Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 3/15/13
Step up, or get out In 2012, the Mariners saw breakout seasons from guys like Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma and Tom Wilhelmsen. It also saw the departure of guys like Brandon League and Jason Vargas. With the plethora of players brought in this offseason, the front office has proven that they are not afraid to bring in fresh faces to replace the old. Looking forward to the upcoming 2013 season, here are some players facing make-or-break situations for the Mariners. A good year could keep these guys Mariners for a long time, and a bad one could see them released or shipped off. Michael Saunders, OF At 26 years old, Michael Saunders is entering his fourth season with the Mariners since first being called up during the 2009 season. Saunders has to be more consistent in 2013. A fleet-footed defender, Saunders has played all across the outfield for Seattle, and he’s done it quite well. But it’s with the bat that he continues to come up short. Saunders did enjoy a breakout year last season, coming within one home run of a 20-20 season. But while the left-hander enjoyed a strong start to the season he fizzled out down the stretch, hitting just .233/.287/.445 in the second half. The big concern with Saunders is patience. His OBP was a putrid .306 by season’s end, and sadly enough that’s his career high. Seattle wasn’t shy about their intentions to upgrade the outfield this offseason. It brought in Michael Morse, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, while attempting a trade for Arizona’s Justin Upton. Saunders will be a starter come opening day, but unless he can turn things around he may be the Mariner’s next piece of trade bait. Justin Smoak There’s always been so much potential in Justin Smoak. Acquired as the center piece in the Cliff Lee trade, Smoak was supposed to be the future offensive catalyst of the Mariners. Oh how the mighty have fallen. In 285 games with Seattle, Smoak has just 39 home runs, 120 RBI and an OPS of .686. At times he’s been a defensive liability, and his overall disappointing play has caused several demotions to the minors. Yet he continues to flash promise, especially at the beginning and end of the year. Smoak has a career .932 OPS in September, and he’s currently hitting .345 with two home runs in Spring Training. Despite the flashes, Seattle looks ready to move on if Smoak doesn’t pan out this year. It tried to get the ball rolling last year, making a run at Prince Fielder, and this year has brought in Morse (who can play first) and Kendrys Morales. The message to Smoak has to be clear: your days are numbered, so make the best of them or be gone. Dustin Ackley Despite all the hype, Dustin Ackley has been far from advertised after the Mariners selected him No. 2 overall in the 2009 amateur draft. The 25-year-old enters his third season as the M’s starting second baseman, and it could be his last. Despite a meteoric rise to the Majors, Ackley has produced a mere .243/.314/.360 slash line with the Big League club. In 243 games he has just 18 home runs and 19 stolen bases. Last year was a disaster for the left-hander. He finished the year with a .622 OPS, with no development in the second half of the season. In fact, he hit just .217 with a .606 OPS after the All Star Break. With younger options lining up, Wilhelmsen has to prove himself invaluable in 2013. With prospect Stefan Romero on his way up, and Kyle Seager capable of a move to second, it’s time for Ackley to prove his ceiling is still there. Tom Wilhelmsen It seems strange to have Tom Wilhelmsen’s name on this list. He was arguably Seattle’s best reliever last season, posting a 2.50 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 29 saves in 73 appearances. But at 28 years young, Wilhelmsen is one of the older members of Seattle’s stacked bullpen. Two of its younger members, are Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps. Pryor and Capps are your prototypical flamethrowers, and both can be considered the front-runner for the closer of the future. That’s tough news for Wilhelmsen, especially given the Mariner’s willingness to depart with established closers. One of Jack-Z’s first moves as GM was trading J.J. Putz in 2008, and just last year saw the departure of Brandon League to the Dodgers. If Wilhelmsen can net Seattle a reasonable return, it might not be long until we see his name on the trade block. That’s why it’s imperative that he proves how valuable he is to the team this season. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE MARINERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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