Seattle Mariners

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Overview (Present Rank: 13th | Future Rank: 21st)

The Seattle Mariners are one of two Major League franchises yet to reach a Fall Classic (along with Washington Nationals) in its 40-year history. After posting an 87-75 record in 2014, high expectations surrounded the Seattle Mariners entering the 2015 season. Once Seattle provided Robinson Cano with some protection in the lineup (Nelson Cruz) and King Felix with some help in the rotation (Taijuan Walker), many baseball writers, analysts, and executives were predicting the Mariners to reach the first World Series in team history. However, underwhelming performances throughout the organization, besides the team's elite players,  doomed Seattle as the season played out. The disappointing season cost GM Jack Zduriencik and Manager Lloyd McClendon their jobs as well.

The theme of the offseason was out with the old and in with the new. Newly hired General Manager, Jerry Dipoto pegged his former co-worker Scott Servais from his days in LA to turn things around in Seattle as the Mariners’ new skipper. Despite Dipoto making improvements to the roster over the offseason, expectations are much lower this time around. Last year, the Seattle Mariners were dark horse World Series contenders who failed to live up to expectations. This year, they’re dark horse playoff contenders with a much better defense and bullpen in place.

 

*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.

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Catcher (Present Rank: 25th | Future Rank: 13th)

A few years ago, it was looking like the Seattle Mariners were setting themselves up for the best possible catching situation for the future . Armed with the third overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Seattle selected University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino. He got off to a hot start by batting .360/.447/.689 in 161 at-bats between Low-A and Double-A ball in his first taste of professional baseball. That led to Baseball America ranking Zunino as their No. 17 prospect heading into 2013. However, the big leagues have been a completely different story for the 25 year-old. Zunino started with a .214/.290/.329 batting line in his 2013 rookie season, and it only got worse as he struggled to hit .174/.230/.300 last year. He’ll start the season in the minors where he’s thrived, but he’ll have to do something at the Major League level this year to prevent Seattle from pursuing other long-term options at the position.

Zunino’s career production (.193/.252/.353) is what forced GM Jerry Dipoto to acquire Chris Iannetta as a short-term solution. Iannetta, owner of a .350 career OBP was barely serviceable last year for Dipoto’s Angels thanks to a meager .188 batting average. While Iannetta’s inconsistencies at the plate are well documented, his defensive ratings have been positive in each year of his career besides 2010. If Zunino doesn’t bloom into a starting caliber catcher at some point in 2016, expect Iannetta’s $4.25MM option to be picked up for 2017.

After being nothing more than a minor league regular, Steve Clevenger finally mustered some Major League production in 2015. Even then, the 30 games represent a very small sample size. Not to mention, over those final 15 games his OPS slipped below .600 which is unacceptable for  any Major League hitter. Clevenger was brought in as insurance in case Iannetta gets injured or Zunino can’t get it together for a midseason call-up. He doesn’t look likely to wear a Mariners uniform for long.

Future Outlook: Mike Zunino has to start turning potential into production

After drafting Mike Zunino third overall in 2012, Seattle has high hopes for the 25 year-old. Despite struggling through three Major League seasons, the Mariners are optimistic Zunino can turn things around because of his young age and robust minor league production. This season has become a make or break season for Zunino. If he can prove to be effective in his fourth attempt at the show, the Mariners finally have their catcher of the future. If he performs anything near the level he has played at over his Major League career, Seattle will have to look at investing an early draft pick in a new catcher for the future.

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First Base (Present Rank: 21st | Future Rank: 28th)

Knowing Seattle has gotten very little first base production over the past six years, Dipoto made his biggest move of the offseason by acquiring Adam Lind from the Milwaukee Brewers. After a breakout season in 2009 that led to his only Silver Slugger award, Lind’s career has become a roller coaster. The Mariners are the third team he’s played for in three years, and he’s one year away from free agency, making it possible that a fourth team is on the horizon. Lind’s 87 RBI’s ranked 10th among first baseman last season, so the 32 year-old still has some pop in his bat. While his offensive prowess hasn’t been questioned over the past three years, he’s never been rated well defensively. His .590 career OPS against southpaws limits his value even more forcing Dipoto to find a platoon partner for the righty masher.

The Mariners are hoping amateur free agent Dae-ho Lee can be that right-handed counterpart to solidify the first base position. Lind crushes right-handed pitching, and manager Scott Servais will surely want to take advantage of that. However, against lefties, Servais is forced to rely on Lee. The 34 year-old Lee is coming off of a .282/.368/.524 year in Korea. However, it remains to be seen what damage he can do against Major League pitching. Seattle made a low-risk investment here by only offering a minor league deal.

Lind and Lee can hold things down for 2016, but Dipoto and the Mariners front office are hoping D.J. Peterson is ready to take the reigns by 2017. Originally a third baseman, Seattle has worked with the former 12th overall pick in making a smooth transition to first base. He’s reportedly picking up things well defensively. The problems with the 24 year-old arise on the offensive end. Peterson struggled against minor league pitching at every level in 2015 including the Arizona Fall League. The Mariners are hoping their No. 10 prospect (according to Baseball America) figures things out and is ready by 2017 to become an everyday Major League first baseman.

(EDIT: With the future outlook of the position still up in the air, the Mariners acquired 1B Dan Vogelbach from the Chicago Cubs. Click here to see what Vogelbach will bring to the Mariners [7/20/16]).

Future Outlook: The Smoak has cleared

In the midst of another losing season, the Mariners sent Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers in 2010, receiving Justin Smoak as the centerpiece of the deal. Since then, the Mariners have gotten awful production at first base. One of Jerry Dipoto’s first moves as the new GM was getting rid of Smoak and his $4MM salary. While Adam Lind requires twice that price, he has delivered five times the production Smoak was providing the Mariners over the last three years. Pairing Lind with a platoon partner against lefties is still a priority unless Dae-Ho Lee outperforms his contract. Seattle is hoping D.J. Peterson is still the long-term answer after selecting him 12th overall in 2013. His struggles over the 2015 season show that Seattle might need to invest in a new first baseman for the future as well. 2016 has become a monumental year in evaluating Seattle’s outlook at first base.

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Second Base (Present Rank: 5th | Future Rank: 19th)

CEO Howard Lincoln was comfortable with investing $240MM to have Robinson Cano play the second half of his baseball career in Seattle after he achieved four consecutive All-Star appearances, Silver Slugger awards, top-6 MVP finishes, and three Gold Gloves with the Yankees. Cano made it clear he didn’t need the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium to be successful after notching another top-5 finish in MVP voting to begin his Mariners career. Things weren’t looking as good when Cano began the 2015 season batting .251/.290/.370 over the first half of the season. He turned things around down the stretch to finish with an impressive .287/.334/.446 slash line for the season. Now 33 years old, nobody can expect Cano to be the best second baseman in the league anymore, as Jose Altuve has taken that distinction from him. The Mariners are hoping he’s exceptional on both sides of the ball as he’s under contract until 2024, but it’s only a matter of time before father time catches up with Cano.

Future Outlook: Seattle bet $240MM that Cano ages well

In desperate need of a superstar player, former GM Jack Zduriencik made a blockbuster move by signing Robinson Cano away from the Yankees. The only problem was that Cano was already 31 years old at the time of the signing. While Cano alone will certainly sell tickets and merchandise, the Mariners invested a lot of money for a player descending in his career. He’s provided Seattle with elite performances at second base in the first two years of the deal, but this is the point where things typically start going south. The Mariners are surely hoping Cano can continue his offensive prowess, but if he slows down, Seattle has prepared themselves with multiple options like Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Drew Jackson. While none of them are primary second baseman, the emergence of Ketel Marte has led to many of them learning second base as a backup position.

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Shortstop (Present Rank: 20th | Future Rank: 17th)

Speaking of the emergence of Ketel Marte, the Seattle Mariners believe they have their franchise shortstop in the 22 year-old. Marte’s speed fits well in the leadoff spot, but his meager .330 minor league OBP is a better fit near the bottom of the Mariners’ lineup. He’s got a quick swing, but no power. He’s a plus defender at shortstop, but after gaining weight over the last few years, some believe he could move over to second base. With Robinson Cano still his slick fielding self, that position won’t open up anytime soon. However, if Cano or Marte were to get injured, Seattle has multiple players on the verge of being able to take over the role.

Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, and Drew Jackson have separated themselves from the crowd as the only three viable options going forward. Out of the three, Drew Jackson is the only one to not reach the Major Leagues yet. While Sardinas and Taylor have disappointed against Major League pitching in small sample sizes, the Mariners are still awaiting Jackson’s debut. Known for his defensive aptitude and laser of an arm, Jackson burst onto the scene with his bat after being drafted in the fifth round last year. He has all the tools to be an annual Gold Glove winner, but will need to keep hitting the ball to earn a call-up. After batting .184 between his freshman and sophomore year, Jackson hit .320 his junior season thanks to a shortened swing. When he carried that over by winning the Class-A Short Season Northwest League MVP, talent evaluators began to view Jackson as a steal and Baseball America ranked him third on the Mariners’ 2016 prospect list.

Luis Sardinas and Chris Taylor don’t have the ceiling of Jackson, but both could be quality players at the Major League level. Sardinas and Taylor have both been unimpressive in their short Major League stints, but have been productive in the minor leagues. Taylor specifically has raked against minor league pitching (.857 OPS) while Sardinas has been closer to average. Neither has plus tools, but they could each settle in as above-average utility players.

Future Outlook: Ketel Marte is Seattle’s franchise shortstop

Seattle has been awaiting Ketel Marte’s arrival since signing him as an amateur free agent in 2010. After the failures of Nick Franklin and Brad Miller, Marte seized the opportunity by batting .283/.351/.402 in his rookie debut. As a productive 21 year-old, Marte has set himself apart from other options, firmly entrenching himself as the Mariners’ franchise shortstop. Chris Taylor, Luis Sardinas, and Drew Jackson are quality middle infield options, but only Jackson has the potential to surpass Marte or an aging Cano, and he’s at least two years away from contributing at the Major League level.

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Third Base (Present Rank: 6th | Future Rank: 12th)

Despite back-to-back years of 20+ HR’s and excellent defense, Kyle Seager was still going under the radar before 2014. After driving in 96 runs that year, Seager was recognized with getting the 20th most American League MVP votes. The Mariners subsequently extended Seager for $100MM to keep him in Seattle through 2021 ($15MM Club Option for 2022). Now, Seager isn’t surprising anybody, and 2015 marked the fourth consecutive year he played in at least 155 games, hit 20+ HR’s, and slugged at least .420. Heading into his age-28 season, those numbers could get even better. Seager has established himself as a top-10 third baseman, and could elevate himself into the top-5 conversation with another MVP-caliber campaign.

Future Outlook: Get familiar with the 100 Million Dollar Man

The present and future value at this position is solely tied to the effectiveness of Kyle Seager. He has provided Seattle with both great offense and great defense. After signing a $100MM contract, Seager is here to stay. D.J. Peterson has the ability to move back over to third base if Seager were to go down with an injury for any extended period of time. Other than that, the Mariners have no quality third basemen in their farm system unless Drew Jackson moves over to the hot corner. Adding a high draft pick or coveted amateur free agent wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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Outfield (Present Rank: 21st | Future Rank: 26th)

The outfield presents the biggest challenge to Seattle’s World Series aspirations. While the Mariners have some star players in the infield (Cano, Seager), they have zero All-Star caliber players in the outfield. Their starting cast this year consist of Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, and Seth Smith.

Seth Smith is the only returning Mariner out of the trio. After a productive start to his career in Colorado, Smith continued his consistency in Oakland before spending a year in San Diego and eventually coming over to Seattle. He’s nothing special, but he gets the job done, and is one of the most consistent bats in the Mariners lineup. However, entering his age-33 season, he could be even worse than the .248/.330/.443 slash line he posted last season. Smith has one year left on his contract with a $7MM club option for 2016 that’s likely to be picked up if Smith can stay healthy considering his consistent production.

Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin are two more additions under the newly established Dipoto administration. After a historically bad outfield defense in 2015 (last in outfield defensive runs saved), Dipoto set out to drastically improve the outfield defense. Aoki is no Kevin Kiermaier in the outfield, but he’s much better than what Seattle was getting out of their left fielders in 2015. Martin on the other hand is a defensive whiz and will be relied on to cover the gaps in Safeco Field. Neither player brings much to the table offensively, but their contributions defensively make anything they do at the plate icing on the cake.

After missing all of 2014 due to multiple injuries, Franklin Gutierrez reminded Mariners fans what they were missing with a prolific .974 OPS in the 189 plate appearances he was given in 2015. Now entering a contract year in 2016, Gutierrez will need to prove those injuries are a thing of the past and his 2015 offensive production was no fluke. People know Gutierrez can run and field among the best of them, but it’s his bat that will decide if he ever cracks the starting lineup, or is stuck behind three subpar players as the team’s fourth outfielder.

The Mariners have a lot of minor leaguers that could also develop into defensive-first fourth outfielders like Shawn O’Malley, Luis Liberato and Braden Bishop. The players in Seattle’s system with the offensive potential to start at the Major League level are Alex Jackson, Tyler O’Neil, and Boog Powell.

Naturally for a player that’s only a year and a half removed from being the sixth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Jackson has the highest ceiling of the three. Not much of a runner or thrower, Jackson’s development hinges strictly on his bat. His quick, even swing is what originally got scouts so excited about the 20 year-old. After struggling in Single-A (.453 OPS), critics are questioning his ability to drive the ball. He still has the tools to be a premier outfielder, but will have to show his bat is still productive enough to get him to the show.

O’Neil and Powell are both really good at one thing which has carried their prospect stock this far. For O’Neil, it’s his ridiculous raw power that has scouts drooling over his overall potential at the plate. Powell benefits from great contact skills that have placed him among Seattle’s top-10 prospects heading into 2016. Powell also has speed on his side making him a prime center field candidate for the future. O’Neil’s strong arm and power bat makes him a prototypical fit in right field. Jackson, O’Neil, and Powell could be manning Seattle’s outfield for years to come.

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Future Outlook: O’Neil in left, Powell in center, and Jackson in right

Heading into 2016, the Seattle Mariners have one of the worst collective outfields in the game. Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, and Seth Smith aren’t awful, but none of them are among the top-20 players at their position. Seattle has hope in the form of Tyler O’Neil, Boog Powell, and Alex Jackson. Aoki and Smith could both be spending their last season in northwest Washington, while Martin is under contract through 2018. That’s perfect for the Mariners as Powell could be ready for starting duties as soon as next year with O’Neil coming the following year, and Jackson the year after that. The only thing in question here is what additions will Jerry Dipoto make before the trio establishes themselves as Seattle’s everyday outfielders.

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Designated Hitter (Present Rank: 4th/15 | Future Rank: 7th/15)

While hitting at least 40 homers in each of the last two seasons, Nelson Cruz has become one of the best hitters in baseball. Cruz was putting together a solid career, but his recent power surge in his mid-30’s has elevated him to the upper echelon of major league hitters. Despite primarily being a designated hitter over the past couple years, Cruz has garnered consecutive top-10 MVP votes in the American League. He’s hitting the ball as good as he ever has, and the Mariners will need his power bat in the heart of their lineup.

Future Outlook: Cruz keeps doing his thing

It took $57MM over four years to bring Cruz to Seattle, but if his first season is any indication, he’ll be well worth the investment. Even at 35 years old, Cruz is putting up the best numbers of his career. While he is a liability on the field, that issue becomes irrelevant with Cruz locked into the DH spot. As Cruz continues to destroy Major League pitching, the Mariners must start thinking about the future of the position. Cruz is only under contract for three more years, and Seattle doesn’t have any likely replacements currently in the organization. D.J. Peterson is one possible option, but Seattle must have a quality first baseman in place, and Peterson must be able to hit major league pitching by then. The abundant amount of quality shortstops could translate to an option at DH down the line as well.

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Left-Handed Starting Pitching (Present Rank: 15th | Future Rank: 18th)

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While Seattle’s ace throws from the right side, they could have another frontline starter that throws from the left side. James Paxton was looking to fit the bill, but after another rough season, ‘future ace’ might be a stretch. Paxton is still the same 6’4” monster with a mid-90’s heater, and dangerous curveball that earned him three consecutive appearances on Baseball America’s top-100 prospect list. After struggling with location and effectiveness of his cutter, his future outlook is now in question. If he figures things out, he should at least be a mid-rotation starter with the upside of an ace.

With plenty of inexperienced, unproven, or injury prone pitchers behind King Felix, GM Dipoto went out and acquired Wade Miley to stabilize the rotation. While Miley hasn’t been the most efficient pitcher (career 3.95 ERA; 1.334 WHIP), he has been incredibly consistent with four consecutive seasons of 193+ innings and an ERA never going above 4.50. Carson Smith will surely be missed in the bullpen after being traded for Miley, but Dipoto explored other avenues in bulking up the relief corps. Miley’s in his prime at 29 years old, and can be controlled for three more seasons.

In the minors, the Mariners only have three left-handed starting pitchers worth mentioning: Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Wells, and Luiz Gohara. Yarbrough and Wells will likely continue to develop as backend rotation pieces whereas Gohara is destined to make a transition to the bullpen. Neither Yarbrough or Wells possess explosive stuff, but their pitches play up because of their advanced feel for the strike zone. While Yarbrough and Wells don’t have much upside, they’re balanced repertoire makes them near locks to one day fill the spots in the back of the rotation.

Meanwhile, Luiz Gohara has the size, velocity, and youth that scouts see plenty of potential in. Unfortunately, Gohara has been unable to develop any of his offspeed pitches other than a plus-slider which will seriously prohibit him from being a consistent starting presence. However, a move to the bullpen could skyrocket his career, and make him one of the more feared relief pitchers in the MLB someday.

Future Outlook: No Felix on the left side

It’s unquestioned that Felix Hernandez is the leader of the staff. From the left-handed side of things, nobody has stepped up to make a similar impact. James Paxton has the potential to do so down the road, but he hasn’t been very effective in his Major League career thus far. Wade Miley was brought in to bring stability to the rotation, but he’s not fooling anyone for a frontline starter.

That’s what the Seattle Mariners are missing: an ace-caliber pitcher throwing from the left side. Having Hernandez is great, but having a left-handed counterpart would put them over the top, and make them a legitimate World Series contender in the American League. It’s clear that while Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Wells, and Luiz Gohara will contribute at some level, none of them fit the bill of a future impact starter. GM Jerry Dipoto could significantly improve this team by investing in a lefty frontline starter. Whether that be long-term through the draft or amateur free agency, or short-term with pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Jaime Garcia, and Francisco Liriano all potentially becoming available within the next year or two, he’ll have options.

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Right-Handed Starting Pitching (Present Rank: 17th | Future Rank: 15th)

Seattle has multiple elite players in their organization, but make no mistake about it, Felix Hernandez is still the King. ‘King’ Felix has earned that moniker by going eight straight seasons with 200+ IP, at least a 20% SO rate, and never owning an ERA above 3.53. His 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K 2015 season was a down year by Hernandez’ standards. Entering his age-30 season, some question whether 2015 was the start of a decline for the six-time All-Star. With an unprecedented amount of consistency on his track record, another season of 200+ innings, 190+ K’s, and an ERA below 3.50 seems likely. The Mariners have their former Cy Young award winner locked up for the next four seasons.

One right-handed pitcher poised to join the King atop Seattle’s rotation is Taijuan Walker. Walker was a unanimous top-100 prospect for three straight years, topping out at No. 5 (according to MLB.com) before breaking his rookie eligibility. After a full season’s worth of work, Walker is ready to make the next step in his development. He already has a blazing fastball (94 MPH) that he complements with various effective offspeed pitches including a splitter. At 23 years old, Walker must get better command of his fastball to prevent the home runs and walks that have prevented him from reaching Felix’ ace status already. If he keeps continuing on the right path, he could become Seattle’s Opening Day starter while Hernandez inevitably declines with age.

Hitting the free agent market for the first time this offseason, Hisashi Iwakuma was looking to cash out on a three-year deal with Los Angeles. However, he wound up right back in Seattle after a failed physical ended his chances of becoming a Dodger. Instead, Iwakuma signed a one-year deal that guarantees him $12MM, with two separate $10MM club options for 2017 and 2018. The Mariners know his injury history better than anyone, and must believe he’s healthy to give him a $12MM guarantee. His four years of consistent production for the M’s has earned him the benefit of the doubt going forward as the 35 year-old can still get batters out despite his decreasing fastball velocity.

While acquiring Wade Miley was key in stabilizing the rotation, GM Jerry Dipoto made a separate move to add more pitching to the starting mix. After a strong rookie season in Tampa Bay, Dipoto thought enough of Nate Karns to give up 1B Logan Morrison, SS Brad Miller, and RP Danny Farquhar in a six-player trade that centered around the 28 year-old hurler (also included OF prospect Boog Powell). While Karns’ successful 2015 season may have come out of nowhere to some, it was an improved changeup that stimulated the turnaround. Adding almost two inches to the drop of his changeup became essential in fooling hitters as he also attacked them with a rising fastball. Now Karns is in his prime, and looking to prove 2015 was no fluke.

Jio Orozco and Cody Mobley are two young players in Seattle’s system with a lot to prove before any evaluators are going to rely on them in the future. However, four guys who have distinguished themselves as future Major Leaguers are Edwin Diaz, Andrew Moore, Nick Neidert, and Dylan Thompson.

Edwin Diaz is the team’s No. 1 prospect according to fangraphs thanks to his explosive fastball and excellent slider. However, the jury is still out on Diaz remaining in the rotation as his high-effort delivery and lack of a third pitch could push him closer to a bullpen role. If Diaz were to go that route, the Mariners believe they have a future elite closer on their hands.

Moore, Neidert, and Thompson on the other hand check off all the boxes needed to stay in the rotation. They each feature a unique delivery that helps their stuff standout more than others. None of them figure to hold a prominent role in future Seattle rotations, but they could all be effective backend pieces like Ryan Yarbrough and Nick Wells. All these potential starters give Dipoto fire power to acquire other players at positions of need.

Future Outlook: The King will soon have to pass the torch

Felix Hernandez has had one of the best runs in recent MLB pitching history. While the Mariners haven’t reached the playoffs one time during Hernandez’ tenure with the team, if it wasn’t for him they might have finished with the No. 1 overall pick year in and year out. Now that he’s getting into his 30’s, it’s close to time for him to pass the torch. Taijuan Walker looks like he’s up for the challenge. After dominating minor league hitters, Walker got his first full taste of big league action in 2015 and impressed as a 22 year-old. As he matures and develops, Walker could one day become just as effective as the King, and cement himself among the top pitchers in baseball. If Walker is unable to live up to his potential, the Mariners have no other candidates to become their ace as the rest of their starters fit better in the middle of the rotation or as backend pieces.

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Bullpen (Present Rank: 12th | Future Rank: 14th)

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After back-to-back seasons of 30+ saves, Steve Cishek registered more blown saves than actual saves in 2015. The disappointing performance removed him from the closer role and from the Marlins altogether. As Dipoto’s primary bullpen addition this offseason, Cishek will get the chance to close games again and prove that those first 13 games in 2015 were an outlier in his otherwise productive career. Outside of those 13 appearances, Cishek has been one of the best relievers in the game over the past five seasons, and has plenty left in the tank at only 29 years old. Cishek’s 2yr/$10MM deal expires after 2017 when he’ll reach free agency for the second time in his career.

The rest of the bullpen is littered with recent Jerry Dipoto additions, but there are still a few names that remain from Seattle’s 2015 roster. Three of those players are southpaws which is why Dipoto didn’t add any lefties to the bullpen mix in his inaugural offseason as Seattle’s head decision maker. The incumbent lefties are Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno, and Mike Montgomery.

Furbush is the only southpaw of the three to be a proven threat from the ‘pen. Nuno impressed as a reliever last year (1.91 ERA), but only registered 37.2 innings. Mike Montgomery was a former top-20 prospect as a starting pitcher. Even though he finally started to put things together last year (including a complete game shutout against the eventual world champs), it became clear his mediocre repertoire couldn’t consistently get it done against Major League hitters. Now, Furbush will keep doing what he does, Nuno will look to build off of last year’s success, and Montgomery is trying to become a reliable relief option after failing as a starting pitching prospect.

(EDIT: The Mariners have traded Mike Montgomery (and RHP Jordan Pries) to the Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach (and RHP Paul Blackburn). Click here to see how Montgomery will fit in the Cubs' bullpen as they attempt to win their first World Series since 1908 [7/20/16]).

Jerry Dipoto’s impact on Seattle’s bullpen can be felt setup men Joel Peralta and Joaquin Benoit. Both pitchers are past their 37th birthday, and while Peralta is declining at an alarming rate, Benoit has remained one of the better relief pitchers in the game. The Mariners just need one year of quality production from them as they’ll both be back on the market at the end of the 2016 season.

(EDIT: While Joel Peralta's struggles in 2016 has led to his release, the Mariners were able to trade Benoit to the Toronto Blue Jays for another struggling reliever, Drew Storen. Click here to read more about the former intimidating closer [7/26/16]).

Of course, the trio of Furbush, Benoit, and Peralta is just the beginning of the numerous relief arms Dipoto brought in over the offseason. He also added Evan Scribner, Nick Vincent, and Jonathan Aro to the group. Scribner was the only one of the three to throw over 20 innings in the majors last year, and while his ERA wasn’t spectacular, his peripherals were outstanding (64K/4BB; 1.033 WHIP).

Vincent has been slightly successful in the MLB, but his lack of fastball velocity and inability to get lefties out prevent him from being anything more than an average middle reliever. Being an average middle reliever is exactly what the M’s expect out of Aro as well. Acquired from Boston in the Wade Miley trade, Aro has only registered 10 major league innings in his professional career. His fastball effectiveness screams potential closer, but his offspeed pitchers are getting destroyed by Double-A hitters.

The only returning right-hander expected to play a prominent role in Seattle’s bullpen this year is Tony Zych. He averages 96 MPH on his fastball which he combines with a sloping slider that keeps hitters off-balanced. His ability to command those pitches will be the difference in becoming just another middle reliever, or an elite setup man.

Two young relievers catching the eyes of scouts fall on two opposite ends of the spectrum. On one hand, the Mariners have Paul Fry. Already a top-20 prospect in Seattle’s system (according to fangraphs), Fry’s complementary slider and polished command have the M’s thinking they could have a future closer on their hands.

On the other hand, the Mariners have Dan Altavilla. The 5’11 righty doesn’t have much behind his mid-90’s fastball, and his command is iffy at best. Altavilla’s impressive fastball and mediocre slider pin him as a likelier candidate to end up as a middle reliever.

Future Outlook: The bullpen represents Seattle as a whole

Heading into 2015, the Seattle Mariners were expected to do big things. Heading into 2015, the Marines’ bullpen was expected to do big things. After a disappointing season for the team and the bullpen, new GM Jerry Dipoto made numerous transactions to tweak the team and make the relief corps competitive in the AL West. A point could be made that the Seattle Mariners will go as far as their bullpen takes them in 2016. Recent history indicates that would be true.

KEY | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | DH | PIT | LHP | RHP | PEN | OVERALL

OVERALL OUTLOOK: Seattle is a dark horse contender once again

Despite being a dark horse World Series contender in 2015, Seattle extended their streak to 14 years without a playoff appearance. Inheriting a team that already consisted of a few superstars, new GM Jerry Dipoto retooled the roster by executing numerous minor moves over the offseason. Former GM Jack Zduriencik always favored offensive-minded players, but after posting the worst Defensive Runs Saved (-50) in the American League, Dipoto made defense a priority.

The M’s still have offensive forces like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager in the lineup, but have surrounded them with defensively gifted players like Leonys Martin, Ketel Marte, and Chris Iannetta. The team has gotten much better defensively all around the diamond while maintaining it's offensive prowess. The Mariners have an offense just as good as last year, if not better thanks to the additions of Martin, Iannetta, Nori Aoki, and Adam Lind. Even the pitching staff made minor improvements with the additions of Nate Karns, Wade Miley, and Joaquin Benoit. The best part about the newly retooled roster for Mariners fans is that all of the team’s key players are under team control for at least the next three years. There might not be as much hype around this Mariners team this time around, but once again, Seattle will enter 2016 as a dark horse World Series contender.

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