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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners

Sometimes writing about these hapless franchises makes one feel a little bit better about one's own hapless franchise. Two of the last three years, the Seattle Mariners have finished 61-101. The bright spot, 2009, they finished at a very respectable 85-77. So what has happened to keep them down? Why has the Emerald City never had a World Series team? Well.... it's not like they haven't tried. There have been some amazing teams and players there. The 1995 division series championship team may have been one of the best in the game. 2010, not so much. Long gone are Griffey, Martinez, and Johnson. Instead we're left with Gutierrez, Smoak, and Fister.

The clubhouse has not been very together. There has been managerial change. There has been Milton Bradley. There may have been some poor trades involving top prospects for players that leave the team quickly (re: Brenden Morrow). Actually, come to think of it, bad signings and trades have defined this team. Last year was supposed to be pitching and defense, but they quickly learned that isn't enough when you are relying on Ryan Rowland-Smith and an abysmal lineup. But, think of the busts. Bedard can't stay healthy. Johjima was less than advertised. Bradley is a waste of oxygen. This team finished last in batting average, at an anemic .236. They finished last in home runs, just getting over the century mark at 101. They finished last in runs with 513, 74 behind the 29th ranked Pirates, and 346 runs behind the Yankees, over 2 runs per game less. They were shut out 15 times. They scored only one run another 28 times. And San Francisco thinks watching the Giants is torture....

With 2010 Cy Young Winner "King" Felix Hernandez, the pitching was a bit better. They finished 9th with an ERA of 3.93, unfortunately, that includes Cliff Lee's 2.34 ERA in 103.2 innings along with his 8 wins. Furthermore, if you remove Hernandez's 13 wins, you are left with only 40 wins among the rest of the staff, no one with more than 9, and only no other starter with a positive winning percentage.

Could 2011 be Pittsburgh Piratesque yet again? Don't put it past them. Returning is franchise face, one of the best hitters ever to wear a uniform, and heartthrob according to one of my major high school crushes, Ichiro Suzuki (.315, 214 H, 42 SB), who had a batting average 56 points higher than anyone else with over 100 ABs. Seattle RBI King Franklin Gutierrez (64 RBI, 12 HR) also returns. The last outfield spot is a battle between highly regarded rookie Michael Saunders and that Sorry!® sponsor Milton Bradley. The infield includes Chone (pronounced "Chone") Figgins (.259, 42 SB), who had a terrible year last year trying to move back to second base. The former Pirate Jack Wilson looks to play excellent defensive shortstop while bringing that average up over last season's .227 mark. The Mariners have signed St. Louis cast off Brendan Ryan looks to start the season at second base, but he'll have to watch out for Dustin Ackley if he get better his .223 last season. Justin Smoak, former #1 prospect in the majors, and major disappointment last year, will have to live up to billing and become the masher people expected him to be. Behind the dish will be veteran Miguel Olivo, who should help out the young staff. His .765 OPS would have placed him second among Mariners starters last year, so he may be the acquisition to stabilize the lineup. Oh wait, I almost forgot about the big free agent signing of the off-season, JACK CUST! He will DH for the Mariners, hit some home runs, strike out some, and draw a few walks. Few will be pleased.

The pitching staff has the aforementioned King Felix, (13-12, 2.27 ERA, 232 K), but will his 249.2 IP last year wear him down for this one? Behind him are Jason Vargas (9-12, 3.78) and Doug Fister (6-13, 4.11), two young pitchers who showed some great stuff last year. The fourth starter will be Erik Bedard, who appears to be made out of toothpicks. He hasn't thrown 100 innings since 2007. Will he be able to recapture is old dominance of last decade? The fifth starter is nowhere near decided. This does not bode well. Also in the category of "ominous situations", closer David Aardsma, with the 5th most saves of any AL closer over the past 2 seasons (69), is hurt. This means save opportunities will probably fall to Brandon League, and the rest of the bullpen, full of guys you've never heard of, may not able to bear the strain.

Sooooo.... after that happy outlook, presenting your 2011 Seattle Mariners:

C Miguel Olivo
1B Justin Smoak
2B Brendan Ryan
SS Jack Wilson
3B Chone Figgins
LF Michael Saunders/Milton Bradley
CF Franklin Gutierrez
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Jack Cust
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Jason Vargas
SP Doug Fister
SP Erik Bedard
SP ????????? (Pineda?)
CL ????????? (League)

Best Case Scenario:
The Mariners break camp upbeat and ready to play. King Felix shows why he won the Cy Young, and Seattle earns a 30-30 record through their first 60 games despite their lack of closer. The offense starts to gel. Smoak shows why he was worth Cliff Lee, Milton Bradly finally delivers on some of his promise. Suzuki does his hot thing, not ever showing his age. Chone Figgins has a career year and hits .320 to go with 30 stolen bases by the deadline. Fister and Vargas do what Cahill and Gonzalez did for the Athletics last year, and the rotation forms a semblance of a major league staff. Michael Saunders is traded for an arm at the deadline, and the AL West becomes a four horse race through September. Ackley is called up on August 31 to be eligible for the post season and provides a shot in the arm after a disappointing mid August stretch. After an exciting finish, all 4 teams finish within 6 games of each other, but Seattle doesn't have enough pop to get past the Rangers, as they finish 4 games out at 84-78. Still, the run makes fans hopeful for next year.

Worst Case Scenario:
Much like the Blue Jays, the Mariners implode like Lindsay Lohan's career. Bradley is DFA'd after throwing a temper tantrum one week into the season after being benched in favor of Saunders after going 1 for his first 20. Justin Smoak, though improved, still is not the answer for power at first base. Figgins recovers, but can't recover the skills that made him a coveted free agent, and goes down as another bad signing. Bedard gets hurt after 5 starts, Hernandez isn't the same pitcher after his 249 innings last year. The bullpen is a mess, though it stabilizes a bit after the return of Aardsma on June 2. Even Ichiro begins to show signs of age. Ackley is quickly called up and struggles at the big league level. Its rough going as they roll into the break already 22 games out of first place in the west. They pack it in. Rookies are tried everywhere, and a AAA team is seen in the majors. After hitting 14 home runs in the first half, Cust is traded away for prospects. The firesale continues with League and Olivo go as well. It seems even rainier in the northwest, with at least another year of rebuilding ahead.

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