The 2009 Seattle Mariners: “We Can Build On This”

The only consistent performer for the Mariners in 2008.

The only consistent performer for the Mariners in 2008.

The 2008 Mariners made  the Hindenburg and Titanic look successful. After a big offseason trade that netted the Mariners “ace” starter Erik Bedard, the team was expected to compete for the AL West crown. Unfortunately, after storming out of the gate with a 1-0 record, the wheels fell off and only a late season surge (4-6 in their last 10 games) allowed the Mariners to finish off the pace for the worst record in baseball (mind you by one game). Seattle became the first team in big league history to lose 100 games (61-101) with a payroll of over $100 million. The team allowed 811 runs and only scored 671, and ranked near the bottom of the AL in nearly every offensive and pitching category (13th in runs, OBP, Slugging and 11th in ERA and WHIP). Quite simply, they sucked.

You know it’s a long season when the happiest your fans are all year is when the team releases a player (thanks for the memories Richie Sexson) and you can’t even sign your top draft pick (still waiting on you Josh Fields). New manager Don Wakamatsu seems eager to inject young talent into the lineup, which means more at-bats for Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien and less for players like the long since jettisoned Miguel Cairo and Jose Vidro. While it doesn’t seem like much, the Mariners have made some progress this offseason and it seems like new GM Jack Zduriencik has a long term plan for the organization. Let’s take a look at what the Mariners are bringing to the table in 2009 (2-7, offsuit):

Potential Starting 9:

RF-Ichiro Suzuki (.310 BA-6 HR-46 RBI-43 SB-.361 OBP-103 Runs)

SS-Yuniesky Betancourt (.279 BA-7 HR-51 RBI-.300 OBP)

2B-Jose Lopez (.297 BA-17 HR-89 RBI-.322 OBP)

3B-Adrian Beltre (.266 BA-25 HR-77 RBI-8 SB)

CF-Franklin Gutierrez (.248 BA-8 HR-41 RBI-9 SB)

DH-Jeff Clement (.227 BA-5 HR-23 RBI, 203 ABs)

C-Kenji Johjima (.227 BA-7 HR-39 RBI, 379 ABs)

1B-Russell Branyan (.250 BA-12 HR-20 RBI, 132 ABs)

LF-Endy Chavez (.267 BA-1 HR-12 RBI, 270 ABs) and Wladimir Balentien (.202-7 HR-24 RBI, 243 ABs)

Admittedly that lineup is about as intimidating as a box full of puppies, but we can assume following the principles of statistical regression, that most of the M’s hitters will have a better season than the one they did last year; that can’t possibly be that bad again, can they? Additionally, players like Adrian Beltre will benefit from offseason surgery and young players like Gutierrez and Clement should produce better with some additional seasoning (try just a pinch of basil).

The strength of the team will probably be the pitching staff. With continued development from King Felix and Morrow, and a full season from Bedard, the Mariners could actually have one of the better starting fives in the AL.

Potential Rotation:

Felix Hernandez (9-11, 3.45 ERA, 175 Ks)

Erik Bedard (6-4, 3.67 ERA, 72 Ks)

Ryan Rowland-Smith (5-3, 3.42 ERA, 77 Ks)

Brandon Morrow (3-4, 3.34 ERA, 75 Ks)

Carlos Silva (4-15, 6.64 ERA, 69 Ks) Just go away

Jarrod Washburn (5-14, 4.69 ERA, 87 Ks)

Bullpen:

David Aardsma (4-2, 5.55 ERA, 49 Ks)

Ray Corcoran (6-2, 3.22 ERA, 39 Ks)

Mark Lowe (1-5, 5.37 ERA, 55 Ks)

Tyler Walker (5-8, 4.56 ERA, 49 Ks)

Cesar Jimenez (0-2, 3.41 ERA, 26 Ks)

Miguel Batista (4-14, 6.26 ERA, 73 Ks)

After trading away J.J. Putz in the offseason, it’s anyone’s guess who Wakamatsu will choose to close games in the upcoming season. As you can see he has quite the stable of talented pitchers to choose from, assuming that the Mariners leave Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation. Walker has former experience as a closer and Aardsma was a closer in college, but none of the available options exactly strike fear into the heart of opposing batters like Putz did. Keep an eye on this situation throughout the season as Wakamatsu may ride the hot hand in the dreaded “closer by committee” approach.

The Mariners haven’t got drastically better since 2008, but they did manage to jettison some dead weight and hopefully Wakamatsu can breathe some fresh air into the team and get some production out of his young players. The AL West is still one of the weaker divisions in baseball and heck, the M’s ended the 2008 season on a 3 game winning streak. As the great Herm Edwards once said “we can build on this”, and Mariner’s fans we can build on this, we have to…

Fearless Prediction:

The Mariners finish the season last in the AL West (really going out on a limb on this one) but improve on last year’s mark with a 72-90 record, which of course would instantly improve to 90-72 if they sign Ken Griffey Jr. (if this team can give Brad Wilkerson 200 ABs it can certainly justify bringing back one of the most popular Seattle area athletes of all-time) There will be a pitcher on the M’s staff in 2009 that wins double digit games, King Felix will sneak into the Cy Young talks, and Carlos Silva will choke to death on garlic fries (please God, I don’t ask for much). Ichiro will continue to be allergic to extra-bases but will once again rap out over 200 hits and Adrian Beltre will play like fans always expected him to (.300-30 HR-100 RBI), just in time for him to leave. It’s going to be a long rebuilding process in Seattle, but if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change…even the Seattle Mariners.

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Jeff Kent: Hall of Fame Bound?

mets_dodgers_baseball_400What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Jeff Kent? Surly? Mustachioed? Overrated? Jerkwad? One of the greatest second baseman ever? Product of the steroid era? Clutch? 

Unfortunately, all of these things may be true and that’s what makes the debate about whether Kent should enter Cooperstown so difficult. When he retired last week public opinion about his credentials seemed to be split. Peter Gammons, one of the most respected minds in baseball, said that Kent was a first ballot Hall of Famer. After all, Kent was one of the greatest offensive second baseman of all-time, hitting 351 HRs at the position (a record), and winning the MVP award in 2000 with an outstanding .334-33-125 line. He finished his career with a .290 batting average, 377 HRs, 1518 RBIs, 2461 hits, 560 doubles and 1320 runs from a position that is not normally associated with power.

On the other hand, many would point out Kent’s defensive liabilities or the fact that he only made 5 All-Star teams and was never seen as a dominant player of the era. While he did win four Silver Sluggers, Kent never led the league in a major offensive category (he was second in the NL in hits in 1999) and never again finished in the top-5 in MVP voting. Additionally, his Oscar the Grouch like personality does little to help his case, as some members of the media vote for inclusion.

So, does Jeff Kent deserve to be in the Hall-of-Fame?

Ranking the Offseason Moves: The Good, The Bad, and The Willy Bloomquist

$180 million! Thats a lot of Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers!

$180 million! Thats a lot of Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers!

It’s been a busy offseason in the baseball world, with some splashy free agent signings; and to no one’s surprise it was the New York Yankees who were making the most noise. But it’s not always the big names that make the difference down the stretch (or at all: see Bedard, Erik) so a thorough examination of offseason moves is imperative to get a glimpse at who has a shot at winning it all in 2009.

Mark Teixeria (New York Yankees): Everyone seemed to know this one was coming except for the teams trying to sign him, (sorry Nationals and Orioles, their laughing with you, not at you), and in the end the best bat available ended up cashing in with the wealthiest team. The Yanks swooped in at the last minute and grabbed Sexy Texy for the discount price of $180 million over 8 years, roughly equivalent to the combined payroll of the Florida Marlins over the same period. The cost was steep, but Teixeria makes the Yankees an instant favorite to win the AL East and possibly their first world series since 2000. He is force at the plate, fresh off a .308-33-121 campaign with the Braves and Angels. In addition to his offense, Teixeria plays a Gold Glove first base, something the Yankees couldn’t exactly count on the past few years with Jason Giambi. At only 28 years old, Teixeria should be a key cog in the middle of the Yankees lineup for years to come.   Grade: A+

CC Sabathia (New York Yankees): The Yanks didn’t just grab the best bat on the market, they also got the most talented pitcher in lefty workhorse Sabathia. Off the strength of a historic second half that catapulted the Milwaukee Brewers into the postseason, Sabathia’s value was at an all time high. The Yankees seemed to agree, coughing up $161 million over seven years. If CC pitches like he did down the stretch, the Yankees got a major deal; but if he succumbs to injury or the allure of Dunkin’ Donuts, they could end up swallowing a lot of cash. At just 28 like Teixeria, Sabathia should be one of the AL’s best pitchers well into the next decade. His longterm health will determine the ultimate value of this deal as he has been piling on the innings over the past few years, but nonetheless he makes New York’s rotations one of the best in all of baseball. Grade: A-

Pat Burrell (Tampa Bay Rays): The Rays look to drop off a bit after a fantastic 2008 season, but the addition of Pat “The Bat” Burrell addresses a major need for Tampa, strikeouts and below-average defense a powerful right handed bat to protect Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria in the Rays lineup. He should serve as the team’s full time DH, and will probably hit around  .260 with 30 homeruns and 90 RBI’s, which are significant upgrades over the production at the DH position last year. At two years and only $16 million, “The Bat” should be well worth the gamble and will help the Rays to stay competitive in the AL East.  Grade: B+

Derek Lowe (Atlanta Braves): After losing out on Rafael Furcal and seeing John Smoltz jump to Boston, Braves management knew they needed to act fast and they grabbed the best remaining starter in Derek Lowe. Although he will turn 36 next season, Lowe remains a frontline starter and is coming off a season in which he won 14 games with a 3.24 ERA. Pitching in Turner Field should help this groundball machine chew up plenty on innings for Atlanta. He should be effective for a couple of years, but will likely decline towards the end of his 4 year/$40 million deal. Grade: B

Milton Bradley (Chicago Cubs): The mercurial Bradley has only two seasons of over 400 at-bats, so the Cubs are taking a huge gamble with this 3 year/$30 million deal. The question has never been talent with Bradley (he posted a line of .321-22-77-.436 OBP last season with Texas) but his career has been marked by injuries and off the field issues. He spent most of last season as a DH and was bothered by a litany of ailments throughout the season. If the Cubs are expecting him to get 500 at-bats from a spot in the outfield, they are sorely mistaken. Chicago will probably end up wishing they signed Parker Brothers for this price. Grade: C- 

Francisco Rodriguez (New York Mets): The New York Mets love to blow saves. Francisco Rodriguez, fresh off a record setting 62 save season, does not. As often happens, opposites attract, and the result was a 3 year/$37 million deal that the Mets hope can erase the painful memories of the last two seasons. Besides the saves, K-Rod also posted a 2.24 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout an inning but there has been a noticeable drop in his velocity the past few seasons and long-term health is an issue. Regardless, the Mets filled a major weakness of their ballclub, which should keep their fans happen for the first week of the season or so. Grade: B

 

How will Holliday fare in a pitcher's park?

How will Holliday fare in a pitcher's park?

Matt Holliday (Oakland Athletics): This move was a bit of a shocker as Oakland GM Billy Beane has never been one to take on big contracts and he is on the hook for over $10 million with Holliday next season, but is looking to add offense to his club and take a shot at winning the wild, wild weak AL West.  Holliday is a great hitter, base stealer and a stellar teammate and will provide a huge boost to Oakland’s anemic station-to-station offense. The two-time Silver Slugger should experience a dropoff in his numbers as he is moving from a hitter friendly park (Coors Field) to a field where fly balls go to die (McAfee Coliseum), but will still inject some much needed life into the Athletics. The A’s have one of the deepest farm systems in the game and could afford to part with the three players they gave up (Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith) knowing that they can either deal Holliday at the deadline or let him go at the end of the year and recieve draft picks. If Oakland’s young pitching staff can perform as expected, the A’s may make a run at the division crown. Grade: B+

Randy Johnson (San Francisco Giants): The Giants picked up a future hall-of-famer off the clearance rack with a one year/$8 million deal and add him to a formidable rotation that includes reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and star in the making Matt Cain. Although 45 and quickly losing gas on his fastball, the Big Unit was still effective last year going 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning. Just five wins short of 300, Johnson should help the Giants gain a measure of respectability if he can stay off the DL. Grade: A-

Raul Ibanez (Philadelphia Phillies): Ibanez was one of the few bright spots for the Mariners last season and was arguably their best player hitting .293 with 23 HRs and 110 RBIs, including a ridiculous August where he hit .396. Then again, being the best player on the M’s is kind of like being the most talented musician in Nickleback. Ibanez is already 36 and a liability in the field so a 3 year/$31.5 million deal seems pretty generous and will probably ending up costing Philly more than they gain. Raul is great in the clubhouse, but is sure to decline at the plate. Grade: C-

Willie Bloomquist (Kansas City Royals): The Royals continue their commitment to winning now with the signing of swiss army knife Willie Bloomquist, a player who can man any position in the field, but is more likely find Jimmy Hoffa than crack one out of the park. In 161 at-bats last season, Bloomquist managed exactly one extra base hit (a double) and 9 RBIs. The Royals expect him to compete for the starting second base job, but it is difficult to believe that they don’t have a player in the minors who could duplicate Bloomquist’s numbers for far less than the 2 year/$3.1 million deal he recieved. Quite simply, WTF?!?! Grade: F-

Kerry Wood (Cleveland Indians): Just one season removed from playing for the AL pennant the Indians fell off a cliff due in large part to a bullpen meltdown that would make even Heathcliff Slocumb cringe. Wood excelled in his first season as a closer with 34 saves and 84 punchouts in 66 innings. The former starter stills brings upper 90s heat and is dominant in short stretches, which should bring some stability to Cleveland’s bullpen. If he can stay healthy (a BIG if), the Indians scored a major deal with this 2 year/$20.5 million contract. Grade: B+

Jason Giambi (Oakland A’s): Giambi returns home to the team that drafted him after a torrid seven year affair with Kirk Radomski the Yankees, and should add some punch to a lackluster Athletics offense. While Giambi only hit .247 last season, he slugged 32 HRs and drove in 96 runs in only 458 at-bats and should be able to easily outpace Emil Brown’s production at DH. Giambi should be a great return on Oakland’s 1 year/$4 million investment and the addition of his facial hair and pseudo-mullet made this deal a no brainer. Grade: A-

A.J. Burnett (New York Yankees): The Yankees still had millions burning a hole in their pockets after the signing of CC, so they grabbed another Cy Young candidate in former Bluejay A.J. Burnett. He has some of the best stuff in the game and is coming off a season in which he won 18 games and punched out 231 batters, but the big question with Burnett is whether he can stay healthy over an extended period of time. The Yankees sure seemed to think so, investing 5 years/$82.5 million in him and giving the team one of the most dominant starting fives in recent history (apologies to any Texas Rangers pitching staff of the past 10 years). The addition of Burnett to a rotation including Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Andy Pettite, and Chien Ming Wang make the Yankees the team to beat in the AL East. Grade: B