Brock Huard’s top 5 Mariners storylines of 2019

Feb 15, 2019, 10:38 AM
kikuchi, mariners, seattle mariners...
Yusei Kikuchi will join the Mariners starting rotation this season. (AP)
(AP)

After months of trades and new signings, this new-look Mariners team faces plenty of question as they head into spring training. 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard broke down the top five storylines he’ll be tracking in 2019:

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

5. How will fans respond to the “step back”?

Number five isn’t actually not any player at all that we’re going to see — it’s the fans. What is their mindset? What’s their mood? Mariners fan have endured an awful lot: 116 wins and no World Series, a $100 million payroll and you lost 100 games, the longest playoff drought in professional sports and now, well, now we’ve got another first as for the first time you heard leadership say we’re not going to compete this year. Is there going to be total apathy? Are we going to see 5,000 people in the stands? Or are we going to see a fanbase that so desperately wants this thing to be turned around that they will actually say, ‘You know what? I’m thankful for the first time the Mariners put it all out there.’

4. Can Mitch Haniger become a star leader?

Haniger is a grinder, a little obsessive, a workaholic, and he was also an All-Star a season ago. Now, he has got to level off his valleys — there were just too many peaks and valleys last year — and raise that floor. Because this front office who looked to trade everything this offseason held onto him, and held onto him, I think, for a reason. I reached out to Jay Buhner and asked him whether he thinks Haniger can become a star. He said Haniger is a player with a lot of tools and a great kid, he’s a kid you root for — there’s no question about it. I think he has a chance to shine with a new, young core and become a leader.

3. Can Félix Hernández salvage his career?

Félix is still the greatest pitcher in the history of this franchise and he’s got one last chance to salvage his career. I was texting with John Smoltz, who last year was a little bit more positive on Félix than anyone else. He thought Félix could adapt and could change; he didn’t. So I asked again: is Félix done? And Smoltz texted back and said Félix should be better having a year under his belt.

Felix though would make a great No. 4 or 5 starter for me. If he can adapt and have productive years in his 30’s, a Hall of Fame is waiting. If he can’t, that door will never open.

2. Is this the fastest Mariners team on paper ever?

You’ve got Dee Gordon, Mallex Smith, and J.P Crawford. They call all absolutely run. Throw in Kyle Lewis, Shed Long, Evan White, Mitch Haniger — a bunch of guys who are athletes. In an era of launch angles and home runs, are the Mariners looking to just blast off stealing bases and getting an extra bases?

1. Can the Mariners strike gold with Yusei Kikuchi?

The Mariners have whiffed on a lot of other free agents — they’ve whiffed on a lot of draft picks, and they’ve whiffed on a lot of trades — but they’ve never whiffed on a Japanese player. Obviously they went all in on Ohtani last year and they couldn’t get him here, but they have gotten a lot of that element right. And I know it’s a different game, but Kikuchi’s numbers in Japan were just eye-popping. This guy better be a star and he better be special.

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