FOR ANYONE WHO CARES... MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
For better or worse, and usually worse, I have been a Mariners fan since 1977. It has been 32 long years, with few playoff appearances... but I remain steadfast. Here for your perusal is how I view the M's outlook for 2009.
After five disastrous years with General Manager Bill Bavasi making trades and signing free agent players, the team is heading in a new direction with new GM Jack Zduriencik in place. He comes to the Mariners from the Milwaukee Brewers organization, where he built a reputation as a good judge of young talent. The Mariners are in "rebuilding" mode now, hoping to acquire young players to build a consistently competitive team for the future.
RETURNING PLAYERS include:
- right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, who is good for at least 200 base hits per season, good defense and good stolen base totals - rising second baseman Jose Lopez, who is gaining consistency as a hitter - shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, a good talent when he is focused on the game and when he is in shape
- starting pitcher Felix Hernandez, one of the youngest/best SPs in MLB
- starting pitcher Erik Bedard, who pitched well in 15 starts for Seattle after arriving in a mega-trade with Baltimore; he had injury problems in 2008, but if healthy in 2009 he will be a big plus for the M's
- starting pitcher Carlos Silva, signed to a huge contract last winter by the departed Bavasi; Silva pitched horribly last season, but has reported to Spring Training in much better shape and 30 pounds lighter
- young pitcher Brandon Morrow, who will either be a starter or will pitch from the bullpen; he projects better as a starting pitcher
- catcher Kenji Johjima, who had a worthless year at the plate in 2008 and who pitchers may not like to throw to all that much... and he still has a few years to go on his Bavasi-generated contract at about $10 million a year... sigh...
- young outfielder Wladimir Balentien, who struggled mightily at the plate as a rookie last year
- young catcher/designated hitter Jeff Clement, like Balentien potentially a good power hitter who has struggled so far in the majors
- Aussie pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, who showed promise in his audition as a starting pitcher last season
- Jarrod Washburn, an overpaid veteran starting pitcher who has been mediocre in his three years in Seattle after being signed to a huge deal by Bavasi
- Miguel Batista: see Jarrod Washburn
- Adrian Beltre, possibly one of the better third basemen in the game; an above-average hitter, he won the Gold Glove award at 3B in 2008
- Mike Morse, who can hit reasonably well and who plays a number of positions (but none too well); he has had a history of injury problems
- a slug of re-tread types return in the bullpen, although young Mark Lowe might be ready to assume the job of finishing games; if not, Roy Corcoran, Tyler Walker or David Aardsma might step into that job.
- last but not least, former Mariner and fan-favorite Ken Griffey, Jr. was brought back as a free agent; his presence will help put fans in the seats during what could be a grim season. He might be good for 25 homers if his body is able to handle a full season mostly as DH with a bit of outfield.
NEW FACES include:
- young outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, excellent defensively, still needs work on the hitting; acquired in a big trade in which Seattle bullpen ace J.J. Putz was traded to the Mets
- veteran outfielder Endy Chavez, also acquired in the Putz trade, is excellent with the glove but is a mediocre hitter
- Chris Shelton, Mike Sweeney and Russell Branyan are re-tread first base/DH types who are looking for a place to play; all were signed as free agents this winter
- starting pitcher Garrett Olson, acquired from the Cubs, has had problems in the majors but still has potential
- infielder Ronny Cedeno, also acquired from the Cubs, could push Betancourt for the starting shortstop job if he has a good Spring Training
- young first baseman Mike Carp, acquired from the Mets in the Putz trade; will probably start this season in the minor leagues at the AAA (highest) level
- a slug of re-tread relievers were signed, probably to create competition in the bullpen
For a 162-game schedule, I wouldn't bet on the Mariners to win more than 75 to 80 games... that only equals a win-loss mark of anywhere from 75-87 to 80-82 for the 2009 season. However, in June the team will have something like four or five of the first 40-or-so picks in the MLB draft of college and high-school players. Then there will be the chance to land more young players in trades at MLB's trading deadline at the end of July when the team will likely trade (or at least try to trade) some of the veterans with big contracts (i.e. Beltre, Washburn, Silva, Batista, and Johjima).
This team will be pretty good defensively, but with uncertainty about how much power-hitting they'll have, it looks like runs will have to be "scratched out", and that many will come from what is known as "small ball"... getting on base with a single or a walk, the next guy moves you to second base on a groundout, you steal third, then you score on a sacrifice fly... that kind of thing.
The starting rotation is potentially very good. Hernandez should be good, and Bedard will be if he stays healthy. Morrow and Rowland-Smith are developing nicely as SPs, and Washburn and/or Silva will be in the rotation unless traded. The bullpen is a huge question mark, but looks to be at least average.
Don't bet on them to win the World Series this season, or next. But along about 2011, look for the Mariners to rise up, on the shoulders of young talent from within the Seattle organization, and contend for the American League West Division title.
And finally... because the world ends in December of 2012 according to the Mayan calendar and because Seattle has never been to the World Series, there should be a sense of urgency. The Mariners MUST make it to the World Series in the fall of 2012! 8-)