Looking for the strength of the Mariners as they head into the 2018 season, manager Scott Servais believes it's a deeper, more athletic lineup that is capable of scoring bunches of runs.
For fans who love to inspect, dissect and then project what the Mariners’ starting lineup and daily batting order should be, the 2018 season might bring a higher level of enjoyment than in past years.
Unlike in seasons past when the lineup resembled a lumbering slow-pitch softball team with a bunch of all-or-nothing elephants swinging for the fences or a punchless group that lacked power with an alarmingly high strike-out rate, this current team might have one of the most versatile, balanced and deep lineups to be written on Seattle’s daily lineup card in quite a while.
Given the number of starters returning from the 2017 team, the early offseason additions of All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon to play centerfield and Ryon Healy to be the everyday first baseman basically finalized the position player portion of the 25-man roster. Barring injury, you can basically project the lineup and batting order on most days for manager Scott Servais
Let’s give it a shot:
- Dee Gordon, CF
- Jean Segura, SS
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Nelson Cruz, DH
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Ryon Healy, 1B
- Mike Zunino, C
- Mitch Haniger, RF
- Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia LF
“So I really like our lineup,” Servais said. “It’s a very deep lineup. We’ve got power. We’ve got speed. We’ve got youth. We’ve got some veteran guys in the middle of it. We’re going to score a lot of runs.”
Given the performance uncertainty of the Mariners’ projected starting rotation, scoring more than three runs in a game could be vital for success — as it was in 2017. Seattle posted a 70-26 record when scoring four runs or more and 8-58 record when scoring three runs or less.
“Our strength obviously for me is our lineup and our strength is what makes it dangerous, and I don’t think we want to get away from that,” he said.
Servais has said on multiple occasions that Gordon will be his leadoff man this season instead of Segura, who was in that spot for 119 of the 125 games he played in last season, hitting .305 with a .353 on-base percentage and 19 stolen bases.
But the lefty-swinging Gordon will move to the top spot, giving the Mariners alternating left-handed and right-handed hitters till the seventh spot in the order. Last season, Gordon was in the leadoff spot for the Marlins for 144 games, hitting .308 with a .341 on-base percentage and 57 stolen bases.
“I’m going to do the little things to help us win,” Gordon said. “These guys brought me in to be a piece, not the guy. Hopefully, I’ll be the last piece of the puzzle.”
While Segura has above average speed, Gordon possesses elite speed and is a better base stealer and better overall baserunner. He posted a 9.2 on Fangraphs baserunning metric, meaning he was worth 9.2 runs more than the average runner.
“He’s the bringer of energy,” Healy said. “He’s the fountain.”
It gives Seattle an improved dimension in front of Cano, Cruz and Seager, who are still the key to the Mariners’ run production. The trio of former All-Stars won’t be forced to carry the offense like in years past, but they will still be vital to its overall success.
Cruz is entering the final year of his contract and has shown only minimal signs of slowing down at the plate despite turning 37 in July. A year ago, he hit .285 (160 for 556) with a .924 on-base plus slugging percentage, 91 runs scored, 28 doubles, 39 homers and 119 RBI in 155 games. Despite the penalty of playing most of his games at DH used in the metric, Cruz posted the highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from Baseball Reference (4.1) and Fangraphs (3.8) on the Mariners.
The 119 RBI was the most in the American League and he picked up a Silver Slugger award and the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.
Cano and Seager didn’t quite have the same level of seasons in 2017 that they are accustomed to for various reasons.
Nagging lower leg injuries plagued Cano all season. He dealt with hamstring and quadriceps strains and his production dipped from his monster 2016 season. Cano hit .280 (166 for 592) with a .791 OPS, 33 doubles, 23 homers, 97 RBI in 150 games played.
Privately, both the Mariners and Cano felt that the WBC may have been a hindrance to his revamped offseason and spring preparation routine that had led to a bounce-back year in 2016.
“Coming into Spring Training healthy after a full off-season working out, and again no WBC this year, and will have a little bit more rest and be geared up for Opening Day is what we’re hoping for,” Servais said. “He played through a lot of stuff last year.”
Seager’s season — a .251 batting average, a .773 OPS, 33 doubles, 27 homers and 88 RBI — is something most players would cherish. But to him, it wasn’t good enough.
“It had its ups and downs,” he said. “Offensively it wasn’t as good. I never really got into a good rhythm that I usually have. I felt like I was battling my swing all year. I hold myself to a higher standard.”
Servais expects Seager to come in quite motivated following last season.
“I think he was a little disappointed,” Servais said. “We talked to Kyle a lot this off-season, he is determined to get back and to get back on top of his game. It wasn’t a typical Kyle Seager year and we all want to see it back, again nobody more than himself and he’s working his tail off to make sure that happens.”
The biggest separator in the Mariners’ offensive success from good to great could be the hitters following Seager. All of them are relatively young and have shown the potential to be contributors,
Healy, Haniger, Zunino and the combination of Gamel and Heredia have had stretches of success in their brief careers. But will it continue?
Haniger’s first full season was sidetracked by two extended periods on the disabled list, which limited him to 96 games. But he hit .282 (104 for 369) with an .843 OPS, 25 doubles, two triples, 16 home runs and 47 RBI. The Mariners believe those numbers will only improve if he can stay on the field.
Healy, 25, hit .271 (156 for 576) with 29 doubles, 25 home runs and 78 RBI in 149 games last season. He will be the everyday first baseman. No more platoons at the position.
“We like the bat, like the upside of the player, he’s got power, continue to focus on controlling the strike zone to get the most out of the power and what pitches to hit,” Servais said.
But it’s the emergence of Zunino that could be a true difference maker. After a rushed progression through the minor leagues and struggles for multiple seasons, he seemed to blossom after a May demotion to Class AAA Tacoma. He hit .251 (97 for 387) with an .284 OPS, 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 64 RBI in 124 games. Few teams get that sort of production from the catching position. But can it be expected?
“Mike is always going to be streaky,” Servais said. “He’s still going to strike out some. He’s done a better job of controlling the strike zone but when he gets hot, and his ability to sustain those hot streaks was pretty awesome last year. If Mike Zunino continues to do what he did last year, we’ll take that every year and we should be very, very happy.”
When Servais met with Cano, Cruz and Segura in the offseason, he found plenty of similar optimism about the lineup.
“They really like our lineup,” he said. “They like it just as much as I do. They understand how important it is to have guys around you in the lineup that can do different things to help create runs.”