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Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Seattle Mariners
What if this is the year Felix Hernandez falters?
Be thankful your competitors fear that possibility. They'll point to his workload and velocity dip as prime warning signs. On the surface, it makes sense.
But his 2012 campaign serves as a microcosm for what overrides those concerns. He's darn talented, and he's smart. He'll turn a "baseball old" 27 in April - he made his debut in 2005, after all - but while he's the Hanley Ramirez of his position, he's maturing at a much more tangible rate than the batting doppelganger has.
While an extension with the M's is up in the air, you should lock up your trust in Hernandez. That mph dip in his four-seam stuff doesn't necessarily point to fatigue. His arsenal is quite diverse, if you haven't noticed, and while a shrinking fastball-changeup separation could jeopardize his stuff, it's not going to cripple him considering his increased DJ abilities on the mound.
While mixing, he actually built up his fastball velocity as last year went on, and he relied plenty more on his cutter - which, again, is the chic pitch for MLB effectiveness lately. His 10.6 swinging strike percentage matched his 2009 number, his apex in a full season; he's not doing it all with his No. 1, but adding the Mariano Rivera special makes up for any drawbacks the elite profile hints at elsewhere.
If your competitors let the King fall to a borderline-ace pick or price (he may just by the way things fall among top SPs), or if the positional market slides back a few rounds, snatch him up, because he still boasts a regal bloodline.
Who'll feel safe within Safeco Field's revised dimensions?
Right-handers will look forward to testing the park's first main facelift since its 1999 inception, chiefly in two areas. There'll be a significant reduction in the distance to the left-center-field power alley down to a manageable 378. Also, in the left-field corner, the 16-foot hand-operated scoreboard will change locations, and there'll be a universal eight-foot stature across the outfield.
ESPN.com's Stats and Information department notes the ridiculous stat that no right-handed hitter clubbed a single homer to tright field last year, so those bats will continue relying on pulling the rawhide.
Mike Morse will need to get more lift to the third-base side; his fly-ball split has been underwhelming, and he'll need serious fortune to sustain his power, which despite being natural has been inflated. Though he has some opposite-field tendencies, as well, Jesus Montero showed his bulk to left and center more often last year. Expect that to continue for the breakout candidate.
Lefty bats may need more inside-out connections to maximize the stadium's changes, because center field and RF's power alley each will be coming in only four feet. The stadium already had been more difficult on left-handed bats.
The switch-hitting Kendrys Morales has accounted for most of his power from the left box, which takes a bit of luster from his new situation. But he's posted fortunate HR/FB rates while calling an unfavorable environment home, so it may not detract much from his midrange price. Dual-boxer Justin Smoak also has a smidge more hope of reminding us he exists but carries the same environmental concerns Morales bears.
You should be more concerned with the continued effect on fringe homer hitters. Kyle Seager directed only one to the opposite field last year, but all five of the homers he hit at home last year were classified as "plenty" by his ESPN Home Run Tracker page, so maybe his natural liner style and growing ability will translate into more fence clearings. Bet on him continuing to rely on RBIs for value, though.
Though they're still decent dice rolls, fly-ball pitchers at Safeco don't provide as cozy an aura anymore. Maybe right-handers will have more luck there because lefty-loaded lineups will run into more atmospheric resistance.
Fortunately, in most cases, streaming Safeco slingers won't become necessary until we get a better sample of how the park plays. Of course, the Pacific Northwest dampness will continue rearing its ugly head.
How will Seattle dispense playing time at catcher ... and first base ... and designated hitter ... and outfield?
Spaghetti at the wall? Well, that's at least the case with Jason Bay.
The expected majority workers at each diamond spot will be Montero (catcher), Smoak (first base) and Morales (designated hitter). A typical outfield will consist of Morse and Michael Saunders at the corners and Franklin Gutierrez in center. Bay, Raul Ibanez and Casper Wells will be mixed in.
Much of this arrangement rests on Smoak's ability to do ... something. Will Seattle remain patient if he stumbles again? They have plenty of warm bodies - if not necessarily alluring ones - as insurance if Smoak dissipates and they reorganize the lineup.
The distantly post-hype prospect added a bit of muscle this winter, but you can't be faulted for remaining skeptical. Of course, it's situations like this when long-forgotten players bust through. AL-only players have the most impetus to consider him, maybe mixers in leagues of 15-plus teams, as well.
Though the organization remains adamant that Montero can develop into a competent receiver, Mike Zunino may elbow his way into backstop work soon after camp, if not during it. Zunino isn't at a point in his learning curve where he'll immediately become a top fantasy name among catchers, but he has a sound overall makeup that'll provide useful C2 at-bats at some point this year.
Saunders and, to a lesser degree, Gutierrez could each prove useful as fifth dual-universe outfielders. The others remain waiver wire pieces.
Where should I rank Tom Wilhelmsen among closers?
Well, generally, he belongs in the mishmash tier of not-so-secure stoppers, which seems to have more members this year than many in recent memory. There's little track record to speak of here, despite his K talents. Expect a drop in control; he's still a bit wild and faltered a bit as last season wore on. Lefties still tag him a tad, as well.
Seattle also has some capable up-and-coming RPs behind him in Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps and Shawn Kelley. Still, it's Wilhelmsen's gig to lose, and the uncertainty surrounding him will negate most of the potential mixed money loss for employing him.
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