The Mariners' pitchers and catchers report to spring training next week. This comes after the team's No. 1 starting pitcher, Marco Gonzales, agreed to a four-year, $30 million contract extension. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel tells Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick it's the start of a slow turnaround.
Thiel said Gonzales is going to be the anchor of the Mariners' turnaround. And it starts with the contract extension — the team signaling that it's willing to hold on to a star player instead of trading him away. Thiel called that a rare move for the M's.
"The Mariners churned through 67 players on their 25-man Major League roster last year," he said. "That was an all-time MLB record."
And he said it showed up in attendance. The Mariners went from 2.3 million fans to 1.8 million last year. One reason is that fans didn't identify with the players who were left after the team's big sell-off of popular names like James Paxton, Mike Zunino and Ronbinson Cano.
BEST YEAR YET
But Gonzales stayed. And had the best year of his career.
"He actually was one of only 11 pitchers in Major League Baseball to pitch 200 innings," Thiel said. "Over the last two seasons, this guy has accumulated a 29-22 win-lost record and an ERA below four.
"And all the bad stuff that was going on with the Mariners — leading the league in errors, leading the league in strikeouts, misplays — it didn't bother him at all. So I think that is really why he was rewarded."
'FIRST PIECES OF THE PUZZLE'
Thiel said another person fans should get to know this year is first baseman Evan White. He hasn't yet played a game in the Majors but he signed a big contract with the team in November.
"The Mariners gave him a six-year deal for $24 million and they expect him to be good enough to start," Thiel said. "He was a former first-round draft pick. He's the kind of guy I think fans will connect with should he live up to these expectations. I think that's a prospect that we're going to see play a lot this year.
"There are several more that are going to emerge out of spring training but the corner is slowly being turned on the Mariner future this spring. And you're going to see that Gonzalez and Evan White are the two first pieces of the puzzle."