Reasons to watch
1. The long ball: The Mariners should still be a strong offensive team with the ability to hit home runs despite the removal of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Jean Segura. Then again, the same thing seemed plausible last season when they were on the team, and they struggled.
2. Mitchapalooza — Mitch Haniger is a stalwart in the lineup and seems poised for another All-Star season.
3. Strong springs — Domingo Santana and Jay Bruce both had outstanding spring training showings. Santana will strike out, but he’s got prodigious power. The Mariners believe he’ll be a 25-plus homer producer for them. Bruce is moving with ease after dealing with lower-body issues for much of last season. When healthy, he’s got the potential to be a 30-homer hitter.
Edwin Encarnacion, who has started out slow this spring, is a proven power hitter, while the team loves Omar Narvaez’s approach at the plate.
The Mariners are also excited about the improved approach that Dee Gordon has shown this spring. He’s seeing more pitches and taking walks, which should lead to an improved on-base percentage.
4. Sneak peek — At some point, the mass of young players that the Mariners acquired in the offseason will make their way to the big leagues to join Yusei Kikiuchi. Not all will be this season. But there will be a few who join the team. Top prospect Justus Sheffield will be just down I-5 in Tacoma, and the expectation is that he’ll be in the rotation by the end of the season. Right-hander Erik Swanson also likely will be called up and contribute.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford is on the cusp of a call-up. The Mariners want him to refine some footwork issues in the field and clean up some things at the plate before being brought up.
Infielder Shed Long could be a late season call-up if he continues to hit at a high rate. This will be the first year where Daniel Vogelbach gets to see an extended stint at the big-league level. Can he replicate some of Triple A success for the Mariners without the nagging fear of being sent back to Tacoma with each day?
Reasons to weep
1. Diaz’s departure — Remember a year ago, when the Mariners took a lead into the ninth inning and always came away with a win? Yeah, that might not be the case this season. Seattle traded closer Edwin Diaz following his magical 57-save season. The Mariners also traded valuable setup man Alex Colome, and well-used relievers Juan Nicasio, James Pazos and Nick Vincent weren’t brought back.
When the Mariners have a lead in ninth, they will turn to Hunter Strickland as their closer. He saved 14 games last season before a breaking his hand in a fit of rage following a blown save. He has all the talent to be a closer. But it’s the lack of depth and experience in front of Strickland that’s a problem.
2. Bullpen injury bug — Seattle will start the season with right-handers Sam Tuivailala (Achilles), Anthony Swarzak (shoulder) and Shawn Armstrong (oblique) on the injured list. It leaves a lot of young, unproven arms in the bullpen. Of the potential bullpen group, only lefties Zac Rosscup and Roenis Elias seem to have a defined role. The remaining right-handers will have to be sorted out based on performance. Those sixth and seventh innings, where so many game are lost, could be a problem once again for the Mariners.
3. Overall defensive deficiency — Defense will not be a strong point for the Mariners this season. By metrics and scouting grades, the Mariners’ opening day roster, which will be without third baseman Kyle Seager, will feature below-average defenders at every position except second base and right field. Both Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger are considered to be better-than-average defenders at their positions by scouts, though Haniger did have a few odd plays in right field in 2018. Mallex Smith has all the speed to be a good defensive players in center and his metrics have him as a good defensive player, but questions about his arm and routes have been prevalent from scouts.
4. Infield and catcher defense — The infield defense could be really ugly. Shortstop Tim Beckham has graded out as a below-average defensive shortstop since being called up the big leagues. Ryon Healy will replace Seager for the first few months at third base. While he’s played third base in the big leagues, most scouts believe his best position is first base. And he’s not considered above average there. First base will have a rotation of three designated hitters — Vogelbach, Encarnacion and Bruce — being forced to play there.
There will be a drop-off defensively at catcher. Narvaez is also considered a subpar receiver and pitch framer, and has issues blocking pitches in the dirt.