Our MLB handicapper looks at the swiftly changing Seattle Mariners roster and what new GM Jerry Dipoto's moves mean for the MLB odds thus far.
The hype was too much for the Seattle Mariners in 2015, as they turned in a disappointing 76-win season and a 4th place finish in an ultra-competitive AL West division that saw the Angels, Astros, and Rangers all win more than 85 games. The futures market saw the M’s winning 86 games, and only the Boston Red Sox missed the mark by as much as Seattle did.
The season saw the firing of general manager, Jack Zduriencik, and the hiring of former Anaheim Angel GM, Jerry Dipoto, to take his place.
So, what happened? For one, the bullpen turned from a strength in 2014 to an unmitigated disaster in 2015. The Mariners had a combined reliever ERA of 2.60 in 2014, with a combined 25-20 record and 51 saves – good for 4.1 WAR (wins above replacement). In 2015, the bullpen ERA ballooned to 4.15 and the relievers combined for a 21-36 record with 45 saves – good for just 1.1 WAR. The 2015 Mariner bullpen lost games at a rate only exceeded by the Tampa Bay Rays.
With Jerry Dipoto at the helm, the roster changes have been swift for the Mariners. The first trade saw 1B Logan Morrison, SS Brad Miller, and RP Danny Farquhar shipped off to Tampa Bay. Then CF James Jones and RP Tom WIlhelmsen were traded off the Texas Rangers. Former Jack Z 1st round draft pick and RP, Danny Hultzen, was unceremoniously DFA’d. In Jerry Dipoto’s first press conference, he stressed the need to get more athletic, defensive minded, and increase run protection. These subtractions were in line with that goal.
The big addition in the trade with Tampa Bay was starting pitcher, Nathan Karns. Karns was good in 147.0 IP for the Rays last year in his first significant stretch in the majors, posting a 3.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 145 K’s. He’s 28 years old now and injury prone; however, so his upside will be limited to how much he can actually pitch.
In an effort to shore up the outfield defense, the Mariners acquired Leonys Martin from the Rangers. Martin is coming off of a down year, but put up 3.5 WAR as recently as 2014. He’s going to have to have a bounce back year for this trade to make sense, but even if he doesn’t hit well his outfield defense should have a positive impact on the roster in spacious Safeco Field.
For some bits and pieces and assumption of salary, the Mariners picked up Joaquin Benoit from the San Diego Padres. At 38 years old, Benoit has been a successful reliever for some time and his skill set of inducing weak contact should play well in Dipoto’s defense-first scheme.
And finally, Dipoto signed one his prior Angels players, catcher Chris Ianetta. Ianetta isn’t the best with the bat and is coming off of an awful season in which he batted only .188. However, Ianetta is one of the best defensive catchers in the league which again covers Dipoto’s goals for the roster.
Keys for 2016 Success
Jerry Dipoto is very likely to make more moves to shore up the bullpen and bring in another corner outfielder, and don’t be surprised if Dipoto trades away 1B Mark Trumbo for the second time in his career. But for this turnaround to be successful, many players will need to have bounce back seasons and All-Stars Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz will have to delay any kind of drop off in production due to their age. With no significant help in AAA coming either, Dipoto will have his work cut out for him at the winter meetings.
I’ll be keeping track of Seattle's roster moves as I build out the MLB sabermetrics based win-loss projections for the 2016 season. But until then, keep in mind that this roster will now be built for run prevention and not necessarily offense, so the typical Safeco Field trends for Under totals against the MLB odds should be back in play when placing MLB picks.