Since taking over as Grand Poobah of the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto has channeled his inner Bruce Hornsby and entirely revamped the M's roster. This shake up is made abundantly clear by the fact that only four of the 13 position players on 2015's Opening Day roster are primed to be on the 25-man roster in 2016. Instead of trying to predict potential lineup orders, I've simply compiled the 2016 projected performances for each position (from the Depth Charts projections on FanGraphs) and provided a little bit of #analysis. I also included Seattle's 2015 numbers for comparison. Let's get to it!
Trending: To infinity. And beyond!
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||640||11.2%||23.6%||0.224||0.316||0.357||0.673||0.131||0.298||91||2.3|
This is a position where the Mariners should definitely see a significant offensive improvement compared to last season. Mike Zunino and company were historically awful in 2015. Look at that wRC+. TWENTY SEVEN! (As a comical point of comparison, the only player in the last 50 years (min 400 PA) to be as offensively impotent at the plate was the 1979 version of Mario Mendoza. Woof.) This year, Chris Iannetta should receive the majority of starts behind the dish with Steve Clevenger (or maybe Rob Brantly? Who knows!) serving as his backup. Iannetta is coming off of a down year, but he's only one season removed from posting a wRC+ of 126. He's hit well against lefties throughout his career but also has a not terrible wRC+ of 92 against RHP. Even if Iannetta fails to rebound significantly from his poor 2015 campaign, he and Clevenger should still represent a two to three win improvement for the M's at catcher.
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||8.9%||19.1%||0.263||0.330||0.416||0.746||0.152||0.322||107||1.4|
First base is another position that Dipoto went out and upgraded this off-season. Despite a handful of walk-off at bats with the M's, Logan Morrison ended up being distressingly close to a carbon copy of Justin Smoak at the plate; this isn't something to get very excited about. This season, Adam Lind and Some Right-Handed Bat will be manning the not-quite-as-hot corner for the M's. Lind has been a beast against right-handed pitching throughout his career, but has struggled mightily vs. lefties. As such, he'll need a platoon buddy. The short side of this platoon will probably see about 175 PA and will be filled by Dae-ho Lee, Jesus Montero, or Dark Horse Stefen Romero. Together, Lind and whichever right-handed gentlemen should be a substantial upgrade for the M's at first. (Note: the Depth Charts projections above assume that Jesus Montero will be the M's right-handed platoon bat. At this point, that doesn't seem super likely. If you're a fan of DHL, these numbers may be a bit more bullish.)
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||7.5%||14.3%||0.284||0.341||0.429||0.770||0.145||0.331||113||3.4|
On the one hand, Cano is 33-years-old and coming off of his worst season in seven years. He suffered through injuries in 2015 and may no longer be the 160-games-a-season iron man that he was in his 20's. ON THE OTHER HAND, this is a player who hit 0.330/0.383/0.536 after June last season. I don't think many folks expect Robbie to OPS ~0.920 in 2016, but if he stays healthy he should continue to be an offensive force in the Mariners lineup.
Trending: Maybe down a little bit? Watch out for that sophomore slump, Ketel.
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||5.7%||15.8%||0.261||0.304||0.349||0.653||0.087||0.287||83||1.8|
2015 was a very fun rookie year for Ketel Marte. He proved to be a slick fielder at short and posted a shiny triple slash line of .283/.351/.402. However, a lot of that offensive production was driven by a super high BABIP (0.341) and his BB% (9.7%) was significantly higher than his career walk rate in the minors (5.6%). It's possible that his offensive production in '15 is representative of his true skill level, but M's fans might be prudent to temper their expectations a little bit.
Trending: Rock steady
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||8.1%||16.6%||0.261||0.326||0.430||0.756||0.170||0.327||111||3.7|
Kyle Seager is an incredibly consistent player and should (hopefully) continue to be Kyle Seager. This is a good thing.
Trending: Downnnnn, but mostly because Cruz will probably (hopefully?) DH more often this season
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||8.4%||22.8%||0.246||0.315||0.414||0.729||0.168||0.316||103||1.7|
2015 saw Nelson Cruz start 80 games in right field. He OPS'd 1.072 while doing so. It was amazing. That performance will not be repeated this year. It also sounds like Cruz will start fewer than half of his games in the field in 2016. As such, the Mariners will likely see a pretty dramatic decline in their offensive production out of RF. Instead, Guti and Smith will be splitting time in right in 2016. They won't explode baseballs like Cruz did last year, but they should still be more than serviceable.
Trending: Down (But only in terms of the offense; have you seen Martin's arm? Dammmn.)
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||6.5%||20.3%||0.248||0.301||0.355||0.656||0.107||0.288||83||2.3|
Leonys Martin is an absolute stud when it comes to patrolling center field. His defense is the tippiest top-notch. However, his performance at the plate leaves much to be desired—his numbers have been not terribly dissimilar from James Jones'. Martin did battle injuries last year, but he will almost certainly be an offensive downgrade compared to the 2015 version of Austin Jackson. That may sound a little harsh, but Jackson's wRC+ of 96 for the Mariners last year was actually pretty respectable.
Trending: Down some, but things should still be a-okay
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||7.7%||12.7%||0.262||0.328||0.373||0.701||0.111||0.309||98||1.4|
The official Mariners depth chart lists Nori Aoki as Seattle's primary left fielder for 2016. This feels a little goofy to me (Aoki has played most of his games in RF and has a solid arm), but I'll just go with it. The Mariners offensive numbers in LF were buoyed pretty significantly by Franklin the Beautiful Mashing Phoenix Gutierrez in 2015. But Guti a) probably won't have the fourth highest wRC+ in all of baseball (min 180 PA) and b) seems like he'll spend more time in right field. Although Aoki is far from a masher, his ability to get on base should serve the Mariners well.
Trending: Onward and upward
|2016 Depth Charts Projection||700||7.9%||23.8%||0.258||0.324||0.485||0.809||0.210||0.337||118||1.9|
Since Edgar Martinez retired, the Mariners have struggled to find competent bats to fill their DH spot. Over the past 12 seasons (7035 PA), Mariners designated hitters have only managed a wRC+ of 86. (The league-average wRC+ for a DH over that period is 106.) That is bad and frustrating. They actually did pretty well at DH last season, receiving quality production from both Cruz (309 PA) and Seth Smith (65 PA). Hopefully Servais manages to keep Cruz out of RF a bit more often in 2016 (gotta keep those knees healthy). It would also be nice if Nellie talked to Edgar and found a way to combat the nebulous DH penalty that has dogged him throughout his career. (Cruz's wRC+ as a DH was 80 points lower (116 vs. 196!!!) in 2015 compared to when he was in the field.)
The way the Mariners roster is shaping up makes it look like they'll be employing platoons fairly often in 2016. Cano, Ketel, Seager, Aoki, and Cruz should be ~everyday players, but beyond them things start to get more fluid. The platoons at first base (Lind and DHL/Montero) and RF (Guti/Smith and maybe Cruz a little bit?) are fairly straightforward. Iannetta and Clevenger are oppositely-handed, but Iannetta has been solid against righties so he doesn't need to be platooned heavily. In center field, Martin has been miserable versus lefties throughout his career. Dipoto/Servais have mentioned giving him the ~occasional break vs. southpaws, but that would mean sticking Guti or Aoki out there, which could be a little rough defensively. If O'Malley makes the team, maybe he could go out there, but the utility man battle is still pretty fuzzy. And then there's the question of who DH's vs. lefties. If you go with Cruz, and Aoki starts in center, who is your third outfielder? If you stick Nellie in right, who is your DH? There's still lots to be figured out during these last several days of spring training. I'd like to give you guys some nice little charts showing the projected Mariners lineups vs. lefties and righties, but I just can't do it with any degree of certainty. Feel free to discuss this in the comments!
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When all is said and done, the 2016 Mariners appear to be an average to slightly above average team in terms of their offense. Dipoto addressed the gaping wound that was the Mariners catcher position and also seems to have secured a fairly significant upgrade at first base. However, these gains will likely be tempered by Nelson Cruz and Franklin Gutierrez returning to earth and no longer slugging at ~Ruthian levels. If Leonys Martin bounces back from his disastrous year (a woeful wRC+ of 50 in '15) and if Marte avoids a sophomore slump, this team has the potential to be pretty potent at the plate. Otherwise, their offense will likely be comparable to last year's squad. But this wouldn't be a terrible thing. The 2015 Mariners had a team wRC+ of 100, which was tied for seventh best in MLB. (Reminder: the Mariners hit 0.231 with RISP last season. Even if this year's team is comparable/a bit worse offensively, if they manage to hit anywhere near league average with RISP (~0.260), they should be able to score considerably more runs.)