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2017 AL West division preview: Is this finally the Mariners’ year?

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A look at the increasingly pesky Seattle Mariners.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Mariners

Who?

With Jerry Dipoto sternly at the helm of the ship, the Seattle Mariners look to turn around the historically struggling franchise. The perennial seafarers will hope to end the longest postseason-less streak in baseball, because, well, it’s been a long while since they’ve had a team even projected to be any good.

There’s part of me that wants me to be happy for Mariners fans that a vision is finally being executed, because nobody deserves to endure an extended futility (except for Yankees fans, maybe?). But the other part of me is salty at Dipoto screwing the pooch internationally and in the draft in his last year with the Angels, then causing a scene and leaving in a huff. I guess it’s a little...bittersweet?

Were they even good last year?

They rebounded surprisingly well to post an 86-win season last year, a few wins shy of a wild card berth. Their +61 run differential says they should have had better results than they did...but they didn’t. Led by potential Hall-of-Famer Robinson Cano, gracefully (?) aging Nelson Cruz, and the underrated Kyle Seager, the Mariners had a strong core which provided them a nice foundation. Edwin Diaz broke through to become a dominant closer overnight, and similarly on the starting pitching side, James Paxton was an ace when healthy.

But that’s not to say they didn’t have their share of weaknesses. Their pitching overall was decidedly meh and their shortstop, left field, right field, and first base positions left a lot to be desired. ‘King Felix’ Hernandez had easily the worst season of his career: him and Iwakuma are a year older, as are Cano and Cruz, which opens up a boatload of unanswered questions regarding injuries and regression.

What did they do this offseason?

In essence, Dipoto continued to restructure the roster and make it more athletic to fit the mold of their home park, Safeco Field. But if I were to mention every single move Dipoto made, then you’d probably have a stroke so here are the main ones:

Thanksgiving Headliner: Traded away SP Taijuan Walker, SS Ketel Marte, and RP prospect Zac Curtis for SS/2B Jean Segura and OF prospect Mitch Haniger.

Are you Smylin’ yet?: Traded SP prospect Luiz Gohara and RP prospect Thomas Burrows for OF prospect Mallex Smith and RP prospect Shae Simmons. Promptly flipped OF prospect Mallex Smith, INF prospect Carlos Vargas, SP prospect Ryan Yarbrough for SP Drew Smyly.

Speed Kills: Traded SP Nate Karns for OF Jarrod Dyson.

Hoping for a Rebound: Traded OF Seth Smith for SP Yovani Gallardo.

Signing a LOOGY reliever: Signed RP Marc Rzepczynski to a 2 year, $11M deal.

To me, most of these moves look like lateral or slightly better, but trading away prized pitching prospect Luiz Gohara could backfire if he lives up to his ceiling. At the same time, even if Walker pitches up to a #3 starter’s caliber, the Mariners will have already extracted enough value out of Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger that it was worth it to make this trade, boosting their short-term win total to get over the hump.

What is their strength?

There’s no arguing that they have a great defense. Jarrod Dyson, Leonys Martin, and Mitch Haniger comprise a terrific defensive outfield, and with the sole exception of Danny Valencia, there are no holes out there.

They’ve also got some power in Cruz (?), Cano, and Seager and they’ve added speed and baserunning in Dyson and Segura. Offensively and defensively, they should be a sound team.

What is their weakness?

The starting rotation looks to be a HUGE liability. James Paxton and Drew Smyly look to be good, but there’s no guarantees for the other three. And beyond these five are at-best spot-starters like Ariel Miranda or Rob Whalen.

The Angels aren’t worried about the caliber of their pitching, but rather the health. The Mariners, on the other hand, are banking on three-fifths of their starting rotation — the starters over 30 years old — to not only not get worse, but also to get better. Given the mileage on Felix, Iwakuma, and Gallardo, that’s a dangerous game to be playing.

There’s one more thing: Neither James Paxton nor Drew Smyly have ever thrown 180 innings in a season in their career.

So, what can we expect?

The Astros are dumb, and so I’d be hard pressed to find a scenario in which they don’t take home the division crown. These 2017 Mariners are better than the 2014 and 2016 Seattle teams that came pretty close, so I’m sure an 88-74 season and a wild card spot would be a darn good consolation to a franchise that hasn’t experienced the postseason since nearly the turn of the century.

What’s the most accurate representation of the team in gif form?

Jerry Dipoto is literally 100% Chris Traeger.