With Spring Training just around the corner, let's open the Inbox and answer fans' questions.
Robinson Cano broke his toe last offseason and had a slow start. Do you think he starts off better this season?
-- Tyson M., Maple Valley, Wash.
I do expect Cano to get off to a better start this year, simply because he's never had as bad a first half offensively as he endured last season, and he hit very well in the second half, so there's no reason to think that the one really bad start he's had in 11 years in the Majors will suddenly become a pattern.
Last year's early struggles had nothing to do with his broken toe, however, since that was fully healed long before he reported to camp. He's probably had a tougher offseason this year, given he had double hernia surgery in October. But he's fully recovered from that as well and has been working out without any issues. Cano's early problems last year seemed more to do with him trying too hard to pull the ball instead of using the whole field, which is something he got back to doing when he hit .330 with 17 homers and a .920 OPS over his last 82 games.
How much do pitchers throw during the offseason? Are they shut down for a length of time?
-- Shane A., Hesperia, Calif.
Every pitcher has his own program, but most take the first two months off from throwing and then start playing catch and gradually begin building back up around the first of the year. By the time camp opens, most will have thrown off the mound in a bullpen session a couple of times. There are quite a few pitchers at the Mariners' complex in Peoria, Ariz., already throwing and working out so they'll be ready when they hit the practice field for the first time on Feb. 20.
Are non-roster invitees to Major League camps paid? Assuming so, but what is the typical structure of the contracts?
-- Jackson W., Seattle
Being a non-roster invitee means those players aren't on the 40-man roster, so they're signed to Minor League contracts, which are significantly less than a big league deal. If any of those players makes the final cut to the 25-man roster that breaks camp, they have to be added to the 40-man roster at that time and be paid at the Major League level. For young players with limited service time, that minimum is currently $507,500 a year. But most veterans who agree to non-roster invitation have a higher salary written into their deal that kicks in if they make the club.
If you were a betting man, over or under on 90-plus wins by the Mariners this season?
-- Jonathan C., Tacoma, Wash.
I like what the Mariners have done this offseason, but I'd easily take the under on 90 wins. Heck, the Rangers won the American League West with 88 wins last season. The Royals (95) and Blue Jays (93) were the only AL teams over 90, so that's a pretty high bar for a club that went 76-86 last year. I think a realistic goal for the Mariners is to get in the mid-80s win range this year and be in the hunt for a playoff spot at the end. If you get in that range, you never know what might happen.
We've heard a lot about Boog Powell, but wasn't Nathan Karns the centerpiece of the Rays' deal for the Mariners?
-- Brian B., Bellingham, Wash.
Powell was at Mariners FanFest and also took part in an MLB-wide Rookie Career Development Program earlier in the winter that got some publicity, but, indeed, Karns figures as the guy in that trade who'll make the most impact for the Mariners this year. You can expect to hear a lot about Karns as soon as camp opens next week, as the 28-year-old right-hander will be competing for the final spot in the rotation with James Paxton, and that figures to be one of Seattle's key roster battles this spring.
Is Shawn O'Malley in the mix to make the club as a utility guy?
-- Jake S., Columbia Heights, Minn.
After playing well as a September callup last year, the 28-year-old from Richland, Wash., will have a chance to compete with Chris Taylor and newly acquired Luis Sardinas for the utility role. O'Malley's advantage is he can play the outfield if needed, as well as second and third base. But his challenge will be proving he can play shortstop well enough to be the backup infielder, and both Taylor and Sardinas are more natural shortstops. That is another competition that should be interesting.
Just wondering if you're going to have the 'Inbox' during the season this year? It's awesome, and it's nice to get insight during the season.
-- Jeff P., Yokosuka, Japan
Thanks, I appreciate that very much. In the past, I've usually worked in an Inbox about once a month during the season. It's harder to fit them in when there are games and news to report every day, but I like the idea of doing them more often and will try to do that this year if there are good questions to answer!