2013 Team Preview: Seattle Mariners

RELATED: 2013 spring training

Over the last five season, the Seattle Mariners have logged more 100-loss campaigns (two) than they have winning campaigns (one). On the upside, the fresh presence of the deep-rebuilding Astros in AL West means a fourth straight last-place finish is unlikely. But what about contention? Let's break down the 2013 Mariners ...

Probable lineup
1. Dustin Ackley , 2B
2. Franklin Gutierrez , CF
3. Kyle Seager , 3B
4. Michael Morse , LF
5. Kendrys Morales , DH
6. Jesus Montero , C
7. Justin Smoak , 1B
8. Michael Saunders , RF
9. Brendan Ryan , SS

Probable rotation
1. Felix Hernandez
2. Joe Saunders
3. Hisashi Iwakuma
4. Erasmo Ramirez
5. Blake Beavan

Bullpen construction
Closer: Tom Wilhelmsen
Setup: Carter Capps , Charlie Furbush

Notable bench players
C Kelly Shoppach , OF Raul Ibanez , OF Jason Bay , IF Robert Andino

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
The signing of Raul Ibanez. In this case, I'm wielding the "under-the-radar offseason transaction" category as a cudgel with which to bash the M's. What's the point here? This is a team flush with DHs. And these days, the 40-year-old Ibanez boasts one very narrow skill: very occasionally hitting right-handed fastballs over the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium. Needless to say, that skill won't translate to his new environment. Even in a reserve role, he'll take playing time away from someone more deserving, and he'll be paid $2.75 million to do so. Again: What's the point here?

Fantasy Sleeper: Michael Saunders
"Saunders had failed to impress in his previous trips to the majors, but last season he quietly fell a homer short of a 20-20 season. He could surge well beyond 20 homers, given that he was able to hit 19 last year despite an unusually high ground-ball rate. Should Saunders get back to hitting flyballs, he could launch 25 to 30 home runs, especially if the new dimensions of Safeco Field can provide an assist. He also gets a better lineup in which to hit, so Saunders should experience an increase in RBI. Some may overlook Saunders in standard mixed leagues, but he is worth a late-round pick or a bid of a few dollars." - Al Melchior (Full Mariners fantasy preview)

Biggest strength
The future. Yes, Seattle's strength lies not in the present, which, insofar as the 2013 season is concerned, is not a good thing. But as dismal as things are in the short term, but the Mariners have cobbled together an exceptional collection of young talent.

First and foremost, ace/franchise player Felix Hernandez is now locked up potentially through the 2020 season. There's every reason to believe he's going to continue being on the short list of top pitchers in all of baseball. At age 26, Hernandez has already coped with velocity loss and successfully evolved into a different type of pitcher than he was just, say, four years ago.

Elsewhere, Jesus Montero is still just 23 years old, and he's coming off a season in which he batted a respectable .298/.330/.438 away from run-suppressing Safeco. He still profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat, and he'll reach that potential sooner rather than later.

Dustin Ackley has the whiff of disappointment about him after last season, but the 25-year-old has the time -- and the pedigree and the skills -- to realize his potential. Ackley's also under team control through the 2017 season.

Let's also not forget about 25-year-old Kyle Seager, who, as noted above, could be in the three hole this season. In 2012, Seager put up an OPS+ of 110 across 155 games. His impressive minor-league batting line of .328/.401/.474 suggests further skills growth. My colleage, Al Melchior, has already detailed the merits of the 26-year-old Saunders.

Down on the farm, things are even better. Taijuan Walker is perhaps the top pitching prospect in the game today, and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are almost as impressive. Others? Right-handers Brandon Maurer and Victor Sanchez and port-siders Tyler Pike and Luis Gohara are similarly noteworthy. Simply put, you'd be hard pressed to find a system more stuffed with high-upside young arms.

In terms of positional talent in the minors, Mike Zunino is on the short list of best catcher prospects, and infielder Nick Franklin has a lofty offensive ceiling. Same goes for infielder/outfielder Stefen Romero .

As you might have surmised by now, the M's are pretty well set when it comes to young talent. On the other hand, said young talent won't be of sufficient help in 2013.

Biggest weakness
Easy call: The Mariners' most notable shortcoming is their inability to get on base. Last season, the Seattle offense registered an OBP of .296, which was the only sub-.300 mark in the majors. And before you give them a pass because of run-suppressing Safeco, know that the M's ranked 13th in the 14-team AL in road OBP. In other words, the Seattle offense creates a lot of outs at the plate, and they do so in any context.

What's also notable is that GM Jack Zduriencik spent the winter adding OBP-compromised hitters. Yes, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have pop, but they don't address the team's central shortcoming, which is getting on base. The most important thing an offense can do is not make outs, and the Mariners fail miserably when it comes to not making outs.

Best-case scenario
Third-place finish in the AL West. If you squint and imagine serious regression in Oakland, then maybe you can imagine a set of circumstances in which the Mariners finish ahead of them. It's highly unlikely, but it's not impossible. Serious contention? No, not for Seattle in 2013.

Worst-case scenario
Last place in the AL West. The M's are comfortably better than the Astros on paper, but the range of outcomes is such that Houston has a distant puncher's chance at finishing ahead of Seattle. That would be unexpected, to say the least, which is why it falls under the tattered umbrella of "worst-case scenario."

Most-likely scenario
Is there any team in baseball more locked into a specific finish than Seattle is as the fourth-place team in the AL West? They're demonstrably worse than the Angels, Rangers and Athletics and demonstrably better than the Astros. So, yes, they'll again finish in fourth place.

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