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2014 Mariners Team Preview: Here Comes Cano

Jason Thornbury

Thornbury is a senior editor at RotoWire. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he has also worked in sports television and radio, including co-hosting RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM.

Desperate to get off a rebuilding treadmill that was leading to nowhere but irrelevance, the Mariners swung for the fences on a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal for Robinson Cano. It is a lot of money and years for a player who will be 32 when the season starts. But if Cano delivers a World Series title it will be worth the gambit. Of course, Cano cannot carry the Mariners to contention, let alone the World Series, on his own. And the team's returning players combined last season to hit ... .244/.322/.394.

The team acquired Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to bolster that dreadful line. But both are coming off significant knee injuries, and neither is particularly well-suited for a corner outfield post.

The Mariners figure to have a three- to four-year window to contend before Cano begins the decline phase of his career. And they're not going to contend this season, so one year is already moot. Still, Cano makes this season slightly more interesting than the play-the-kids strategy fans have endured the last number of years.

Offseason Moves

Signed second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract.

The Mariners gave Cano the third most lucrative contract in baseball history, equaling Albert Pujols' deal and behind only two Alex Rodriguez contracts. For their money, the Mariners get the game's best second baseman who is coming off five consecutive seasons with a .300-plus average and a .500-plus slugging percentage. The impact of going from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field could be one of the more interesting storylines of the season.

Signed Corey Hart to a one-year, $6 million contract.

Hart, who missed all last season, is coming off surgeries on both knees. Manager Lloyd McClendon said he hopes Hart is healthy enough to play 145 games in the outfield this year. But to keep him healthy, the Mariners surely know they can't play him near that many games in the outfield. He'll also compete for time at first base and designated hitter with Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison. If healthy, though, he's a decent bet to produce hitting behind by Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot.

Acquired Logan Morrison from the Florida Marlins in a trade for Carter Capps.

Capps is a fireball reliever, but he's more thrower than pitcher at this point. Morrison struggled with knee injuries the last two seasons, playing 93 games in 2012 and 85 games last season. It's a low-risk deal for the Mariners who are betting on the upside Morrison showed in 2011 when he hit 23 homers. He'll likely be in a first-base/DH rotation with Justin Smoak and Corey Hart with limited appearances in left field.

Signed Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million contract.

The Mariners strengthened their bullpen by signing Rodney, even if they didn't necessarily need a closer. Rodney, who will be 37 when the season begins, saved 85 games while blowing just 10 for the Rays the last two seasons.

Re-signed Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year, $1 million contract; placed Gutierrez on the restricted list.

It was somewhat surprising the Mariners brought back Gutierrez, considering his extensive injury history that limited him to 92, 40 and 41 games the last three seasons. It was less surprising when Gutierrez informed the club in February that he will not play in 2014 because of ongoing gastrointestinal issues. Placing him on the restricted list spares the Mariners from paying his salary.'

Signed John Buck to one-year, $1 million contract.

Buck gives the Mariners some stability behind the plate after they went through seven catchers last season. He'll provide a veteran presence behind the 22-year-old Mike Zunino.

Signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year, $5.8 million contract.

One of the offseason's more inexplicable free-agent deals, Bloomquist will handle a utility role this season. Better utility players were available for less money than the average-at-best Bloomquist received.

Signed Scott Baker, Randy Wolf and Zach Miner to minor-league contracts.

Each will compete for a spot in the rotation but could also pitch long relief. All have undergone Tommy John surgery in recent years, and only Baker pitched in the majors in 2013, logging three appearances. Prospects Taijuan Walker, if healthy, and James Paxton are in the rotation running, and Hisashi Iwakuma is expected to start the year on the disabled list. So, starting opportunities could be available.

Projected Lineup

1. Brad Miller, SS
2. Kyle Seager, 3B
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Corey Hart, RF
5. Logan Morrison, DH
6. Justin Smoak, 1B
7. Michael Saunders, CF
8. Mike Zunino, C
9. Dustin Ackley, LF

Manager Lloyd McClendon said 3-4 players could lead off. Pencil in Miller, who handled the job for much of last season. Seager looks to have the prime spot in the lineup. Hitting in front of Cano should help him get better pitches to hit, and he thrived hitting in the second spot last season (.304/.374/.486 in 155 PA). The rest of the order is TBD, but the above alternates hitting sides. The Mariners could use another right-handed bat.

Projected Rotation

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Hisashi Iwakuma*
3. Erasmo Ramirez
4. Taijuan Walker*
5. James Paxton
6. Brandon Maurer/Scott Baker/Randy Wolf/Zach Miner

Iwakuma is expected to be out through mid-April with a finger injury. Walker also will be sideline to start the season with a shoulder injury. One of those spots likely will be filled by Maurer, who made the rotation out of spring last year only to quickly prove he wasn't ready for the promotion. Ramirez has received little attention this spring, but a rotation spot is his to lose. Paxton looks ready for the big leagues, but the Mariners could elect to hold him back for more minor-league seasoning. The Mariners hope that plugging Baker, Wolf or Miner into the rotation won't be by default.

Closer: Fernando Rodney - While the Mariners needed bullpen help, they didn't necessarily need a new closer. The 5-foot-9 Danny Farquhar was the unlikely successor to Tom Wilhelmsen as closer last year, but saved 16-of-18 games after taking the job for good in August, striking out 29 in 22.2 innings. But signing Rodney allows the Mariners to strengthen their late relief by pushing Farquar back into a setup role with Charlie Furbush. They also need Wilhelmsen to salvage his career and bolster the middle-relief corps.

Key Bullpen Members:
Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise

How much will Safeco Field hurt Robinson Cano?

Not as much as perhaps most assume. For starters, Safeco Field has never been as tough on lefties as on right-handed batters. And while last year's outfield reconfiguration was more dramatic in left-center than in right field, it still helped southpaws slug .402. Lefties at Yankee Stadium? .411. In fact, left-handed hitters at Safeco homered once every 32.1 at-bats last season while at Yankee Stadium they went deep once every 37.8 at-bats. Of Cano's 27 homers last season, all would have cleared the fence at Safeco. And of the five he belted in the hitting parks of AL East opponents, only one would have failed to leave the spacious parks of the AL West. He won't have a strong lineup around him, but that was the case last year in New York, too (the Yankees averaged .16 more runs per game than the Mariners), and he still scored 81 runs and drove in 107. The biggest downgrade for Cano might be air temperature where the average during the season is more than eight degrees cooler in Seattle (60.1) than in the Bronx (68.3). The summer months show the biggest contrast with an average difference of 11 degrees. Still, factoring in positional scarcity, his 10.6 ADP offers value.

What happens to second baseman Nick Franklin with Cano aboard?

With Cano at second, the Mariners said Franklin will compete with Brad Miller to start at shortstop. It's highly doubtful Franklin overtakes Miller, the superior player at the plate and in the field. The Mariners undoubtedly have tried to trade Franklin, but there's no reason to take a low-ball offer. Franklin could land a bench role unless the Mariners want him to play everyday at Triple-A.

Is *this* the year Justin Smoak puts it all together.

Don't count on it. With nearly 2,000 major-league plate appearances, it's probably time to just accept Smoak for what he is - a streaky, low-average hitter with a bit of power who struggles with contact and can't hit lefties despite switch-hitting. His batting average likely will always be feeble as long as his contract rate remains in the mid-70s (74 percent last season). He has home-run power but last year's .412 slugging percentage was a career high. His hot streaks, such as the one he went on last year after he came off the disabled list, are usually propelled by inflated BABIP and flyball rates that eventually normalize. Sure, he can draw some walks, but he's useless against lefties (.192/.274/.548 last season). Perhaps the Rangers knew what they were doing when they traded him to the Mariners in 2010 for Cliff Lee.


The Mariners have a strong duo atop the rotation in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Both are groundball pitchers with elite K:BB ratios who are just as effective on the road as at home. There's a slight injury risk with both -- Hernandez suffered a late-season back injury last year; Iwakuma is out through mid-April with a finger injury -- but nothing that should scare fantasy owners.


The Mariners need more bats, specifically right-handed bats. Management's focus on homers last season led to the second most long balls in baseball. But the Mariners still finished 22nd in runs scored, their sixth consecutive season in the bottom quarter of the league, thanks in part a team .306 OBP. The M's didn't address that problem this offseason. Robinson Cano can't do it all by himself, and there's little reason to expect the offense will produce significantly more than the 3.85 runs per game it scored last season.

Kyle Seager - After consecutive 20-homer seasons, Seager looks poised to take the next step in his third full season in the big leagues. His walk rate improved last season, and he leads the AL with 22 stolen bases the last two seasons. Hitting in the second spot in front of Robinson Cano should provide him hittable pitches this season.

Jesus Montero - Montero enters the season with a lot to prove after enduring a demotion, position switch, knee injury and PED suspension last season. But he showed up to camp a whopping 40 pounds over his team-mandated target weight, admitting that after winter ball, "I wasn't doing nothing, just eating." Impressive. His career is on life support. He'll start the season at Triple-A still learning to play first base.

Corey Hart - Hart likely will produce fantasy value relative to his draft slot. Health, of course, is the big X-factor. He missed last season with two knee surgeries. The Mariners likely will keep him rested, and give him plenty of starts at first base and DH, limiting his exposure in the outfield. If healthy, though, 25 homers and a decent average aren't a stretch. Hitting behind Cano should lead to RBI opportunities, as well.

James Paxton - He's far from an unknown, but he likely will be overlooked in most drafts. A groundball pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, when Paxton keeps the ball down, he's tough to hit, as right-handers found out to the tune of a .141 BAA last year. He gets into trouble when he loses command of his fastball, which caused some trouble at Triple-A last year, but he did not show any command issues in four late-season starts with the Mariners. His curveball is a potential plus-pitch, and he mixes in an effective changeup. Paxton looks ready for the big leagues.

Top Prospects

D.J. Peterson -
The 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Peterson crushed Single-A pitching at two stops before a fastball to the chops ended his season in August. He underwent surgery and had his jaw wired shut, preventing him from playing in the Arizona Fall League. Peterson has a simple, compact, effective swing with power and an advanced approach at the dish. His glove is questionable at third base, and he likely will move across the diamond to first or to the outfield where his strong arm would play well. A top college player at New Mexico, he is expected to advance quickly through the system thanks to his power bat, and a September callup in 2014 is not out of the question.

Danny Hultzen -
Hultzen will miss the 2014 season after undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. He was limited to 35.2 innings in 2013, but impressed at Triple-A Tacoma over six starts before getting injured. While he's still a good prospect, Hultzen has lost a bit of his luster in the wake of a serious shoulder injury. At best, he'll show up in Seattle in the summer of 2015 if he proves healthy and effective once more after the procedure.

Victor Sanchez -
Sanchez was the top pitching prospect in Venezuela, and possibly all of Latin America, when he signed with the Mariners in 2011 at age 16. A year later, he debuted at short-season Everett. At 18, he threw a no-hitter at Low-A Clinton. At 6-0, 255, Sanchez has been described as a "bull," a "tank" and a "bowling ball." No matter the adjective, it's clear Sanchez can pitch. He has excellent control, and his fastball can touch the mid-90s. Better command of his fastball and continued development of his slurve and changeup should help his strikeout rate improve as he advances. It shouldn't take long before Sanchez is knocking on the door.

Chris Taylor -
This could prove to be a pivotal year for Taylor, who likely will open at Triple-A Tacoma hoping to show his ceiling is higher than the all-glove utility man he has been pegged as. A 2012 fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia, Taylor showed excellent patience at the plate last season, drawing 84 walks in 134 games across two minor league stops. At 6-0, 170, he doesn't have the build for much power, which makes his high strikeout rate a problem. He hit well in the Arizona Fall League, but if he is to take the next step, he must make more contact. Taylor has good speed and is excellent on the bases, succeeding on 38-of-43 stolen base attempts last season. In the field, his range at shortstop is described as average to above average depending on the scout, but he has a strong arm and can play second base, too. The Mariners have a backlog of middle infielders, but Taylor will have a chance to prove that he too belongs in the conversation.

Tyler Pike -
A 2012 third-round pick, Pike mixes a low-90s fastball with an above-average curveball and changeup. The 20-year-old lefty has a deceptive delivery but struggled with control at Low-A Clinton last season. He has plenty of time figure that out, however. He'll start in High-A this season before a likely promotion to Double-A sometime this summer.