Virtually every article posted about the Mariners begins with mentioning either Ichiro or newly acquired Eric Bedard—and rightfully so. Those two players will be major factors in the success of the team this coming season.
I'd like to take a different stance though and rather than speak broadly about the team, I'll go position by position and talk about each player and then conclude with a general synopsis of the team as a whole and provide some predictions on performance.
Catcher: Kenji Johjima
While he has been serviceable behind the plate, Joh's addition standing at the dish as been somewhat of a disappointment. Fans were expecting more than the 15 HRs and 65 RBI seasons he has delivered thus far.
His .289 career average is a step up from Dan Wilson, but in what has become a power position, fans may be ready to let go of this import when his contract runs out after this season and see what former USC Trojan and first-round pick Jeff Clement can provide.
First Base: Richie Sexson
By far the biggest offseason mistake for the M's front office was letting go of backup Ben Broussard. Sexson has largely been a disappointment since his arrival in 2004.
Too many strikeouts and not enough hits are his problem and while his 6-foot-8 frame provides a nice target for the infielders, his underachievement in the batter's box means it's time to move on...the only question now is to where?
Second Base: Jose Lopez
Seattle has three true second basemen in camp this spring with Lopez, DH Jose Vidro, and invitee Miguel Cairo. Smart money, however, is on Cairo not making it out of spring training since utility-man Willie Bloomquist is more than a quality third stringer at second.
Lopez has typically been a man of two halves. His strongest numbers are put up prior to the All-Star break and there is usually a significant drop off the second half of the season. He spent this offseason playing winter ball in Venezuela and working on his concentration (however you do that).
But with a contract extension signed last season, it seems the front office has decided to stick with the youngster and rightfully so, this kid has a great future in front of him.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre
Brought in the same year as Richie Sexson, Beltre has not lived up to his contract year with the LA Dodgers in 2003.
Last year, he took home his first gold glove award and that alone may justify his staying on the team. Combined with him still in his 20s, Beltre looks to be in Seattle for a few more years and if he can work on hitting the ball the other way and shooting the gaps more in spacious Safeco Field, it will be money well spent.
Shortstop: Yuniesky Betancourt
The other half of Seattle's young double play tandem, Betancourt seems to be the real deal. With a flashy glove and quick bat (.289 avg. last season), Yuni's stock is on the rise and the M's were smart to lock him up long term with Lopez in hopes of creating a Vizquel-Alomar connection like the Indians of the ’90s.
Left Field: Raul Ibanez
Probably the most consistent player from the middle of the M's lineup. Fans know what to expect from Ibanez: .285, 25, and 100 make up a typical season for the lefty.
His fielding isn't spectacular and this is an area which may have been negatively affected by the Adam Jones trade. He's probably better suited as a DH where he could potentially increase his power numbers without the stress of fielding on his 35-year-old body.
Center Field: Ichiro Suzuki
What is there to say? Perennial All-Star and gold-glover. Fans are never disappointed by No. 51, and with a new contract and the front office making a commitment to improve the talent around him, Ichiro looks to have another solid season because speed never slumps.
Right Field: Brad Wilkerson
A new addition, brought in because of the Bedard-Jones deal, Wilkerson fills a gaping hole in the Mariners’ batting order by providing a left-handed power bat.
The only question mark is how powerful that bat remains in the stadium blamed for Griffey's departure? If he can hit 25 HRs and match the production of Jose Guillen from last season, this signing can be considered a success.
Designated Hitter: Jose Vidro-- A singles hitter should not be a team’s DH. Period.
Newly-acquired Eric Bedard anchors the staff, but at what cost?
Seattle traded its top prospect in Adam Jones as well as its best left handed setup guy in George Sherrill to Baltimore to land Bedard. There's no doubt this guy can pitch, but will he hold up for the season? If he can, then he should put up great numbers in a pitcher's ballpark like Safeco.
Following Bedard is Felix Hernandez. Still only 21 and entering his third major league season, King Felix is hoping to rebound from last year’s letdown and lower his ERA. This kid can matchup against anyone and he proved it by throwing a near no-hitter against Boston last year.
The back end of the rotation consists of over-paid free agent Carlos Silva, lefty Jarrod Washburn, and grandpa Miguel Batista. If those three combine for 40 wins, it'll be a great season for them.
Weakened by the Bedard deal, the bullpen was one of the strongest facets of the team last season. Hopefully Eric O'Flaherty can step in for Sherrill and Brandon Morrow can keep it in the strike zone.
If the starters can eat up some more innings to keep these guys from getting gassed by the end of the season like last year, good things will continue to happen when Manager John McLaren calls on these guys.
Closer: J.J. Putz
Probably a Top 3 closer in the majors, Putz has tamed his young desire to give up the three-run homer and now prefers three straight strikeouts.
With his fastball clocking in the mid-to-high 90s, Seattle has a real gem coming out of the pen and knows a lead is safe when Putz comes in.
The Mariners have been a popular pick to challenge the Angels in the weak AL West, but I'm not quite sold on them just yet.
Their offense is better suited for the National League with the lack of power and their starting rotation still isn't good enough to matchup with the Angels, let alone the Tigers, Red Sox or Indians.
Another 85-to-88-win season is on the horizon for this team that overachieved last year. Hopefully they get a new manager for 2009 (Dan Wilson would get my vote) who will be able to take them over the hump when they will be a legitimate contender.