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The 2009 Mariners showcased promise despite obvious offensive shortcomings thanks to some stellar defense. After a third-place finish in the AL West, a renewed sense of optimism was reinforced last year after the organization added front-line starter Cliff Lee to an already-strong pitching staff backed by a superb defense, and free-agent infielder Chone Figgins in an attempt to spark the offense. Unfortunately for Seattle, the team grossly underachieved as they delivered an abysmal 61-101 record — finishing in last place in the AL West (29 games behind the Rangers). Needless to say, the 2011 outlook doesn’t have the same jovial aura resonating out of it.
In terms of player moves, the notable loss was Cliff Lee of course, who was traded midseason to the Texas Rangers. Lesser known players such as Casey Kotchman (who signed a minor league agreement with Tampa Bay), random-Yankee-destroyer Russell Branyan, recently-retired Ian Snell, and Ryan Rowland-Smith also departed. In return, 2011’s new cast of characters includes Aaron Laffey (of the recently discussed Cleveland Indians), Manny Delcarmen, Gabe Gross, Jamey Wright, Chris Ray, NatonE. Roberts, Josh Bard, Adam Kennedy, Jody Gerut, Moises Hernandez, and Gabriel Guerrero. Four words come to my mind with this lot: role players in abundance. Still, players such as these should may help mitigate some of the vast deviation within the standings.
Inserted below are the tables outlining the 2011 CAIRO and PECOTA projections in addition to the 2010 results for the sake of comparison. Thanks to Matthew C. at Lookout Landing, here’s the likely 25-man roster.
Offensively, the team lacks depth (sounds familiar, right?). Gone are the days where super-sluggers such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, and a not-quite-so-despised Alex Rodriguez donned the navy blue and were mashing balls into the stratosphere above SAFECO Park. According to Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis Tool, this year’s starting lineup can expect to deliver 4.107 runs per game on average. This is a a significant and much-needed improvement upon 2010’s 3.17 R/G which was, by far, the worst mark in all of baseball.
Although the projection systems are not overly bullish about the offense as a whole, there are still a few key pieces worth noting. The Mariners do have one of the more menacing hitters in all of baseball in Ichiro Suzuki(.315/.359/.394 in 2010) who earned a very solid 4.5 bWAR last season (55.2 bWAR over the course of his career). Aside from Ichiro, the projection systems expect a fair amount of the team’s offensive power numbers to come compliments of Jack Cust (who could very well lead the team in OBP). Additionally, Cust is likely to be the only player in the lineup to accumulate at least 20 home runs.
In a perfect world, former Texas-top-prospect Justin Smoak finally lives up to his potential, making the Cliff Lee trade a bit easier to stomach for Seattle fans. Should Milton Bradley ever manage to get his head screwed on straight for any extended period of time, he too could contribute some additional power (although at this point, I wouldn’t bet on a repeat performance of his 2008 Texas campaign which earned him AL MVP consideration).
Of the players most likely to overachieve, Franklin Gutierrez may be the most realistic bet. After hitting .283/.339/.425 in 2009 (5.4 bWAR), his slash line fell all the way to .245/.303/.363 in 2010 (still good for a 3.4 bWAR). Given Gutierrez’ talent combined with excellent speed, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where he continues to play an outstanding center field, grabs 25 stolen bases, and once again garners a WAR above five thanks to a solid contact rate. One other point to consider with Gutierrez is the fact that he apparently suffered from stomach issues in 2010 which have since been alleviated.
The bench is likely to be filled out by Adam Moore, Chris Gimenez, Adam Kennedy, and Gabe Gross. Mike Carp could be a contender for one of those bench spots as well. While these guys are an improvement over 2010’s bench, this group will obviously not make or break the season.
So let’s talk pitching. There hasn’t been a Seattle pitcher as dominant as Felix Hernandez since Epic Bird Destroyer/Knock Your Stupid-Ass Out (KYSO™)/The Big Unit Randy Johnson. Long story short, King Felix is going to throw a lot of innings. He’s going to have the best ERA, FIP, BB/9 and K/9 on the staff (launching him into the Cy Young Award talks yet again). For all you Yankee romantics out there who are envisioning him in pinstripes at some point this season, stop. Simply, stop. Moshe rained monsooned on your parade the other day regarding this, and when I asked Matthew C. his thoughts on the matter, his answer was about definitive as it could get.
“There is no possibility at this time that Felix Hernandez is a Yankee by the end of 2011. None.”
The good news is we can still dream (and set MLB The Show ’11 game settings to the “force trade” mode).
After that, the rotation discussion becomes a bit more ominous. Jason Vargas and Doug Fister project serviceable results, although CAIRO and PECOTA are dubious about their expected workloads. What’s really troubling about these two guys is that neither has particularly desirable peripheral stats; fortunately the large confines of SAFECO will help mask the damage to some extent. We all know Erik Bedard‘s story; the guy has some decent tools but can’t stay healthy. In the spirit of encouraging spring training clichés, reports from the Seattle camp thus far regarding Berdard’s health are — you guessed it — cautiously optimistic. The fifth spot will probably be handed to up-and-coming rookie, Michael Pineda. However, Luke French and/or David Pauley are valid options for the fifth slot should Pineda’s production, health, or workload become a factor.
Perhaps the majority of competition in this year’s camp resides in the bullpen. The likely relievers are Brandon League, Chris Ray, Dan Cortes, Garrett Olson, Jamey Wright, Aaron Laffey, and David Pauley. Luke French and Josh Lueke could find themselves in this mix as well. As the table indicates, Brandon League is the centerpiece of the bullpen; he’s expected to lead the group in ERA, FIP, K/9, and probably BB/9. The rest of the bullpen is much less appealing as each member has a projected ERA/FIP well north of 4.00.
Basically, my sentiments about this club mirror that of Matthew C’s.
“…the 2011 Mariners likely are going to finish last again in the AL West, but not by nearly as large a margin as last season. They’ve improved and the gap between them and the rest of the division might only be about ten games or so. Additionally, the team has some upside. Erik Bedard is currently healthy. Franklin Gutierrez has his stomach issues from last season now diagnosed and dealt with and there’s a bevy of rookies and second year players that could take steps forward and become major contributors. It’s no guarantee of course, but there’s a chance.”
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