Resolutions are funny things. This time last week, I had a nice long list of the essential New Year's life changes I was going to implement in 2015. Eat hundreds of vegetables. Make friends with a treadmill. Write more. Accomplish more. Yet, a week into the new year, I have eaten three or four vegetables (five, if you count potato chips). I've kept a respectful distance from anything that might be labeled "exercise equipment." And the only things I've really accomplished have been variations on watching Community re-runs and defeating levels of Candy Crush: Soda Saga.
However ambitious and unrealistic my goals may be, it's still nice to believe that the start of a fresh calendar year brings with it the ability to enact significant changes. This is how I tend to approach sports, too -- not only with a clean slate, but an overly-optimistic attitude. Why shouldn't this be the year that Felix Hernandez clinches his second Cy Young award? Why can't Kyle Seager claim the American League MVP title? Why shouldn't Nelson Cruz hit 41 home runs in Safeco Field? Why shouldn't the Mariners grab a postseason berth this time around?
Granted, I know that some of those are far-fetched goals. Just as my aspirations to gym memberships and balanced diets fall flat every February, I also have to adjust my expectations for this team. Right now, it appears that Jack Zduriencik has finished tweaking this year's roster, save for a few adjustments to be made in spring training. What, then, can we reasonably expect from the Mariners in 2015, and in what ways do we need to temper our expectations?
Expect the new guys to go through an adjustment period.
As much as I'd like to buy the idea that Nelson Cruz, he of the league-leading 40 home runs in 2014, is going to top his numbers in 2015, it's more likely that he'll lose a little bit of power in the transition to a less hitter-friendly park. FanGraphs' Steamer projections estimate that Cruz's value will drop from 3.9 fWAR in 2014 to a mere 1.4 in 2015, closer to the marks he put up for the Rangers from 2011 to 2013. Over the past five seasons, Cruz has seen 33 games in Seattle and managed just five home runs. There's no doubt that he fills an important gap in the Mariners' lineup, and has plenty of potential to boost the eighth-worst offense in the American League, but it would be unrealistic to assume that the power he exhibited in Baltimore last season will thrive in the more spacious confines of Safeco Field.
Don't expect the rotation to be set in stone.
Even with the addition of right-hander J.A. Happ, the predominant focus during the Mariners' first few months of the 2015 season will fall on their youngest contributors. Danny Hultzen is still a big question mark, despite the progress he's shown during a lengthy rehabbing process, and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton have yet to string together a season's worth of healthy starts. Roenis Elias is another contender for the back end of the rotation, but suffered through a rough spell at the end of last season. Provided that the Big Three remain healthy, the Mariners' rotation issues might be solved, but with Hultzen working his way back up through the minors, there's no guarantee of that happening just yet.
Expect the bullpen to hold steady, if not improve.
Fernando Rodney bolstered the Mariners' league-best bullpen in 2014, and there's little to suggest that he won't be able to replicate his success again this year. Behind him, twelve candidates will vie for spots in the M's arsenal of hard-throwing relievers, among them Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer, Carson Smith, Mark Lowe, and a smattering of others. Unlike Seattle's starters, those in the 'pen last year managed to remain fairly healthy, and compensated for health issues suffered by the rotation at various points in the year. With Seattle's starters returned to full strength, the bullpen could turn out an even better performance in 2015.
Don't expect the Mariners to win the World Series -- yet.
Somewhere out there is a universe where the Mariners dominate the AL West in 2015, where Kyle Seager hits the series-winning home run of the ALDS, Robinson Cano drives in the winning run for the American League pennant, and Felix Hernandez pitches his second perfect game to clinch Seattle's first championship title. This is probably not that universe, at least not as the Mariners' roster currently stands. While another bid for the playoffs is certainly conceivable after the Mariners' run in 2014, too much remains to be proven before we can reasonably expect Seattle to get back in the running for a postseason berth.
There are still a few question marks yet to be solved for the Mariners, most of them related to infield depth and rotation order, but enough gaps have been filled that the club should be able to boost their overall performance in 2015. Whether or not that will translate to long-term success remains to be seen.
Your turn: How are you feeling about the Mariners' production level as the season approaches? Is the team equipped to compete for the wild card -- or the division title -- in 2015, or are they lacking the depth they need to take that extra step?