(SportsNetwork.com) - The new-look Seattle Mariners will kick off the 2014 season on Monday with the first of three-games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium.
It's been no secret to what has ailed the Mariners in recent years and that has been their offense. So, after an acrimonious dismissal of manager Eric Wedge, general manager Jack Zduriencik hired former Detroit Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to run the club in an effort to help jumpstart an offense that ranked near the bottom of the AL in almost every important category in 2013.
But, that was just small potatoes in Zduriencik's plan to overhaul the lineup, as the Mariners made the biggest move in free agency this offseason, signing second baseman Robinson Cano away from the New York Yankees to the richest contract in team history at 10 years and $240 million.
Cano has been everything the Mariners had hoped for this spring, as he hit .429 with 13 RBI in 17 games.
The Mariners were, in fact, linked to virtually every major free agent on the market along with several intriguing trade targets. They may not have added that other part to compliment Cano, but did land deals with outfielders Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
Two players who were certainly on board with an improved lineup would be righties Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Hernandez was actually overshadowed by his teammate last season, as the two of them formed perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the American League.
While Iwakuma will start the season on the disabled list, Hernandez will be on the hill Monday, making his team-record seventh Opening Day start and sixth in a row.
Both marks eclipse the former franchise benchmarks set by Randy Johnson.
Hernandez put forth another terrific season for the woeful Mariners last season, going 12-10 with a 3.04. But for the second straight year he struggled down the stretch and was 1-6 over his final eight starts with a 5.77 ERA.
He had been 0-4 over his final six appearances in 2012.
"You always are looking for the right balance," Hernandez said.
Hernandez, meanwhile, will be opposed by righty Jered Weaver, who will be making his sixth Opening Day start and fifth in a row, which sets a club record and moves him past Mike Witt.
Weaver struggled through some injuries in 2013 and went 11-8 with a 3.27 ERA in 24 starts.
After two offseasons of spending an awful lot of money, Los Angeles tried a different approach this past winter.
The Angels had handed out over $440 million to Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton. But, for a myriad of reasons, mostly injuries, it hasn't worked out and the Angels stumbled to their second straight third-place finish last year, going 78-84.
Now an Angels franchise that won a World Series in 2002 and had been to the playoffs in six of eight years has missed the postseason in four straight years, despite a roster that reads almost like an All-Star team.
The team made a few minor moves this offseason, sending slugging outfielder Mark Trumbo to Arizona for a pair of young starting pitchers, while speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos was dealt to St. Louis for David Freese.
Mike Scioscia is a two-time AL Manager of the Year and has generally been considered one of the better skippers in the game since assuming the reins in L.A. back in 2000.
Still, owner Arte Moreno's patience has to be wearing thin and coupled with the fact that Scioscia doesn't exactly get along with general manager Jerry DiPoto, you have to think that the Angels better get off to a fast start.
Still, lost in this downtime has been the emergence of outfielder Mike Trout, who has quite simply become the best all-around player in the game. Despite the team's struggles, Trout had another tremendous season and finished second again in AL MVP voting.
Trout was rewarded on Saturday with a six-year extension that will reportedly pay him $144.5 million. The deal, which doesn't kick in until the start of the 2015 season, buys out three arbitration years and three free-agent years. It includes a full no-trade clause but no additional option years, making Trout a free agent again at age 29.
The Angels were 11-8 against the Mariners last season.