Our expert MLB handicapper lives in the Pacific Northwest and has had a front row seat to the massive transformation the Mariners are going through under 2nd year GM, Jerry Dipoto.
While you were away watching the NFL and College Football, the Seattle Mariners have made a flurry of moves that have transformed their roster for the upcoming season. After losing 24 games while leading after the 7th inning in 2016, one of the glaring needs for the Mariners is the bullpen. Just converting half of those chances would have resulted in a near 100-win season for Seattle. The other problem was the lack of a productive leadoff hitter, as Norichika Aoki couldn't replicate the magic that he had found in Kansas City the year before.
With Jerry Dipoto in his second year with the club, he hasn't wasted any time ditching unproductive players and filling holes on the roster. One of the first to go this offseason was Taijuan Walker, a wildly inconsistent top prospect that flashed superstar talent 25% of the time. Walker put up just 0.6 wins above replacement (WAR) last season in 134.1 innings and suffered from a 17.6% HR/FB rate. Walker was traded with shortstop Ketel Marte, who put up -0.7 WAR last season, to the Diamondbacks for breakout shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and lefty pitcher Zac Curtis.
Segura is the big piece who must continue to perform well for Seattle to win this trade. Older than Walker and with fewer years on his contract, it also confirms that the Mariners are in ‘Win Now' mode while their core offensive stars are in their prime. We are talking about Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz here. Segura put up 5 WAR (.319 avg, 20HR) in 2016 and led the NL in hits, and that offensive threat looks to immediately slot into the leadoff spot in front of Cano, Seager, and Cruz. Mitch Haniger will end up being an important cog in the Mariner's offense and can hold down center field.
To shore up the bullpen, Dipoto has already turned to trades and free agent acquisitions this early in the offseason. As some of the moves including 53 players since the beginning of November, the Mariners signed LHP Mac Rzepczynski, an ideal left-handed specialist for use late in games. They've also signed Casey Fien and traded for Zac Curtis as part of the Segura deal. The late season addition of fireballer Arquimedes Caminero and emergence of Edwin Diaz as the closer last year has the Mariners bullpen trending in the right direction.
That leaves the starting rotation for Dipoto to tinker with, now with a big hole in it the size of Taijuan Walker. In press conferences, he's stated the plan to go with quantity over quality in the search for back-end rotation arms to augment Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton. Dipoto will be looking to go as many as 11 starting pitchers deep as spring training begins, so I'd look for him to be very active in the free agent market and at the winter meetings. Names that have been linked to the Mariners so far this year include Doug Fister, Jason Hammel, Derek Holland, and Colby Lewis.
For us bettors, the Mariners can be found at +2600 to win the World Series at 5Dimes. Interestingly enough, they find themselves 3rd in the AL West in World Series odds behind the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, both at +1600. If this discrepancy holds to upcoming AL West odds, I wouldn't hesitate to take the M's as a value pick to take the division. Jerry Dipoto's marks on this team are finally coming to fruition and they all appear to be positive so far.