Is the Seattle Mariners' Offense Good Enough to Carry Them to the Playoffs?
The Seattle Mariners have been a franchise in stagnation for nearly 15 years.
After making -- and losing in -- the American League Championship Series in 2000 and 2001, the Mariners have not been in the postseason. In fact, they have barely even sniffed the playoffs – they have finished less than 10 games back from first place in the American League West only three times in the last 14 years.
However, despite the frustratingly long wait to return to the postseason, there are some reasons to be excited. While the rotation certainly has its problems, their offense could be incredibly fun. The lineup was good enough to help them win 86 games last season, and some prudent additions have the potential to make Seattle's lineup even better this year.
Will they score enough runs to compensate for what looks like a weak starting rotation? Let's check it out.
The Big Three
Last year, and in all likelihood this year, the Mariners were carried by their big three -- Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. Those three carried the offense, as evidenced by their statistical output.
This threesome is among the most fearsome trio of hitters in the entire MLB, let alone the American League. All three put up numbers that are well above league average, and did so while playing the majority of the games -- meaning they are both massively productive and extremely reliable.
The Mariners have an incredible advantage to be able to build an offense around these three. While Cano and Cruz are well into their 30's, it does not seem to be slowing down their bats one bit. As long as these three are healthy and producing, the Mariners' offense will always be dangerous.
However, three players does not make a playoff team. General manager Jerry Dipoto has brought in some smart additions to make up for some subtractions, and these new players can help bolster the lineup.
The New Guys
The Mariners made a bevy of trades this offseason, and they gained Jean Segura, Danny Valencia, and Jarrod Dyson in the process. These three players can be a nice compliment to the big three of Cano, Cruz and Seager.
Segura is the most intriguing of the bunch, especially since he's coming off a big year that saw him hit .319/.368/.499 with 20 home runs -- all well above his career averages. While the uptick in his output -- his wRC+ was 68, 105, 67 and 63, respectively, in each of the previous four years -- was surprising, it is entirely possible that Segura's new production is sustainable, especially due to his new swing. If his 2017 is remotely close to his 2016, it'll be a big boost to the Mariners' lineup.
Valencia is fresh off back-to-back above-average years offensively (136 wRC+ in 2015 and 118 wRC+ in 2016), and he possesses incredible defensive versatility with the ability to play both the corner infield and corner outfield positions. The ability to sprinkle a bat like Valencia's all around the diamond is an incredibly valuable resource, especially since Cruz will likely spend a lot of the time assuming the designated hitter role.
Dyson has the ability to impact the game in a different way. He is incredibly fast and has rated well defensively in the outfield, per Ultimate Zone Rating. That alone is valuable, but he also can contribute with the bat a little bit. The 32 year-old speedster is coming off a slash line of .278/.340/.388 with a career high 94 wRC+last season in Kansas City. Couple that with his speed and his defense, and he's a nice all-around asset.
One bat who can change the game for the Mariners is rookie Dan Vogelbach. The Mariners hope to platoon him with Valencia at first base early on -- if Vogelbach makes the team -- and he can be a real weapon for them.
He has been a hitting machine in the minors. Vogelbach split Triple-A between the Cubs and Mariners organizations, and he hit in both places, posting a 158 wRC+ in the Cubs' system and a 127 wRC+ in the Mariners' system. While he is far from a sure thing, and not all that adored by scouts, his raw power and offensive ability is real and can be a wild card for the Mariners.
The biggest issue with the Mariners' offense lies with the final three spots.
Leonys Martin struggled to a .247/.308/.378 slash and 84 wRC+ last season, but he's penciled in as a starter this year. Catcher Mike Zunino is a question mark offensively. In 350 games, he has a career line of .197/.262/.370 with 50 home runs and a 78 wRC+. On the bright side, Zunino had a career year last year, posting a .207/.318/.470 with a 115 wRC+ in 55 games, but he will need to build on that as this could likely be his make-or-break season.
The right field spot is likely Mitch Haniger's. Haniger is a 26-year old who's only major league experience was 34 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, in which he hit .229/.309/.404 with an 81 wRC+, 9.8% walk rate and 22% strikeout rate.
That's nothing too exciting, but the potential is there. He raked in the minors before his call-up, with a Double-A wRC+ of 156 and an even better Triple-A campaign that saw him hit .341/.428/.670 with a 181 wRC+ and a whopping 20 home runs in 312 plate appearances spread over 74 games. He was acquired alongside Segura in a deal that could pay dividends for the Mariners for a long time.
Several question marks in the rotation may keep the Mariners from being a top team, but the offense may be good enough to push them into a wild card spot anyway.
Per our projections, Seattle is starting the year as baseball's ninth-best team with a 51% chance of making the playoffs, 28.8% chance of winning the division and 4.3% chance of capturing the World Series.