offense, presumably from the 3-slot in the lineup.

    As if prior years' numbers don’t speak for themselves, the expectations for Cano may be higher than any other player in the entire league this year. However, there is still one member more key to this team’s success than the All-Star second baseman.

1. Hisashi Iwakuma

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    2013 stats:

    Record: 14-6

    ERA: 2.66

    Strikeouts: 1.85

    WHIP: 1.01

    Everyone knows Hernandez is the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation. Not many people know about Iwakuma, who was easily Seattle’s top gun last year. If he can resume that form, the Mariners may have the best 1-2 punch in the league on the mound.

    Hernandez has proven himself throughout his career, but Iwakuma still has some eyes to open. He is the biggest missing piece to a puzzle that could solve the question, “How do the Mariners make the playoffs this year?” His potential to solidify a possibly lethal pitching staff is the reason he tops these rankings.