The Seattle Mariners have some definitive weaknesses going into 2013.
When you finish 75-87 and 19 games out of first place, there are certainly areas of improvement that can be found.
Are the Mariners heading in the right direction? Will some of these categories of weakness finally be addressed in the 2013 season?
Unfortunately, that is a matter of debate.
Unless the Mariners are able to fix some of their shortcomings, they may continue to languish in the cellar of the American League West.
With that in mind, here are the Mariners' five biggest weaknesses heading into the new year.
The team batting of the Seattle Mariners has not been particularly good over the last three seasons, though it has been sadly consistent:
Jesus Montero led the Mariners with a fairly pedestrian .260 average in 2012. If the Mariners cannot put the bat on the ball, they are not going to get very far in the American League West.
While the power hitter is always an intriguing part of the free-agency market, the Mariners are lacking hitters that can hit .300, let alone bat over .270 for the year.
Ichiro aided the team average for a lot of years.
Perhaps some of the young hitters will continue their development, but until they do, Seattle will continue to have issues on offense.
Money cannot necessarily buy a championship, but it can certainly help a team afford opportunities.
A consistently high payroll is much like the individual that can buy a big stack of raffle tickets.
The purchaser of a single ticket might win occasionally (see Oakland A's, 2012). However, the person with the stack will win more often.
Teams that do not spend consistently aren't likely going to be perennial contenders.
The Seattle Mariners do spend some money (currently listed at 17th out of 30 teams), but not enough to compete with the big spenders.
Until Seattle gets new ownership or Jack Zduriencik is given the freedom to write bigger checks, the Mariners may be limited to signing players like Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez is a nice pickup, but he is not exactly going to hit .280 and club 30 home runs.
Seattle can afford one, or maybe two high-dollar stars. The rest of the lineup must be youngsters that fortuitously mature at exactly the same time in order for Seattle to make a run at the playoffs.
Ken Griffey Jr. (circa mid-1990s) does not play for this team any longer. Neither does Jay Buhner or Edgar Martinez.
While Safeco Field is a nice "pitcher's park," the Mariners have not exactly been putting souvenirs in the outfield seats on a consistent basis.
Kyle Seager led the Mariners in 2012 with a grand total of 20 home runs.
Interestingly, Seattle did hit 40 more home runs in 2012 compared to 2011 (149 versus 109).
When a team like the Mariners hit 109 home runs in a season, there is really nowhere to go but up.
The Mariners were tied for 19th in Major League Baseball, though it should be noted that the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants were dead last with 103 home runs. Of course, the Giants had the fifth-best team batting average.
Perhaps moving the fences in at Safeco will lead to more balls flying out of the park. Seager, Kendrys Morales, Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak all have potential to hit a few more bombs.
The other reality is that Seattle might surrender some of their pitching advantage in exchange for more power production. At this point, many fans might be comfortable with the trade-off.
For years, Ichiro was firmly entrenched in the leadoff spot and the Mariners could comfortably pencil him into every lineup card.
When Ichiro started to decline and was eventually traded, Seattle was forced to experiment with other players. As the 2013 season approaches, the Mariners will need to figure out who will set the table for the offense.
Conventional wisdom suggests that you put a high-average, speedster in the top spot. As mentioned earlier, the Mariners are not exactly overstocked with players of that type.
Perhaps Dustin Ackley will shake off his 2012 slump and be an effective leadoff hitter. Or maybe Michael Saunders will take this spot, as he led the Mariners with 21 stolen bases in 2012.
Michael Bourn would be a nice fit at the top of the lineup, but the current odds suggest that Seattle is not in the running for the free-agent outfielder. Maybe that will change as Bourn continues to look for a job.
At the moment, there isn't a clear candidate that will fill the role.
Is there a lot of excitement surrounding the Mariners these days?
The Seattle Seahawks have generated plenty of buzz in 2012, but there is not much hype attached to the Mariners and their prospects for 2013.
Do the players need the fans to come back out and support them? I suppose it wouldn't hurt, but you assume that they are professional enough to find some of their own inner drive to succeed.
As noted by ESPN, Safeco Field ranked 26th in attendance in 2012. Therefore, the Mariners are not exactly playing to a full stadium every night.
Call what is missing whatever you want. Confidence. Attitude. Swagger. The Mariners don't seem to have any of that.
There were moments in 2012 when the M's looked like they were moving in the right direction, but could never build on any momentum for an extended period of time.
Perhaps the Mariners will start to believe that they can win in 2013. Right now, that belief seems to be lacking.