While most of the positions seem to be locked up, there are a couple of battles that are worth watching.
Starting Rotation: Who is going to be the fifth starter?
The top three are almost set in stone with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Wade Miley. After that you have to believe that Taijuan Walker has the upper hand for the fourth spot. From there, it will come down to former Tampa Bay Rays starter, Nate Karns and former top prospect James Paxton.
Karns is coming off a break-out season in 2015 ( 7-5, 3.67 ERA). The former Washington Nationals prospect started 26 games for the Rays before being shut down at the end of the season. The M’s thought they had lost Iwakuma to the Los Angeles Dodgers so they went out and traded for Miley and Karns. After a failed physical, they were able to get Iwakuma back and thus set up a battle for rotation spots. Karns threw just 147 innings a year ago and Paxton missed almost the entire year with a finger injury.
Paxton burst on to the scene in 2013 going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts to finish the year. The last two years, he has only managed 13 starts each year due to injuries. This offseason he has lost around 20 pounds and is hoping the weight loss helps him stay healthy in 2016.
The battle for the fifth and final spot will be a fun battle to watch, but will ultimately come down to who can stay healthy throughout the year. Having six quality starting pitchers will give the M’s flexibility to spot start whoever doesn’t win the fifth spot to help keep arms healthy.
First Base: Who is going to back up Adam Lind?
Lind was brought in to be the starter, but he struggles against lefties (career .213 average) so there is an opening for at-bats if someone can prove they can handle that job. Jesus Montero, Dae-ho Lee and Gaby Sanchez are the likely candidates to battle to be Lind’s backup.
Montero, once a top prospect, has worked very hard to get in shape and become a decent glove at first base. His biggest problem has been hitting in the big leagues. Last year in Triple-A, he slashed .355/.398/.569 with 18 home runs in 98 games. In 28 games in Seattle last season he slashed .223/.250/.411 with five home runs and a 32/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio (it’s never good to strike out eight times as often as you walk). While he has put up good numbers throughout the minor leagues it hasn’t transferred into success at the top level. If he can prove in spring training that he can be more consistent, then Montero likely will have a bench role come Opening Day.
The latest addition to the Mariners is Korean slugger, Dae-ho Lee. Lee comes to the M’s after playing 15 seasons in Korea and Japan. He has a career slash line of .303/.387/.514, and is coming off a season which he hit 31 home runs at 33 years old. If he can prove to be able to hit MLB pitching and Montero slips at all, he will be a big key for the M’s going into 2016.
Gaby Sanchez spent last season playing in Japan. He is a career .290 hitter against lefties, so he will have a chance to battle for playing time if Montero and Lee cant get the job done.