The Seattle Mariners did not have a season for the books last year. They won just 67 games, and all the problems that plagued them in 2010 plagued them once again in 2011.
Specifically, the Mariners just couldn't hit. They finished dead last in the majors in runs in 2010, and they finished dead last again in 2011. Solid pitching totals went completely to waste.
But believe it or not, things are not that bleak for the Mariners as far as 2012 is concerned. Let's take a look at what's in store for them this season.
2011 Record: 67-95
Key Arrivals (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports): C Jesus Montero and RHP Hector Noesi (from New York Yankees), C John Jaso (from Tampa Bay Rays), LHP Lucas Luetge (Rule 5 draft from Milwaukee), LHP George Sherrill (FA), RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (FA, Japan), RHP Aaron Heilman (minor league FA), LHP Oliver Perez (minor league FA), RHP Kevin Millwood (minor league FA), INF/OF Carlos Guillen (minor league FA), LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (FA), RHP Shawn Camp (FA).
Key Departures: RHP Michael Pineda (to New York Yankees), RHP Josh Lueke (to Tampa Bay), INF Adam Kennedy (FA), OF Wily Mo Pena (FA), C Josh Bard (FA), RHP Dan Cortes (non-tendered), RHP Jamey Wright (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- Felix Hernandez (14-14, 3.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)
- Jason Vargas (10-13, 4.25, 1.31)
- Hisashi Iwakuma (6-7, 2.42 ERA in Japan)
- Blake Beavan (5-6, 4.27, 1.25)
- Charlie Furbush (4-10, 5.48, 1.49)
- Hector Noesi (2-2, 4.47, 1.51)
C: Miguel Olivo (.224/.253/.388)
1B: Justin Smoak (.234/.323/.396)
2B: Dustin Ackley (.273/.348/.417)
3B: Chone Figgins (.188/.241/.243)
SS: Brendan Ryan (.248/.313/.326)
LF: Mike Carp (.276/.326/.466)
CF: Franklin Gutierrez (.224/.261/.273)
RF: Ichiro Suzuki (.272/.310/.335)
DH: Jesus Montero (.328/.406/.590)
UPDATE: March 3
Franklin Gutierrez is hurt again, suffering a pectoral injury at Mariners camp. The word from Larry LaRue of The News Tribune is that Gutierrez is going to miss 4-6 weeks.
Shawn Kelley (R) (0-0, 1 HLD, 0.00 ERA, 0.79 WHIP)
Tom Wilhelmsen (R) (2-0, 3 HLD, 3.31, 1.16)
Chance Ruffin (R) (1-0, 1 HLD, 4.08, 1.53)
Steve Delabar (R) (1-1, 2.57, 1.29)
George Sherrill (L) (3-1, 7 HLD, 1 BLSV, 3.00, 1.25)
Cesar Jimenez (L) (1-0, 5.40, 1.35)
Closer: Brandon League (R) (1-5, 37 SV, 5 BLSV, 2.79, 1.08)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
Seattle's starting pitching was pretty solid last season. The team had a collective ERA of 3.90, and only the Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers got more quality starts than Seattle's 94.
The duo of Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda was largely responsible for that. However, Pineda is in New York now, traded so the Mariners could add Jesus Montero's high-ceiling bat. It was a good trade for the Mariners, but now, their starting rotation is a little shakier.
They know what they're going to get out of Hernandez. He's one of the best there is, and he will be in the mix for the Cy Young this season. Aside from him, the Mariners will be looking for more consistency out of Jason Vargas out of the No. 2 spot in the rotation. He posted an ERA under 3.00 in both June and September, but he was knocked around pretty badly in April, July and August.
Hisashi Iwakuma is the wild card here. He had a very successful career in Japan, but he battled shoulder problems last season, and the Seattle Times pointed out that scouts are concerned about his velocity. At least he'll be pitching at Safeco Field.
That goes for all of Seattle's starters, of course, and that's a good thing.
Scouting the Bullpen
Brandon League really came into his own closing games out for Seattle in 2011. He's always had good stuff, but the difference last season was that League really tightened up his control. He only walked 10 guys all season, resulting in a BB/9 of 1.47, fifth-lowest in the American League.
League did strike out fewer guys than usual, but he did himself a favor by not getting hit hard. He held opponents to a .325 slugging percentage.
Long story short, League is a solid closer. If the Mariners get him a lead, he'll reward them more often than not.
Getting the ball to League won't be quite as easy. Hong-Chih Kuo had elbow problems last season, Shawn Camp's WHIP was over 1.50 and George Sherrill hasn't pitched more than 36.1 innings in two seasons.
Still, Seattle's bullpen finished third in the AL with a 3.61 ERA last season. It's safe to expect that it will be solid once again.
Scouting the Hitting
There's actually more room for optimism concerning Seattle's offense than you might think.
Mariners fans should be very excited about Jesus Montero. He's still largely unproven at the major league level, but he absolutely raked after the Yankees brought him up last season. He hit .328 and posted an OPS of .996, which is in elite territory. He can flat-out hit, and the sky's the limit as far as his potential.
In addition, the Mariners should benefit from having Dustin Ackley for a full season. He tailed off at the end of the 2011 season after the league adjusted to him, but the talent is there. He can hit, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he came into his own this season.
The other guy to keep an eye on is Justin Smoak, who has plenty of pop. All he needs to do is make contact consistently.
We also can't overlook the two big names in the lineup: Ichiro and Chone Figgins. Ichiro is declining before our very eyes, but he'll still manage to give the Mariners a little something. If they can get a little something (see "anything") from Figgins too, this lineup will be deeper than it looks now.
UPDATE: Mariners manager Eric Wedge has confirmed that Ichiro to the No. 3 spot in the order. Per the Associated Press, Wedge has yet to determine who will bat leadoff.
Take a wild guess. It's Felix Hernandez, and man, is he a stud.
Hernandez was not as dominant in 2011 as he was in 2010. Not even close. However, his strikeout and walk numbers stayed steady (3.31 K/BB in 2010 and 2011), a sign that Hernandez's slight decline wasn't a control or stuff problem.
For lack of a better word, it may have been a luck problem. Hernandez's BABIP jumped up from .263 in 2010 to .307 in 2011, a pretty significant increase.
If that number dips back below .300 this season, Hernandez will be lethal again.
I talked about him a little bit above, but it's worth it to stop and talk about Jesus Montero again.
We only got to see Montero for a month in 2011, but what struck me about his stay in the big leagues was how quickly he started mashing. He went 0-4 in his debut, but then went on a six-game hitting streak that included a two-homer outburst against Baltimore. The hits kept coming after that, and Montero eventually finished the month with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats.
The player Montero is most often compared to is Miguel Cabrera, which is high praise. But judging from what we've seen, it's a valid comparison. Montero has plenty of pop, but he's also a smart hitter with great plate coverage.
So like I said, Mariners fans should be very excited.
I have to go with Figgins here. He's not as bad as he's shown the last two years. He simply can't be.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com penned a column in which he pushes for Figgins' return to the leadoff spot, and Figgins himself said the idea would be "great." I say great too.
The bulk of Figgins' careers ABs have come in the leadoff spot, and he owns a career average of .289 and an OPS of .747 batting leadoff. His numbers batting second don't stack up at all.
Ultimately, it will be Eric Wedge's decision, and this decision will mean moving Ichiro out of the lead-off spot. That borders on being blasphemy, but it will be worth it if Figgins bats lead-off and rediscovers his old form.
Prospect to Watch
I have to go with James Paxton. The organization started him at the Single-A level in 2011, but Paxton quickly proved he was better than that by posting a 2.73 ERA and by striking out 80 batters in 56 innings.
Paxton got the bump to Double-A, where he proceeded to be even better. He posted a 1.85 ERA, striking out 51 hitters in 39 innings.
Paxton is the kind of prospect you can get easily excited about. He's a lefty who can throw in the mid-90s with good breaking stuff and a change-up that is coming along. At the rate he's advancing, he might get to the big leagues in 2012.
What the Mariners Will Do Well
They're not going to have Pineda, but I still think the Mariners are going to pitch well. I'm looking for Hernandez to return to form, and the rest of Seattle's starters have the potential to be pretty solid. Pitching in Safeco Field will help all of them. Franklin Gutierrez will help them too as long as he stays healthy.
What the Mariners Won’t Do Well
They'll hit better, but they're not about to start tearing the cover off the ball. The formula for this team will be pitching, defense and just enough offense. They couldn't get just enough offense in 2011. In 2012, getting just enough is the best-case scenario.
The Mariners will be better in 2012 than they were in 2011. The new additions to their lineup will help them score more runs, and they will score even more runs if they let Figgins bat lead-off. If they generate more offense, they'll generate more wins.
But in the AL West, the Mariners are nowhere close to being ready to compete with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. Instead, the Mariners will be in a dogfight with the Oakland Athletics to stay out of the basement.
Projected Finish: 74-88, third in AL West.
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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