By Jim Moore
Being a Mariners cynic is not enjoyable. I’d rather be like I was last year, predicting that fun would return in the form of 200 home runs.
They hit 188, so I was reasonably close, but they were mostly terrible again, finishing 71-91. Eric Wedge lost his job while the rest of us lost hope.
There are reasons to be excited about the 2014 edition of the Mariners, but if I list them and stop there, it will be the shortest post in this history of 710Sports.com.
Pitcher Felix Hernandez (left) continues to be in great shape, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has a myriad of question marks on his roster in his first season on the job. (AP)
At 28, enters prime of his career. Will this be the year he finally wins 20 games?
2. Robinson Cano.
Terrific bat and glove, and I like that he’s being a leader in the clubhouse, dispensing his wisdom to younger players.
3. Lloyd McClendon.
I was a Wedge guy, but maybe the new voice will be a positive change.
4. Danny Farquhar.
Listen, I understand why Danny Farquhar wouldn’t be No. 4 on your list of reasons to be excited about the Mariners, but he is on mine because he’s fun to watch – he takes the ball and goes after hitters, and for my money, he should still be the closer though we all know they signed Fernando Rodney to finish games this year.
5. Vegas lists the over-under on number of Mariner wins this season at 81.5.
Personally, I’d bet with both hands on the under, but Vegas is uncannily accurate, and if that’s the case here, an 82-80 or an 81-81 season would probably be acceptable to most Mariner fans.
If I were to milk this thing into a top 10 list, it would be filled with too many “ifs” and “maybes” and I’m sick of talking about “ifs” and “maybes” when it comes to the Mariners.
I suppose Kyle Seager would rate as a potential sixth reason to be excited about the Mariners because the third baseman is as much of a sure thing as this team has, this side of Felix and Cano anyway.
But then those potential reasons to get excited turn into potential reasons why this season could be disappointing again.
Friday’s injury news about two of the best three starters was troubling. Hisashi Iwakuma’s middle finger has to remain in a split for three more weeks. I’m guessing the 2013 Cy Young Award candidate won’t get his first regular-season start until early May.
And Taijuan Walker has shoulder issues that are supposedly minor, but enough to prevent him from throwing for a week. McClendon said Saturday morning that Walker won’t be ready to go when the season starts March 31 at Anaheim.
So after Felix, you’ve got four spots to fill, and I like the idea of James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez taking two of them, but the other two – yikes.
Candidates include Blake Beavan, Brandon Maurer, Hector Noesi and three scrap-heap “finds” who are all coming off Tommy John surgeries – Scott Baker, Randy Wolf and Zach Minor.
I’m hoping Baker can regain the usually good form he had with the Twins, but that’s a big, bold-faced if. I don’t even know much about Wolf, but I’m hoping he could work his way into the rotation too, for the simple fact he’s a left-hander, and without him, the Mariners will have four right-handers and only one lefty in Paxton.
I’m fine with the bullpen and an infield of Mike Zunino at catcher, Justin Smoak at first, Cano at second, Brad Miller or Nick Franklin at short and Seager at third.
And how about this for a potential order:
1) Miller; 2) Seager; 3) Cano; 4) Corey Hart; 5) Smoak; 6) Logan Morrison DH; 7) Zunino; 8) Michael Saunders; 9) Dustin Ackley.
That’s better than what they threw out there last year.
Defensively, the infield’s weakest link is shortstop, but the outfield has question marks galore.
I suppose you go with Ackley in left, Saunders in center and Hart in right and hope that Ackley hits .305 for the entire season like he did after the All-Star break last year.
You also hope that Saunders can average .250, hit 20 home runs, steal 25 bases and be a decent center fielder.
And you hope that Hart’s reconstructed knees will allow him to be an average right fielder, and even if he’s not, his defensive deficiencies will be OK if he hits 30 homers like he did in 2012.
I can buy some of these things happening, just not all of them. And no matter what happens at spring training, I’m not buying any of it until I see it in April and May.
I got caught up in spring-training numbers last year, and they truly are meaningless. Just because Franklin hits a tape-measure shot in a 12-1 win over the Padres on Feb. 28 doesn’t mean he’ll hit one off of Jered Weaver on Opening Night.
I’d rather be fired up than pessimistic about the Mariners. I’d like to make a 19-0 prediction like I did with the Seahawks this year.
But when you look at the team right now, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly not that good either. And unfortunately, I see more weaknesses than strengths.