Though they were a trendy to pick to win the AL West last year, the Mariners ended up finishing fourth, well out of the three-team race that developed between the Rangers, Astros and Angels. It ended up being the last stand for maligned GM Jack Zduriencik, who was replaced by Jerry Dipoto. And as Dipoto was known to do with the Angels, he went to work this offseason.

His first order of business was to bolster a starting rotation that too often had to rely on placeholder types like Mike Montgomery, Roenis Elias and Vidal Nuno. To that end, he acquired Wade Miley and Nate Karns -- a couple of overachiever types who could pass as middle-of-the-rotation types while making half their starts at a pitcher's park. One of them may even be excess if James Paxton, an untouchable prospect just two years ago, can stay on the mound for once.

The biggest move was nothing more than a stroke of good fortune. Longtime Felix Hernandez sidekick Hisashi Iwakuma was all ready to leave for the Dodgers until a physical turned up something they didn't like, allowing the Mariners to bring him back at a discount. He may not even be their second-best pitcher anymore with Taijuan Walker making waves.

The Mariners are going to need to get some innings out of their starting five, though, because one sacrifice Dipoto made was the bullpen, trading away three of the team's best relievers. He did acquire Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek on the cheap, but the latter is expected to fill the closer role despite bombing for the Marlins early last year and failing to regain his strikeout-per-inning stuff in a lesser role for the Cardinals. Definitely a risky choice.

The makeover of the Mariners' starting lineup was only slightly less dramatic, with Norichika Aoki, Leonys Martin, Adam Lind and Chris Iannetta replacing Mark Trumbo, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and Mike Zunino. It's not the flashiest foursome, but it better meets the Mariners' needs, improving their on-base percentage and defense.

Of course, if they're going to go anywhere in 2016, they're going to have to rely on two aging hitters trending in opposite directions. Nelson Cruz is coming off back-to-back career-best seasons but is 35 and a known injury risk. Robinson Cano's stock has fallen considerably since he left the Yankees, but his big second half, when he hit .331 with a .926 OPS, should assuage fears of a full-fledged collapse heading into the new season.

2016 projected lineup

1. Nori Aoki, LF
2. Kyle Seager, 3B
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Adam Lind, 1B
6. Seth Smith, RF
7. Chris Iannetta, C
8. Leonys Martin, CF
9. Ketel Marte, SS
Bench: Franklin Guterriez, OF
Bench: Jesus Montero, 1B

2016 projected rotation

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
3. Taijuan Walker, RHP
4. Wade Miley, LHP
5. Nathan Karns, RHP
Alt: James Paxton, LHP

2016 projected bullpen

1. Steve Cishek, RHP
2. Joaquin Benoit, RHP
3. Tony Zich, RHP
4. Charlie Furbush, LHP
5. Evan Scribner, RHP

Taijuan Walker
PHI • SP • #99
2015 STATS11-8, 4.56 ERA, 157 K, 169 2/3 IP, 1.20 WHIP
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Walker's 4.56 ERA in his first full season doesn't really jibe with the rest of his numbers and will distract the masses from what he accomplished over the final two-thirds of the season, turning his most glaring weakness into a strength. After issuing 23 walks in his first nine starts, he issued 17 in his final 20, including a total of four in the first 10. Efficiency became a key part of his game, which is especially rare for young pitchers and particularly those with big strikeout potential. His 0.98 WHIP during that stretch would have been even better if not for a late hiccup, which is typical for fledgling pitchers adjusting to a major-league workload. It's a skill set not too unlike Noah Syndergaard's, and given that Walker was an even higher-rated prospect in 2013 and 2014, it wouldn't be surprising to see him close the gap on the Mets youngster this year.

Nelson Cruz
SD • OF • #32
2015 STATS.302 BA, 44 HR, 93 RBI, 90 R, .936 OPS
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I called Cruz a bust the last two years, and he responded with career-best numbers each time, so I'm going to soften the language a bit this time and simply say "buyer beware." It doesn't mean you shouldn't draft him -- he's one of the top power hitters in the game today, after all -- but you should be aware of the risks. They're pretty much inherent for a player now on the wrong side of 35, so that same approach you've taken with David Ortiz the last few years you should probably take with Cruz. Oh, but Cruz hits for batting average, right? Only if you trust him to sustain a .350 BABIP, which is a bit much to ask from a player normally in the .290 range. You just don't see that kind of improvement at that age. The idea is to pay for expected production, not an outlier performance.

Hisashi Iwakuma
2015 STATS9-5, 3.54 ERA, 111 K, 129 2/3 IP, 1.06 WHIP

The Dodgers lead the charge on this one, backing out of a team-friendly contract because of something that showed up on a physical, and it's that mild injury concern that will further depress the value of what already figured to be a middle-round bargain. Iwakuma doesn't strike out a batter per inning, and because he's susceptible to the long ball, his ERA doesn't quite measure up to the elite either. But the numbers that have the greatest influence on a pitcher's Head-to-Head value are innings and wins, which explains how Collin McHugh ranked ahead of Carlos Carrasco last year. They're not the easiest stats to predict, which is why we don't give them much credence on Draft Day, but with his exceptional control, Iwakuma has proven time and time again that he can go seven with ease. It's how he averaged more Head-to-Head points per start last year than Syndergaard, Carrasco and Chris Archer, to name a few.

Prospects report

It's a good thing the Mariners are playing for today because tomorrow isn't looking so bright, not after their top two prospects fell flat on their faces last year.

Outfielder Alex Jackson, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, gets a pass because he's only now 20 and ... well, was the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft. First baseman D.J. Peterson is a little harder to figure out given that he was supposed to be one of the more established hitters of the 2013 draft -- and looked it when he hit 31 homers between two stops in 2014 -- but after hitting .223 with a .632 OPS last year, he has some ground to make up an age (24) when he should be on the verge of graduating.

Beyond them, the Mariners have an intriguing pitching prospect in Edwin Diaz, who's kind of a poor man's Luis Severino but may profile better in the bullpen. Their closest prospect of some note is probably Boog Powell, who they acquired from the Rays in the Karns deal this offseason. He gets on base at a high rate but lacks the power to hold down a regular job in the majors.