Coming off of an 87-75 season, the Seattle Mariners are set up to make a run at the postseason in 2015.

Seattle retains the top two members of an outstanding starting rotation that could be even greater soon if some young pitchers continue to develop. Offensively, the Mariners have a strong core in Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager to build around and become contenders.

However, the Mariners have a few needs they need to address if they are to get over the hump and make the postseason for the first time since 2001. With some free-agent options, Mariners president Kevin Mather told 710 ESPN Seattle that payroll would increase next season.

Upgrading anywhere would obviously help, but the Mariners have four needs to focus on over the offseason.


4. Left-handed Reliever

Seattle’s pitching success was not just due to its rotation, as the Mariners’ bullpen posted the best ERA in the majors. Seven of the eight main relievers will be back for 2015, with Carson Smith also looking ready for the majors.

The only member of the bullpen who is a free agent is Joe Beimel. Beimel far exceeded expectations at 37 years old, posting a 2.20 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 55 games.

While Beimel was probably a bit fortunate to post such a low ERA given his peripherals, he was one of only two left-handers in the Seattle bullpen. If Beimel leaves, the only lefty remaining will be Charlie Furbush.

Seattle’s bullpen might have enough talent to be fine with only one left-hander, so signing another isn’t an absolute must. Still, bringing in another wouldn’t hurt.

The free-agent class doesn’t offer much other than Andrew Miller and Zach Duke, who are going to command big contracts. Giving Beimel another one-year deal makes as much sense as anything.


3. Starting pitcher

As the roster currently stands, the Mariners could form a strong starting rotation to open 2015. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias will all be returning to Seattle, giving the Mariners a staff with plenty of upside.

However, that’s placing a lot of the club’s potential success in the hands of a trio of very young pitchers. Paxton was injured for much of 2014, while Walker also suffered a shoulder injury and at times didn’t look quite ready for the major leagues when he was healthy.

The Mariners discovered Elias, who looks to be a solid back-end starter, as a result of the injuries, but there are some concerns about a flexor bundle strain he picked up in the last start of his season.

Without being completely necessary to the club’s success, it would make sense for the Mariners to target a mid-level starter to add some depth. Re-signing Chris Young would make sense, as he is a perfect fit in Seattle, and the Mariners would have either Walker or Elias to replace Young should he get injured or show signs of regression.

If Young ends up somewhere else for whatever reason, a relatively cheap addition like Brandon McCarthy would be a good option.


2. Outfield

The Mariners’ starting outfield appears to be set for Opening Day 2015 with Austin Jackson, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders. However, all three have question marks heading into the season.

Saunders carries the biggest risk. When healthy, Saunders is one of Seattle’s most productive players, but he isn’t shedding the “injury prone” label anytime soon after appearing in only 78 games in 2014.

General manager Jack Zduriencik echoed that sentiment in an interview with 1090 The Fan’s The Steve Sandmeyer Show (h/t Lookout Landing):

I think the biggest challenge with Michael has been trying to keep him healthy. I think he had 230-some at-bats this year, through the course of the season when you were hoping he’d have 500-600. I think that’s been the issue, not only this year but in years gone by so, the challenge for Michael is to prepare himself to be able to play a complete season. Now, some injuries are freak injuries—other injuries are injuries that are, you know, could they have been prevented and I think that’s something for Michael to answer. But he’s a talented player, he’s a very, very nice young man and, do I hope Michael’s a part of this thing? Of course I do. But it’s up to Michael to put himself in a position where he can play through the course of a full season.

That seems to indicate that the Mariners will need a strong fourth outfielder behind Saunders. Seattle hoped to get that when they traded for Chris Denorfia at the trade deadline, but he struggled over the last two months of the season.

The Mariners would be quite happy if Ackley continued the production he put up in the second half of 2014, but he has to prove he can sustain it long-term. Even Jackson isn’t a certainty after struggling since the trade deadline, but a two-month slump shouldn’t cause him to lose the center field job to start 2015.

Unless Seattle believes Stefen Romero or Julio Morban is ready to contribute in the majors, it needs to add some outfield depth in the offseason.


1. Designated Hitter/First Base

Zduriencik didn’t hide his plans for the offseason, via Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune:

We will explore every opportunity out there.I think we’ll be reasonably aggressive in trying to do something to try to add an offensive piece or two. Where all of this ends up, none of us knows. We’ll enter the free-agent scenario, and (we’ll) see what’s available on the trade market. We will be pretty aggressive in trying to add to this ballclub.

Looking at current roster construction, that offensive piece needs to be either a designated hitter or first baseman. Logan Morrison has done enough to earn the starting job at one of those positions (likely first), but the Mariners desperately need a middle-of-the-order bat to fill the other.

Seattle is going to be connected with names like Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez and Billy Butler all offseason long. All of those players are risky and will likely be overpaid, but the Mariners might be in a position to take a long-term risk if it means getting better over the next year or two.

The Mariners are also going to take a long look at Kendrys Morales, but it’s probably time for both parties to move in another direction. If Seattle can add the right offensive piece, they will make a serious run at the postseason in 2015.

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