One year after assuming the reins of a 100-loss team in Seattle, general manager Jack Zduriencik has imprinted his seal on the organization and provided manager Don Wakamatsu with enough talent to win the division. He followed up a busy 2009 with a very active offseason. In an extremely short period of time, he has turned over most of a mediocre lineup and added a second dominant pitcher to the top of the rotation. Additionally, he signed his young ace (Felix Hernandez) to a multi-year deal that should keep Seattle relevant in the AL West for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, he ripped a page from the NY Yankees play book; by signing Chone Figgins, he inked a free agent that both helped his team while hurting his primary divisional rival (a la the Yankees signing Johnny Damon away from the Red Sox, and coming to terms with Mark Teixeira when it appeared the big first baseman was on the verge of signing in Boston).
Key Additions: OF Milton Bradley, 3B Chone Figgins, 1B Ryan Garko, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Brandon League, P Cliff Lee
Key Subtractions: P Miguel Batista, 3B Adrian Beltre, 1B Russell Branyan, OF Endy Chavez, UT Billy Hall, C Kenji Johjima, P Brandon Morrow
Key Performer, 2009: Ryan Rowland-Smith
Starting Rotation / Bullpen
The Mariners top-two pitchers are arguably as good as any one-two tandem in the game of baseball. “King Felix” Hernandez (19-5, 2.49) is a stud who can be counted on for 200-plus innings, a sub-3.00 ERA, and a sub-1.25 WHIP. He is joined in the rotation (at least for 2010) by former AL Cy Young Award winner LHP Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22).
Australian-born Rowland-Smith is the key to a relatively thin rotation, especially as the club waits for Erik Bedard to return from surgery (midseason). Rowland-Smith established himself quite nicely in the bullpen in 2007 and 2008. The club converted the southpaw into a starter towards the end of 2008, and he spent the first half of last year in the minor leagues learning his new craft. He was a pleasant surprise last last year when he went 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 15 starts. He could provide the club with a third reliable, QUALITY starter. For you fantasy baseball geeks out there, THIS is the kind of guy you wanna take a flier on.
After Rowland-Smith, the club will rely on former Pirate Ian Snell (5-2, 4.20 in 12 games with Seattle) and LHP Jason Vargas (3-6, 4.91) until Bedard returns at midseason. Snell seemed to have enormous potential a few years ago in Pittsburgh, but has been a bust of late…he may have regained some of his confidence pitching in cavernous Safeco Field. Vargas could surprise.
RHP David Aardsma answered the Mariners prayers last year by grabbing ahold of the closer’s role and pitching very well (3-6, 2.52, 39 S, only 49 hits allowed in 71.1 IP). The question is whether he was a one-year wonder or if he can repeat his performance.
Righty Brandon League showed great potential in 2006 and 2008, but struggled in 2007 and 2009. This is an even-numbered year, so he should be primed for a good season and could evolve into Aardsma’s primary setup man. In the interim, righties Sean White (3-2, 2.80) and Mark Lowe (2-7, 3.26) will likely serve in that capacity.
Doug Fister (3-4, 4.13) and Shawn Kelley (4-5, 4.50) will need to shoulder a much larger share of the burden after the departures of Batista and Morrow, but there are legitimate questions as to whether the increased workload will expose their mediocre "stuff."
The lineup is deeper than it was last season, but only marginally. It doesn’t have as much pop (Casey Kotchman will not make folks forget Russell Branyan), but should be more adept at playing “small ball” with Ichiro Suzuki (.352, 26 SB, 46 RBI) and Figgins (.298, 42 SB, 54 RBI) atop the batting order.
Lightning rod LF Milton Bradley (.257, 12 HR, 40 RBI) will help set the tables for 2B Jose Lopez (.272, 25 HR, 96 RBI) and CF Franklin Gutierrez (.283, 18 HR, 70 RBI). How well Gutierrez performs may be dependent on the quality of protection that is provided for him by DH Ken Griffey Jr. (.214, 19 HR, 57 RBI), who the team will need to regain some of his old form.
The bottom three in the lineup are unspectacular. 1B Casey Kotchman (.268, 7 HR, 48 RBI) does not provide the kind of power needed from a corner infielder. SS Jack Wilson (.255, 5 HR, 39 RBI) will bat eighth, while C Rob Johnson (.213, 2 HR, 27 RBI) and prospect Adam Moore will platoon and bat ninth, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Moore eventually get the lion’s share of the playing time.
Pitching and defense wins championships. The Mariners will put the theory to the test in 2010. The club needs for Rowland-Smith to continue his growth, and for Snell to re-establish himself as a quality big league starter. I expect that both guys will have some struggles in the upcoming season, but that they will succeed more than they fail. I have a gut feeling that Snell will prove to be a very pleasant surprise.
This is a team built for its ballpark. GM Zduriencik should be given credit for recognizing what he has to work with and tailoring his on-field club to his ballpark. Can their speed overcome their lack of power? Can small ball win in the American League? We will soon find out.
SOX1Forecast: 90-72, 1st place.
Seattle Mariners — Top Five Prospects
1. 1B Dustin Ackley
2. OF Michael Saunders
3. 3B Alex Liddi
4. P Michael Pineda
5. C Adam Moore