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.
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)
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…
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.