Orioles Preview - Page 42 - The Mariners

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The Mariners

Associated Press

 

Throughout the offseason, the decisions made about the future of the Mariners took on different catchphrases.

 

Whether it’s a “step-back” or a “rebuild” or a “reimagining” of the their current situation and future hopes, the reality is for the first time in a while there appears to be a plan in place to perhaps get the franchise out of the purgatory of mediocrity.

 

There’s optimism about what the Mariners’ future could be, but it might result in a difficult 2019 season.

 

“We don’t think this year is a punt,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We feel like we went from being stuck in the middle of the American League to being stuck in the middle of the American League with a future in front of us. That’s a better place to be.”

 

The Mariners began the season Wednesday in Tokyo with a pair of games against the Athletics, featuring a roster that is overhauled from the one that finished 2018 with 89 wins and yet again missed out on the playoffs. The Mariners extended the longest playoff drought in the major pro sports.

 

The Mariners made nine trades in the offseason, shedding heavy salaries and burdensome contracts. In exchange, they targeted 2021 as a time when they could really compete. They acquired a number of key prospects who could be ready to contribute in two years and kept a handful of core players—Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales among them — who will be in their prime. And they freed up a significant amount of money available for free agency.

 

“That gives us the opportunity to look at the world in a different way than we could before. That excites us, and I think that excited ownership,” Dipoto said. “While we can’t sit here and stick a flag in the top of the mountain saying we are the world champs in 2021, that is amore realistic goal for us now than it has been in the past.”

 

In rotation: The top of the rotation should be solid with Gonzales, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc and newcomer Yusei Kikuchi. Kikuchi’s arrival will be closely followed as the Mariners try to limit his innings in his first season in the majors. Gonzales slumped late last season but had a summer stretch when he was one of the best lefties in the AL.

 

Farewell Felix: It’s clear this will be the final season Felix Hernandez wears a Mariners uniform. He’s going to be the No. 5 starter, coming off a career-worst 5.55 ERA in 2018, and is unhappy about his place. The bigger question is whether Hernandez has anything left to be attractive to another team, either at the deadline or next season.

 

Trade bait: Part of the reason the Mariners acquired Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion during the offseason was to have a lineup that could still be serviceable. How long they’ll be around is another story. The team would like both to have big first halves so they could be trade options by midseason and potentially land the Mariners a couple of more prospects in their rebuild plans. For now, Bruce will split time between first base and the outfield, while Encarnacion will be the primary designated hitter.

 

Wait and see: Two key starters will miss the start of the season, with third baseman Kyle Seager out for at least a month after hand surgery and outfielder Mallex Smith slowed by a shoulder issue. Smith could be ready when the team returns from Japan, while Seager’s injury clears up a logjam at first base for the moment with Ryon Healy moving to third base.

 

Photo: The Mariners will keep close tabs on the workload of Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.

 

ELAINE THOMPSON/AP