First off, let's just get this out there: The 2009 Seattle Mariners will not reach the postseason. Got it? Good. Let's move on.
With first year manager Don Wakamatsu, and new GM Jack Zduriencik (pronounced zur-EN-sik) coming over from Milwaukee, a new look team will take the field, but results will probably remain the same. Here are some of the top questions going into the 2009 season for this young ballclub.
1. Name That Pitcher
Pop quiz: How many pitchers won at least 10 games for the Mariners last season? Answer: zero. 23-year-old Felix Hernandez led the team in wins (nine), innings pitched (200.2), and strikeouts (175). But other than him, no one performed to his capabilities, which allows Spring Training to be an open forum for those who want to be in the rotation.
Erik Bedard is going to have to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2008 season and is claiming to be 100 percent healthy, but it's a wait and see game.
Pitchers to watch during Spring Training: Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Carlos Silva, Garrett Olson, Miguel Batista, and Jarrod Washburn.
2. Where's the Beef?
Pop quiz: Who led the team in home runs last year? Answer: Adrian Beltre, who finished with 25 homers but only 77 RBI to go along with it. Beltre was the only American League player, along with Oakland's Jack Cust and Detroit's Marcus Thames, to have at least 25 home runs and fewer than 80 RBI.
Seattle lost their most productive offensive weapon in Raul Ibanez when he signed as a free agent with the world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Youngsters Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien need to step up and provide some pop to a ballclub that finished 12th in the A.L. in home runs, and brought back only two players who surpassed the double-digit mark in long balls. Second baseman Jose Lopez went yard 17 times last season.
3. Who's Running the Show?
This is manager Don Wakamatsu's first go around as a big league manager and he's been dealt a young group of ball players with a few veterans mixed in. But overall, what is Wakamatsu's coaching style?
With nonexistent power taking up most of the spots on the lineup card, the fans in Seattle are going to be in for a lot of small ball. Lucky for them, Safeco is built for that type of play. But playing small ball requires knowing what buttons to push and when to push them. How long will the starters go? This season isn't going to just be an audition for the players; Wakamatsu will also be on display.
4. Chem. Is. Try.
Sorry, my high school chemistry teacher buried that saying into my head. Anyone remember the story that broke out last year where it was revealed that there were various players who were talking about going after Ichiro in a violent fashion? While that particular story was all speculation, the tension and friction in the clubhouse was obvious.
Veterans like Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney, who may no longer be at the peak of their careers, are clubhouse guys who were brought in to hopefully build some much-needed camaraderie.
Seattle fans have been patient, but when is enough going to be enough? Unfortunately, the turnaround won't come this season with such a vast amount of young hitters and either aging or unproven pitchers. Seattle hasn't been to the postseason since 2001, when they won 116 games, and last year became the first team in history to lose at least 100 games with a roster whose salary tops $100 million. Ouch.
Players to Watch
Can he bounce back from a disappointing first season in Seattle?
What's bigger: his contract or waistline?
The 26-year-old Aussie southpaw finished the season strong and has strong upside.
Sure bet to be trade bait midway through the season. Will his numbers be good enough to get value in return?
A slow but steady decline in this young shortstop's offensive and defensive game has fans questioning his ability.
After coming four outs short of throwing a no-hitter in his first career major league start last September, he crashed back down to Earth, going 1-2 with an ERA over 10.00.