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Originally published Friday, March 29, 2013 at 8:36 PM

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Highlights of a live chat about the Mariners' season with Geoff Baker, Larry Stone

The Seattle Times' baseball reporters answered reader questions about the upcoming season.

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Seattle Times reporters Geoff Baker and Larry Stone chatted with readers Friday about the Mariners and the upcoming baseball season. Here are some highlights.

Q: Is the starting pitching really looking that questionable?

Baker: Well, you tell me ... you've got Felix and four question marks. Their WAR numbers are not very impressive.

Q: What do you expect from Michael Saunders this year?

Baker: I expect Saunders to hit close to 25 home runs and improve his OBP closer to the .330 or .340 range. It will have to improve if he's going to be primary leadoff man versus righties.

Stone: I think his showing in the WBC should give him a lot of confidence. He was the best player out there. Saunders has all the tools you'd want to see, but I think there's still some growth and consistency that needs to develop. If that happens, he's a quality player.

Q: Is the Danny Hultzen pick proving to be a mistake?

Stone: Way too soon to say that. He's had one season in the minors, and dominated Class AA.

Baker: Don't see how. He hasn't played a full AAA season yet. He had outside shot at making team this spring before he got hurt. If he shows some early AAA consistency, could be in majors by June.

Q: If the Mariners do not show improvement this year, is Jack Zduriencik gone?

Stone: If it's a total collapse, he's in big trouble. If it's a modest backslide, then he'd definitely be on the hot seat, and it would be up to upper management to decide if they want to start all over again.

Baker: That's a good question on Zduriencik. Not showing improvement from 75 wins would be a real disappointment and yeah, with his contract up, another 90 losses or so sure would not look too good after five years of rebuilding.

Q: Since the fences have moved in at Safeco, will it give the M's outfielders a disadvantage when it comes to playing deep?

Baker: If anything, the opposite will happen. At their deepest positioning, they'll have less ground to cover in front of them trying to get to bloopers.

Stone: Seems like it would work to the advantage of plodding types like Morse and Ibanez — less ground to cover.

Q: What do you guys think of Edgar Martinez's chances of being elected to the Hall Of Fame given this year's results?

Stone: He's definitely in for a long wait, unfortunately. With the steroids issues, the ballot is clogged with players who will take away votes, because you only get to vote for 10.

And the worse news is that an influx of strong candidates is on the way — Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux, Frank Thomas, Pedro, Griffey, and a few others who have slipped my mind.

Q: If the Mariners made a major pickup in one position, where should it be?

Baker: I think in center field. They don't have one long-term, need a leadoff hitter and I really like Saunders in right field. Franklin Gutierrez hasn't stayed healthy since he's been with the Mariners (even in 2009, when he had knee tendinitis all through the second half, which many folks either do not know or have since forgotten about).

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