The Seattle Mariners fell tantalizingly short of making the 2014 postseason by just one game, which has led to high 2015 expectations by many in the national media and within the Mariners’ fan base. Many pundits and fans have hailed that the addition of slugger Nelson Cruz as the move that will get Seattle over the hump and into the postseason for the first time since 2001, while others believe that the team still needs one more bat to ensure contention.

While Cruz will certainly help Seattle improve and adding another slugger is a need, the Mariners need to improve at numerous positions in 2015. Otherwise, they’ll be no better than a fringe contender.

Reasons for optimism
It’s easy to see why there’s a positive outlook by so many when you look at the Mariners’ standing amongst American League (AL) teams that had 85 or more wins. Seattle was sixth overall in the AL for team-total wins above replacement (WAR) only trailing the five teams that made the postseason. That’s great and can be attributed to the team’s strong pitching staff, outstanding performance by Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, and value delivered by the Brad Miller/Chris Taylor platoon at shortstop.

WAR for 85+ Win AL Teams
Team WAR
Wins
Los Angeles Angels (LAA) 46.8
98
Baltimore Orioles (BAL) 46.8 96
Oakland Athletics (OAK) 45.6 88
Detroit Tigers (DET) 41.5 90
Kansas City Royals (KCR) 40.5
89
Seattle Mariners (SEA) 39.5
87
Cleveland Indians (CLE)
38.2
85

Projecting Opening Day lineup
If no more significant moves are made and barring injury, it’s very plausible that Seattle’s 2015 Opening Day lineup could be very similar to the starting lineup for the last game of the 2014 season. The team will definitely have new faces at designated hitter (DH) and in right field (RH). Other than shortstop where Miller could start in place of Taylor, everyone else may be the same. Does anyone believe that changing those two faces will make Seattle a serious contender?

Mariners starting lineup on last day of 2014 season
CF Austin Jackson
LF Dustin Ackley
2B Robinson Cano
DH Kendrys Morales/Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
1B Logan Morrison
RF Michael Saunders/Justin Ruggiano
C Mike Zunino
SS Chris Taylor (Brad Miller could replace him)
SP Felix Hernandez

So, where does this team need to improve? Looking at a team’s WAR, by position, helps illuminate areas requiring improvement. In this article, WAR refers to the base-reference.com computation of a player’s value. The position value illustrated below incorporates every player who played that particular position during the 2014 season. The players’ contributions are pro-rated by the plate appearances (PA) they had while playing that position. For example, second base is calculated by including the values of Cano (630 PA), Willie Bloomquist (24), Nick Franklin (19), and Miller (15) who all played the position in 2014. Obviously, Cano’s value drive the positional value at second base.  But, there are other positions such as first base, shortstop, and the outfield positions that had multiple players with significant playing time.

Team WAR Value by Position (American League)
RNK SP RP
C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF OF DH
1 DET 16.5
CLE 8.2
CLE 5.5
DET 4.9
SEA 6.1 TEX 7.4
LAA 3.8
KCR 6.5
LAA 7.6
OAK 4.6
LAA 14.1
DET 4.9
2 SEA 13.8
KCR 7.7
OAK 4.0
BAL 4.1
HOU 6.1
OAK 6.7
BAL 3.7
BAL 5.2
BAL 5.0
LAA 4.5
KCR 13.7 BAL 3.9
3 TBR 13.2
SEA 7.5
KCR 2.7
TOR 3.6
BOS 5.5
SEA 5.6
TOR 3.0
CLE 4.2
CHW 5.0
TOR 4.2
BAL 13.1
BOS 3.0
4 CLE 12.4
OAK 6.5
LAA 2.6
CHW 3.3
DET 5.4
MIN 3.9
CHW 3.0
NYY 3.7
TBR 4.8
BOS 3.0
OAK 10.2
TOR 2.7
5 KCR 12.3
NYY 6.0
CHW 2.5
BOS 3.0
MIN 5.3
BAL 3.5
CLE 2.6
DET 3.4
KCR 4.6
BAL 2.9
TBR 9.5
HOU 1.9
6 HOU 11.8
BAL 5.6
NYY 2.5
LAA 2.7
LAA 5.3
TBR 3.3
SEA 2.6
OAK 3.3
TEX 4.2
HOU 2.8
TOR 9.2
OAK 1.6
7
OAK 11.4
DET 5.3
HOU 2.4
OAK 1.8
TBR 2.6
NYY 3.3
KCR 2.4
TOR 3.3
NYY 3.8
KCR 2.6
NYY 8.0
LAA 1.4
8 LAA 10.9
BOS 4.8
MIN 2.0
NYY 1.6
NYY 1.9
TOR 2.0
MIN 2.1
TBR 2.8
MIN 3.2
TBR 1.9
BOS 7.4
TBR 1.3
9 TOR 10.7
TBR 4.3
BAL 1.8
TBR 1.5
TOR 1.6
CHW 1.6
HOU 1.8
LAA 2.0
CLE 3.1
DET 1.4
DET 7.0
MIN 0.8
10 CHW 9.8
MIN 4.1
TEX 1.6
CLE 1.0
BAL 1.1
CLE 1.6
OAK 1.2
BOS 2.0
HOU 2.8
SEA 1.1
HOU 6.4
CHW 0.8
11 NYY 8.8
TEX 3.7
DET 1.4
MIN 1.0
KCR 1.0
LAA 0.3
TEX 1.1
SEA 1.5
BOS 2.3
NYY 0.5
CLE 6.3
TEX 0.3
12 BAL 8.8
TOR 3.4
TOR 1.4
KCR 0.6
CLE 1.0
KCR 0.3
BOS 0.6
HOU 0.8
OAK 2.3
TEX 0.5
TEX 4.6
NYY -0.1
13 MIN 4.1
DET 2.3
SEA 0.7
SEA 0.3
OAK 0.5
BOS -0.6
TBR 0.6
TEX -0.1
DET 2.2
MIN -0.4
CHW 4.2
CLE -0.1
14
TEX 1.7
CHW 1.5
BOS 0.6
TEX -0.6
CHW 0.5
HOU -1.2
DET -0.1
CHW -0.1
TOR 1.7
CHW -0.7
SEA 3.0
SEA -0.2
15
BOS 0.8
HOU -2.4
TBR -1.1
HOU -1.3
TEX 0.5
DET -1.4
NYY -0.1
MIN -0.3
SEA 0.4
CLE -1.0
MIN 2.5
KCR -0.4
Avg 9.8 4.6 2.0 1.8 3.0 2.4 1.9 2.5 3.5 1.9 7.9 1.5

Where does Seattle need help?
The Mariners were below the AL average at six out of nine non-pitching positions. In some cases, they were among the worst in the league. Does that mean that the Mariners need to make sweeping changes? No. But, Seattle will need to improve considerably to be a serious contender for the AL West title. Take a look at each position to see where there are opportunities to improve internally and where there is help needed from outside the organization.

Catcher
Seattle is content with going forward with Mike Zunino, who had the majority of plate appearances ((472) for the catcher position. Although his value was below league average, it’s important to note that the 23-year-old has only played in 279 major and minor league games since graduating from the University of Florida in 2012. The Mariners’ belief in their young receiver is well placed; Zunino struggled at the plate in 2014 while demonstrating impressive right-handed power and is a superb receiver. It’s realistic to expect that he will continue to add more value to the position in 2015.

Zunino shared the position with John Buck, Humberto Quintero, and Jesus Sucre who provided minimal value to the position; the three backups provided a replacement level value of .2 WAR, with all of that coming from Sucre. Adding a better backup would help improve the position’s value, reduce risk if Zunino were to miss prolonged time due to injury, and ensure that the starting catcher doesn’t get worn down during the season.

First base
Logan Morrison provided the most value (1.4 WAR) of all Mariner first basemen in 2014. Actually, he’s the only Mariner first baseman who had a positive value at the position. Once he supplanted Justin Smoak at first base, “Lo-Mo” posted an impressive .284/.341/.448 triple slash in the second half of the season. If he can stay healthy, it’s reasonable to assume that the position’s value will increase in 2015. Staying on the field has been a problem for Morrison during his five-year career; the most games he’s played were 123 in 2011. So, having a competent backup is a must.

Left field
Only the Minnesota Twin’s outfield ranked worse that the Mariners’ in 2014. In left field, Dustin Ackley provided near-starter 1.9 WAR after a strong second half delivering a .783 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Despite his second half resurgence, Ackley’s .212/.255/.298 season record against left-hand pitching demonstrates that more help is needed.

Center field
After trading for center fielder Austin Jackson at the July 31st trading deadline, the Mariners had to be disappointed in his offensive performance during the postseason push. In Jackson’s defense, his .1 WAR for August and September was only a small part of Seattle’s lack of value in center field. James Jones and Abraham Almonte patrolled center field for 111 games and delivered a combined 0.0 WAR. Improvement in center field will hinge on Austin’s ability to bounce back although it should be noted that his 2014 WAR with the Detroit Tigers was a substitute level 1.7.

Right field
In right field, the Mariner who provided the most value was Michael Saunders, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for J. A. Happ. His 2.4 WAR value easily exceeded than the combined value of Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero (-1.1) who had a combined 281 plate appearances compared to Saunders’ (220) in right field. The addition of Justin Ruggiano is a positive step. But, it’s unlikely that his contributions will significantly improve outfield value unless he’s used in a platoon role. . Improving right field is an incomplete project for General Manage Jack Zduriencik.

Designated hitter
Adding Cruz instantly makes DH better. Even if he provides half of his 2014 value in 2015, he’ll be significantly better than the every 2014 Mariners’ DH combined.

Holding strong in previous areas of strength
Areas of strength in 2014 are not necessarily guaranteed to repeat in 2015. Barring injury, Cano and Seager should be safe to deliver excellence again. Also, shortstop should be better than last year assuming that the young tandem of Miller or Taylor continues to improve. The bullpen is in good shape too because most of their best arms are young. On the other hand, the young arms of the team’s starting rotation could add risk.

Starting pitching
In some circles, there’s a perception that Seattle has a deep starting pitching core. It’s true that the Mariners’ pitchers are talented and/or have tremendous upside. But, going into the season without adding more depth could come back haunt Seattle if any of their pitchers are lost due to injury; particularly Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Remember, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, and Tom Wilhelmsen started 14.8% of all Seattle Mariners’ games in 2014. The addition of J. A. Happ helps, but he has only pitched over 160 innings once in his career; 166 in 2009. Considering that Elias, Paxton, and Walker averaged a full inning/start less than King Felix and Kuma (5.65 vs. 6.67), adding another veteran pitcher who can eat innings would help take pressure off of the bullpen.

Conclusion
The Mariners will need improved value from Zunino, Morrison, Ackley, Jackson, their right fielder, and their young starting pitchers in 2015 if they want to contend for a playoff spot. But, Seattle isn’t ready to compete for the AL West title with their current roster, at least not without either marked improvements from 1-2 of the incumbent young players, or incremental improvements from a number of them. Getting more from catcher, first base, left/right field, and from the starting rotation is paramount for a team that wants to play deep into October.

Final thought
It’s important to note that Mariners pitchers and catchers don’t report until February 20th and the regular season doesn’t start until April 6th so there’s plenty of time left to upgrade.  But, there’s a lot more to do before Opening Day.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

17 Comments

  1. As much as I like Brandons future JZ just made the team better by dealing from depth and strenght without mortgaging the future Walker, Paxton, Ellas and Hultzen. Everyone knows who follows this organization JZ has stocked piled on young hitters! Peterson and Jackson prime examples!

  2. Carson Smith will take the place of Maurer. Though I would have rather had the deal be for Leone or the Bartender, you are correct that we had a huge hole in the OF.

  3. I would hate to lose Branden Mauer for Smith, but out outfield hole can’t be ignored…

  4. Sounds like Seth Smith for a reliever per MLB Trade Rumors and Shannon Drayer.

  5. I believe WAR. PECOTA. FRAR. dERA. BABIP and many others all need to be looked at and NOT ANY ONE alone. You also need to add to that the evaluation of scouts(Trouble with the curve), plays into why you need them.

    Talk to any GM who is worth their salt and they mesh all of this equally. Everything looks good on paper till the games start.

    Miller could be moved to the OF as the Left handed platoon with Ruggiano. Remember Bloomquist is still under contract. Too much is up in the air right now before spring.

    The division has teams shaped different and with playing your division more a team that has a high turn over and maybe gets worse, or Houston that gets better. Changes what the totals could be there are so many variables that any one formula could not fully predict what is about to take place.

    Would I like another bat? Sure
    Would I like more depth? Sure

    But, as it stands right now the M’s are better than last year. The M’s are healthier than last year. The M’s young guys have more experience than last year.

    I see a 90 win club and a wild card at the very least. Barring any major injuries or our division opponents talent getting better.

  6. I just reread your post Jerry and I can see what you are saying..my bad. In any case though, the contention of the author in this article is that the Mariners need to add players because they are “fringe contenders” at best. That is factually incorrect based on the data provided by the article.

    Like I said, I agree that ideally we need to add one more outfielder, a veteran backup catcher, and possibly someone that can play some 1B if need be. I don’t think we need to add another pitcher on the 40 man roster although I do think a AAA depth arm would make sense. Same thing with the bullpen, I could see a LH reliever potentially added but I don’t see alot of room in the bullpen available as it is.

    My issue isn’t that we could use some other players. The issue is that the article turned into something completely different. Frankly, the only position we NEED to add to is the outfield. The rest would be nice but isn’t required to have a successful season.

  7. Jerry,

    Not shocking that you would write a discertation to say that this article wasn’t pessimistic. Based on the facts provided by the author in the article alone, it doesn’t make sense. On paper, per WAR, the Mariners are one of the top teams in baseball without any other moves…that is fact. That also assumes nobody improves and some regress (Cruz).

  8. I don’t know how anyone would think that this is an overly pessimistic appraisal.

    The M’s have good starting pitching, a good bullpen, and a solid core of well above average players. Where they have problems is in a few positions that were major negatives last year, as well as depth. Those two are very much related. If we could get 2.0 WAR or thereabouts from all positions, we’d be a GREAT shape.

    If you look at the charts above, our biggest problems were C, 1B, DH, and all three OF spots. A quick synopsis of each:

    DH: This is fixed by the addition of Cruz. He’s our DH for the foreseeable future, and should be a big improvement.

    C: Zunino was rushed to the big leagues, and is a phenomenal defensive player. He’ll be our starter all year barring injury. Most importantly, he has substantial upside. Adding another back up for depth wouldn’t be a bad idea, though.

    1B: Morrison showed flashes, but has trouble staying healthy. The M’s should see what he can do next year, but this is a question mark. Jesus Montero is the next player on the depth chart, otherwise its Ackley or Bloomquist (yikes!).

    SS: Miller and Taylor have both had success, but neither are proven. Having two guys fight for playing time, with the possibility of Miller moving to a super-utility role, gives us some depth. Bloomquist is a decent backup, and Ketel Marte is a good player will be in AAA next year.

    LF: Ackley has been a wildly inconsistent and disappointing player, but showed some flashes last year. The M’s obviously like him. Right now, he’s the starter, but not one you can count on. Next player on the depth chart is Steffen Romero, who was terrible last year.

    CF: Same situation as Ackley: played bad for us, but the team obviously likes him. But he’s not a sure thing, and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Next player up is James Jones, who needs to learn how to hit ML pitching.

    RF: we don’t have a starter. Ruggiano is a bench player, and I think the M’s get that. Steffen Romero is next up. Clear area of need, at least a platoon mate for Ruggiano.

    So the way forward is adding at least one OF – starting variety – plus depth at COF, CF, and 1B/DH. The M’s currently have guys who MIGHT be OK at those positions – or perhaps even above average if things go well. But if they don’t, they could easily become giant black holes like last year.

    Thus, Luke’s contention that the M’s still need a few players isn’t at all pessimistic. There are different routes the M’s could take to address those deficiencies, but the deficiencies clearly exist. Oftentimes the difference between playoff teams and disappointing teams is depth. We don’t have much right now. Last year we were very lucky with injuries, but we can’t expect that to continue.

    Before spring training, the M’s need to add at least 2-3 players to address those needs. It doesn’t need to be stars, but at least serviceable options. At the positions discussed above, the M’s need to have a plan B who can help out immediately. Ideally, we add a corner OFer who can start (at least against RHPs) and someone who has a bit of positional flexiblity. An Allen Craig or Nick Swisher type would be perfect: someone who can play 1B, DH, and at least fake it in RF/LF.

    Right now, this team is very interesting, but paper thin. Fortunately, adding depth isn’t an unreasonable goal. They just need to raise the floor a bit. Thats doable.

  9. Yes, it is a pessimistic take, but the pessimism is calculated. It is also a breath of fresh air in a loony toons atmosphere in which bloggers are talking breathlessly about the Mariners and the World Series. In the same sentence, no less. Our collective mental health dictates that we take Luke´s post seriously.
    I would be very happy if the M´s signed Aoki, a lefty with good splits and a nice OBP, and had Ruggiano as the fourth guy in the outfield, a guy who could take Jax´s place if he goes south and fill in for the left fielder against lefties. Moving on, everyone agrees that the rotation needs another arm. Last year they had to sit Elías because of an excess of innings, Young ran out of gas, and Kuma was in and out in the gas department. Even Félix needed an extra day. As for the pen, Beimel is a sword. Sign him!
    So, let´s can the talk of the World Series and agree, realistically, that next year they will be competitive every time out of the chute. A blessing!

  10. We should try to match up with the rockies I hear they are interested in some of our bullpen arms and have 3 guys we should be interested in. Blackmon, dickerson, stubbs all have high obp’s and hit for decent power.blackmon and dickerson would make great #2 hitters. We have a ton of bullpen depth to work with

  11. Good call on LF if we could get an impact player for RF ackley ruggiano would be a great platoon situation. Wished they could somehow get zobrist.

  12. Why would an NL team (with no DH) guarantee Corey Hart 2.5 million? I thought a minor league invite was coming…

  13. I agree on Ackley as well…my point is that we are more than a “fringe” contender on paper right now. I haven’t seen one projection site have us outside of the Top 3 based on WAR right now. That is assuming no improvement from anyone….

  14. My issue with WAR is the inconsistent readings on defense, but it’s good enough for this exercise. I basically agree with kaehlaone except that I see Ackley as a platoon player. I think if we manage to obtain an impact RF, then Ackley then platoons with Ruggiano, which then may become a 3 WAR position.

  15. Jack,

    How was this a good post? It was just a negative opinion post more than anything. The Mariners, on paper, are projected to have the best record in baseball per most sites. The fact that the author of this states that the roster, as constructed, makes them a “fringe contender” is not accurate when in context with the data he provides. The thing is that the projections are not expecting anything in the way of improved performance from guys like Ackley, Morrison, Zunion, Jackson, or Miller/Taylor….that alone tells me that this team could be much better than on paper even.

  16. Good Post! I hope Fernando Rodney holds up this year…..

  17. My personal feeling is that is an extremely pessimistic view of the Mariners as they sit. One thing I would like to point out is that replacement level would be closer to zero than two WAR. At two WAR a player is considered to be league average. There is something to be said if you have league average production from some spots and then several above average players. This is how I’d describe the Mariners. Let me shed some light on what I mean, by position.

    It’s easy to see that the Mariners have two legitimate All Star level positions at 2B and 3B which provide a combined 6-8 wins above replacement level. Additionally, without any improvement, you could make a case that the are at least league average in LF with Ackley and SS with the combo of Taylor/Miller. You state above that Jackson’s 1.7 WAR with Detroit was below average..however, that is an average of roughly .4 WAR per month or a season WAR of roughly 2.4 WAR if maintained for the season. My personal feeling is that Jackson struggled in the move to Seattle but will normalize in his 2-3 WAR career norm. Also, Morrison almost was league average and didn’t do anything the first three months of the year due to injury/playing time. This is another position I expect to be league average this year.

    So, that leaves us with DH/C/RF to discuss. Starting at DH, if you use the numbers of the primary DH’s used, the Mariners were -1 WAR. Even if Cruz were to end up at a very realistic 2 WAR, that would be a 3 WAR improvement. We could go into the catcher position but the roughly 1 WAR there last year is likely the floor. I’d anticipate Zunino to take the next step in his development but am not worried about this position in any case. So, with all that said, RF is the one position that truly needs a player added…a LH platoon option would work well with Ruggiano although if we got a 2 WAR everyday guy would still been 2 more than we got last year.

    So, if you take the standard expectation of around 13-14 WAR from the starting staff and a very realistic 7 WAR from the bullpen, this is one of the best teams on paper in the AL. Figuring the standard floor of 43 wins at zero team WAR, you’d be getting 20 WAR from the pitching, roughly 24 WAR from the lineup as currently constructed you’d be looking at about 87 total WAR on paper.

    Yes, they could use another outfielder, but it doesn’t need to be a star for us to win. I personally would like to see a veteran backup catcher, preferably LH, to compete for the backup job. Maybe a veteran LH bullpen arm, and possibly some insurance for Morrison. However, these don’t need to be impact guys and they don’t necessarily need to be guaranteed spots on the 25 man roster.

    In the end, they don’t need more than solid league average from most positions to compete for the division and/of playoffs if Seager and Cano play as expected.

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