2013 Opponent Preview: The Seattle Mariners are young and talented, but still need time to grow

USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners have a great farm system and a good group of young players, but is there enough talent here to compete with the rest of the AL West?

It's pretty safe to say that the Seattle Mariners didn't stand much of a chance in 2012. Between the Los Angeles Angels signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson during the previous offseason and the Texas Rangers getting off to a 17-6 start in April, the Mariners' season was over not long after it started. By May 1st, they were 6.5 games out of first place and were nine games behind on June 1st. There were bright spots, such as Felix Hernandez's perfect game, and the future is promising. Much like 2012, however, 2013 looks like it could be another long year for Mariners fans.

Manager: Eric Wedge (3rd year)

2012 record: 75-87, 4th in AL West

SB Nation blog: Lookout Landing

Other Mariners coverage: U.S.S. Mariner

First series vs. Tigers: April 16-18 @ Safeco Field

Lineup

The Mariners have finished dead last in the American League in runs scored in each of the past four seasons. Remember the Randy Smith era? That's what Mariners fans feel like right now. So, they decided enough was enough and went after some firepower. They traded left-handed starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for first baseman Kendrys Morales, then gave up on-base machine John Jaso to the Oakland A's for former Washington Nationals slugger Michael Morse. Catcher Jesus Montero will round out the middle of the order and will likely DH on days that he is not behind the plate. Justin Smoak has also seen quite a bit of time at first base, and it doesn't seem like the organization is ready to give up on him just yet.

The other three infield spots are much more stable. Dustin Ackley will play a lot of second base as long as he decides that 2012 was a fluke season at the plate. Brendan Ryan is the starting shortstop, though his range lets him play pretty much the entire left half of the field by himself. Kyle Seager will be the third baseman more often than not. Robert Andino has played all three positions so far this spring, and will likely be the utility guy. Youngsters Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel will likely be stashed in the minors for another year or until Dave Dombrowski weasels his way into yet another midseason trade with the Mariners.

The outfield, on the other hand, is a bit more iffy. Michael Saunders has hit leadoff in almost every game he has started since returning from the World Baseball Classic while playing all three outfield positions. Franklin Gutierrez and Casper Wells are also in the outfield mix and are generally liked by the fans. Jason Bay is in the outfield mix and pretty much nobody wants him to be there. Raul Ibanez is in the outfield mix for some reason that we haven't quite figured out yet, but he's playing well this spring.

Rotation

There is a logjam of starters battling for the 5th slot in the rotation, including former Tiger Jeremy Bonderman. Bondo is probably on the outside looking in due to a 7.20 spring ERA and the fact that he's a non-roster invitee who isn't irrationally coveted by the organization like Jon Garland. Speaking of Garland, he's pitching well, though six innings is the smallest of small sample sizes thus far. Blake Beaven looked pretty good yesterday, while Brandon Maurer, the proverbial "people's champ" of Spring Training pitching battles, is also pitching well. Hector Noesi has fallen out of favor with the fanbase rather quickly and isn't part of the rotation battle, but that post is hilarious and I had to work it in somehow.

Erasmo Ramirez could probably be included in the group of starters battling for a job, but it seems like Ramirez's performance so far this spring has given him a leg up on the others. He has allowed two runs in 12 innings of work, both of which came in his six-inning performance on Saturday. Last season, Ramirez was 1-3 with a 3.36 ERA/3.55 FIP/3.75 xFIP in 16 big league appearances.

Joe Saunders cashed in on his solid ending to the 2012 season by signing a $6.5 million contract with the Mariners during the offseason. In his final eight starts (including two playoff appearances), Saunders allowed 14 earned runs in 50 2/3 innings with a 1.164 WHIP. He is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine career starts at Safeco Field. His platoon splits may be a bit of a concern in a division featuring the likes of Albert Pujols, Yoenis Cespedes, and pretty much any other right-handed hitter on an opposing roster.

Hisashi Iwakuma signed a contract extension with the M's during the offseason after an excellent "rookie" season in 2012. A five year veteran of the Japanese Pacific League, Iwakuma came stateside prior to last season and proved he belonged by winning 9 games in 125 1/3 innings with a 3.16 ERA. His numbers as a starter were even better: 8-4 in 16 starts with a 2.65 ERA. His FIP -- 3.91 as a starter, 4.35 overall -- could be a bit of a concern going forward.

And then there's this guy. Felix Hernandez has lost a bit of velocity on his fastball over the past few seasons, but you never would have guessed it by looking at his numbers. 2012 was the fourth consecutive season in which King Felix pitched at least 230 innings and struck out at least 217 batters. He was worth at least 6.0 fWAR in three of those four seasons with the fourth being 2011, where he was "only" worth 5.2 fWAR. He is also a very rich man now.

Spring Training storylines

A storyline that isn't related to the Mariners themselves but still affects us is Jeff Sullivan's retirement from Lookout Landing. The gazillion readers of that site are understandably crushed, which tends to happen when you come up with genius material like this multiple times a day for nearly a decade. I would like to be 1/10th as funny as he has been, but that's like asking to be 1/10th as good at hitting a baseball as Miguel Cabrera.

Oh, and they moved the fences in at Safeco Field because chicks dig the long ball.

Player to watch: Felix Hernandez

If there is one fanbase that knows how we feel whenever Justin Verlander takes the mound every fifth day, it's the Mariners. When comparing the two side-by-side*, we see that Felix has actually been better than Verlander for most of their careers, with our ace gaining an advantage in most statistics within the last couple seasons. My point? These two are the best pair of pitchers in baseball, and it's not really that close. Watch Felix pitch any chance you get.

*I think the most telling part of this graphic is how ridiculously out of place the "average" line is in every single statistic. Fangraphs should have just labeled it "mere mortals" and moved on.

Outlook

Like I said about the Houston Astros yesterday, I might be more optimistic about the Mariners' chances if they were playing in another division, such as the AL Central, where they would dominate because we can never seem to beat this flippin' team (/rant). They have some promising young prospects -- some guy that Brian doesn't seem to care for very much likes their farm system a lot -- but the ones that have made it to the majors haven't panned out just yet. The pitching will be alright, especially at home, but I don't know if the offense is good enough to compete with the likes of Los Angeles and Texas in the AL West.

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