10 Reasons The Mariners Are Poised To Win It All
Okay, the alarm clock has got to start screaming anytime now for Seattle Mariners fans.
It’s time to wake up, gulp down some Starbucks and recover from that sweat-provoking dream that the Mariners were actually players in Baseball’s Hot Stove off-season.
As M’s fans read the headlines, they have to realize the latte isn’t working. Good ol’ cup of Joe is impotent.
The mocha and cappuccino has lost its ability to return the human body to a functional state away from the dream world.
Mariners fans are trapped like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day even four days past the winter deciding day of prognostication. A time when the Mariners have traditionally failed to make a single significant roster upgrade through the winter, typically signifying another nine months of frigidity for their diamond jockeys.
This day, the good people of Seattle, Washington state, the Northwest, and fans throughout the country and Japan realize their wildest dreams actually pale in comparison to the reality that Seattle essentially dominated the headlines this winter…
And hope springs eternal!
Their two biggest moves are touted as re-signing A.L. Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez and trading for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.
The big free agent signing was Chone Figgins, who was one of the most productive lead-off hitters in the American League last year with their division rival, and geographically challenged, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
In 2010, the Mariners will boast the best one-two punch in the American League in both the top of the rotation and the top of the batting order.
The rest of the roster has some pretty substantial question marks as production from the back end of the rotation and the middle of the batting order will depend largely on youth development, team chemistry, veteran leadership, and injuries.
In short, even with the widespread accolades that GM Jack Zduriencik has accumulated in making the M’s a contender in the AL West in 2010, this team is not the Yankees or Red Sox.
The Mariners will still need to rely on some luck and some over-achieving performances to get back to the playoffs.
The addition of good players like Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins are paramount to building a contender, but addition by subtraction may be just as important.
Gone, are wicked, high priced roster-cloggers like Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva.
Over-paid players, like Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, who were injury prone and never quite delivered offensively equal to the investment made in them, no longer weigh down the lineup.
Seattle fans need not worry as there are 10 reasons the M’s will vault into the playoff picture and possibly beyond.
10. Mariners fans have been “High-Jacked”
Seattle is high on baseball and jacked-up on potential and promise.
Introducing Jack Zduriencik: GM, Builder, and Motivator. The Man with a plan has got Seattle psyched about baseball again.
Perfect timing as the Seattle Seahawks had another losing season and has their second rookie head coach in two years. Zduriencik has pounced on the opportunity to win over sports fans in the Emerald City and the Munchkins have given the Wizard their full attention, their approval, and most likely their pocket books as Safeco Field and Mariners merchandise is like to be a hot commodity in 2010.
How horrible has the front office been over the last decade for the Mariners? Bad enough that the world of baseball has embraced Jumpin’Jack Flash as the savoir of Seattle.
All Zduriencik has done is take over the reigns of a 101 loss team in disarray, replace some players, and hire an effective manager that lead the M’s to a surprising 85 win season in 2009.
Really? Is Seattle so desperate that they are going to give the King’s Ransom and Keys to the City to a GM who turned a bad fourth place team into a good third place team in a four team, weak division?
What Jack has done is create an atmosphere where players want to be. Seattle is no longer a purgatory for players to earn a paycheck and bolt for greener pastures.
Recently acquired Ryan Garko lamented on his signing with Seattle, "As I was going through the process, I was studying what teams were doing, and I saw what Jack was doing and I realized how much I wanted to be up there.”
Wow! Now that sounds like an advertisement for Executive of the Year if ever there was one.
Starting with a roster turnover that would make your head spin, Jack started the transformation last year.
Only 11 spots on the opening day 25-man roster in 2009 were repeats from 2008. That includes the likes of Ichiro, Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Adrian Beltre.
Mr. Zduriencik also hired Dan Wakamatsu as a first time manager. Fresh thinking and a more unpredictable managing style helped him guide the Mariners to a surprising 35 game improvement over the hapless ’08 team total.
This winter, the transformation continued in full force.
Zduriencik signed Chone Figgins to a four-year deal, locked up King Felix with a five-year deal, re-signed Griffey for another year, signed Franklin Gutierrez to a four-year deal, re-signed Jack Wilson to a two-year contract extension, traded Brandon Morrow to Toronto for Brandon League, signed Ryan Garko, signed Eric Bynes, re-signed Ryan Langerhans, traded for Casey Kotchman from the Red Sox, traded Carlos Silva to the Cubs for Milton Bradley, signed Erik Bedard, and added the cherry on top by trading three middle tier prospects to Philadelphia for Cliff Lee at just nine million dollars for 2010.
Manager Don Wakamatsu is like a proud new papa when analyzing what Zduriencik is doing. "I'm going to start calling him 'The Stork.' He just keeps delivering these babies."
9. A healthy Griffey is headed back to 25 home run territory
The last time Ken Griffey Jr. felt this healthy was 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds. That year he hit 30 home runs and batted .276. That was only three seasons ago when Griffey was an old man at 37 years. Now, he’s forty.
After offseason knee surgery, Seattle Mariners trainer Rick Griffin says Griffey is "better now than he was at any time last year." Griffin says “Junior” has also lost about seven pounds and will continue to get into better shape for spring training.
Better than at any time last season? All Griffey did in 2009 is swat 19 home runs in just 387 plate appearances. Would a healthy Griffey hitting 25-30 homers be unlikely? Probably not.
“The Kid” will play almost exclusively as a DH vs. righties, limiting his at-bats and his likelihood of another injury. The .214 average from 2009 should rise drastically and another 5 or 6 home runs isn’t too far fetched.
He could realistically hit .260 with 25 homers. He will also have more runners on base in front of him with Figgins and Ichiro at the top of the order which should result in more RBI opportunities.
He won’t be the Griffey that saved baseball in Seattle in the 90’s, but he may help resurrect baseball in the city he started and ends his career with.
8. The bullpen will be in a League of its own
Brandon Morrow has always been viewed as uber talented. However, he never really found a steady role in Seattle as Manager Wakamatsu tried him as a starter, then a closer, and then a starter again.
He was too talented to sit on the bench, too mature for the minors and never really dominated in either of his pitching roles. So Zduriencik decided to give him a fresh start in Toronto and traded him for hard throwing reliever Brandon League.
League will be the veteran, lock down, set up guy out of the bullpen that they haven’t had since Jeff Nelson and Arthur Rhodes. He is the transition between King Felix, Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard and the ninth inning closer David Aardsma.
Aardsma took control of the closer role last year after Morrow was unable to find success there and finished the season with 38 saves, a 2.52 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of almost three-to-one!
The Mariners will rely on 450 innings from Hernandez and Lee, but their success will mean nothing if the deal isn’t sealed in the late innings.
Expect League, Mark Lowe, and Aardsma to excel as the Mariners will be in a slew of 4-2 or 3-1 ballgames this year with good pitching, defense, and a suspect offense.
7. Free Agents Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes will rebound
Milton Bradley had another meltdown in the media frenzied Chicago market in 2009. He tends to play his best in lower-pressure environments like Cleveland, San Diego and Texas, so Seattle should fit the bill as a place that Bradley could return to his productive stats and controlled demeanor.
The original “Game Boy” could potentially play the majority of the games in left field and is one of only a few Mariners with the ability to reach the 20+ home run plateau. His offense will be a key to Seattle scoring runs. He isn’t a pure home run hitter, so his line-drive approach should really allow him to prosper in the spacious confines of Safeco Field.
Expect a modest number of homers, but an increase in doubles and RBI with runners on base ahead of him. He should also steal more bases as Seattle’s lineup will rely on defense and speed more than the long ball.
Eric Byrnes was on the verge of super-stardom in Arizona in 2007 with a 20-20 season and was a fan favorite for his style of play that earned him the honorable nickname of “Pig Pen” because he wasn’t afraid to get dirty.
Hamstring issues all but deleted his 2008-2009 seasons and he was released by the Diamondbacks this offseason.
Like Griffey, Byrnes will be used as a role player spelling the starting outfielders and limiting his injury chances. He brings speed on the base paths, some pop at the plate, and a great attitude to the club house. Griffey and Byrnes will bring a veteran leadership and experience to the team.
Pig Pen is a definite upgrade as a fourth outfielder if he can stay healthy and swat 15-20 dingers with 20 stolen bases in limited at bats. He also gives Seattle some insurance in case of an injury to any of the starters.
Combined, if Byrnes and Bradley can hit 35 home runs with 30 stolen bases and 120 RBI, that would be great production from the left field spot that has sorely missed Raul Ibanez.
6. The 1st base platoon of Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko is better than Russell Branyan
At first, it looked as though the trade for Casey Kotchman meant Jack Zduriencik had given up on power at first base in exchange for defense. However, the recently signed Ryan Garko will present a lefty/righty platoon that adds some additional power to the position.
Both players have potential to hit around 10-15 home runs, but will give Dan Wakamatsu a ton of lineup flexibility in matchup situations, late game substitutions, and defense at first base, DH, and even catcher as Garko can spell Rob Johnson, Adam Moore and Josh Bard behind the plate.
Although, Russell Branyan’s 31 homers from 2009 will not be replaced, the M’s won’t have the all-or-nothing, free swinging hole in the lineup or the injury issues that Branyan was likely to bring.
The first base platoon should produce 25-30 homers, better defense, better consistency and less injury risk.
5. Erik Bedard will be an above average pitcher
One of the off-season dreams of the past that turned into a nightmare, Bedard cost the Mariners three high prospects (including All Stars Adam Jones and George Sherrill) and a boat load of money. Bedard was supposed to be the Ace that held the top spot in the rotation and pushed Felix Hernandez until he was ready for his reign.
Instead, Bedard pitched well in limited appearances as injuries cost him the better part of two seasons with Seattle.
Bedard was the most recent and possibly the last of Jack Zduriencik’s signings this winter on Saturday. He will miss the first month or two of the season recovering from torn labrum surgery in the off season.
He should return to the Mariners rotation sometime in June.
The surprise of the signing announcement was the mutual year for 2011 at eight million dollars plus escalators. Clearly, Bedard wanted to be in Seattle. That comfort level will only help the healing process. It also gives the Mariners a number two pitcher (if Cliff Lee is not on the roster) in 2011 if he proves healthy and effective for a very reasonable price.
Seattle will rely on a back-end rotation of Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell, and Doug Fister until Bedard is ready. Hardly a group of arms that will scare any American League lineup, although Rowland-Smith showed signs of being a quality number four pitcher last year, while Snell has had short stints of success with Pittsburgh.
Bedard was really, really good when he was pitching last year. His ERA, average against, and WHIP were all very similar to Felix Hernandez’. He never allowed more than three runs in any of his starts. His curveball is a nasty goog-a-lee when his arm is functioning.
Expect the Mariners to lean heavily on Hernandez and Lee for the first half of the season and coddle Bedard into the rotation for the stretch run. If he pitches 140 innings at the same level he was at last year he could surprise with 10 wins and an ERA around 3.20 again.
His prominence as a number three pitcher would give Seattle a formidable threesome in the playoffs that could make them a favorite to do some major damage. His presence also pushes Rowland-Smith and, presumably, Snell to the number four and five spots where they should be.
4. Seattle’s offense will rely on their defense and Safeco Field will be the M’s 26th man
How do you measure defense in the steroid era?
The Mariners have avoided the power hype of muscle heads looking to get stronger and replaced those boppers with guys who have gloves.
Great big, lightning quick, black-hole-like gloves.
Maybe even gloves made of leather from cows that were on steroids!
Its possible that Old MacDonald had a farm with cows, the cream, the clear, Andro and even “cow-growth-hormones” that produced the super leather that will be flexing it’s muscles in Safeco Field this year!
Franklin Gutierrez is off the charts as a defender in center field. Jack Wilson, Casey Kotchman, Ichiro, and Figgins are way above average with keeping ordinary outs from doing damage. This is essential in the plan of attack that Zduriencik has put in place.
The Jack Attack has the Mariners winning games by limiting runs against them instead of scoring runs.
In theory, a team can win a one run game by scoring one more time than their opponent or, as Seattle will rely on, by not allowing the opponent to score one more time than the good guys do.
Another theory is that great defensive plays will help start offensive momentum and creates confidence in the minds of the hitters and pitching staff.
How many times does a player make a great defensive gem and then deliver a big hit in the bottom of the inning?
How many no-hitters have been pitched only because the pitcher knows if the ball is put in play, his guys have his back and will secure the no-no with stellar defense?
These theories will be put into practice as the M’s frustrate their opponents this year and send their pitching staff into a state of euphoria.
They will steal games. Opponents will wonder how they didn’t score more runs because every time they got an inning going the fires were doused with a lunging grab of a line drive, a tricky double play, or a high-light real diving snatch in the outfield.
The defense sets up perfect in Safeco Field as other teams will have a distinct disadvantage if they are not defensively adequate. The lack of defense by opponents and the hair-raising defensive plays by the Mariners will inject the raucous Seattle fans with the ultimate performance enhancing drug for fans: adrenaline.
The house will be rocking, the train whistles blowing, and the sun shining regardless of the weather or the open/closed position of the retractable roof!
Expect up to five Gold Gloves to be awarded to the Mariners this year. That leaves a total of four Gold Gloves for the rest of the American League!
3. King Felix will reign and Cliff Lee will pour it on
Last year, Felix Hernandez finally performed up to his potential in his fourth full big league season. His 19 wins, 2.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 238 innings pitched, and a runner-up finish in the Cy Young voting gave the Mariners all the reason they needed to lock him up with a five year contract a couple weeks ago.
This year, Seattle is hoping he can turn it up just one more notch while pitching in front of Cliff Lee in the rotation. If he does that he will be in lofty territory in M’s history where only Randy Johnson has been before.
The difference is that after one Cy Young Award, the Big Unit was gone and won his other four with another team. Hernandez, and five more years with the Mariners, could start a string of success resembling the standard Tim Lincecum is setting in the National League.
Cliff Lee has just one year remaining on his contract and will be a free agent next year barring a trade (if the Mariners are out of contention) or an extension (if he falls in love with Seattle and the Mariners are willing to open up the purse for Hernandez-like money again). Lee is one of the better pitchers in the Majors and with Hernandez battling him for team and League accolades, he is likely to be pushed for that big pay day in the offseason.
Either way, 2010 could be a magical season with these two guys throwing the rock and baffling batters for six months. They will be pitching with limited run support, which should keep them focused, and they will have a spacious pitcher’s park as well as a stellar defense helping out behind them.
Combined, 40 wins should be a very attainable feat and they should keep the team close enough to win any game against any pitcher their opponent throws out on the mound.
2. Ichiro and Figgins will steal the show
Ichiro Suzuki has had at least 200 hits in all nine seasons he has been in the Major Leagues. Yes, that’s an all-time record for consecutive 200-hit seasons previously held for 108 years by Wee Willie Keeler.
In 2004 he broke the 84-year-old single season hit record with 262, surpassing George Sisler’s 257.
These are feats never achieved by consistent hitting stars like Tony Gwynn, Joe DiMaggio, The Mick, The Splendid Splinter, Donnie Baseball, Wade Boggs, or hit-king Pete Rose (I think he bet on “the under” each year though).
Yet for all his accomplishments with the stick, Ichiro is just as, if not more, recognized for his defense and stolen bases.
After stealing a career “low” 26 bases in 2009, folks are wondering if he has lost his step. No folks, Ichiro is not all washed up on the base paths. Consider only 20 players had more stolen bases than Ichiro in 2009 and that was his down year!
The Mariners were in contention last year and had limited offense, so Ichiro also only attempted a career low 35 stolen bases. Not because he couldn’t steal bases, but because opposing teams had no one else to focus on and the M’s could not risk running themselves out of an inning with runs at a premium.
Seattle was outscored last season and still managed to finish eight games over .500.
This year, the Mariners are still not going to be an offensive juggernaut, but with Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Ryan Garko, and Eric Byrnes added to the lineup they have more options for opponents to consider. Mix in a health Griffey and a more mature Jose Lopez and Ichiro can feel free to fly around the base paths again. His stolen bases should be back up to his normal 35-45 range.
The biggest addition of the off-season is definitely Cliff Lee, but Chone Figgins is a close second. Seattle has struggled in recent years to put pressure on opposing pitchers. With Figgins batting behind Ichiro the gutters at Safeco field should be swelling with flash flood sweat pools on a regular basis in 2010.
Imagine Ichiro, over 220 times this year, will be on base. Each time he is, Figgins will be following, and is just as much a threat to make contact, advance Ichiro, leg out a base-hit, or just take a pitch and allow Ichiro to steal second base.
Let’s estimate that one-third of the time both Ichiro and Figgins are on base together. Now, that’s putting pressure on the big boy on the pile of dirt between the foul lines.
Does he keep his mind on the runners who could easily both score on a double? Does he focus on the batter? Does he fake an injury so the manager can make a pitching change and some other schmuck can worry about the mess?
Jack Zduuriencik has placed a lethal weapon in the hands of Manager Dan Wakamatsu to use at his discretion against any foreign threat to the M’s chances at winning. Ichiro and Figgins should get on base often, steal a ton of bases, and give the rest of the lineup endless opportunities to drive in runs and create big innings for the offense.
The end result and ultimately the fate of the Mariners rests on the shoulders of the hitters in the three-to-six holes.
1. If the American League ignores history it is bound to repeat itself
Like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, Seattle has finally found the secret formula for breaking out of the mundane and routine rhetoric that has seen the team aspire for mediocrity in recent years.
Problem is that the secret formula was discovered years ago in 2001.
Remember? The Mariners were just reeling from the losses of free-agent departure Alex Rodriguez, and traded super stars Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson, as well as recently retired Jay Buhner.
Perhaps the most underachieving team in the history of baseball (beg pardon, Cleveland fans) had been dismantled and the Mariners shelves seemed void of baseball groceries.
They were opening a new stadium and their best players were: slugging second baseman Bret Boone; aging Hall of Fame Designated Hitter Edgar Martinez; and former batting champ John Olerud.
How would they win games with that lineup? How would they score runs? Turns out that was something that was too easy.
Consistent contact hitters like Mark McLemore, Carlos Guillen, and rookie Ichiro Suzuki kept base runners in motion and made for difficult outs in almost every at-bat. Clutch base hits with runners in scoring position came often off the bats of David Bell, Mike Cameron, and Dan Wilson from the bottom part of the order as the new ballpark left gaping holes for balls to scream through.
Pitching seemed just as easy in Safeco Field. Starting pitchers and relievers alike benefited from the friendly ballpark that kept opposing power hitters in check for the most part. Twenty-game-winner Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Nelson, and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki all made the All-Star team that year (Hosted in Seattle as well).
The 2001 Mariners outscored their opponents by 300 runs and never lost 3 games in a row the entire season. As we look back at history the Mariners won 116 games (still a Major League record for wins during a regular season) before losing to the Yankees in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
The secret to their success? Speed on the base paths, consistent hitting, and solid defense and pitching.
The 2001 version of the Mariners lost in the playoffs mainly because they were built for the riggers of the regular season playing half their games at home. They also had solid pitchers, but nobody who was really dominant.
In the playoffs, it’s a sprint, not a marathon.
Invert the last two numbers in 2001! Repeating history will be the name of the game in 2010. (See related article at: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/337826-history-repeats-comparing-the-2001-and-2010-seattle-mariners)
Same home field advantage, but this time the Mariners have built a faster, better defensive lineup and a pitching staff that can dominate a playoff series as well.
What team wants to face a Curt Schilling/Randy Johnson type tandem in the playoffs? They were dominant in the hitter-friendly Bank One Ballpark (now, Chase Field). Imagine how good they would have been pitching in Safeco.
If the Mariners can make it to the playoffs and have a healthy Erik Bedard, a five-game or seven-game series could be a cinch with minimal offense because Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez will be carrying the load.
In the boldest of predictions, the Mariners will repeat history with a dominating wire-to-wire first place finish in the AL West and will ride their arms all the way to a World Series win against the Phillies.
Cliff Lee will then feel the love in Seattle and re-sign for a few years to make the Mariners contenders for years to come!