Mariners bring changes to new season

Dallas Sharp, Troy InVoice Reporter

The Seattle Mariners opened the 2014 MLB campaign as one of the most talked about teams in baseball because of what they did this off-season, when they followed in the footsteps of division rival the Los Angeles Angels, they signed a cornerstone player to a ten year, $240 million contract. Their superstar was slugger first baseman Albert Pujols, one of the more prolific players in MLB since his arrival in 2001. The Mariners also nabbed five time Silver Slugger award winner Robinson Cano, formerly of the New York Yankees.

Seattle is hoping to make a playoff run with the recent signing of second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano will be huge for a Mariners offense that struggled in a big way last season. Without Cano they only scored 624 runs which was good enough for 28th in MLB last season according to MLB.com. Cano instantly became the team’s best hitter and the Mariners’ first true three-hole hitter since Edgar Martinez. The four time all-star will be a Mariner for the next 10 seasons, as he a signed a 10 year, $240 Million contract in the off season. The team will look to build around Cano and his MVP caliber skill set. But for the Mariners, who missed out on key free agents in off seasons past, finally signing a marquee name in free agency will not be enough. Many things will need to fall in place for this team to overtake division rivals Los Angeles, Oakland and Texas. Along with Cano comes new manager Lloyd McClendon who brings experience and a fiery personality to a young club that will look to feed off its manager. McClendon, the former hitting coach of the Detroit Tigers, signed on in the off- season as the 16th full time manager in Mariners history according to Mariners.com. He brings an extensive playoff history with the Tigers who competed in the 2012 World Series but were swept by the San Francisco Giants. Lloyd will look to develop and lead one the youngest clubs in baseball to the playoffs.

As Mariners fans know Felix Hernandez, the perennial Cy-Young candidate, (the Cy-Young is an award given to the best pitcher of each league every year), will be depended on to be their Ace of the pitching staff. King Felix, as he was nicknamed early in his career, will look to continue his sustained dominance of Major League hitters with his devastating Change- Up and masterful curveball. The King will need to be in top form all season if he hopes to obtain his second Cy-Young and more importantly a playoff birth for the Seattle Mariners. But the King alone is not enough to push the Mariners through to an October post season appearance. The continued development of Asian import pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma will be vital to the success of a club that, as of late, has not had much starting pitching depth outside of the afore mentioned Felix Hernandez.

The development of young players will be vital to any type of playoff run this season. The Mariners start their season with a roster that includes eight players that have never been on an opening day roster. Prized catcher Mike Zunino is expected to handle a bulk of the catching duties and is looking to build off of a 2013 campaign in which he played 52 games after a mid-season call-up. The University of Florida alum will look to be a main stay in the lineup for years to come.

James Paxton is another youngster who makes his first opening day roster this year and is slated as the third pitcher in the Mariners pitching rotation. He was very impressive in three starts last year posting a 1.50 Earned Run Average and he won all three of his starts. He is highly touted as one of the best left handed prospects in baseball and will continue to develop into a superstar pitcher as the year progresses. These two top notch prospects have already shown signs of becoming the type of players that they were projected to be when they were picked high in the draft.

Two players that will look to have breakthrough seasons are Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Smoak and Ackley have largely for the past few seasons disappointed on the field, resulting in multiple minor league demotions and heavy criticism from the Mariner’s fans. Both were highly coveted prospects. Smoak came over from the Rangers in 2011 as part of the Cliff Lee trade and Ackley was the second overall pick in the 2010 first year player draft. Plate adjustments and rigorous off season training will help these two to bounce back in huge ways. The two former top prospects will correct their hitting woes throughout the 2014 season and will be corner stones in an inexperienced Seattle line up.

They are not the only players with something to prove, insert Right Fielder Corey Hart, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Mariners made a safe investment in the signing of former all-star Hart signing him to a one year deal. Hart missed all of last season do to knee surgery. He spent the off season recovering and getting completely healthy. He will be expected to add depth in a line-up of mostly unproven young hitters. At his best, he can combo with Cano to create one of the best middle of the order threats in the major leagues. He will also be critical in the development of some of the younger power hitters on the roster such as Smoak.

This offseason the Mariners invested $240 million in their future with the signing of Cano along with $175 million to Felix Hernandez during the previous off season. These moves not only were great transactions, but also sent a message to the rest of the league. The Mariners are presumably fast forwarding the rebuilding process that has been in place since General Manager Jack Zduriencik took over in 2009. With the Mariners in the hunt when the July 31 trade deadline looms one can assume the Mariners will be buyers in a market that could feature some superstars on terrible teams, these moves would require the Mariners to part ways with some of their top prospects in order to improve into a playoff contender. The willingness to spend money and make acquisitions will pay huge dividends in the immediate and distant future.

The revamped Mariners are looking to make noise this season that is no secret. It is a new regime and a new day for Seattle baseball and for the hometown nine to gain fan support like they did in the early 2000s they will need to win and win often. There is no doubt that the Mariners can make a playoff run similar to another Seattle sports franchise that recently made the Emerald City glow again. Wins in the first couple months may be hard to come by for one of the youngest clubs in baseball, but when it gets to the end of summer, Seattle could be looking at one of the best teams in baseball with a serious shot of a playoff run. The Mariners now have a couple of cornerstones in Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, but the rest of the organization will need to carry their weight for life to be truly brought back to Seattle baseball.