I am a fan of the Seattle Mariners. It is both a cursing and a curse.
The Mariners have finished in fourth place in the AL West in eight of the last 10 years, but if there's a silver lining to that cloud, it's that 2013 was at least the first of those years where they weren't in last place. Thanks, Astros! The M's scored the most runs this year in a season than they have since 2009, which is good.
The 624 runs they scored however, would be their lowest full season total prior to '09 since 1983. Which is bad.
The Mariners are bad.
Now transitioning from Eric Wedge to Lloyd McClendon, but not transitioning from Jack Zduriencik to some guy that's not Jack Z-hard-name-to-spell, what are we supposed to expect from the 2014 Seattle Mariners? Most people would tell you "Nothing" but I am not most people. Not when it comes to my eating habits, my television habits, or how I root for my favorite teams.
I try to believe go into every season with some semblance of faith. Recently that has worked for the Seattle Seahawks and failed horribly for the Mariners and the Washington State Cougars. Yet even the Cougars football team is actually threatening for a bowl berth with two games left in the year. Is it possible that the Mariners, a team whose core is young and with most of those players at one point considered to be good-to-great prospects also ready to compete for
a college football bowl game the MLB playoffs?
I don't know.
Some would say that the bowl game is more likely than the latter, but I'm hopeful. And you should keep that in mind when you read the following words, in which I try to tell you who the five best fantasy baseball players are for the 2014 season.
Three of these names were rather easy to come up with. Juggling the rest to come up with two more knowing full well that they'll come with an "if only" tag, was much harder.
The 2014 Seattle Mariners: We're gonna make this look much harder than it has to be!
These are the five guys I would target in 2014 fantasy circles off of the M's*, if indeed you were actually forced to do so.
*Seattle is almost certain to be one of the three most active teams on the trade market this offseason, so anticipate that some of these players are about to get a whole lot better once they are no longer in Seattle!
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
Back in 2005, the Mariners called up a 19-year-old pitcher named Felixernando Herlenzuela and he set the world afire. Kind of. Not really.
Back in 2005, Felix Hernandez was the best baseball player in the world that was not presently playing the major leagues. They changed that fact when they called up Hernandez to start a game in Detroit against the Tigers on August 4. He pitched five innings, allowed three hits, one earned run, struck out four and walked two. Again, he was 19. If he had been caught looking at a nudie magazine just two years earlier, he would have been thrown in the slammer.
I'll never forget when he was called up. I was working a summer job at a ranch in Colorado and living in a barn. They had ONE computer and ONE dial-up internet connection in the whole place. Yes, we had to call the internet and hope that it answered just to be able to do simple things like add players in our fantasy leagues. I made damn sure that Felix was mine and nobody else could have him.
Back then, you may recall that often players did not exist on Yahoo! Sports until they had actually debuted in the majors. It's not anything like it is today. I saved up my waiver priority all year long and snagged Felix as soon as I could. That meant that I couldn't start Felix for his first career start, but I have started him ever since.
Yes, that was in a keeper league and eight years later, he's still my damn number one starter. Trade proposals involving Felix don't even get looked at properly. I may not be good at managing my fantasy team, but I already told you, I'm a Seattle Mariners fan.
This season, Felix posted the best K/9 (9.5) and best BB/9 (2.0) of his career and he still only finished eighth in the Cy Young voting. It's beyond reason that the King would be overshadowed by one of his own teammates, but the 2013 season was beyond reason.
Felix Hernandez has not turned 28 yet. By the time Randy Johnson was 28, his most notable accomplishment was three straight seasons of leading the league in walks. Roy Halladay had only pitched two full seasons when he was 28. Cliff Lee was mostly a major disappointment.
Maybe we've seen the best of Felix. It certainly wouldn't be the first case of a player being better in his twenties than he ever was again. But then again maybe, just maybe, we haven't seen the best.
It's still possible that this is only just the beginning.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
I'm one of the few left that believe Jack Z is one of the best general managers in baseball. When people say that Jack sucks at his job, they point out to the "fact" that he can't make a good free agent signing. I'm not exactly sure why being Japanese precludes a person from being a "free agent."
Not only did Jack sign Iwakuma, he signed him twice.
The latest deal makes Iwakuma one of the best bargains in baseball, akin to the same deal that Jose Bautista got with the Toronto Blue Jays a couple years back that everybody loves. In his first full season as starter, Iwakuma cut down on walks, hits allowed, and raised strikeouts. He posted a 2.66 ERA and went 14-6 for a team that went 71-91.
Repeatable? Sure. Probeatable? As in probable-repeatable? As in, I make up words now? Maybe, maybe not.
Though 'kuma bested Felix in the Cy Young race and ERA, the King's 6.0 WAR bested 'sashi's 4.2. Felix's FIP was significantly better (2.61 to 3.44) thanks to fewer homers, a worse BABIP against, and fewer players left-on-base. Imagining 'ashIwa' putting up 13-15 wins and an ERA around 3.30 seems fair, with respectable strikeout and walk numbers.
Imagining him beating Felix in the Cy Young standings again seems krrrrrrazy!
3. Kyle Seager, 3B
Seems like there was a little bit of a debate around the FakeTeams crew as to whether or not third base was a deep position or not, but I can say that 13 qualified third baseman posted a wRC+ of at least 100 in 2013. That includes the 100 of Todd Frazier and if the 13th-best hitting third baseman has 19 home runs, that's a pretty solid offensive position.
Even Manny Machado finished at just 101 and everyone expects improvement there.
Seager's mark of 113 places him in a tie with Chase Headley for eighth and his 22 home runs are good for seventh-best at the position. Not bad for a guy that wouldn't have made most Top 100 prospect lists and was routinely ignored as any kind of "threat" among prospect circles because he was "good not great."
Going into 2012 as a possible utility player for life, Seager first showed that he was better than Chone Figgins (the least a person can do) and then showed that he was better than all of the other Mariners hitters (the least any team can prove) but he's still very, very good.
"Very, very good, not great"?
Who knows what he will become. Seager only recently turned 26 and he's hit at least 20 home runs and 30 doubles in each of his first two full seasons. If he gets a little bit better at the plate and the M's lineup gets a little bit better around him, it's not crazy to think that he could be a regular 270/340/450 hitter with 25-30 home runs, 90-100 RBI and 80-90 runs. Considering that he's only gotten better during ever single season of his professional career, including the minors, it's even possible that one day Seager becomes great-great-great.
4. Brad Miller, SS
Another example of a player that has been widely ignored because his tools scream "good" but not "great"? Miller has often seemed to be a carbon copy of Seager throughout his career and once again could be overlooked as everyone keeps expecting "that one season where finally starts to fail."
Miller seemed to rack up a ton of two-hit games during his rookie season and ended up finishing with a line of .265/.318/.418, eight HR, 36 RBI, 11 2B, 6 3B, 5 SB and 41 R in 76 games. He posted a wRC+ of 103 which if he had qualified, would have ranked fifth among shortstops in the majors, just behind Jean Segura.
Maybe third base is deeper than we think, but shortstop definitely isn't.
Miller's 116-game pace would have him at 17 HR, 173 hits, 23 doubles, 13 triples, 11 stolen bases and 87 runs. That would be the second-most runs for shortstops, and we are talking about the 2013 Seattle Mariners here. With a full season atop the lineup plus some better hitters behind him, it's not outlandish to think that 20 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 90 runs are well within reach for Miller.
While many expect Seattle to deal one of Nick Franklin or Dustin Ackley, it seems that Miller is here to stay. Whether or not that's a good thing for Miller, we don't know, but he handled himself pretty well in Safeco last year. He could definitely be on his way to continuously copying Seager.
And hey, that's not a bad thing!
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP
At times last year Justin Smoak wasn't just good for Justin Smoak, but he was downright good. He even had his best career season and posted an OPS+ of 113 with 20 home runs and if he just doubled those home runs he might be as good as I had once expected him to be! At this point, I'm just fine with how he is and not expecting much more.
I think that Mike Zunino is going to be a very good sleeper candidate as a catcher that has the power to hit 30 home runs right now. I realize that he ended up hitting .214, but this was a guy that early in the minor league season was absolutely killing the ball better than everyone else. He could be a great sleeper for 2014 but hardly ready to be in talks to be one of the top five fantasy players on this team. Yes, even on this team. (Not because of this team.)
Franklin is in a similar boat to Zunino and I think I'd repeat everything I said there except I'd change the names and positions to protect the innocent. Ackley ended up being perhaps even better than Seager for a spell, but just for a spell. Perhaps only an old-timey prospector would remember it though.
Taijuan comes up for the Mariners hotter than any prospect since that Felix guy on that fateful day in 2005. At barely-20 years of age, Walker debuted on August 30 against the Houston Astros, pitched five innings, allowed two hits, no earned runs, two strikeouts and one walk. He ended up pitching 15 innings, posted an ERA of 3.60 and struck out 12.
He is, in my biased opinion, the best pitching prospect in the world. His spot in the rotation for the start of next season, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. He will still have to earn that and earn it good, and the team has expressed much interest in adding a veteran starter in free agency or trade. With Felix and Iwakuma locking down two spots for certain, and assuming they add at least one more that's not presently on the 40-man roster, that only leaves two spots.
Ramirez, Paxton, Maurer, Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan all offer "safer" options for those two spots. Starting the season with Walker in the rotation means burning some of his time at the major league level and "starting his clock" sooner while also exposing him to better hitters than what he'll face in Tacoma thereby putting his "confidence at risk." It wouldn't matter to the team if they continuously destroyed the confidence of Noesi and Beavan and Ramirez plus Paxton would be a pretty phenomenal 4-5 in a rotation in theory while still protecting Walker.
But you can't keep a damn good player down.
Michael Pineda was the top pitching prospect in the organization two years ago and they weren't afraid to start him in the rotation to begin the year. Maurer was a very good prospect to open 2013 in the rotation. It seems more logical that Paxton would get the fifth spot but what Walker can do isn't logical at all.
Weeks or perhaps months after this article is published, I fully expect some of these players to be traded. Likely it will take away one spot in the rotation to a veteran but also clear out the riff-raff for a player like Walker to demand a spot on the major league roster. He's too good not to be there and if he is, he should be good enough to play on your fantasy team.
Maybe even good enough to help the M's compete next season. Just maybe.