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Hard as it might be to imagine, baseball season is once again upon us. With little less than one month separating baseball’s official return, teams have migrated south towards warm climates for Spring Training. While most every team looks good in the warm weather, and incoming prospects and new-look lineups can make even the most cynical fans optimistic about their team’s chances, we decided to sift through the rubble to find 10 teams worth getting excited about this spring. Every season, there are contenders and pretenders, and every year there are teams that seemingly make the playoffs out of nowhere. Last year, the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates surprised almost everyone with improbable playoff runs, and the Oakland Athletics continue to shock the baseball world by excelling on just a shoestring budget. With 30 teams and only eight playoff spots, it can be difficult to choose which teams to watch for, and which teams to leave behind. The following list has some of the usual suspects, but also a few teams to keep on your radar as the season draws near. So get your peanuts ready, baseball is back. Here are 10 teams you need to watch.
10. Seattle Mariners – Estimated Payroll: $81.2 Million
The Mariners have yet to sniff the playoffs since 2001. Since that time, a once supportive fan base has grown apathetic and disgruntled. Long overdue for a splash, the Mariners made the biggest ripple in all of baseball this offseason, beating out the New York Yankees for Robinson Cano – baseball’s top free agent. With one of the top talents in the game inked for 10 years on a $240 million contract, the Mariners have provided fans at least a glimmer of hope moving forward. The M’s also added former All-Star slugger Corey Hart and first baseman Logan Morrison, and brought in an entire new coaching staff, led by new skipper Lloyd McClendon
Seattle’s incoming talent will mesh with a very young core of players. After years of futility, the Mariners have stockpiled talented prospects in hopes of contending down the line. With almost all of those former top-tier prospects now in the majors, the future has become the present for Seattle. Formerly heralded prospects like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton will all play major roles in deciding whether the M’s can contend with the powerhouse teams in the AL West. And while it may be a stretch to expect big things from a team loaded with youngsters, the Mariners do have the fixings to be a surprise contender this season. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma provide a formidable one-two punch atop the team’s rotation, while Robinson Cano and Corey Hart should slot in well with the team’s young hitters.
It’s quite possible the Mariners end up in the cellar of the AL West once again this season, but with Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and a mess of promising youngsters, this team could be a surprising one this season. Stay tuned.