Mariners find selves in rebuild mode after bevy of departures
SEATTLE — The running joke is that when the Seattle Mariners arrive for the first day of spring training, everyone will need to wear “Hi, my name is” nametags. It might not be a bad idea for manager Scott Servais to consider.
“I’m very excited to go to spring training, to get with this group, and hit the reset button a little bit on our clubhouse and what we’ve got going,” Servais said.
Seattle begins spring training in a full rebuild mode — although “step-back” or “reset” have been the favored terms inside the front office. Instead of being a club contending for a wild-card berth and likely hovering in the 85- to 90-win range, the Mariners embraced the need to get younger, relieve themselves of some hefty contracts, and provide financial flexibility for the time when their top prospects are regular contributors.
The Mariners should not be a terrible team. They aren’t tanking. But they begin spring with a roster they hope won’t be the same by midseason. In Seattle’s perfect scenario, the handful of established veterans in the lineup will play well enough early that they can be moved for more prospects.
The hope remains that the prospects they’ve acquired will be ready to contribute by the second half of the 2020 season, with some debuting this year. Much of spring training will involve seeing how a handful of them stack up already.
Other things to watch as the Mariners start reporting on Monday, ahead of the early season opener in Japan on March 20 against Oakland:
New look: Gone are Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia, and with them a lot of the offensive production from recent seasons. Yet the drop-off shouldn’t be significant at the plate. Seattle added speed in outfielder Mallex Smith and shortstop J.P. Crawford. They got a potential big bat in outfielder Domingo Santana and likely improved offensively behind the plate with Omar Narvaez. If third baseman Kyle Seager can rebound from a terrible 2018, Seattle will be similar offensively to what it was a year ago.
They’re set: The rotation could be good enough to keep the Mariners competitive. Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake and newcomer Yusei Kikuchi will be the headliners, although Seattle will limit Kikuchi’s innings during spring and through the regular season. Wade LeBlanc will have a spot after a solid 2018, which begs a question about Felix Hernandez. The former All-Star had the worst season of his career in 2018 with a 5.55 ERA and 27 home runs allowed, but Seattle insists he’ll be in the rotation entering the final season of his current contract.
They’re not: With Edwin Diaz departed, the bullpen is the biggest question mark. There are no jobs predetermined outside of perhaps Hunter Strickland’s having the inside track on the closer spot.
Rookies to watch: Pitcher Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn, infielders Shed Long and Evan White, and top prospect Julio Rodriguez, 18, will get long looks this spring.
Seattle could use a bounce-back year from third baseman Kyle Seager.