Pressing fantasy questions: 2017 Seattle Mariners

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Are King Felix's days of wearing the ace crown for the M's over? (Getty)
Are King Felix’s days of wearing the ace crown for the M’s over? (Getty)

Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto has made 35 trades since taking over the helm of the club in the fall of ’15. In that span, his dealings amount to 12 more trades than the Atlanta Braves, the team that has made the second-highest total of deals. So to say the Mariners (read: DiPoto) have been tireless in their pursuit of plugging roster holes would be an understatement. DiPoto hopes to now have answers for his pressing questions heading into the ’17 season. In turn, let’s look to answer the pressing questions that fantasy owners will encounter on draft day when it comes to this roster.

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Q: Can Felix Hernandez bounce back from a disappointing ’16, or was that the beginning of the end for The King?

It’s likely to be all about fastball velocity for Felix in ’17. The MPH reports on Hernandez in spring training should be of great interest after his career-low fastball average (90.5 mph) in ’16 corresponded to one of the worst seasons of The King’s career. With a fastball that hitters could feast on, Hernandez relied heavily on his breaking pitches, in addition to nibbling more with his fastball, and that clearly contributed to a career-high BB/9 rate (3.82).

Expecting Hernandez’s velocity to return to early-career levels (95 mph), however, is not realistic. Perhaps with an offseason in which, by all accounts, Hernandez has put in more work and preparation than ever before, we’ll see his velocity tick up 1-1.5 mph, which would put him back in the range of his ’13 season, in which he produced a 2.14 ERA and 9.5 K/9. With his natural movement, a little uptick in velocity could go a long ways. But that natural movement also means that an uptick in command could also go along ways, even if the velocity gain doesn’t accompany it. Not yet 31 years old, it would be a mistake to think the end is near for Hernandez.

With Hernandez pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic in March, it’ll offer a nice look at what we might expect to see from him during the ’17 season. Currently going off the board in Yahoo ADP as the No. 29 starting pitcher, it appears that the fantasy community is betting on a rebound – after all, Hernandez finished as the No. 29 starter in ’15, going 18-8 with a 3.53 ERA and 8.52 K/9. That’s a little bullish for my comfort level, as I’d be thinking about him in the mid-to-late 30s. But again, for those drafting in late March, we should have a pretty good idea by then of what Hernandez we’ll be getting in ’17.

Q: Can Jean Segura come close to duplicating last season’s career-best campaign?

As a rookie with the Brewers in ’13, Segura produced a 3.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), good for 49th best among all offensive players that season. He followed that up with two seasons of replacement-level production (combined 0.3 WAR), before his career rebounded in a major way last season, generating a 5.0 WAR with Arizona (good for 22nd-best among hitters). So, for half of his MLB career, Segura has produced upper class offensive numbers while playing mostly a premium position – he played shortstop in Milwaukee before moving to, primarily, second base for the Diamondbacks last season. The other half of the time, he’s been marginal. So what way will the scales tip in ’17?

The good news is that he got better as the ’16 season progressed, producing a .954 second-half OPS that was 10th-best among all qualified hitters. On the downside, his combined OPS from ABs at home in Chase Field and in road games at Coors Field was over .900, while his combined OPS for all other ABs was under .800. But let’s not act like his non-Chase/Coors OPS (.798) was chopped liver, as that would have ranked top 10 among regular shortstops, right ahead of Cleveland’s much-beloved Francisco Lindor (.794).

It’s fair to expect a bit of regression in the power numbers in Segura’s new home base, though Chase Field and Safeco Field home run factors for right-handed hitters were pretty similar last season, and with Segura only 26 years old, who’s to say he’s not entering into a power phase of his career. But I think fantasy owners would be prudent to temper expectations offensively, because the track record for offensive success at Chase Field definitely trumps Safeco Field. And, expected to hit No. 2 in front of Robinson Cano, the Sabermetrically-inclined Mariners probably won’t look to green light Segura on the base paths as often as Arizona turned him loose – the Diamondbacks attempted twice as many steals as the M’s in ’16 (168 to 84).

Something in the neighborhood of .280 with 15 home runs, 20-25 steals and 90-plus runs is a fair projection for Segura’s ’17 campaign. Again, not chopped liver. Last season, a line like that would have pushed top 60 offensive value in roto leagues, and would have ranked top 9 among fantasy shortstops, which is around Segura’s early ADP – I think the fantasy community is spot on.

Q: Whose on first?

Last year, the M’s ran a platoon of primarily Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee at first base, and a straight platoon is again in the cards at the No. 3 spot in Seattle, only this time around it will feature rookie lefty Dan Vogelbach and 32-year-old veteran, now playing for his sixth MLB team, Danny Valencia.

If the platoon holds up, there’s likely to be a “nothing to see here, move along” situation for fantasy purposes. But Vogelbach has just 12 career ABs at the MLB level, so his sustainability for ’17 is in question. And Valencia, who produced a .792 OPS in ’16, has delivered a serviceable .741 OPS vs. right-handed pitchers (.866 vs. LHP) over the past three seasons, so he could very well assume an every-day role if Vogelbach’s game doesn’t take off right away. And if that turns out to be the case, Valencia would have deeper mixed league appeal.

Notes: James Paxton’s finish to ’16 offers reason for optimism heading into ’17. From July 21st through the end of the season, the M’s 28-year-old southpaw produced a borderline top 20 fantasy starting pitcher line, going 4-3, with a 3.19 ERA a 1.03 WHIP and 71 K in 67.2 IP. … Still just 25 years old, Catcher Mike Zunino was top 5 among backstops in post-break homers (10) and was also top 10 at the position in second-half OPS (.755) and Walks (20).

Mariners Projected Lineup

Jarrod Dyson, LF

Jean Segura, SS

Robinson Cano, 2B

Nelson Cruz, DH

Kyle Seager, 3B

Danny Valencia/Dan Vogelbach, 1B

Mitch Haniger, RF

Mike Zunino, C

Leonys Martin, CF

Mariners Projected Rotation

SP Felix Hernandez

SP Drew Smyly

SP Hisashi Iwakuma

SP James Paxton

SP Yovani Gallardo

CL Edwin Diaz