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Inbox: Will Felix be Opening Day starter?

Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from Mariners fans
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

Do you think Felix Hernandez will get the Opening Day start again this season?
-- Jesus O., Maracaibo, Venezuela

With camp set to open Wednesday, this might be one of the most interesting questions all spring. My early guess is that James Paxton gets his first Opening Day call. He was clearly Seattle's best starter last year, and manager Scott Servais will want to give his team the best chance in a tough matchup, likely against Indians ace Corey Kluber.

Do you think Felix Hernandez will get the Opening Day start again this season?
-- Jesus O., Maracaibo, Venezuela

With camp set to open Wednesday, this might be one of the most interesting questions all spring. My early guess is that James Paxton gets his first Opening Day call. He was clearly Seattle's best starter last year, and manager Scott Servais will want to give his team the best chance in a tough matchup, likely against Indians ace Corey Kluber.

But there are many who feel Hernandez deserves the honor of starting his 10th season opener and ninth in a row, and it might cause some friction in the clubhouse if Servais decides differently. Maybe there will be an early announcement, but I suspect the Mariners will wait to see how both pitchers perform before making any decisions. If Felix looks healthy and strong all spring, that certainly could change the equation.

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Are the Mariners going to have anyone at Tim Lincecum's workout on Thursday?
-- Roger S., Seattle

I'm told the Mariners, like many Major League clubs, will indeed have a representative in attendance when Lincecum throws for scouts. The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner hasn't pitched since 2016, when he struggled for the Angels, with his last MLB outing coming at Safeco Field.

There'll obviously be intrigue over whether the 33-year-old is healthy and has any arm life left, and it's an easy trip for the Mariners, given the workout will be at the Driveline Baseball facility in Kent, just a half-hour south of Seattle.

Video: MLB Tonight on potential 2018 Tim Lincecum comeback

Any way the Mariners could get players like J.D. Martinez or Jake Arrieta on one-year deals now since their market isn't developing?
-- Conor T., Edmonds, Wash.

It's been a strange year for free agents, so I'm never going to say never. But agent Scott Boras represents both Martinez and Arrieta, and it's highly unlikely Boras is going to settle for one-year deals for two established veterans who are seeking big, long-term contracts. Those guys will end up signing multiyear deals, perhaps not as long as they'd initially hoped.

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Why don't the Mariners jump in with a multiyear offer of their own? It's ironic that many fans are asking what the Mariners are going to do with Hernandez, who has two years and $54 million left on his contract, while wanting to sign Arrieta, who is a month older than Felix.

All teams seem reluctant this offseason to sign long-term deals with free agents in their 30s, contracts that are often difficult for the team at the end. The Mariners have made such moves in the past, when signing Robinson Cano and extending Hernandez. Why that practice suddenly changed for so many clubs this winter remains a matter of great debate.

Why hasn't anyone suggested using Dee Gordon as the occasional backup for Cano at second base? He is a former Gold Glove winner there.
-- Chris B., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto have made it clear they think it would be better for Gordon to completely focus on the transition to center field rather than bounce between positions. Perhaps they'll take another look at that once Gordon gets comfortable in the outfield, but for now, the idea is to put him in center and keep him there so he can make that position his own.

Video: Dee Gordon shares a story about his new glove

Over/under on 100 steals for the Mariners as a team this year?
-- Ben S., Seattle

The Mariners haven't stolen 100-plus bases in a season since 2012, and last year they totaled 89, which was above the MLB average of 84. But I'm taking the over. Gordon alone has averaged 60 stolen bases in his past three full seasons, and Jean Segura has averaged 29 over his past five seasons. If those two stay healthy, 100 should be an easy mark.

What is the most important coaching/management change the Mariners made during the offseason?
-- Allen B., Seattle

The most interesting change to me is the addition of Dr. Lorena Martin in the newly created role of director of high performance, which is a blend of physical and mental training and statistical analysis in an attempt to keep players healthier and more productive.

Nobody should expect miracles, as injuries obviously can't be eliminated. But the club is hoping to push a more cutting-edge approach to things like rest and recovery and training methods. If Martin's programs help keep players on the field more and perform better over the long term, it would be a big benefit.

Video: Mariners add Dr. Lorena Martin

What do you see happening to Ariel Miranda if he isn't named the fifth starter? Will he be added to the bullpen for long relief like we saw with Yovani Gallardo?
-- Erin J., Auburn, Wash.

The Mariners want to keep Miranda in a starting role. As they were reminded last year, every team needs more than five starters to get through a season. Miranda has Minor League options and can be sent to Triple-A Tacoma without any risk of losing him, so if he doesn't make the 25-man roster to start the year, I'm sure he'll go to Tacoma and be ready when needed.

Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales are in a different situation because they are out of Minor League options. So if they don't make the rotation, they'd need to either go to the bullpen in long relief or be exposed to waivers, where any team could claim them for a spot on their 25-man roster.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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