With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Mariners squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?
SEATTLE -- As the Mariners gear up for the start of Spring Training next week, one thing is clear. This won't be the same stodgy Seattle squad that ranked 24th in the Majors in stolen bases last year and had one of the worst defensive and base-running teams in baseball.
The biggest difference in manager Scott Servais' team in his second season will be the way he can attack opponents with speedsters Jarrod Dyson and Jean Segura at the top of his lineup and defend the outfield with the athletic Dyson and Mitch Haniger flanking Leonys Martin.
"What's the value of being athletic?" Servais asked. "It's just a lot of winning games in different ways, not being so reliant on the home run or the big doubles to get you over it. It helps in run prevention. It helps creating more havoc on the bases and being less comfortable to play against.
"I want us to be uncomfortable to other teams," he said. "That's the goal here."
It's a goal Servais spoke about last spring, but it became clear that Seattle had work to do once the regular season got started. The Mariners expected Norichika Aoki to pester opposing teams from the leadoff spot last year and shortstop Ketel Marte to use his speed as a weapon as well.
But Aoki was thrown out on nine of 16 stolen base attempts, and Servais eventually gave him the red light on the basepaths. Marte was 11-for-16 on steal attempts, but he hit just .259 with a .287 on-base percentage and thus didn't give himself much of an opportunity to run.
Enter general manager Jerry Dipoto's two biggest offensive offseason acquisitions: Jean Segura was acquired from the D-backs to replace Marte, and Dyson came from Kansas City to fill Aoki's spot in left field.
And suddenly a Seattle squad that totaled just 56 stolen bases in 2016 has two players who combined to swipe 63 bags last year. Dyson, despite being used in a part-time role for much of his time with the Royals, has averaged 31.2 stolen bases over the past five years and was 30-for-37 last year.
Segura hit .319 with a .368 OBP in '16 while going 33-for-43 in stolen-base attempts. He's averaged over 30 stolen bases per season over his last four years.
Combined with Martin, who led Seattle with 24 swiped bags, the Mariners suddenly feature a much different lineup and should have plenty of men on base ahead of 3-4-5 hitters Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
"It gives us a speed dynamic at the 9-1-2 part of our lineup that really changes the way we can play," Dipoto said. "It gives us an opportunity to play a faster, more electric game that we've talked about for most of the last year and a half. It's something we're excited to do."
The Mariners led the Majors last year with a club-record 60 one-run games. They went 30-30 in those contests, but they can certainly improve their chances if they find more ways to win the squeakers. And the need for speed in those type of games is apparent.
"It's going to be another weapon that we needed," Segura said. "We have a lot of power hitters with Nelly, Robbie, Seager. I think it's going to be good to see guys like me and Dyson steal some bases so we can play a smaller game when the big boys aren't getting homers. It's a different way to win some ballgames. If we want to go to the playoffs and make things happen, we'll have to do those little things to help us win games."
Mariners pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout on Feb. 15 at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Ariz., and the first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 19.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.