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Two-for-One MLB Previews: Seattle and Chicago

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Two-for-One MLB Previews: Seattle and Chicago
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

You’ll begin to notice that there are a lot of division winners still not revealed. I’m not saying one will be up today, but given that the Cubs have yet to go and a fall to fourth would be disastrous, I think you can put two and two together.

Same with the Angels, I think you can piece together them not finishing dead last in the division, so Seattle must be fourth. Luckily I’ve still got some suspense left up my sleeve, because the AL East is in doubt right now.

Past Previews: TB/SD, TEX/CIN, MIN/PIT, TOR/STL, BAL/LAD, OAK/HOU, CHI/FLA, DET/NYM, KC/COL

Current Standings

ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, Baltimore, Toronto

ALC: 1, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City

ALW: 1, Oakland, Texas, 4

NLE: Florida, 2, New York Mets, 4, 5

NLC: 1, St. Louis, Cincinnati, 4, Houston, Pittsburgh

NLW: 1, Los Angeles, 3, Colorado, San Diego

* Wild Card

Seattle Mariners – AL West

Last Year: Finished Fourth in AL West

Notable Additions: IF Mike Sweeney, IF Mike Carp, IF Russell Branyan, IF Ronny Cedeno, OF Franklin Gutierrez, OF Ken. Griffey Jr., OF Endy Chavez, SP Garrett Olson, SP Jason Vargas, RP David Aardsma, RP Tyler Johnson, RP Chad Cordero

Notable Subtractions: IF Miguel Cairo, IF Willie Bloomquist, IF Luis Valbuena, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Jeremy Reed, RP Sean Green, RP J.J. Putz

Underrated addition: Franklin Gutierrez

He’ll be missed: J.J. Putz

Gutierrez could be the answer in center field. Putz was their closer; do they really have a capable replacement?

Biggest Key to Success: One Year Later

Was this team for real?

Many, including myself, thought this would be a team challenging the Angels for heavens sakes.

They finished dead last in the division and lost over 100 games.

They went for it by gaining Erik Bedard and the thought was the old regime had to get it done or it would be time to pack up.

It was time to pack up.

Now we know there is talent there. Last year, there was talent but there were a lot of questionable pieces that turned out to be not what any team needed.

Can they turn it around this year and at least challenge for something other than the AL West basement?

The team is different. They’ll have new starters at first base, two of the three outfield spots, two starting pitching spots, and a new closer. But it all might be for better.

If not, Mike Carp, Jeff Clement, Wladimir Balentien, and Matt Tuiasosopo should all be pushed as soon as possible.

 

Biggest Concern: Don’t Hurt Me

This team does not have a closer.

Mark Lowe may be an answer, but we don’t know that.

Chad Cordero was signed to a minor-league deal, and when he gets healthy, the Mariners probably should be looking his way.

Seattle also has two aces in their rotation. Felix Hernandez needs run support, while Erik Bedard needs a warm compress. If Erik Bedard isn’t healthy and effective, they have to lean on the likes of Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva. Yuk, Carlos Silva.

The Ken Griffey Jr. that the Mariners are getting is the one from his days in Cincinnati not his previous stint in Seattle.

They got bit by the injury bug last year and if it continues to happen this year, their chances, which were not high to begin with, to do well, go down even more.

 

Biggest Change: Okay, What a Mess

Former General Manager Bill Bavasi did his best job to completely destroy the Mariners before he was eventually canned. Bavasi was a fantastic GM in terms of the farm system; look at some of the players the organization produced during his tenure.

The one sticking point with that is that a lot of that talent was producing for other teams.

Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Soriano, Shin-Soo Choo, and George Sherrill were all traded by Bavasi with returns that have not paid off.

Perhaps the complete let down of 2008 was a good thing for the future of the organization, or else Bavasi would have found a way to trade off Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement for three boxes of crackers, a bucket of soap, and Mark Bellhorn.

Look, Seattle still has talent and new man in charge Jack Zduriencik spun a few deals to find some more.

Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez are probably the keys to the J.J. Putz trade. With a possible platoon of Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney, the Mariners might need Carp sooner rather than later.

Ronny Cedeno and Garrett Olson are both major league players that could get the opportunity to sink or swim.

Then of course the Mariners tried to do some patch work in terms of smaller holes. Bringing back Ken Griffey Jr. for one more go around could prove to be better in terms of ticket sales, but as a DH he could hit 20 home runs if given the shot.

The new group led by Zduriencik seems to be on track and they appear to have at least made a trade that will give them a good return.

 

Team MVP: Ichiro Suzuki, OF

I mean really?

Throughout all this, Ichiro is still with Seattle.

He’s the one constant and that’s good. With the addition of Gutierrez, Ichiro can slide back over to right field and continue to produce.

Here are the things you can count on from Ichiro every year:

200 hits, 100 runs, 30 stolen bases, .300 average, .350 on-base percentage, 96 percent of games played in, and eight outfield assists.

Ichiro has reached those numbers in every single year of his major league career and you can probably bank on it again in 2009.

Sure, he’s getting older, but he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. His power doesn’t have to go anywhere because he barely uses it anyway, so even if he loses it, it won’t be noticeable.

He’s durable, he plays great defense, and most importantly, he just hits the damn ball.

He’s stolen 81 percent of the bases he’s attempted to steal, rarely getting caught and always providing his team with opportunities to get on the board.

Have I praised this guy for being awesome enough yet?

 

On the Rise: Jose Lopez, 2B

There has been talk about moving Jose Lopez from second to first base because of his surprising run producing numbers. Near-20 home run power, he knocked in 89 runs last year for a team 26th in the entire game in runs scored, and he’s a .300 hitter.

Not ideal first-baseman numbers, but better than what they may have.

I’d be keeping Lopez at second base though, even though he may commit some errors at the spot, the production they get from him at second is valuable.

Look, he’s one of the best hitting second basemen in the entire game and no one really notices him because A.) He plays on the west coast for a bad team and B.) He’s only 25.

I’d keep an eye out on Jose Lopez, he’s going to continue to get better, and he’s one of the few shining stars that the Mariners have that has produced so far.

 

Overview

I was one of the fools that bought into Seattle last year.

And now I’d rather be one of the fools that don’t buy into them this year, even if there is potential to bounce back a little.

Personally, even if I were to believe they could have half the year most of us thought they would have had last year, I wouldn’t know where to look.

Ichiro is great and they got players like Jose Lopez and Felix Hernandez. Hey if Erik Bedard doesn’t trip on his shoelaces, the Mariners have as dangerous a one-two punch at the top as anyone.

They’ll need a lot of things to break their way though. Adrian Beltre will have to have one of those contract years he likes to have when he playing for cash, and the Mariners would have to get over their fear of playing Jeff Clement over Kenji Johjima.

Either way, I’m not buying to the Mariner kool-aid until I see some evidence, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them at least put a decent product onto the field, which is progress from 2008.

Prediction: Finish Fourth in the AL West

Chicago Cubs – NL Central

Last Year: Won NL Central, Lost in NLDS

Notable Additions: C Paul Bako, IF Aaron Miles, OF Joey Gathright, OF Milton Bradley, SP Aaron Heilman, RP Kevin Gregg, RP Luis Vizcaino, RP Jeff Stevens

Notable Subtractions: C Henry Blanco, IF Daryle Ward, IF Mark DeRosa, IF Ronny Cedeno, OF Felix Pie, SP Jason Marquis, SP Rich Hill, RP Michael Wuertz, RP Kerry Wood, RP Bob Howry, P Jose Ceda

OF Jim Edmonds, P Jon Lieber

Underrated addition: Jeff Stevens

He’ll be missed: Mark DeRosa

Stevens could make an impact in the bullpen mid-season. DeRosa was a clubhouse presence and a fan-favorite.

Biggest Key to Success: Don’t Mess with Success

For all the changes they did make, Chicago managed to keep a good chunk of the core group that made them successful in 2008.

Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, and Rich Harden return to head up the rotation. Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, and Aramis Ramirez are all back in the lineup as arguably, Chicago’s best position players.

Their bullpen figures to be just as strong, despite the loss of Kerry Wood at the back end.

So while they made some changes that we’ll talk about later, they did a good job of holding onto some of the important parts that made them run like well-oiled machine.

One thing that really needs to happen though is good health. This team is infinitely better with Alfonso Soriano in the lineup, and at the top for that matter, so keeping him healthy is going to be huge.

Derrek Lee is another name that needs to keep himself off the DL and on the diamond for the Cubs to enjoy some success.

Carlos Zambrano, who has had his share of bumps and bruises, is the ace of the staff, so keep “Big Z” around all year and you keep everyone else in line.

Then of course, Rich Harden, who managed to stay healthy a good portion of the time he was with Chicago. If they can continue to manage Harden like they did after the acquired him, and he can stay healthy for a majority of the season, the Cubs will be in good shape.

 

Biggest Concern: Fukudome, the Outfield, Sheesh

The Cubs fans have to be thinking to themselves, “What did we get ourselves into with this Kosuke Fukudome character?”

He was beloved early in the season when he made an instant impact.

By the end of the season, he was exposed for what he really was, marginal.

It’s thought that the Milton Bradley addition will replace and better Fukudome, but it is up to Fukudome to replace some of the production left behind between Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson.

He better fix whatever it is that ailed him in the second half of last season.

Especially if Bradley finds himself hurt. That would leave the Cubs very thin in the outfield and that is something they cannot afford to have.

Fukudome’s salary has jumped from $6 million up to $11.5 million, making it even more crucial for him to earn his keep.

 

Biggest Change: Get A Little Hasty?

I really want to know the rationale behind some moves the Chicago Cubs made this offseason.

On the field, potential production-wise and even as far as matchups and all that fun stuff goes. Trading Mark DeRosa so you can sign Milton Bradley makes all sorts of sense.

But in every other sense of the idea...it’s just dumb.

A veteran clubhouse guy and that everyone loves is to be replaced by a malcontent that hasn’t kept a job anywhere he’s gone because he’s either gotten hurt or thrown a bucket of balls?

The equation doesn’t make sense, but if the Cubs think they can avoid the downfalls that come with Bradley and think his production will surpass DeRosa’s and Bradley’s own demons, fine by me.

I’m more puzzled with the idea that they changed a lot about their team because it seemed as if they weren’t good enough.

They are good enough, that’s the thing. They just got cold in October, there’s nothing you can do about that other than to make sure you hit your stride at the right time.

Their efforts to get Jake Peavy fell short, so nothing really changes other than plugging Sean Marshall or Aaron Heilman into the back end of the rotation in place of Jason Marquis.

They tinkered with their bullpen, letting Kerry Wood walk, trading for Kevin Gregg to replace Carlos Marmol, who will slide into Wood’s closers spot. They also let some pieces like Bob Howry walk and acquired a youngster, Jeff Stevens, in the DeRosa deal.

They also go a second baseman in Aaron Miles, not flashy, but keeping Mike Fontenot in a role similar to DeRosa’s is probably key.

Still, that’s a lot of changes for a team coming off a near-100 win season. While I don’t support complacency, I still don’t think a mass change was needed all that much, even if they had to make cuts for costs.

 

Team MVP: Alfonso Soriano, OF

I don’t personally buy the argument that Alfonso Soriano should be moved from the leadoff role. I say, if you got something working for you, and then don’t toy with it.

Eight-hundred and fifty-five runs, second in the majors, is pretty good, especially when Soriano played in just 109 games.

But I understand the want to do so. Especially if Ryan Theriot can fill that spot and perhaps make it better in a different way.

Soriano’s danger from the leadoff spot is great. He can run too so what’s the big deal? I personally love seeing Grady Sizemore leadoff, so what if he’s hitting 35 plus home runs from the spot?

You only are guaranteed one leadoff at-bat per game.

Still, Soriano will probably be moving down at some point this year and it shouldn’t matter, he’s still a big chunk of the collective heart of the Cubs lineup. I won’t get into “a should he shouldn’t he move down” debate.

Soriano is perhaps the most dangerous hitter on the Cubs and there are spots in a season he can carry the team.

Honorable mention to Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, but it seems like Soriano in the leadoff spot and in the lineup for that matter is a much more lethal punch.

 

On the Rise: Geovany Soto, C

Have you ever got this good feeling about a player the minute you saw them? It seems like in 2007, when we finally saw Geovany Soto as himself, hitting; I got a good feeling about him.

He expanded on that feeling after he got himself the starting catching role.

Personally, 60 extra-base hits as a rookie catcher excites me. Only Brian McCann had more among catchers in the entire game.

And there is plenty of room for that number and all the other ones to grow.

The striking out isn’t abnormal; he gets on base enough for me. He’s pretty solid all around and he’s just 26.

So here is me continuing on that good feeling and saying Soto is just going to keep getting better. Soto on the rise in 2009, even with Brian McCann and Russell Martin in the same league, he’s an All-Star potential player every year.

 

Overview

There is a sticking point with me for the Chicago Cubs.

I can’t really put my finger on it, but there is something that is amiss with the Cubs.

But when I come back to it in the end, I can’t really say it would prevent them from doing what they’ve set out to accomplish.

After they were eliminated in frustrating fashion by the Dodgers, Chicago went to work. Their team was successful in the regular season, but that got them nowhere in the postseason.

How do you fix that?

I’m not sure if trading Mark DeRosa and bringing in Milton Bradley was an answer, but the Cubs are going for it with that method.

Despite not agreeing with some of their changes, even though Bradley is probably a more talented player, I think the Cubs will find a way to navigate through the regular season.

They didn’t toy with most of the stuff that worked for them. Their pitching is still good and if Ryan Dempster can put up similar numbers to last season, they’ll be fine.

I don’t think replacing Wood is a big deal, Carlos Marmol should get the job done and if he doesn’t, Kevin Gregg has experience.

I could see another team unseating the Cubs, maybe the Cardinals if they get things going their way, but I’ll stick with the favorite.

Prediction: Win the NL Central

On deck for Wednesday, Mar. 25: Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks

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