WALLA WALLA — With Seattle buzzing at a chance to watch the Seahawks play in the Super Bowl, the Mariners are gearing up for one of their most hyped campaigns in recent history.
The M’s open their season 10 days after the Super Bowl, as pitchers and catchers will report to Peoria, Ariz., for the start of spring training.
With the season around the corner, the Mariners Caravan made a stop at Whitman College’s Sherwood Center on Thursday. Pitchers Charlie Furbush and Brandon Maurer, along with former player and current broadcaster Mike Blowers, came to Walla Walla to discuss the upcoming campaign.
And after an offseason chalked full of acquisitions, the trio had a lot to discuss.
“I’ve seen all of it for quite a long time,” Blowers said. “My roots go all the way back to 1992 with this club, but I think it’s an exciting time. When you think of the signing of (Robinson) Cano and having Felix at the top of your rotation and seeing some of the young talent start to emerge … I think you have to be excited about the expectations of this club moving forward.”
The M’s made the splash of the offseason, as they signed Cano to the third-largest contract in MLB history — a 10-year, $240 million deal. Cano, a five-time All-Star second baseman, batted .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs last season with the Yankees.
The Mariners are counting on Cano to bolster a lineup that finished last in batting average and 12th in runs scored in the American League.
Both Furbush and Maurer were pumped about what the talented slugger could bring to the lineup and the fact they don’t have to see him in the batter’s box anytime soon.
“I’m glad I don’t have to face him anymore,” Furbush said.
Outside of Cano, the Mariners also brought in new manager Lloyd McClendon. McClendon, who served as the Detroit Tigers hitting coach for the past seven seasons, boasts a 336-446 record while managing the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001-05.
Furbush, who played in Detroit with McClendon before being traded to Seattle in 2011, said McClendon is the right man for the job.
“I talked to him a couple times on the phone and I met him in Seattle a month ago,” Furbush said. “He’s excited. I’m excited. He’s a great guy and I think he’s going to really fit the job well.”
McClendon, who was known for being a fiery manager during his time in Pittsburgh, will be counted on to help a young roster realize its potential.
Blowers, who played under former manager Lou Piniella, said McClendon will bring a nard-nosed style to the team, but he wanted to give McClendon time before comparing the two.
“I’ll wait to see how Lloyd does,” Blowers said. “It’s one thing to go through the interview process and it’s another thing to be a coach. I’ve been around Lloyd and he seems that way, but I really want to see how he handles situations. I played for Lou, he was awesome, I really enjoyed that time. But I hate to compare the two until we give Lloyd a chance to go out there and see what he can do.”
The Mariners also added outfielder Corey Hart and first baseman Logan Morrison during the offseason. Hart, who missed all of 2013 while recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, is a career .276 hitter with 154 home runs and 508 RBIs during his nine-year career.
The Mariners acquired Morrison in a trade with the Miami Marlins for pitcher Carter Capps. Morrison, who was once considered one of the Marlins’ top prospects, has also battled knee issues in the past. He batted .242 last season in 85 games played.
Blowers said the new acquisitions will help, but the newcomers can’t do it by themselves.
“Overall, I think they’re taking steps forward,” Blowers said. “But this is another year where they’re done talking about all the young talent and it’s time to move forward on the win-loss column. I’m excited to see how they’re going to do that.”
Players are also looking forward to what the new-look M’s can do.
“To be honest, I don’t even know yet,” Maurer said. “We got to see how it all works in spring. I know it’s going to be exciting.”
Blowers is also high on young players already on the roster. He said third baseman Kyle Seager will be a “mainstay” after he batted .260 with 22 homers and a team-high .338 on-base percentage.
Blowers also said he was looking forward to seeing the progression of 24-year-old shortstop Brad Miller and 22-year-old catcher Mike Zunino.
But he also said some entrenched players will have to step up.
“(Dustin) Ackley and (Justin) Smoak, those guys are going to have pick it up,” Blowers said. “But that being said, you add Hart and Cano, that’s a big improvement right away. But those two guys can’t get it done by themselves.”
With Felix Hernandez headlining the rotation, the M’s pitching staff will have to navigate the explosive AL West. With the Rangers bringing in Prince Fielder and the Angels featuring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Seattle hurlers know the divisional competition is chalked full of talent.
“It’s always been competitive,” Furbush said of the division. “Being here the last two years and seeing how many close games we’ve played with all those teams, sometimes we’re just one hit away or one pitch away. I think all the experience the team has gone through (is) just making us better for the future. We’re ready to make some noise this year.”
With the Seahawks playing across the street from Safeco Field, Furbush is hoping the 12th man’s fervor can carry over to the baseball diamond.
“That’s the plan,” Furbush said. “It’s nice when they got the 12th man playing next door. Hopefully we can get the 10th man going this year.”