BROCK AND SALK

Mike Salk’s Top 5 Mariners storylines for the 2019 season

Feb 14, 2019, 1:55 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2019, 10:27 am

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Kyle Seager is one of the few remaining veteran players on the Mariners roster. (AP)

(AP)

A new season of baseball is just around the corner, but the Seattle Mariners still have more questions than answers after months of trades and new signings.

Kikuchi expected to pitch in M’s opening series

While fans shouldn’t expect any of these questions to be answered immediately — the team begins Cactus League play on Feb. 21 — 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk explained why these are the top five storylines he’s watching this season:

5. Can expensive veterans become assets?

Whether that’s on the field or via trade, I’ll be watching to see whether Seattle’s expensive veterans are able to boost this team. This list starts with third baseman Kyle Seager, but could also include Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Edwin Encarnación and Félix Hernández. So far Seattle has done a good job of turning their current players into future assets while also moving on from some of the bad contracts and personalities that they didn’t want around. They have more talent in the system than they did (though it’s still not enough). None of those players will bring back a haul in a trade, but they could bring back more depth in the system and save money for future acquisitions. Out of all of these veterans, Kyle Seager is key — if he turns it around, he could actually become worth his contract. Go figure!

4. Which young pieces are going to be a part of this thing?

Which of these young pieces can play? Can Mallex Smith play? He had a great on-base percentage last year; is he going to be part of this thing moving forward? We got a little taste of Ryon Healy last year but I don’t think he was quite the player they thought the was going to be. Is he going to win that job and be your first baseman? Is Dan Vogelbach actually going to have a space in a major league lineup? If he can’t on this team, then he can’t. They like catcher Omar David Narváez’s bat, his on-base percentage, and his approach at the plate — can he be part of thing? Another name I’m watching is Erik Swanson, who was another piece of the James Paxton trade. If you’re going to make those deals where you’re trading away your two best assets in James Paxton and Edwin Díaz, you want to get back more than one good player. And (Justin) Dunn and Swanson are really your two best bets to improve those trades and make them worth your time.

3. Can Scott Servais build a winning culture amid what is likely to be a lot of losing?

Dee Gordon is probably going to come up there as one of the leaders of this group, but manager Scott Servais’ strength is in development. That’s what he did; that’s how he got this job. He was so great as a player development guy that they ended up wanting him to manage a big league club. Well guess what? Now is the time to prove it. If you want to develop these young guys and you want to make Seattle a place where people want to come — and want and expect to win — you’re going to have to do that all the while losing a lot of games. How do you do that? I think it’s going to be an enormous challenge.

2. Do they have a young star?

Will a young player emerge as a star for this team? Is it going to be Mitch Haniger, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, or J.P. Crawford?

Of this list, Sheffield is the number one player who needs to shine. He was the Yankees’ top prospect, so you’re expecting him to come here and become a top-of-the-rotation type pitcher. I don’t know if he’s going to be Félix — I don’t know if he’s going to be an ace — but can he be a No. 2 pitcher? Can he at least give you what James Paxton was? You’ve got to hope some of those young guys pop; not just make it as a piece of the team. If you’re going to have to compete with the Houston Astros and others, you’re going to have that level of player.

1. Do we want them to lose?

This is a question we’re going to be asking ourselves throughout the year: do you want them to lose? Even during a single game, it’s hard to root against your own team — to hope to see them get to the bottom, so that they can get a high draft pick.

But look at it this way: if the 2008 Mariners win one fewer games, you’ve got Stephen Strasburg with the top pick, instead of Dustin Ackley. So these things do end up mattering, and even though it’s hard to root against your team, I think we’re all going have to ask ourselves that question this year. How do you root for growth while still wanting them to lose?

Most importantly, at the end of this year, we’ll be asking ourselves a second question: do we honestly believe that this team is one or two years away from World Series contention? We won’t see it everyday, so it won’t be a storyline now so to speak, but it is as important as anything else.

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Mike Salk’s Top 5 Mariners storylines for the 2019 season