Seattle Mariners


The Mariners have the longest postseason drought in professional American sports: 17 seasons. They look set to add another season to that dubious distinction, finishing behind the Astros, Angels and Athletics in the American League West. With Ichiro Suzuki's retirement this week, the Mariners are entering a new franchise era.
Losing other well-known players in the offseason stung, including as 2B Robinson Cano, SS Jean Segura, DH Nelson Cruz, LHP Zach Duke, INF Gordon Beckham, There are familiar faces, and new additions that should keep fans looking forward to better times.
Team MVP: Mitch Haniger

The Mariners lost many of former top players all at once: Cano, Segura, Cruz, closer Edwin Diaz, and former Rookie of the Year and true MVP Suzuki. Moving forward, Mitch Haniger steps in as the Mariner's latest Team MVP. At only 28 years old, the first-round right fielder from Mountain View, CA had a breakout season, his third in the Majors. In 2018, at age 27 Haniger slashed .285/.366/.493, which is 39% above the ML average. He was consistent, playing 157 games with 683 plate appearances. His defense in right field was above average (0.2 dWAR).
His offensive WAR was 5.5 and defense 0.2 - a $57 million value for a mid-market team, which is quite a deal for his $590k MLB minimum salary.
Best-Value Pitcher: Marco Gonzales
Marco Gonzales was the Mariners' second-best starter last season (behind James Paxton). At only 26 years old, he posted a 2.5 WAR (about $25 million in value) with a $900K contract in 2019 and $1.0MM in 2020. Gonzales was traded from the Cardinals in 2017 and improved last season with a better WHIP (1.224 vs 1.75), ERA (4.00 vs 6.08), and better walk rate (1.7 walks per nine IP vs 2.5). Also importantly he increased innings from 40.0 to 166.2, and his FIP (fielding independent pitching - a better indication of true ERA value) was 3.43 - better than the actual 4.00 by a lot.
Gonzales throws four pitches fairly evenly - an above average deceptive 89-91 sinker, an average 86-88 cutter, below avg 77-79 curve that he moved a lot and located inside to lefties, and a 83-85 changeup.
Best-Value Position Player: Tim Beckham (sort of)
Mitch Haniger is the best value position player by far—$57 million in value with only a $590k salary. Beyond him, most of the position players with value were traded away. The best performing position player behind Haniger is Dee Gordon, with a 1.2 WAR ($12MM value) but a $13.3MM contract—a little below break-even. So that leaves in terms of pure value, Tim Beckham had a 1.0 WAR ($10MM value) and a $1.75MM contract. He is a low cost, slightly above average value player. Beckham slashed .230/.287/.374 with the Orioles last year, which is 17% below MLB average, but for a low price is still a value. So overall, Mitch Haniger is both the Mariner's MVP and their best-value position player for 2019.
Best Addition: Yusei Kikuchi
The addition of lefty Japanese starter Yusei Kikuchi helped the Mariners in their hybrid "opener" and starter rotation strategy, who play to have him pitch an opening inning every five games to keep him healthy through the season as he adjusts to the Majors. As the season plays out, this could be the best addition for 2019, and even more so for future seasons as this strategy plays out.
The Mariners signed Kikuchi to a three-year $43 million contract from Japan (plus a $10.275MM posting fee to Japan's NPB). The contract structured so he is paid $9.5MM in 2019, $15.5MM in 2020, and $16.5MM in 2021. There is also an optional 4-year extension $66MM extension., having played well for the Saitama Seibu Lions. At 28 years old, he played extremely well over 8 seasons of professional Japanese baseball, with a career 2.81 ERA over 1035.1 innings (163 games). His command is good, walking only 3.3 batters per nine innings, and a good 1.177 WHIP. His fastball is 94-96 (tops at 98mph), with a slider, changeup, and curve.
The X-Factor: Felix Hernandez
Felix Hernandez is the Mariners' X-Factor this year, as their 32-year old veteran looking to rebound from his worst season ever last year to more of his normal form. He pitched 14 years in the Majors with the Mariners, and has been on a five-year downward trend. In 2014, he posted a 2.14 ERA in 34 starts, finishing second in Cy Young voting. While he is unlikely to return to that level, even halfway back to his 2016 season, when he had a 3.82 ERA in 153.1 IP, would be a big boost to an otherwise average starting pitcher rotation for the Mariners. His contract is at the tail end, earning him $27,857,142 which is a lot for a negative-WAR player. A bounceback would help recoup some of that while helping the Mariners' season.
Felix's velocity has been declining steadily since 2009, from a high average of 92-96mph down to 88-91 last season. This is a concern, but he has many pitch types to choose from and can adjust with control and change of speeds. He threw fastballs 21% of the time which were a little above average, a below-average sinker 88-90 (24% of pitches), average changeup 84-86 (21%), an above-average curve 78-80 (29%) and mixes in a slider 81-84 (4%).
Overall for the Mariners, with Suzuki retiring and the loss of so much talent, the Mariners are looking to re-balance for future seasons in a tough division with the Astros, Angels, and Athletics competing at a level above them.


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