2008 MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners
Manager: John McLaren
Arrivals: SP Erik Bedard, 2B Miguel Cairo, DH Greg Norton, RP Chris Reitsma, SP Carlos Silva, OF Brad Wilkerson, Pitching Coach Mel Stottlemyre
Departures: 1B Ben Broussard, OF Jose Guillen, OF Adam Jones, RP George Sherrill, SP Jeff Weaver
Offseason grade: A
Barring some unexpected dropoff in performance, the addition of Erik Bedard is just what this Mariners team needed to push them over the top after finishing second in the AL West with 88 wins in 2007.
Bedard is an absolutely dominant ace who went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 182 innings last year for Baltimore. The move to Safeco Field, an even larger ballpark than Oriole Park at Camden Yards, could lead to Bedard's ERA dropping below 3.00. If he starts 35 games, he could easily win 18-20 games and strike out well over 250 batters this year.
Mariners fans shouldn't get all that worked up about Bedard's poor performance in spring training. He has the track record to prove that it's an aberration and the thin Arizona air makes it harder for curveball pitchers–like Bedard–to have success in spring training.
Getting Bedard not only gives the Mariners an ace, but it gives them another ace to go along with the soon-to-be 22-year-old Felix Hernandez.
After struggling in 2006, Hernandez started to pitch like a king again in 2007, going 14-7 with a 3.92 ERA. Remember, he'll turn 22 in April and will already be in his fourth season in the majors this year. With the pressure to be the ace of this staff off him, Hernandez could win himself 17 games and post an ERA in the low three's.
When you look at 1-2 punches across baseball, Bedard/Hernandez have to be mentioned in the same sentence as Haren/Webb, Santana/Martinez, Peavy/Young, and Sabathia/Carmona.
Just think of the potential this Seattle rotation has if they can get the 28-year-old Bedard signed to a long-term deal. That tandem could terrorize the American League for a long, long time.
Behind Bedard and Hernandez is a very solid group of verteran starters.
Jarrod Washburn isn't spectacular, but you can expect 12-15 wins and an ERA somewhere in the low-to-mid 4.00's out of him.
Washburn's 2007 ERA was just 0.03 points higher than Miguel Batista, but Batista won 16 games to Washburn's 10. Batista will slot in perfectly as Seattle's No. 5 starter and should win 15 or so games again.
Between Washburn and Batista will be Carlos Silva, signed to a somewhat ridiculous four-year, $48 million deal in the offseason.
Silva was absolutely awful in 2006, going 11-15 with a 5.94 ERA while allowing a league-leading 38 home runs. He came back down to his usual stats last year, going 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA and only 20 home runs thrown.
If Silva can pitch like he did last year, he could win 15 games as well. Despite his bloated contract, he shouldn't be under a whole lot of pressure as the Mariners' No. 4 starter.
While these three starters may not be flashy, they certainly should get the job done on a team that has two aces at the top of their rotation. Seattle is a trendy pick in the AL West, and this starting rotation is why.
Starting rotation grade: A-
JJ (hey, nice name) Putz will return as one of, if not the, best closers in the game after saving a ridiculous 40/42 games with a 1.93 ERA and 82 strikesouts in 72.1 innings.
Yeah, he's good.
Eric O'Flaherty will be the primary left-handed setup man who held an ERA in the 3.00's before some late struggles that bumped it up to 4.47 over 52.1 innings. He's just 23 and is a pretty good bet to improve and be a consistent late-inning reliever for the Mariners this year.
The right-handed setup man was supposed to be Brendan Morrow, but he's struggled this spring, walking nine in five innings. While nothing has been announced yet, Morrow could start the year with AAA Tacoma and stay there until he regains his command. If he can do that, look for him to be called up quickly. He's only 23 and should have a pretty bright future as a reliever ahead of him.
Update, 3/29: Morrow officially has been sent down to AA West Tennessee.
Mark Lowe, 24, underwent major elbow surgery last year and only was able to throw 2.2 unimpressive innings in the majors. However, he's slowly regaining velocity and has an ERA of 2.74 this spring and could have pitched himself on to the team to start the year if Morrow doesn't make it.
Filling the eighth inning role for now likely will be Sean Green, who threw 68.0 innings last year with a 3.84 ERA. Green should do just fine in the eighth inning for however long he needs to stay there.
The other lefty out of this bullpen will be Ryan Rowland-Smith, who threw 38.2 innings with a 3.96 ERA for Seattle last year. Like most of this bullpen, Rowland-Smith is young at just age 25 and could see some improvement off his performance from last year.
Knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey will round out this bullpen after pitching himself onto the team by throwing 20 innings with a 2.25 ERA this spring.
Dickey will pitch mostly in long relief and could give hitters fits with his slow knuckleball if he comes in after a hard-throwing pitcher like Bedard or Hernandez.
This bullpen is relatively young and could really grow this year if guys like O'Flaherty, Lowe, Morrow, and Rowland-Smith can throw strikes. They shouldn't have a whole lot of problems bridging the gap from Seattle's starting rotation to Putz.
Bullpen grade: B+
Hitting is not the strong point for this Mariners team, but they have a lineup that's good enough to get it done.
Of course, there's Ichiro, who hit .351 last year. He's one of the best pure hitters since Pete Rose retired and should hit in the mid-.300's with well over 30 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot this year.
Flanking Ichiro in the Mariners' outfield will be Raul Ibanez and Brad Wilkerson.
Ibanez is an excellent run-producer who has driven in over 100 runs the last two seasons with Seattle. His power numbers were down last year, hitting 21 home runs to the 33 he hit in 2006, but expect those to be back up to between 25 and 30 this year.
Wilkerson is a mediocre hitter acquired from Texas in the offseason who isn't all that bad so long as he's hitting at the back of a lineup. He'll hit 20 home runs and drive in 60-70 with a fairly low batting average, but again, if he's hitting eighth or ninth, he won't hurt this team a whole lot.
Jose Vidro was a huge surprise for the Mariners last year, hitting .317 with an OBP of .381 as Seattle's DH. While I don't think Vidro will hit that well again, I do think whatever drop in production he has will be offset by a jump in production out of Jose Lopez.
After making the All-Star game and hitting .282 with 79 RBI in 2006, Lopez hit just .252 with only 62 RBI last year for Seattle. He's just 24 and has shown some good offensive potential, which I think he'll really start to realize this year.
Yuniesky Betancourt, Seattle's 26-year-old Cuban shortstop, has been a model of consistency over the past two years, hitting .289 in both of those seasons. However, his on-base over those two years was just .310 and .308.
If Betancourt can learn how to take more walks, he could develop into one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. However, until he does that, he'll be a slick-fielding shortstop who makes good contact but still doesn't get on base a lot.
Kenji Johjima is a very good offensive catcher who's made a very smooth transistion from Japan to North America over the last two years. In his first two seasons with Seattle, Johjima has hit .289 with 32 home runs and 137 RBI as a solid piece in this Seattle offense.
Expect another year of a .290 average with 15-20 home runs and 70 or so RBI out of Johjima this year.
When the Mariners went out and spent an exorbitant amount of money on third baseman Adrian Beltre and first baseman Richie Sexson, they thought they were getting two players that would lead their offense for many years.
Well, they haven't.
Beltre finally started to improve last year, hitting .276 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI after really scuffling in his first two years with the Mariners, but whatever struggles he went through in his first two years don't compare to the horrible season Sexson had last year.
Sexson never has been a high-average hitter, but last year was beyond unacceptable, hitting barely above the Mendoza Line at .205 with an OBP of .395. Worst of all, though, Sexson went from 39 home runs and 121 RBI and 34 home runs and 107 RBI in 2005 and 2006 to just 21 home runs and 63 RBI in 2007.
At age 33, you have to wonder if Sexson can turn it back around.
I think Sexson won't be as atrocious as he was last year, but he won't hit 35+ home runs again. If he can hit around .250 with 25-30 home runs and around 100 RBI, Seattle should consider it a victory.
This Seattle lineup lacks a legitimate power threat, but they should be able to get by without a 30-home run hitter a la the 2002-04 Minnesota Twins, who had just enough timely hitting to support their pitching staff.
Lineup grade: B-
Willie Bloomquist is a quintessential utilityman who can play second, short, third, and even a little bit of outfield with a decent enough bat off the bench.
I'm very partial to Jamie Burke, Seattle's backup catcher. He's a very good defensive catcher who also can hit a bit–.301 in 113 at-bats last year–and just, in general, is a great backup catcher.
Miguel Cairo was added in the offseason to give added depth to this Mariners bench. He's a good veteran presence to have on the bench.
Greg Norton also might find a place on this team as a solid hitter off the bench.
The Mariners haven't announced the final man on their roster, but the best bet would be Mike Morse, who hit a ridiculous .508 in 63 spring training at-bats. His other competition came from Charlton Jimerson and Jeremy Reed, both of whom are better defensive options but can't provide the offense Morse could.
Bench grade: A-
I've yet to decide who I think will win the division (but I will by tomorrow when I finally finish this series and put my projections up), but the Mariners obviously have given themselves all the opportunity in the world to unseat the Angels, who have won the AL West three of the last four years.
One thing is for sure, though: this team is here to win. The Mariners come into a season as a "for real" contender for the first time in about five years, and that really should excite the great city of Seattle.
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