Every March my optimism really begins to flow as I look forward to the baseball season ahead. It's my favorite time of the year and it really gets exciting as we move closer to Opening Day and I begin to wonder how the Mariners will be this year.
Every baseball team and every fan has a reason to be optimistic at the start of every season, unless of course you root for the Astros - that's something for a whole different conversation. Teams have been assembled, hopefully, by general managers to win, endure some rough patches and and keep you interested all the way through September.
I always think and hope the Mariners have their act together. The 116-win season of 2001 was a magical time to be in Seattle - that team was ridiculous, night in and night out they were winning, and we were all on board. Safeco Field was packed all the way through September.
I'm not counting on a season like that, but 90 wins and a shot at the wild card is where the Mariners need to be this fall.
This year, unlike other years, there have been some significant pieces added to the mix that makes me feel my optimism is legitimate.
Let's start at the top: Lloyd McLendon. He is the closest thing the Mariners have had to Lou Piniella since Lou Piniella. He doesn't feel the need to explain himself to reporters after games, never tips his hand and quietly demands the best from his players. He also spent seven years as a coach under former Tigers manager Jim Leyland, he knows how to win and how to treat players in the process. Not to mention it's good to have managers that actually scare umpires once in a while.
Secondly, Robinson Cano. He plays second base with a grace and ease I have never seen before. His defense looks effortless and at the same time it's flawless. And he can hit. Cano will carry the Mariners offense this season and his presence alone in the clubhouse, in the field and at the plate will make the rest of the lineup better, especially guys like Brad Miller and Justin Smoak. Cano is a five-time all star, and it's nice to know the Mariners could have somebody else along with Felix Hernandez representing the Northwest and the Mariners at the Major League All Star Game this year in Minneapolis.
Brad Miller will be Cano's double play partner at short. That's obvious as the Mariners leave spring training. Lloyd McLendon took the Pete Carroll approach with the shortstop position and opened it up to some friendly competition between Miller and last year's second baseman Nick Franklin, who was suddenly a man without a position once Cano signed for big money. Miller won the job with his bat and with his glove. He didn't commit an error in spring training until the second-to-last week of Cactus League play. And the guy can flat-out run - crazy legs Miller looks like a gazelle as he runs the bases, and it will be fun to see how many doubles he can stretch into triples this season.
Felix Hernandez is the catalyst of this team. He may pitch once every five days but it's the things he does the other four days that keep this team glued together. He raises the level of expectations in the clubhouse just by wearing a Mariners uniform. This is Felix's team - Felix's town for that matter. He could run for mayor of Seattle and win (no offense to Ed Murray). I can't think of a pitcher over the years that has had less run support than Felix. This year he'll likely get it. With Cano leading the way, Felix could be back in the Cy Young conversation in November.
Felix should have some help in the rotation - eventually. I really like the thought of a Mariners rotation that featured Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker out of spring training but that won't be the case. Walker and Iwakuma both dealt with injuries during spring training and the rotation won't be up to full speed until mid to late April at the earliest. For now Blake Beavan and Chris Young will have to do - let's hope they have some of the best starts of their lives in April
I do have my concerns. The bullpen seems shaky but once you get past Triple A and Double A pitchers working innnings in spring training you get a feel for what the relievers really can do. The first two weeks with the Mariners facing divisional opponents right out of the box will be telling.
Closer Fernando Rodney will be fun to watch - he seems like a version of Eddie Guardado, and he will be very good some nights and "just not on" some other nights. Hopefully it's more of the former not the latter, with offenses slow to get going early in the season he will be the difference maker in some tight games.
The Mariners could use some more pop, a big bat in the lineup, Cano even said it at the start of spring training. In the meantime Kendrys Morales is down in South Florida training every day in his old Mariners gear waiting for a team to sign him. The Mariners should be that team, - the guy had 23 homers last season for the Mariners and he could only end up with more hitting in a lineup with Cano.
I know the Mariners have been predictably bad over the past few years but at some point the losing and misery has to stop. The AL West as a whole isn't as good anymore. Rotations aren't very deep and of course there are the Astros. Plenty of reasons for the Mariners to get some traction the early part of this season and start rolling.
It's baseball season, the greatest time of the year and on Opening Day everyone's team has a chance. Why not the Mariners?