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Seattle Mariners season preview capsule: What to keep an eye on in rebuilding year

UPDATED: Tue., March 19, 2019

From left, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, manager Scott Servais and pitcher Yusei Kikuchi  appear during a media conference in Tokyo on Saturday. (Eugene Hoshiko / AP)
From left, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, manager Scott Servais and pitcher Yusei Kikuchi appear during a media conference in Tokyo on Saturday. (Eugene Hoshiko / AP)
Associated Press

2018: 89-73, third place in A.L. West.

Manager: Scott Servais (fourth season).

He’s here: DH-1B Edwin Encarnacion, SS Tim Beckham, OF Mallex Smith, OF-1B Jay Bruce, OF Domingo Santana, C Omar Narvaez, SS J.P. Crawford, LHP Yusei Kikuchi, RHP Hunter Strickland, RHP Cory Gearrin, RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson.

He’s outta here: C Mike Zunino, 2B Robinson Cano, SS Jean Segura, DH Nelson Cruz, LHP James Paxton, RHP Edwin Diaz, OF Denard Span, OF Guillermo Heredia, RHP Alex Colome, OF Ben Gamel, INF-OF Andrew Romine, RHP Juan Nicasio.

Projected lineup: 2B Dee Gordon (.268, 4 HRs, 36 RBIs, 30 SBs), RF-CF Mitch Haniger (.285, 26, 93, .859 OPS), 1B-OF Jay Bruce (.223, 9, 37 in 94 games with Mets), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.246, 32, 107 with Cleveland), LF-RF Domingo Santana (.265, 5, 20 in 85 games with Milwaukee), 3B-1B Ryon Healy (.235, 24, 73), C Omar Narvaez (.275, 9, 30 in 97 games with White Sox), SS Tim Beckham (.230, 12, 35 with Baltimore), CF Mallex Smith (.296, 2, 40, 10 triples, tied for AL lead, 40 SBs, .367 OBP with Tampa Bay).

Rotation: LH Marco Gonzales (13-9, 4.00 ERA, career-high 166 2/3 IP), LH Yusei Kikuchi (14-4, 3.08, 153 Ks with Seibu in Japan), RH Mike Leake (10-10, 4.36, 185 2/3 IP), LH Wade LeBlanc (9-5, 3.72, career-high 162 IP and 130 Ks), RH Felix Hernandez (8-14, 5.55, 27 HRs allowed).

Key relievers: LH Roenis Elias (1-0, 2.65, 23 games, 4 starts), RH Dan Altavilla (3-2, 2.61 in 22 games), RH Chasen Bradford (5-0, 3.69, 46 games), RH Matt Festa (0-0, 2.16 in 8 games), RH Hunter Strickland (3-5, 3.97, 14 saves with San Francisco).

Hot spot: Bullpen. Seattle’s rotation could be solid enough, although there is concern about Hernandez. Its starting lineup, when healthy, projects similarly to last year’s offensive output. The bullpen is another story, and there are big question marks throughout. The hope is that Strickland’s temper has cooled and he can be the closer, although not on the same level of Diaz. Maybe the Mariners could flirt with .500 if the bullpen performs better than expected.

Outlook: It’s a rebuild year for Seattle. By midseason, the Mariners would like to say goodbye to Encarnacion and Bruce in exchange for future prospects. There will be as much attention on what is happening in the minors as what is happening with the major league club. Seattle believes all the moves this offseason has made the club younger, landed a handful of key prospects and opened up money to spend in a couple of years. But that means the longest playoff drought in any of the four major professional sports doesn’t appear likely to end anytime soon. Patience will be needed.

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