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Salk answers 5 Mariners questions: The plan at closer, why Haniger could still be most improved and more

Mariners RF Mitch Haniger and 2B Dee Gordon both could be most improved in 2019. (AP)

Mariners Spring Training is just a few weeks away, so 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk answered five pressing questions about the team on Monday’s edition of Brock and Salk.

Play-by-play announcer Aaron Goldsmith previews M’s spring training

From one change general manager Jerry Dipoto may still make before Opening Day to the position that will look the most unlike it did in 2018, here’s what Salk had to say about the 2019 Mariners.

What big move could the Mariners still make before the season?

“The only one major move, I would continue to watch Edwin Encarnación. If you’re the Astros and you thought you were gonna get Nelson Cruz (in free agency) and you didn’t, and you are still trying to push your team over the top, could you go out and trade for Encarnación even before the season begins? Yeah, absolutely they could. … Edwin Encarnación’s the one guy that if the right deal was there, I’m sure Jerry would find a way to make it happen.”

Do the Mariners have a closer yet?

“Yeah, I think so. I think it’s gonna be Hunter Strickland. … He’s got good stuff. He’s got closer-type stuff and you could see Hunter Strickland, he’s definitely gonna get the first shot at that. … I think he’ll start closing. The one guy to watch, though, is the kid they got from the Mets, Justin Dunn. Gonna start the year probably in Double-A, and you heard (manager Scott Servais) sorta mention he’s got a little Edwin Díaz (in him). Edwin Díaz started the year in Double-A (in 2016) and ended up coming up to close by the end of the year. Just watch Justin Dunn to see whether or not he’s able to make that transition.”

What you need to know about M’s closer front-runner Hunter Strickland

Will Félix Hernández be on the roster Aug. 1?

“Either Félix pitches well and you’re able to trade him at the deadline and get something back, or Félix pitches poorly and there’s no reason to keep him and you end up cutting him long before then. … I think because you’re then keeping a space from a young player and the odds are there will be a level of toxicity at that point.”

Who is most likely to improve from last year?

“(Kyle) Seager’s the obvious bet because he had such a bad year last year, and I guess the hope is that he can kinda bounce back. Dee Gordon has to walk – he just has to. If he wants to be the leader of this team, which I think he does, he can’t continue (like he did last year). He walked less (in 2018) than he ever had before. … I think you’ll see a better Dee Gordon. He’ll be in his regular position right from the beginning of the year. I think he’s more comfortable now, feels like it’s his clubhouse, so I think Dee will be better. But the name that is sort of a hard one to list because he had a good year last year, I think you’re still gonna see more from Mitch Haniger. He’s the one more than anybody who’s truly invested in all of the new technology that seems to be helping guys in baseball; he’s all-in on that stuff. Especially if he can stay healthy all year long, I think you may actually see more from Mitch Haniger than you saw last year, which would be great.”

Which position will look the most different?

“Catcher, catcher, and catcher. The kid (Omar) Narváez, he’s Mike Zunino’s polar opposite. He doesn’t catch the way Zunino does, he doesn’t throw the way Zunino does, he doesn’t necessarily hit home runs, but he’s actually a good hitter. He’s going to make contact, he’s going to hit the baseball, he’s going to get on base. And from what I hear, he’s willing to speak his mind and will come in with an outsider perspective on what some of these guys were doing wrong in the past.”

You can hear the full segment of Brock and Salk discussing the Mariners in this podcast of Monday’s show.

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