New Look, New Hope For The Mariners? | KNKX

New Look, New Hope For The Mariners?

Feb 26, 2016

Much like King Felix's new "do," newness is a big theme for the Mariners this season as they get ready to begin exhibition play next week in Arizona.

The team has a new general manager, a new manager, and a bunch of new players. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says that could mean the end of some old problems.

'No Competition'

“This is an unusual camp," Thiel said. "They have 17 new players in the 40-man roster, which gets cut down to 25 at the start of the regular season.

“Most of the new guys are probably going to be on that. And General Manager Jerry Dipoto has basically determined the starting lineup already.

"There’s not a lot of competition for positions. They’ve got people ready to be in the starting lineup. It’s how they’re deployed that’s interesting.”

Starting Pitchers

“The two guys that are most interesting for me on the pitching staff are holdovers," Thiel said. "Those are young guys: James Paxton and Tiajuan Walker.

“They’re guys with immense talent who, either for injuries or mechanical problems in their pitching, have not fulfilled a full season.

“These are homegrown guys whose contracts the Mariners control. If these guys can deliver this year, it will be a huge asset for the Mariners.

"Getting three homegrown starters, including Felix Hernandez, and supplemented by veteran guys they brought in this year, will make it a very dynamic [starting] pitching staff.

"That is probably the number one thing they want to accomplish in spring training: to see that Paxton and Walker are, at least, Major League average contributors as starting pitchers."

Unresolved: Leadoff Hitter

“They’ve got the position players in place but they still don’t have a leadoff hitter. I think they anticipate that newcomer outfield Nori Aoki will be the leadoff hitter."

“Another Japanese left-handed hitter hitting leadoff, yeah we’ve seen this before in Seattle!” Thiel joked, referring to former Mariners star outfielder and leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki.

“The issue for Aoki is that, is he going to be a good enough fielder to be able to hold the defensive position as well as being the leadoff guy?

“The Mariners were terrible last year with leadoff hitters. If they can get a good leadoff hitter, that would set the table for a pretty good crew behind them in Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

“If Aoki can deliver, as he has in the past in his four-year Major League career, they’ve really got something,” he said.

Bullpen Overhaul

Thiel said another area that the Mariners need to improve on is the bullpen. They were the worst in the Major League last year, after being the best in the league just the year before.

“Bullpens are very erratic," he said. "It’s a difficult thing to make an assessment from one year to the next whether these guys are going to be consistent enough over a two-year period.

“Clearly the Mariners were the epitome of what can be the worst development in a bullpen.

“They’ve gotten rid of a number of guys in there, including solid guys like Tom Wilhelmsen, to reassemble the pen.

“The two positions that are most important are the eighth inning setup guy and the closer in the ninth inning. They have two new guys in there."

New Ones To Watch

“Joaquin Benoit is the eighth inning setup guy. He’s a 38-year-old who will remind some of Fernando Rodney but he won’t have the arrows,” Thiel joked. “I think he will have the will to succeed in the setup spot.”

“And then Steve Cishek is the 29-year-old closer. He’s had a number of good years in the National League. There are a number of reasons to think he’s in a good position for a bounce-back year.

“He’s also a veteran, like Benoit, and unlike the guys the Mariners started out in the bullpen last year, including Carson Smith and Tyler Olson. They just needed more experience.

“So the Mariners went out and hired experience. And I think it’s going to work.

“If those guys can deliver on the back end of the pitching staff, along with Walker and Paxton on the front end, the Mariners have something.”

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You can find Art Thiel’s work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.