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November 6, 2013
Fantasy Team Preview
The Mariners have some financial flexibility and are expected to add to their offense this offseason. Maybe that means writing Jacoby Ellsbury a blank check. Maybe it means settling for another year of Raul Ibanez. Maybe we’ll see some middle ground with Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz.
But, as this lineup stands on November 6, there’s not a ton of reason for fantasy optimism. And, given Safeco’s depressing offensive environment and the lack of talent in this lineup, and counting stats will be even harder to come by.
Instead, fantasy owners will need to look to starting pitchers—and a few diamonds in the rough that is their lineup—to find some salvation in Seattle.
There are some intriguing names here, especially for those who follow prospects closely, but the overall picture isn’t pretty. Seager is an underrated fantasy asset, finishing as ESPN’s 12th-most-valuable third baseman this past season after ranking just one slot worse in 2012. Morales received a qualifying offer from Seattle, and as such is reasonably likely to return to the Great Northwest. He essentially produced a carbon copy of his 2012 season, and can be relied upon as a top-20 fantasy 1B. Zunino has a chance to play as a top-15 or -20 backstop, but don’t count on him as a starter yet. Franklin provides intriguing pop from a middle infielder, and Miller may do enough in every category to serve as an MI in deeper leagues. Other than that, there are slim pickings here, despite Almonte’s intriguing MiLB numbers and the dreams Ackley and Smoak used to inspire.
Ouch. Odds are we’ll see some new names here too, and let’s hope that’s the case because there’s nothing of interest here for fantasy owners aside from Montero. Unfortunately, with Morales and Smoak in front of him and ineptitude and suspension behind him, there’s not a ton of reason for optimism. Peguero does have a modicum of pop and could be added to AL-only watch lists. Exciting!
The good news for fantasy owners is that Seattle’s rotation has the chance to be as fruitful as its lineup is barren. There’s not much I can tell you about King Felix that you don’t already know: he’s basically assured of being a top-15 starter and has some of the highest upside in the game. What you might not know is that Iwakuma was actually the slightly better fantasy arm this year, beating Hernandez in wins, ERA, and WHIP. FIP and BABIP tell us that some regression should be expected, but there’s still plenty to like about Iwakuma as he heads into his third MLB year.
After the big two, there’s a whole lot of upside in Walker and Paxton, though neither is guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Paxton has big strikeout potential but could kill your WHIP, while Walker carriers some of the same concerns but is widely considered to have the higher upside. He’ll be a popular “sleeper pick” heading into the season, but isn’t really a sleeper since everyone knows about him. Ramirez is coming off a poor 2013 campaign and should be viewed as a streamer only until we see signs of a turnaround.
Projected Closer Candidates
Does any player better exemplify the volatility and randomness of the closer position than Farquhar? On the one hand, advanced stats suggest his 4.20 ERA was way to high and he could enter 2014 as the Mariners’ closer. On the other hand, we don’t have a lot to suggest he’ll be a particularly strong MLB reliever, and there’s no reason to think he’ll have much job security in closing. Wilhelmsen’s strikeout rate fell off a cliff while his walk rate soared last season, which contributed to his losing the closer’s role halfway through the year. That being said, he still finished with a 4.12 ERA and 3.69 FIP, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a shot again next season. Finally, Capps is perhaps the best bet to settle into a closing job in the long run, but his 2013 campaign was uninspiring. You’re probably safe just drafting Farquhar for now—although Seattle could sign someone to close and it wouldn’t be surprising—and keeping Wilhemsen and Capps on your watch lists. Yuck.
Positional Battles to Watch
Fourth/Fifth Starter: Taijuan Walker vs. James Paxton vs. Brandon Maurer
First Base: Justin Smoak vs. Jesus Montero
Player to Target: Brad Miller
Player to Avoid: Mike Zunino
Deep Sleeper: Stefen Romero
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @bencarsley