SEATTLE (AP) — Five things to know about the Seattle Mariners as they start spring training camp:
IN CHARGE: It’s been nine years since Lloyd McClendon was last a major league manager — in Pittsburgh. Since then he spent eight seasons working under Jim Leyland in Detroit. Leyland was one of the biggest proponents for McClendon deserving another shot at the helm.
One of his challenges during the spring will be meshing players left over from the previous staff under Eric Wedge with the bevy of moves Seattle made in the offseason. McClendon is optimistic Seattle can win sooner than later, but with the moves made and the money spent this offseason the winning had better arrive on the earlier side.
HELLO, CANO: Robinson Cano was given $240 million and the responsibility for shouldering the Mariners for potentially the next 10 years. He is out of the spotlight in New York, but has taken on a new challenge of being the centerpiece in Seattle. When he was with the Yankees, he was constantly surrounded by stars. In Seattle, Cano is THE star.
The first steps into that role start will be taken during spring training, when the Mariners are expected to garner some of the biggest buzz in Arizona because of Cano’s signing.
OUTFIELD SHAKEDOWN: There is nothing certain about how the outfield spots will breakdown as the Mariners enter camp. The perfect scenario for Seattle would likely see Corey Hart and Logan Morrison healthy and productive enough to handle the corner spots. Also, hope is Franklin Gutierrez finally avoids the disabled list and returns to his former Gold Glove level in center field. But Hart and Morrison both have had knee troubles that have limited their playing time. Gutierrez has struggled through an assortment of injuries and has not played more than 92 games in a season since 2010. Hart is also a legitimate option as a full-time designated hitter.
Behind those three is an assortment of others looking to find a place in Seattle’s lineup. Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte and Willie Bloomquist could all end up as options in the outfield coming out of spring.
REST OF ROTATION: The top of Seattle’s rotation is a no-brainer with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma anchoring the top two spots. It gets murky from there.
With Iwakuma reporting to camp with a splint on his middle finger, an injury that will require four to six weeks, there might be an early-season opportunity for a youngster to make a couple of starts. But the Mariners would like to see a veteran in the No. 3 spot when Iwakuma is ready, and it could be Scott Baker if he can prove he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Baker was signed to a minor league deal but would appear to be the Mariners best option for that role now. The Nos. 4 and 5 rotation places will come out of a group of four top prospects: Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer. McClendon has not hidden his expectations of Walker claiming one of those spots. Seattle has seen Maurer and Ramirez at the major league level, but Paxton’s stint late last season inspired belief that he could be the best long-term option.
BEST OF BULLPEN: Seattle may have solved one question about its bullpen by locking up Fernando Rodney on a two-year deal to be the closer. If Rodney can match his performance the past two seasons with Tampa Bay, it will instantly make the rest of the Mariners bullpen better. Rodney at the back end should push Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar into less pressure positions and hopefully answer how the Mariners will get to the ninth.
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