Seattle Mariners 2020 Season Preview

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       After many years of falling short of ending their playoff drought, the Seattle Mariners decided to blow up again after 2018. James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Mike Zunino, Jean Segura, and Alex Colome were all traded, while Nelson Cruz walked. Some of those trades, specifically the Diaz and Cano deal, seem to have worked out so far, but it has left the Mariners as a bottom-five team in baseball. After a surprisingly quiet offseason from General Manager Jerry Dipoto, known to make many deals, the Mariners enter 2020 in a similar spot as in 2019, looking to hand off roster spots to the future. 
       Offseason additions: RHP Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Taijuan Walker, RHP Taylor Williams, LHP Nestor Cortes Jr., IF Sam Haggerty, LHP Nick Margevicius.
       Offseason subtractions: C Omar Narvaez, OF Domingo Santana, IF Tim Beckham, RHP Felix Hernandez, IF Ryon Healy, LHP Tommy Milone, RHP Anthony Bass, RHP Connor Sadzeck, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Sam Tuivailala.
The Mariners will be going with a six-man rotation for 2020, with only one pitcher that the Mariners can rely on. Marco Gonzales had 29 decisions last year, something that you don\’t see in baseball often anymore. Gonzales was top-10 in wins (16) and losses (13) Gonzales had a 3.99 ERA with only 147 strikeouts in 203 innings, and finishing with 210 hits allowed. In his career, Gonzales has walked just 5.7% of batters. Yusei Kikuchi was a big get for Seattle after he posted a 3.04 ERA in Japan. Kikuchi was disappointing in his first North American season, finishing with an ERA of 5.46 with 116 strikeouts in 161.2 innings, one out away from qualifying for the ERA title. The now-29-year-old got hit hard, and his fastball had a slugging against of .622. The Mariners brought back Taijuan Walker, who came all the way back from Tommy John surgery to make one start for Arizona at the end of the year, acting as an opener. In his last full season of 2017, Walker had a career year, with a 3.49 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 157.1 innings. Walker was a first round pick, drafted by the Mariners, and spent his first four major league seasons in Seattle. Another pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery is Kendall Graveman. Graveman was under contract with the Cubs last year, but never made it back to the majors. In parts of five seasons for the A\’s and Blue Jays, Graveman has a 4.38 ERA with only 286 strikeouts in 446 innings (5.8 K/9). The main return for Paxton was Justus Sheffield. Sheffield, who debuted for the Yankees in 2018 but really got a shot in 2019, struck out 37 batters in 36 innings, but that was his best stat. Sheffield had a 5.50 ERA, and spent most of the year in the minors, and even went back to AA for a stint. Justin Dunn was part of the Diaz and Cano trade, and he had a more positive debut. Dunn made four starts, although he only pitched in 6.2 innings, allowing two runs for a 2.70 ERA and five Ks. Dunn had a 3.55 ERA and a 10.8 K/9 in 25 AA starts. 
After Roenis Elias was traded to Washington at the trade deadline, the new full-time closer could be Yoshihisa Hirano, although a positive COVID test likely means that he will not make Opening Day. Hirano struck out 61 batters in 53 innings for Arizona last year, but had a 4.75 ERA, regression from his 2.44 mark in \’18. The Japanese Hirano is entering his third MLB season, at age 36. He had a 39.6% whiff rate on his split finger last year, a pitch with a spin rate of 1271 rpm. After coming over from Minnesota for cash, Matt Magill had five saves in 22 games for Seattle, with 28 strikeouts and a 3.63 ERA. Magill has a career average exit velocity of 90.6 miles per hour, which is not good. He could be the best returning Mariner reliever. Austin Adams allowed just 20 hits in 31 innings, and struck out a whopping 51 batters, putting him in contention for the closer role. Adams also had a 3.77 ERA for the M\’s. Adams wields a fastball that had an average spin rate of 2601 rpm. Dan Altavilla has pitched in parts of the last four seasons for the Mariners, with a combined ERA of 3.63. Last year was his weakest year of the four, with a 5.52 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. Altavilla has a career K/9 of 9.8. In his rookie season Brandon Brennan pitched in 47.1 innings, the most among returning Mariners relievers. Brennan had 47 Ks, with a 4.56 ERA. Brennan allowed just 34 hits, although he had very high 4.6 BB/9. Carl Edwards Jr., who had a 3.30 ERA in five seasons with the Cubs, comes to Seattle after an awful 2019. Combined for Chicago and San Diego, Edwards struck out 19 batters in 17 innings, but had an 8.47 ERA. Edwards allowed more walks (13) than hits (12). Left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. was a bulk pitcher (the pitcher that follows an opener) for the Yankees last year, and was doing well, with a 4.18 ERA in early August. He struggled throughout the rest of the month and September, and finished with a 5.67 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 66.2 innings. Cortes\’ downfall was his 16 home runs allowed. Another former Yankee prospect, Erik Swanson, has flexibility as he can start. In 58 innings last year, Swanson had a 5.74 ERA and 52 strikeouts. Swanson only allowed 56 hits, but 17(!) of them were home runs. Taylor Williams was productive for the Brewers in 2018, with a 4.25 ERA in 53 innings. He spent most of 2019 in the minors, as he couldn\’t keep up with the big league club, with an ERA of 9.82 in 14.2 innings. Williams was good in AAA, with a 2.83 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 54 innings, plus a 6.7 H/9. Taylor Guilbeau had a 1.054 WHIP in his debut. As a lefty, Guilbeau pitched just 12.1 innings despite appearing in 17 games, and struck out just seven batters. Guilbeau finished with a 3.65 ERA.
Former Rockies top catching prospect Tom Murphy was acquired from San Francisco days into the season, and appeared in a career high 75 games. Murphy hit 18 home runs, with a .273 average and an OPS of .858. Murphy is one of two returning players who had an OPS of at least .800 last year, and the other player played in just 18 games. Austin Nola, the older brother of Phillies ace Aaron Nola, played a lot of first base last year, but will be the backup catcher after Omar Narvaez was traded to Milwaukee. In 79 games, four more than Murphy, Nola hit 10 home runs, with a .269 average and a .796 OPS, a pleasant surprise for Seattle as a 29 year old rookie.
Like players including Jon Singleton and Scott Kingery before him, Evan White signed a multi-year contract before his first MLB game for a quicker route to the major leagues. The 17th overall pick in 2017, White made MLB Pipeline\’s all defense team at first base. White, who spent all of 2019 at AA, hit 18 home runs with a .293 average and an OPS of .838. He is ranked as Seattle\’s 4th best prospect, and the 56th best prospect in the league. Shed Long, acquired in the Sonny Gray deal between the Yankees and Reds that the Mariners had no business being in, will take over the starting second base job from Dee Gordon. Long hit five home runs with three stolen bases and a .787 OPS in 42 games, plus a .795 OPS at AAA, his first year at both levels. Other young player acquired from the previous offseason, JP Crawford took over at shortstop from Jean Segura, whom Crawford was traded for. Crawford hit seven home runs with five stolen bases and a .684 OPS. At age 25, 2020 is a big year for Crawford, who was drafted in the 1st round all the way back in 2013, and has a .222 average and a .687 OPS in a three year MLB career. Kyle Seager has been very consistent in his career, and he has only been with one team. Seager has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past eight seasons, hitting 23 in just 106 games last year, the games played being his lowest amount since 2011, his rookie season. Seager had three defensive runs saved last year, at 24 in his career. Dee Gordon, still only 32 years old, will embrace being a backup to young players like Long and Crawford, and he can be a 4th or 5th outfielder. Gordon stole 22 bases last year, his lowest 2013, a season that was only 38 games long for Gordon. Gordon, who has stolen 330 bases in his career, can be a pinch-runner, especially in extra-inning games, when runners start on second base. Gordon\’s sprint speed has decreased, down to 28.5 ft/s last year. Dylan Moore isn\’t guaranteed to make the team after appearing in 113 games last year. Moore hit nine home runs and stole 11 bases, and played all three outfield and all four infield positions. Dan Vogelbach can play first base, but will be the normal DH, and could also be traded. Vogelbach hit 30 home runs and made the all-star team, but he had a weak batting average of .208 and a .780 OPS. Vogelbach\’s OPS is only that high thanks to a 16.5 BB%.
With Mitch Haniger potentially out for the season, Mallex Smith is the lone veteran of the outfield. Both have played in four MLB seasons so far. Like Gordon, Smith is very fast, with a league leading 46 stolen bases in 2019. Smith hit six home runs, two more than Gordon has ever hit in a season. Smith\’s average dropped from .296 in 2018 to .227 in 2019, a 69 point drop. Smith had a 29.4 ft/s sprint speed with 10 outs above average last year. Kyle Lewis is the only other returning player with an OPS over .800, along with Murphy. The 10th best prospect in the Mariners\’ system, the 11th overall pick in 2016 hit .268 with six home runs in 18 games last year, after a disappointing AA season. The 9th best prospect in the system, Jake Fraley, could start as the 4th outfielder, competing with Tim Lopes for the left field spot. Fraley went 6-for-40 in his MLB stint last year, and hit 19 home runs with 22 stolen bases and a .910 OPS. Like Lewis and Fraley, Tim Lopes debuted in 2019, stealing six bases in 41 games. Lopes hit .270 with a .720 OPS. Lopes can also play second base. Non-roster invitee Jose Marmolejos could make the team as a back-up first baseman and an outfielder. Marmolejos, who was in the Nationals\’ system from 2011 to 2019, hit 18 home runs with a .315 average and a .909 OPS in the minors last year, mostly in AAA.
       Projected Opening Day Lineup
CF Mallex Smith (L)
SS JP Crawford (L)
3B Kyle Seager (L)
DH Dan Vogelbach (L)
C Tom Murphy (R)
RF Kyle Lewis (R)
1B Evan White (R)
LF Jake Fraley (L)
2B Shed Long (L)
       Projected Rotation
Marco Gonzales (L)
Yusei Kikuchi (L)
Taijuan Walker (R)
Kendall Graveman (R)
Justus Sheffield (L)
Justin Dunn (R)
       Projected Bullpen
Yoshihisa Hirano, closer (R)
Austin Adams (R)
Matt Magill (R)
Dan Altavilla (R)
Brandon Brennan (R)
Taylor Williams (R)
Nestor Cortes Jr. (L)
Carl Edwards Jr. (R)
Erik Swanson (R)
Taylor Guilbeau (L)
       Projected Bench
C Austin Nola (R)
IF Dee Gordon (L)
IF Dylan Moore (R)
UT Tim Lopes (R)
1B/OF Jose Marmolejos (L)
Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
58-43 record, 3rd in AL West
Most home runs: Shed Long (24)
Highest batting average: Shed Long (.273)
Highest OPS: Shed Long (.861)
Best ERA, starters: Marco Gonzales (2.80)
Best ERA, relievers: Dan Altavilla (3.28)
Most innings pitched: Marco Gonzales (141.1)
Most strikeouts: Yusei Kikuchi (115)
Best K/9: Erik Swanson (15.2)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 25-35
2018: 38-22
2017: 30-30
2016: 33-27
2015: 27-33
The Mariners are the one bad team in the AL West. The Astros are still really good, and the A\’s have some stars as well. The Angels have Mike Trout, and that\’s enough (they also have Anthony Rendon, and that\’s good, too). The Rangers might have a top-5 rotation in the major leagues. The Mariners are falling behind, but they could be good in 2-3 years. The Mariners will not be good in 2019, however, and finish last in the AL West.

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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