Monday, March 28, 2011
2011 Seattle Mariners season preview
Spring has finally arrived where the sun is about to come out, the grass is freshly cut and you hear the wooden bats crack. Yes baseball season is starting in less than a week. I'll preview the MLB season with predictions later in the week. For now I'll feature the hometown Seattle Mariners who have lost over 101 games two of the last three seasons. This year is a new year which the Mariners are hoping for a fresh start just like they did in 2009 winning 85 games a year after losing 101 games. The Mariners had a quiet offseason and will be counting on young talent that general manager Jack Zduriencik has brought in since he became G.M. in the winter of 2008. The Mariners since they will feature the youth movement will most likely be rebuilding once again. The Mariners will also have their seventh new manager since Lou Piniella left after the 2002 season.
The Mariners hired a new manager because last season went about as wrong as it could have gone. The Mariners after winning 85 games in the 2009 season and acquiring former Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee were some experts sleeper to win the World Series last season. The season quickly fell apart when every hitter had a career worst season. The team fell apart in May despite having Cliff Lee who had won a Cy Young award and Felix Hernandez who would win a Cy Young award that season. Eventually Ken Griffey Jr. who was struggling the whole year(Didn't even hit a single homerun as of June) retired abruptly leaving the team in caos. This was after a report that he had fallen asleep in the dugout. With the season falling apart the Mariners decided to trade Cliff Lee to the Rangers for some key prospects. The Mariners knowing Lee was a free agent had to get something in return which they did. Good chance two players in that trade will make the opening day roster. Then as what happens in sports when a team is struggling someone has to take the fall which in this case was second year manager Don Wakamutsu who was fired in August. So now the Mariners will turn to Eric Wedge to save the day. I'll talk about Wedge later. For now I'll preview the starting lineup if healthy on opening day and will include the reserves as well.
1. Ichiro: RF
Ichiro has been the face of the Seattle Mariners franchise for the past decade. When Ichiro came over from Japan nobody knew what to expect from him. All Ichiro did was win Rookie of the year, win a gold glove, lead the American League in batting and win the MVP on a historic 116 win Seattle Mariners team. Not a bad start to a major league career huh? Ichiro this past season did what he always does which is hit over .300, collect his 200+ hits and win a gold glove. Ichiro since he has came over has been to an all-star game and won a gold glove in each of his 10 seasons. Ichiro in the process tied Al Kaline and former Mariners great Griffey Jr. for most consecutive gold glove awards by an outfielder with 10 in a row. Ichiro was recently voted without a doubt the best right fielder in the game on MLB networks prime 9 right now. What Ichiro has done is simply amazing in his career. He is a career .331 hitter and averages 45.7 stolen bases a season yet some fans want him traded.
The reasons for trading Ichiro makes sense in fact. Back in July of last year I explored this option in fact. The window for trading Ichiro who will be 37 this season has probably passed. Ichiro will be remembered for his 200+ hits but will also be remembered for his big salary that basically hurt the franchise. Since the 2004 season the Mariners have had just two winning seasons. The Mariners have made the playoffs just once in Ichiro's career which was his rookie season. The Mariners a few years back could have traded Ichiro and received some nice young prospects to go with their other young core presently. Instead Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln won't even explore that option. Since Ichiro isn't going anywhere sit back and appreciate another 200+ hit season, .300+ batting average, all-star game, and gold glove.
2. Chone Figgins: 3B
Chone Figgins was a big free agent signing for the Mariners this past season. Figgins last year had to adjust to playing in a new city, a new spot in the batting order and had to learn a new position. This year Figgins returns back to third base which the Mariners are hoping he can give them a season like 2009. Last year Figgins hit just .259 with one home run, 35 RBI's, 62 runs scored but 42 stolen bases. Figgins was also benched for not hustling by then manager Wakamutsu. He later would get into an altercation in the dugout of that same game. Figgins had a pretty horrible season which saw him almost get traded to the New York Mets.
Now Figgins is back at third base where he played with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. While there Figgins hit .298 with five home runs, 54 RBI's, 114 runs scored and 42 stolen bases in 2009. The Mariners also liked Figgins since he led the American League with 101 walks. The Mariners were looking for a guy who could work the count since the roster was full of hackers. Figgins for having a disasterous last season did still wind up stealing 42 bases. Look for Figgins to get his average around .290 which is what he hit with the Angels. The Mariners with Ichiro and Figgins will once again try to play small ball.
3. Milton Bradley: LF
With the way last season ended I never would have thought Milton Bradley would be the opening day #3 hitter and left fielder. Bradley came over last year in the Carlos Silva trade in an exchange of two high priced guys who weren't working out with their current clubs. Bradley like the rest of the team had a disaterous 2010 season. What made Bradley's seasons unique was his season was disasterous on and off the field. Bradley this offseason was arrested, last year in the opening week of the season he flipped off some fans in Texas, then later in the month quit the team for a while to take care of personal business with himself. You add all that nonsense with terrible defense and a .205 batting average with just eight home runs and 29 RBI's it was one of the worst seasons the Mariners have ever witnessed. To make this even more surprising is the new manager Bradley once wore a shirt that read "F**K Eric Wedge".
What the Mariners hope is Bradley returns to the 2008 form which saw him make the All-Star team. Bradley that year hit .321 and led the American League with a .436 on base percentage along with leading with a .999 OPS. In reality I expect Bradley to keep declining like he has the last two seasons. I'm sure Bradley might improve slightly because this last year was so horrible but to expect much from him is crazy. He is currently blocking the path of young left field Michael Saunders who should be given an opportunity to showcase himself.
4. Jack Cust: DH
The Mariners signed Jack Cust from the Oakland A's this last offseason hoping he can provide the club with some much needed power. Cust who last year began the year in triple A will be the Mariners cleanup hitter this season. Cust is a guy who does three things only which is strike out, walk and hit home runs. Cust has led the American League in strikeouts three years in a row from 2007-2009. Cust was productive in Oakland hitting 26 bombs and driving in 82 runs in 2007, 33 bombs and 77 runs batting in 2008 and 25 bombs and 70 batted in 2009. Last year Cust playing time was reduced but he did hit .272 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI's.
The Mariners obviously are hoping he can continue that type of power. The Mariners won't mind the strikeouts if he is knocking the ball out of the ball park. Last year the Mariners as a team hit just 101 home runs and their leading home run hitter Russell Branyan who hit 15 home runs was let go. The next leading home run leader was Franklin Gutierrez who hit just 12 home runs and will begin the year on the DL most likely. The Mariners desperatly need Cust to provide them with some power.
5. Justin Smoak: 1B
The reason the Mariners traded Cliff Lee in division was to acquire Justin Smoak. Jack Zduriencik felt of all the prospects teams offered the Mariners Smoak was the best of the bunch. Smoak is a switching hitting power hitting first baseman. Smoak was the 11th pick overall in the 2008 baseball draft. After being rushed through the minor leagues Smoak saw himself ranked 13th on baseball america top prospects list heading into the 2010 season. When Smoak arrived in Seattle he struggled pretty badly hitting .156 with two home runs which saw him be sent down to Tacoma. While in Tacoma he hit .271 with seven home runs and 25 RBI's in just 35 games. In fact he helped lead the Tacoma Rainiers to their first title since 1969. When Smoak was recalled he appeared more comfortable hitting .340 with three home runs in his 14 game call up.
The Mariners are hoping that Smoak can perform at the small sample size he showed in September. He probably won't hit that high of an average but he also won't be as bad as he was in July. For the Mariners to be successful they need these big prospects to finally pan out. Smoak for the season did hit 13 home runs in 348 AB's so the power has already been established. Smoak just needs to work on his eye which was his strength coming up through the minor league systems. With Smoak the Mariners have a special prospect and it should be fun watching him sock the ball to the hit it here cafe a few times.
6. Miguel Olivo: C
Yes Mariners fans this is the same Miguel Olivo who failed terribly with the Mariners from 2004-2005. Olivo was signed this offseason to a two year/14 million dollar deal hoping to give the Mariners some offense at the catcher position which they haven't had in years. Olivo came to the Mariners as the catcher of the future when the Mariners traded then ace Freddy Garcia to the Chicago White Sox. Olivo with the Mariners was a bust hitting .176 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI's in 104 games before he was traded away. Well Olivo has appeared to have turned things around as he has hit double digits in home runs five straight seasons including 23 in 2009. The Mariners a team desperate of power need some production from the catcher position.
The Mariners are hoping that power of Olivo can translate over to Safeco Field once again. I don't see a happy ending here as Olivo is a dead pull right handed hitter which is a death sentence in Safeco Field. I also think he is blocking path of youngster Adam Moore who is in a make or break type of season. It will be nice to see someone not named Rob Johnson catch anymore. His dropping of third strikes was growing old along with his crappy average. For that I'm kind of excited for the Olivo era although I have a feeling how this is going to end.
7. Franklin Gutierrez: CF
A prime example of the good job Jack Zduriencik has done while in Seattle. He traded aging closer J.J. Putz in a three way deal which brought back Gutierrez and Jason Vargas. Gutierrez was a huge success his first year in Seattle hitting .283 with 18 home runs with 70 RBI's with 16 stolen bases. To the Sabermetrics crowd he had the greatest defensive season in centerfield history. Last year Gutierrez bat slumped seeing him hit just .245 with 12 home runs and 64 RBI's but he did steal 25 bases on 28 attempts. Gutierrez did win his first gold glove after being snubbed in 2010. Now Gutierrez appears to start the year off on the DL which is terrible start for the Mariners.
With Gutierrez appeared sidelined look for Ryan Langerhans and Michael Saunders to share the duty in centerfield until Gutierrez can return. With Gutierrez the Mariners have one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball if not the best. What Gutierrez needs to do is be a threat on offense like he was in 2009 where he hit for a solid average and good power. Defense is very important in baseball especially in centerfield but you can't hit cornerstones of your franchise hit below .250 with no power. Now with Gutierrez starting the year off hurt it will be interesting how this year goes for him. This is another make or break year for him. A good year here soldifies he is a cornerstone for years to come, another poor offensive year the Mariners will start looking in another direction.
8. Jack Wilson: 2B
Well I'll start this off by saying Wilson is keeping the spot warm for prospect Dustin Ackley. Ackley was the #2 pick overall in the 2008 draft and was the MVP of the Arizona Fall league this past offseason. Now I'll dive into Wilson who was part of a big trade along with Ian Snell at the trade deadline in 2009. This wasn't one of Zduriencik's finest trades that is for sure. Snell who was a total disaster and is since been gone while Wilson is now moving positions. The Mariners are probably regretting giving Wilson a two year/14 million deal after the 2009 season. Wilson has had two forgettable years in Seattle hitting just .240 with one home run, two stolen bases and 23 RBI's in 92 games.
Now it appears the Mariners are cutting bait with Wilson. They are moving him to a position that they know will be occupied by June at the latest. Wilson just can't stay healthy and when he is his bat has been awful. The defense which was his strong point wasn't that great. I wouldn't be surprised by July the Mariners designate Wilson for assignment. His days as a Mariner appear to be on death row.
9. Brendan Ryan: SS
In a surprising move the Mariners switched Brendan Ryan to shortstop with Jack Wilson who is now second base. This move is significant because of Dustin Ackley. By playing shortstop that shows the franchise has value for you down the road. With Ryan the Mariners get a nice utility defender who is a career .259 hitter with the St.Louis Cardinals.
The Mariners are hoping he can produce a year like he had in 2009 where he hit .292 and stole 14 bases. The Mariners want someone who can be stable at the shortstop position. Despite being the franchise who always took a Shortstop in the draft the Mariners have failed to produce a good shortstop since giving up on Carlos Guillen. Now the Mariners will hope Ryan can at least fill the gap which has been desperately killing this franchise for a decade now.
Adam Moore: C
A make or break year for the Mariners catcher who was once a top prospect. Moore last year in 60 games hit just .195 with just four home runs. Moore will get one last chance as Olivo could start the year injured as well. This is it for Moore or he'll join the long list of other prospects who never panned out.
Ryan Langerhans: OF
Langerhans might even start on opening day depending how serious the Gutierrez injury is. Langerhans is a solid outfield option but must improve his hitting. In Seattle he has hit just .207 with six home runs in 94 games. With Langerhans you'll get a lefty who is used to being the fourth outfielder.
Adam Kennedy: 2B/SS
Kennedy is a good veteran infielder who has proven he can hit some and play good defense. A lifetime .275 hitter in 12 seasons Kennedy is the type of veteran player the club could use. The 2002 ALCS MVP will be a nice addition to the Mariners.
Starting Five man staff
1. Felix Hernandez: RHP
With the Mariners losing 101 games it is pretty easy to think everyone had a bad season. That would be a big mistake as Felix Hernandez became only the second Mariners pitcher in franchise history to win the Cy Young award despite a 13-12 record. Hernandez had such a poor record due to no offense which if you are still reading you can see the offense won't be much better this year. Hernandez came up with a lot of hype but the last two years it's becoming quite obvious he is entering his prime. Hernandez in 2009 finished second in the Cy Young race going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA in 238 2/3 innings pitched with 217 strikeouts. In 2010 his Cy Young season he was even better going 13-12 with a league leading 2.27 ERA, league leading 249 2/3 innings pitch with 232 strikeouts. The Mariners haven't had a run like this from a pitcher since Randy Johnson. The scary thing for hitters is that Hernandez is only going to be 25 years old this season.
With Hernandez the Mariners know they have the best pitcher in the American League and one of the best in baseball. If the Mariners were to ever reach the playoffs like the San Francisco Giants last year they could be scary. The Mariners need to build a team around Hernandez or trade him in a Herschel Walker type of deal where they receive four or five players. With Hernandez the Mariners have a special talent but an ace alone doesn't gurantee championships. The fact Hernandez went only 13-12 shows you that baseball is a team game. At least every fifth day despite how terrible the Mariners are playing the Mariners get a chance to watch the very best in person.
2. Jason Vargas: LHP
When the Mariners made the big J.J. Putz trade Jason Vargas was just a throw in. In fact more fans were excited about Mike Carp than Vargas. Vargas has come a long ways and will now start the year as the #2 starter in the rotation. Vargas in his first year with the Mariners went just 3-6 with a 4.91 ERA in 23 games and 14 starts. Last year saw a huge breakout season for Vargas who just recently turned 28. Last year Vargas went 9-12 but had a 3.78 ERA in 31 starts throwing 192 2/3 innings and striking out 116 batters. For Vargas it appeared he may have worn down a bit last season as he had never thrown more than 100 innings in a season.
Last year in the first half of the season Vargas was 6-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 17 starts going 107 2/3(Average 6 1/3 a start) striking out 68(5.68 K's per 9). While in the second half Vargas was 3-8 with a 4.66 ERA going 85 innings(six innings a start) in 14 starts while striking out 48(5.1 K's per 9). Like I said Vargas had never thrown more than 100 innings in a season and last year he almost threw 200 innings. In his previous four seasons in the Major Leagues he had made just 34 starts while last year he made 31 starts. Vargas features a nice change up and has shown he can strike some hitters out. I don't know if Vargas is a #2 starer though I've always seen him as a #4 or #5 starter.
3. Doug Fister: RHP
On most teams Doug Fister would be your 5th starter or long man out of the bullpen. Fister is what the Mariners had hoped for when they grossly overpaid for Carlos Silva. Fister is a strike throwing machine who pitches to contact while not featuring great stuff. Fister last year with the Mariners was 6-14 with 4.11 ERA and in 28 starts pitched 171 innings(six innings a start).
Like I said with Fister don't expect dazzling results. He does feature a purpose though. He is pretty cheap and can give the team innings. Several pitchers made a career off that(the entire 2001 Seattle Mariners pitching staff minus Freddy Garcia). Fister like Vargas probably slated a little bit too high in the rotation but that is to be expected for a bad team. If the defense behind him is pretty good he should be fine.
4. Erik Bedard: LHP
This is by far the Mariners biggest wildcard up their sleeve. With Erik Bedard you have when healthy one of the better pitchers in the game. The problem is when is he ever healthy? Well supposedly this year Bedard is finally healthy. The once savior of the Seattle Mariners back in 2008 is now hoping to pitch in his first game since July of 2009. Bedard missed all of last season. In fact since coming to Seattle Bedard in three seasons has combined to make just 30 starts and thrown just 164 innings. In those 164 innings he has a 3.24 ERA and a 11-7 record with 162 strikeouts.
With Bedard nobody knows what to expect. I actually feel bad for Bedard and felt he has received a bad rap. The guy is shy so people assume he is a jerk. He is a good pitcher and you can't control injuries. He isn't "wimpy" like many believe him to be. He just has bad luck with injuries and in fact tries to tough it out which makes it even worst. Does he lack good judgement? Probably. Is he wimpy? Hell no. Bedard if he is healthy realistically will be the Mariners second best pitcher. Hopefully this is finally the year Bedard can give the Mariners something. At the very least then the Mariners can trade him for some nice prospects.
5. Michael Pineda: RHP
Speaking of prospects the Mariners will feature the 16th best prospect of 2011 in Michael Pineda. The 22 year old Pineda is built like an ace as he is 6'5" 255 pounds and is a strikeout pitcher. In his minor league career Pineda posts a 31-14 record with a 2.49 ERA. He has struck out 396 batters in 404 1/3 innings. Pineda has electric stuff but like Hernandez in 2006 the Mariners will have to watch his innings. Pineda has never thrown more than 140 innings in a season.
With Pineda the Mariners have a future ace who can take over if they decide to trade Hernandez. If the Hernandez is kept then the Mariners can have a dangerous 1-2 punch in a couple of seasons. Hernandez and Pineda are separated by just three years in age so not unreasonable to see them carry the team for five to seven seasons together as the 1-2 punch. I'm just excited to see Pineda this year. I know there will be some bumpy starts but there will be some electric starts as well.
Closer- David Aardsma: RHP
This is one of Zduriencik's best signings so far. Aardsma who will begin the year on the disabled list was a nice signing in 2009. Aardsma who had zero career saves when the Mariners signed him has 69 saves with the team the last two years. Since joining the Mariners Aardsma has 69 saves with a 2.90 ERA and has struck out 129 batters in 121 innings.
With Aardsma the Mariners have proven just how valuable closers truly are. The Mariners found a guy with zero career saves who had pitched for four different teams in four seasons and turned him into one of the top closers in baseball. With Aardsma starting the year off on the disabled list this will open up another opportunity. Aardsma will be the closer when he returns and with another 30 saves will be second in Mariners history for saves. Who would have thought all this when he was signed in 2009? Zduriencik hit a home run with this signing.
Setupman- Brandon League: RHP
In what is easily Zduriencik's worst trade giving up on the talented Brandon Morrow for Brandon League last season. League had an up and down first season in Seattle which saw him give up plenty of eighth inning leads. League on the year went 9-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 79 innings while striking out only 56 batters. League will begin the season as the Mariners closer until Aardsma is ready.
With League the Mariners need to see more consistency. His struggles could be because he couldn't throw his best pitch which is his splitter since Rob Johnson couldn't catch anything. League in the second half of the season posted a 2.86 ERA compared to 3.86 in the first half. The Mariners are hoping his great stuff can translate to better results. League will be in a ton of late inning situations either as the closer or the eighth inning man.
Manager- Eric Wedge
The Mariners new manager is former Cleveland Indians boss Eric Wedge. When he was hired I offered up my opinion on the hire. I think in baseball of the three major sports the coach/manager matters the least. A manager's most important job is to handle the 25 different personalities on his team, use his bullpen correctly and other than that just sit back and see if your team is good or not.
For Wedge the Mariners hired a manager who was second in manager of the year in 2005 and won manager of the year in 2007. Wedge unlike Wakamatsu is an established manager and won't take as much crap. When Bradley wore that shirt Wedge was just in his second season as manager. I doubt Bradley or anyone will wear such disrespectful stuff. Wedge has a tall order in front of him and a front office who likes to fire the manager instead of look in the mirror.
For this to be a successful season in my opinion is if all the young kids get a chance to showcase their talent and some of them emerge. The Mariners have no shot at the postseason and are in rebuilding mode. If the Mariners lose another 90 games will that be the end for Zduriencik? Possibly. I know Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong would rather blame others than look in the mirror. Those two have ran this franchise for over 25 years yet the Mariners are just one of two franchises in all of baseball who have never reached a World Series. The Mariners haven't reach the playoffs since 2001 which was 10 years ago. As long as dumb and dumber are running things doesn't matter who the general manager and manager are.
As for the current 2011 team in place I see tons of change. You'll look back at the opening day roster and noticed that half this roster has changed by July. The bullpen other than Aardsma and League are so up for grabs I'd be wasting time trying to preview them. The Mariners for the first time in a long time do have some nice young prospects. Yet with the Mariners I always feel like they'll find a way to screw this all up. Look for some good pitching, terrible hitting, empty seats and people asking about the NFL come July. This will be another long season for the Mariners and the lack of excitement towards this year shows everyone else knows the Mariners fate. At least we have Felix Hernandez to look forward to every fifth day. Other than that this is going to be a long six months.