MLB odds makers gave the Seattle Mariners a wins total of 86 this season and lists them as +130 favorites for the AL West. Despite a 13-year playoff drought, many people are backing them with their futures bets.
Recap of 2014
I wonder if former Mariners manager Eric Wedge is kicking himself right now. He didn't have a winning record in any of his three seasons with Seattle from 2011-13, topped by 75 victories in 2012. Yet by all accounts, GM Jack Zduriencik wanted Wedge back for 2014 if the two sides could agree on a new contract. However, Wedge walked away from the chance to stay, citing differences with the front office on how to move forward with improving the team. Wedge clearly blew that decision.
Zduriencik, whose job was very tenuous itself, decided to hire former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon to replace Wedge. It was largely met with collective yawns as McClendon was 336-446 in five seasons with Pittsburgh from 2001-05. However, Zduriencik set up McClendon to succeed in 2014 by making the biggest splash in last season's free agency, giving some $240 million to lure former All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano away from the Yankees. It worked.
When forming your MLB pick for Seattle, keep in mind that the Mariners finished 87-75, their first winning campaign since 2009, and just a game out of the final wild-card spot in the American League. Cano was about as good as advertised in being named an All-Star, and ace pitcher Felix Hernandez, the only reason to watch Seattle baseball for several of the previous years, had another Cy Young-caliber season in finishing a close second to Cleveland's Corey Kluber in the voting.
With baseball fever catching on again in the Pacific Northwest, Zduriencik made another big splash this past winter with the hopes of seeing playoff baseball in Seattle for the first time since the 2001 team won a record 116 regular-season games. How long ago was that? Some guy named Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie from Japan.
Outlook for 2015
Even with the addition of Cano, the Mariners were still a mediocre offensive team in 2014, ranking 12th in the American League with 634 runs, ahead of only Houston with a .244 average, 12th in slugging (.376) and dead last in on-base percentage (.300). To be fair, the Mariners' home park of Safeco Field dampens offensive numbers.
So the team overpaid -- and gave a fourth year that no other clubs would -- to lure free agent outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz. All Cruz did last year with the Orioles was lead the majors with 40 home runs while knocking in 108. Was it a reach? It probably won't look like a good contract in two years as Cruz will be 35 this season and has a drug suspension on his record. He was durable last year in playing 159 games but had previously played more than 130 just one other season. Cruz had never before knocked in more than 90 runs and had topped 30 homers only once. Safeco is going to hurt his numbers a bit, no doubt about it.
But Cruz is the cleanup-hitting anchor this lineup needed with Cano hitting third and rising star third baseman Kyle Seager at No. 5. Seager got a seven-year, $100 million extension this winter. He hit .268 with a career-high 25 homers and 96 RBIs in 2014, getting selected to his first All-Star Game and winning his first Gold Glove. Cano should be in the race for the batting title and AL MVP after hitting .314 with 14 homers and 82 RBIs a season ago. Seattle also gets a full season of center fielder Austin Jackson, acquired at the 2014 deadline from Detroit. The M's will also have a new right fielder in Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano as they are likely to platoon.
It's pitching that has everyone excited about the Mariners, led by Hernandez, the best right-hander in the game. King Felix was 15-6 with an AL-best 2.14 ERA and 0.92 WHIP to go with 248 strikeouts in 236.0 innings. Hernandez has made at least 30 starts every year since 2006. How has his arm not fallen off or needed Tommy John surgery yet? Hisashi Iwakuma (15-9, 3.52) is about as good of a No. 2 as you can ask for. James Paxton (6-4, 3.04) was very good as a rookie in 13 starts, and Taijuan Walker is one of the most touted pitching prospects in MLB. If there's one hole in the rotation it might be lefty J.A Happ. And closer Fernando Rodney can make things rather interesting at times. But the M's have money to spend if need be via trade.
The 'over' 86 wins is a -150 favorite at 5Dimes with 'under at +130 MLB odds. Even though the Mariners are slight favorites over the Angels for the AL West, L.A. (+625) is a slight favorite over Seattle (+640) for the pennant.
MLB Free Picks: This looks to clearly be the best Seattle team since that Ichiro-led club 14 years ago. The AL West doesn't look very formidable and the M's can beat up on Houston and Texas for 35 games or so. Go 'over' the wins and yes on the division. Not ready to say Seattle wins its first pennant, however.