The Mariners will enter spring training in Peoria, Ariz., to prepare for a season in which reaching the playoffs and winning a division title are expectations held by fans and baseball insiders.

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They were there before the Mariners’ 2008 season as then-general manager Bill Bavasi pushed the postseason possibilities, trying to remain employed and revive a fading franchise. After the Mariners compiled an 88-74 record in 2007, Bavasi traded for pitcher Erik Bedard , a move he believed would put them over the top and into the playoffs, possibly with an American League West title.

They came around again before the 2010 season after a surprising 2009 in which Seattle finished 85-77 under then-first-year manager Don Wakamatsu. That offseason general manager Jack Zdurienick traded for pitcher Cliff Lee and signed free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins — moves that were viewed by many as enough to put the Mariners into playoff contention.

And after a five-year hiatus, they return again this spring — expectations.

Spring training at a glance

Key dates

Feb. 20: Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 21: First pitchers and catchers workout

Feb. 24: Full-squad reports

Feb. 25: First full-squad workout

Peoria Sports Complex

The Mariners’ home stadium is also the home of the San Diego Padres. The facility in Peoria, Ariz., has six major-league-sized practice fields, several half fields, indoor/outdoor batting cages and a 12,000-plus seat stadium. This spring, there have been numerous stadium renovations, including a new team store, group areas, updgraded entry gates and seating.


The Mariners will enter spring training in Peoria, Ariz., to prepare for a season in which reaching the playoffs and winning a division title are expectations held by fans and baseball insiders.

Lofty expectations such as those haven’t been associated with an organization that has seemed to be in various stages of rebuilding since 2004.

But after finishing a victory from the postseason with an 87-75 record last year, and with the offseason acquisitions of designated hitter Nelson Cruz, outfielders Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano and pitcher J.A. Happ to go with a solid returning nucleus of players led by Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners are considered by most to be a playoff contender and a favorite to win the AL West.

In Las Vegas, the Mariners and Boston Red Sox are 6-1 picks to win the American League, with only the Angels (4-1) having better odds. Seattle is a 14-1 pick to win the World Series, with only four teams having better odds.

Beyond the oddsmakers, the projection systems used in the sabermetric community also provide positive projections for the Mariners this season. The “Pecota” projection system from Baseball Prospectus projects Seattle to win 87 games, while the “Steamer” projection system has the Mariners winning 89. That win total likely would put the Mariners in the mix for a wild-card spot.

But mention those expectations to Seattle leadership, and they do their best not to be defined by them.

Zduriencik wouldn’t put a set of expectations on this team. Though fans dream of a postseason game at Safeco Field with Hernandez on the mound, Zduriencik wisely remains pragmatic.

“I look at it like this,” Zduriencik said. “There are way too many factors. I know we like to put the numbers down. We like to look at the improvement of our club. But our job is to put the best club we can on the field. Health is such a major issue. You go through all of baseball last year, and you could have a 95-win club on paper, but all of a sudden you lose one guy or two guys and everything changes. So for us, our expectations are that our players play to the best of their ability. And our players go out and perform every single day.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon shrugged off the idea of expectations. He doesn’t want to hear about them.

“I don’t get caught up in expectations,” he said. “I think that’s a word for the media. I’m more concerned about preparation and how we go about our business in spring training. I will let you guys decide on that stuff. But that means absolutely nothing to me.”

It might not mean anything to McClendon. But it might mean something to his players. For young Mariners such as Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Tom Wilhelmsen, James Paxton and others, this isn’t something they’ve experienced in their brief careers.

“That’s OK,” McClendon said. “That’s my job to take care of that at spring training. I will send them the same message that I sent them last year. If we get concerned about expectations, then we aren’t focused. Our concern should be preparation and making sure we get ready to start the season and get ready for the journey. The expectations are a nice conversation for the media, TV and things of that nature. But I don’t get too concerned with that.”

Those players already seem to be saying the right things.

“Regardless of what anybody says, we believe we are the best team in baseball,” Wilhelmsen said. “Whatever anyone else says, it’s not going affect how we view ourselves, the confidence we have, the camaraderie we have. It’s not fazing us.”

The same goes for the pressure that comes with those expectations. It shouldn’t be a problem.

“Only if you let it,” Wilhelmsen said. “You can’t read too much into that stuff. You still have to play the game. That’s what it’s about.”

It does help that the Mariners have veterans in Cano, Cruz and Austin Jackson, all of whom have played multiple seasons for organizations for which this is commonplace. They believe this team can handle it.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Jackson said. “We’ve definitely made some key moves that are going to push us over the top. On paper, you see how the talent is really there. Once we all get together. It should be fun.”

They aren’t afraid of being picked to win because they’ve been in that situation.

“That’s what you want,” Cruz said. “That’s my goal every year. It doesn’t matter what team I play for. I want to play in the playoffs.”

The fear for Mariners fans is the reminder of what happened to those Seattle teams in 2008 and 2010. In both seasons, the team crumbled under the weight of the expectations — finishing at 61-101.

This season should be different. Simply put, the roster for this team going into the season is much better than the rosters of those two failed teams. There is more talent and depth. The trio of Cano, Cruz and Seager gives the Mariners a better middle of the order than they’ve had in more than 10 years. With Hernandez coming off a stellar season and leading an improved starting rotation and a bullpen that returns its core group of pitchers, the pitching staff is one of the best in baseball.

The expectations appear warranted. But they don’t win games. The players do.

“I think that’s the expectation,” Zduriencik said. “We think we our club is a good club. We think we have a chance to be really competitive. There’s nice pieces here. There’s young kids growing up with veteran players joined in. There’s some guys that had really nice years last year. I think, on paper, this has a chance to be a lot of fun. But you have to execute, you have to perform and you have to stay healthy. And then let the pieces fall where they may.”

Projected starters
The Mariners hope their additions on offense make the difference in a playoff push this year.
Player 2014 stats
1B Logan Morrison .262, 11 HR
2B Robinson Cano .314, 14 HR
3B Kyle Seager .268, 25 HR
SS Chris Taylor .287, 7 errors
C Mike Zunino .199, 22 HR
LF Dustin Ackley .245, 14 HR
CF Austin Jackson .256, 20 SB
RF Justin Ruggiano .281, 6 HR
DH Nelson Cruz .271, 40 HR
P Felix Hernandez 15-6, 2.14 ERA