PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Seattle Mariners were a popular postseason pick last year. They didn't reach that level. This year, they might not be as popular, but they do seem more plausible as a postseason contender.
There is a solid core of players in place from the administration of former general manager Jack Zduriencik. To this, new general manager Jerry Dipoto has made additions that look more like substance than flash.
The 2016 Mariners should have a deeper rotation. The outfield should be more athletic, which would seem like a completely logical direction, given the spacious dimensions of Safeco Field. So the defense should be improved.
Seattle would be helped greatly by a return to complete-season form of second baseman Robinson Cano. After a slash line of .251/.290/.370 in the first half of 2015, Cano recovered in the second half with .331/.387/.540, so his direction offered encouragement.
The addition of left fielder Norichika Aoki at the top of the order should help create run-scoring opportunities. Aoki has a career .353 on-base percentage and strikes out only once every 11.68 at-bats. In Wednesday's 13-12 loss to the Athletics, he started a three-run rally with a double and a four-run rally with a single.
One way or another, the Mariners should have an improved offense. In the past four seasons, their American League ranking in runs scored has been 15th, 12th, tied for 11th and 13th. Ballpark effects aside, this should be the season when Seattle's offense takes a step forward.
A 13-12 Cactus League loss to Oakland on Wednesday night seemed to support that notion. The Mariners scored 11 runs in the first five innings. But this game didn't do much for Seattle starter Nathan Karns, who is in the hunt for the No. 5 rotation spot. He gave up nine runs, seven of them earned, in 2 1/3 innings. In fact, there wasn't much help for pitchers from either club.
"We had a rough time with the shutdown inning tonight, which I think is an understatement," said manager Scott Servais, who at least had retained his sense of humor.
Servais noted that all was not a disaster, since the Mariners did get impressive scoreless innings from setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Steve Cishek.
Beyond pitching, defense and hitting, a question the Mariners have that isn't industry-wide is simply: How will it all jell?
There is a new baseball administration. There are a sizable number of new players. There is a new manager and largely, a new coaching staff.
Servais will be described as a rookie manager, but he has a substantial baseball history; as a big league catcher, then working in coaching, scouting and player development for four organizations, most recently working for Dipoto with the Angels as assistant general manager, scouting and player development.
In a situation like this, establishing an entirely new set of working relationships becomes a crucial component for success. Servais says that whatever else is happening with the Mariners, this aspect has been a plus.
"The absolute positive for me, what we've gotten out of camp so far, is me having an understanding and getting to know the personnel, and more importantly the personalities of the players," Servais said. "On the flip side, our players [are] getting comfortable with the coaching staff and myself. So I think we've done a very good job, we're in a really good spot as far as that goes.
"There is still going to be stuff that comes up, you have to go through the rhythm of a month or a half-season or whatever until you get completely comfortable. But we're in a good spot there. That was the goal coming in with so many new faces, it needed to happen and it needed to happen quickly, and I think we've accomplished that.
"That being said, I would love everybody 100 percent healthy, swinging the bats, throwing the ball great. But I am a realist. There will be some bumps in the road the last 10 days [of Spring Training]. There always are and nothing is ever perfect.
"But I'm really, really happy with where we're at. I think the players have all been very open and have bought in to the number of things we've thrown at them. And we've gotten very good feedback from them; on things that they've gone through in the past, in where they're at in their career; and where they ultimately want to get to. Line that up with where we need to get to as a team, and I think we've done a nice job."
The Mariners' postseason aspirations are legitimate. Next up will be consistently attaining the level of play good enough to get them to that level.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.