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Baseball analyst Jonah Keri: Mariners’ depth reminiscent of 2016 World Series champion Cubs

The Mariners have improved the top of their lineup by adding Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura. (AP)

When you’re trying to build a team to break the MLB’s longest playoff drought, it doesn’t hurt to be built in a way that can get you compared to the previous season’s World Series champions.

In that respect, the Seattle Mariners are in good shape, at least in the eyes of CBS and Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jonah Keri.

Talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Wednesday, Keri said general manager Jerry Dipoto’s busy offseason has resulted in a Mariners team that boasts the kind of depth that made the Chicago Cubs the best team in baseball in 2016.

“Jerry Dipoto has taken great care to not only have stars but to really try to build a roster that’s strong one through 25,” Keri said. “The Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year, and they had Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta – well-paid stars, that’s all true. But they also won because they had a great bench, a great bullpen, and they could bring guys at you in waves. That’s the way the Mariners are built this year, and I’m actually pretty optimistic about their chances. I expect them to be a good, contending team, largely as a result of building that depth.”

Schedule: World Baseball Classic games on TV featuring Mariners players

Keri praised Dipoto’s ability to keep a core of star players, key veterans and promising young talent together, while still making improvements around them. So even though the middle-of-the-lineup trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager has remained unchanged, the players hitting in front of them should be better at setting the table and preventing runs in the field.

“Yes, the stars are the same, but the top two guys in the lineup are different with Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura,” he said. “These are fast and athletic players who are different from Nelson Cruz, the big, burly guys who hit a lot of home runs. The thought here is, let’s play better defense and steal more bases.”

Keri made a similar point about the pitching staff, where Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton remain atop the rotation and Edwin Diaz returns to be the closer, but moves here and there for players like starter Drew Smyly and lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski have addressed concerns after an injury-plagued 2016 season for Seattle.

To drive his point home, Keri pointed out how having an ultra-talented player hasn’t been enough for an American League West Division rival to be competitive in recent years.

“The goal here is not necessarily to bludgeon other teams. They didn’t go out and get a bunch of superstars. Baseball is such a team sport,” he said. “Mike Trout is a great example. Mike Trout’s the best player in baseball, but the Angels have been a crummy team pretty much throughout his career almost because they don’t have a supporting cast.”

And as the Cubs proved last year, a supporting cast can be all the difference a team needs.