Seattle Mariners

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Seattle Mariners?

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USA TODAY

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Seattle Mariners?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Seattle Mariners?

The M’s were surprisingly involved in last year’s playoff chase relatively deep into the season as that jumbled group in the middle of the American League couldn’t figure out who was going to volunteer as tribute to get their clock cleaned by the New York Yankees in that wild-card game. It ended up being the Minnesota Twins, and they gave up seven runs in the first four innings, so yeah.

But the M’s were around and could be again in 2018, should everything go right. The lineup’s pretty good, and Felix Hernandez and James Paxton have the capability to form a nice 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation if all goes well. But let’s be honest we’re here to talk about Ichiro.

Yes, it’s the time of the ancient Mariner (that’s a Samuel Taylor Coleridge reference, by the way) in the Pacific Northwest. Ichiro returned to his original big league ballclub for his age-44 season, and he’s said he has hopes to be playing until he’s 50, when he’ll presumably be able to kick, stretch and kick!

At 43, he was able to play in 136 games and slash .255/.318/.332 with the Miami Marlins. He had a career-low 50 hits, a shocking number to see next to Ichiro’s name considering his 262 knocks in 2004 are the most in a single season in baseball history. He was mostly a pinch-hitter/defensive replacement for the Fish, starting just 22 times last season.

How much will he actually play for the 2018 M’s? Who knows, but it’s good to see the living legend back in a Seattle uniform again. Maybe he’ll finally back up the rumors that he could’ve been one of the best power hitters in the game and hit 40 homers or something.

Ichiro is back, by the way, because the guy that was supposed to start in left field every day, Ben Gamel, got injured. And getting injured seems to be the thing to do at M’s camp this spring. Hernandez was hit in the arm with a line drive by Cubs catcher Victor Caratini. Robinson Cano left a game with a tight hammy. Andrew Romine has a shoulder injury. And Nelson Cruz left a game with a quad strain. They should be wrapping these guys in bubblewrap.

Aside from Ichiro, there’ll be another new face in that outfield. The M’s got Dee Gordon from the walking fire sale that is the Derek Jeter Marlins, and he’s a nice addition to a lineup that also includes one of the best hitters in baseball, Cruz, along with Cano, Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and Mitch Haniger. Gordon swiped 60 bases to lead baseball last season. Dude can fly.

There hasn’t been much mention of pitching to this point, and maybe that's because it could play out a number of ways. Hernandez has been one of baseball's best, but his ERA leaped up to 4.36 last season, the highest it's been in more than a decade. Paxton was great, posting a 2.98 ERA, but the 24 starts he made — still not a full season's worth — were the most of his career. He's averaged just 15 a season as he's struggled to stay on the field. Mike Leake, the Mariners' No. 3 starter, made only five starts with them after being acquired in a trade. And while he was good in those games, to the tune of a 2.53 ERA, he had a rocky final three months in St. Louis, with a 5.78 ERA in his last 16 starts prior to the Cardinals trading him.

The M’s could make a run at a wild-card spot, but the division seems almost completely out of reach considering the defending-champion Houston Astros sit at the top of the AL West. But Ichiro!

2017 record: 78-84, third place in AL West

Offseason additions: Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Andrew Romine, Juan Nicasio, Ryon Healy

Offseason departures: Yonder Alonso, Danny Valencia, Jarrod Dyson, Yovani Gallardo

X-factor: The Mariners' closer is Edwin Diaz, who saved 34 games last season. He finished with 89 strikeouts in 66 innings, but he was particularly effective after the All-Star break, picking up 21 saves and posting a 2.97 ERA in the second half of the season. Also helpful in that bullpen will be Juan Nicasio, who posted a 2.61 ERA pitching for three different teams last season, and Nick Vincent, solid for the M's a year ago.

Projected lineup:

1. Dee Gordon, CF
2. Jean Segura, SS
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Mitch Haniger, RF
7. Mike Zunino, C
8. Daniel Vogelbach, 1B
9. Ichiro Suzuki, LF

Projected rotation:

1. James Paxton
2. Felix Hernandez
3. Mike Leake
4. Marco Gonzales
5. Erasmo Ramirez

Prediction: Third place in AL West, no playoffs

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers
Kansas City Royals

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets
Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates

Meet the competition: Cubs up against six other finalists in chase for Shohei Ohtani

Meet the competition: Cubs up against six other finalists in chase for Shohei Ohtani

The Cubs are in the running for Shohei Ohtani. But they're not the only ones.

According to multiple reports, the Japanese superstar has narrowed his list of possible destinations down to seven teams: the Cubs, the Texas Rangers and five teams that play on the West Coast — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners. Ohtani is expected to meet with all these teams this week.

It sounds like the Cubs could be facing an uphill battle, with Sunday night's report-a-palooza including the interesting tidbits that Ohtani prefers to play on the West Coast and in a smaller market. But the Cubs still being in the mix is obviously good news for Theo Epstein's front office, which according to NBC Sports' David Kaplan has poured a lot of time and money into scouting Ohtani and is pulling out all the stops in order to bring him to Chicago.

The Cubs obviously have a lot to sell to the 23-year-old phenom who has dazzled as both a pitcher and a hitter and wants to keep doing both things as a major leaguer. For one, the Cubs have a wide-open championship window with all their young talent, including some of the best hitters in the game in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and a stellar three-fifths of a starting rotation in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Plus, they have a recent history of bringing in Japanese players and a famously creative manager in Joe Maddon who loves utilizing players' versatility and would surely come up with something crazy to do with a guy that can pitch and play outfield.

But the other six teams have selling points, too. Money likely won't play a huge factor, what with international-singing rules that mean Ohtani — not yet 25 years old — will need to sign a minor league deal. The most he can make is $3.5 million with the Rangers. The Cubs can offer only $300,000.

And of course Ohtani, with his immense talent, is a fit for all of these teams. He can throw a 100-mph fastball, sliding him right into anyone's rotation, and he can hit and hit with power, a boost to any of these teams' lineup. He hit .332 with eight home runs in 65 games this past season.

There's one school of thought that argues an American League team would be a better fit for Ohtani because he could DH on days when he's not pitching, fulfilling his desire to keep hitting and the team's desire to not see one of their top pitchers risk injury. If Ohtani is bent on playing the field over DH-ing, or if an NL team is fine with that injury risk, then maybe this isn't a big deal. But you could argue that an AL team could have an upper hand. But then again, only three of the seven finalists are AL teams.

So, with those things in mind, here's a look at what each of the Cubs' competitors has going for it in the chase for Ohtani.

Dodgers

Talk about a wide-open championship window. More than any other team on the list besides the Cubs, the Dodgers can pitch the potential to win a title right away. They are the defending National League champions and could team Ohtani with Clayton Kershaw in the rotation and guys like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner in the field. They obviously fit Ohtani's reported West Coast preference but don't count as a smaller market.

Angels

Despite boasting baseball's best player, the Halos have made the postseason just once during Mike Trout's career. Adding Ohtani could certainly change that, though. The Angels could pitch Ohtani on playing alongside Trout in the outfield. They fit the West Coast bill but still count as that Los Angeles media market, even though they play in Anaheim.

Padres

The inclusion of teams like the Padres and Mariners show that the current ability to win a championship might not be one of Ohtani's most important criteria. The Fathers haven't been to the postseason since 2006. But they do check off those West Coast and smaller-market boxes. And, per a Monday tweet from Jon Morosi, Ohtani is "familiar and comfortable" with the team's spring training complex, which it shares with the Mariners.

Giants

The Giants are an interesting option here. It's not a small market at all, though it's certainly smaller than New York (it was Ohtani turning down the New York Yankees that sparked this whole small-market business in the first place). It is on the West Coast. But more importantly, perhaps, the Giants could be in line to have one of the biggest offseasons ever. Not only are they on Ohtani's list of finalists, but they are reportedly attempting to bring NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Bay Area in a trade with the Miami Marlins. Though if Ohtani wants to avoid a media circus, then maybe the Stanton element hurts the Giants' chances. Who knows.

Mariners

This would seem to be the most logical landing spot for Ohtani given his preferences for a smaller market on the West Coast. Plus, the Mariners have a noteworthy history with Japanese players, most prominently the 12 years Ichiro Suzuki spent in the Pacific Northwest. The M's have an even longer postseason drought than the aforementioned Padres, without a playoff appearance since 2001. But Ohtani would be able to play alongside fellow stars like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez, meaning the Mariners, who were in that crowded AL Wild Card race till late last season, could suddenly be World Series contenders. And, per a Monday tweet from Jon Morosi, Ohtani is "familiar and comfortable" with the team's spring training complex, which it shares with the Padres.

Rangers

The Rangers have the most money to offer Ohtani, and typically you'd think that would be the No. 1 priority. But that doesn't seem to be the case, what with Ohtani's stated preferences. Dallas is a big market by population numbers, but the Rangers have rarely been one of baseball's more talked-about teams. And though Texas is nowhere near the West Coast, the Rangers play in a division that constantly sends them out there to play the Angels, Mariners and Oakland A's.

Shohei Ohtani reportedly wants to play in a smaller market and on the West Coast, so what's that mean for the Cubs?

Shohei Ohtani reportedly wants to play in a smaller market and on the West Coast, so what's that mean for the Cubs?

The biggest fish in baseball's offseason pond made some waves Sunday evening.

According to multiple reports, the New York Yankees are out of the running for Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese import who dazzles as both a pitcher and a hitter. That was big enough news regarding Ohtani, but some additional details being reported could have a big impact on the Cubs' pursuit.

Apparently, Ohtani is telling teams he prefers to play for a smaller-market team, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is saying that Ohtani wants to play on the West Coast, too, which lines up with another report saying the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners are among the finalists to sign Ohtani.

Now, while the Cubs — along with plenty of other teams — aren't mentioned in any of that, all that info would seem to be bad news for those hoping to see Ohtani on the North Side next season. Cashman, among others, seems to know which teams are in the running for Ohtani's services, and the Cubs in no way fit the Yankees' general manager's description of a small-market team on the West Coast.

Again, because the Cubs are not mentioned at all and haven't been reported as in or out of the chase for baseball's top offseason target, the door remains open that they're in the running as much as anyone else.

In fact, one report lists the Cubs as a "possible exception" to the West Coast rule.

But there sure are a lot of signs pointing to Ohtani preferring to play out West, meaning perhaps Theo Epstein's front office is facing an uphill battle when it comes to convincing Ohtani to come to Chicago.