To many, the Seattle Mariners have little chance of contending in the AL West. Last season, they finished fourth in the division. And unfortunately for them, it appears to have only gotten stronger.
The Angels were the offseason's MVP, signing the best hitter in all of baseball in Albert Pujols, as well as C.J Wilson, a 16 game winner with sub 3.00 ERA last season for the rival Rangers. Pujols adds a much needed power presence in the heart of the Angels lineup, while Wilson gives the club possibly the deepest pitching staff in the AL.
On top of that, the M's also have to go through the reigning AL West champion Texas Rangers, who are coming off two straight trips to the World Series. And besides the loss of Wilson, they return all of the core group that took them there.
With all that said, there are still some reasons to believe the Mariners can make something happen in the West.
Let's start with the obvious.
While the Angels may have the deepest staff, the M's still have the best pitcher in the division.
Even though he didn't pitch as well as he did during his 2010 CY Young Award winning season, King Felix still had a 1.22 WHIP and 222 strikeouts in 2011. And when you look at his season from a sabermetric standpoint, you see he was still dominant. Felix finished ninth in the league in xFIP, the best of any AL West pitcher.
Expect another dominant season, and his ERA to greatly improve from the 3.47 he posted last year.
Speaking of Felix, one of the reasons he has only eclipsed 15 wins in a season once is the lack of run support he has been afforded. The M's have desperately needed some pop in their lineup, as evidenced by them finishing 25th in home runs this past season
Well, they addressed that problem this offseason, acquiring Venezuelan slugger Jesus Montero from the Yankees.
Though only 22 years old, Montero has shown he is major league ready. He will be the team's primary DH and likely have around 500 ABs.
Montero may easily crank 20-25 home runs this season. Such a total would have led the team last season.
The M's called up Ackley on June 17th last season, and had an impressive first go around of the majors. Ackley hit .273, knocked in 36 runs, and had a very respectable .348 OBP.
This year the 24-year-old Ackley opens the season with the M's and will look to build upon the numbers.
Ten or more home runs, 75 RBI, and a .280 average isn't unreasonable. Pretty good numbers coming from the No. 2 spot.
Surprise! It's another young bat.
Carp finally earned regular playing time after his June 8th call-up last season. Carp more than delivered, hitting 12 home runs and knocking in 46 runs in only 290 ABs.
While Carp is currently on the DL, it won't keep him out too long, and he may play in the M's home opener.
Like Jesus Montero, Carp may very will hit 25 HRs, and give the M's a more dangerous offense than past seasons.
League took over the closing role last season due to an injury to David Aardsma and was fantastic.
He finished the 2011 season with 36 saves, a 2.79 ERA, and an excellent 1.08 WHIP.
He doesn't rack up strikeouts, but he is a very solid pitcher, and there is little reason to expect a much of a regression.
With the all the fluctuation that usually occurs with closers, the Mariners have found someone they can count on.
No question, for his standards, Ichiro had a down year last season. He batted .272, which was the first time in his career he hit under .300. It wasn't a bad year, .272 is fine, and he did swipe 40 bags.
Still, many believe Ichiro has begun the twilight of his career.
That is possible, he is 38 after all. But I wouldn't be so quick to to write off Ichiro.
In 2008, Ichiro's BA dipped 41 points from his .351 average 2007, yet in 2009 it leapt back up 42 points to .352.
I'm not saying Ichiro will return to his batting champion ways, but a .300 average again is certainly possible, and would greatly benefit the M's.
Chone Figgins has had a rough past couple of seasons. Figgins went from having a BA of .298 and an OBP of .395 in 2010, his last season with the Angels, to a disappointing 2010, and then a disastrous 2011, where those numbers dropped to .188 and .241, respectively.
But there is some hope for a return to at least pretty good play.
"I feel good leading off, because it's what I've always done. But more important is the fact that I'm healthy. The last 10 games, I've been feeling much better.
"I missed most of last season, and when I was out there, I was trying to play through a labrum [strain] in my right hip. I was trying to plant [in the batter's box], be aggressive like I've always been, but it just wasn't there."
Just like Ichiro, Figgins will likely not put up the same numbers were accustomed to seeing, but he has the track record to make us expect an improvement from 2011. The M's would gladly take a .270 average and a .340 OBP from him, especially when you consider what he can do when on the basepaths.