2011 is finally here, which means we can forget about the disaster that was 2010.
We know that the Mariners won't be very good this season. We could focus on that, but I think our time could be better spent looking at where the team is headed.
Prospects Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda should make their debuts this season. Justin Smoak will try to take a step forward in his age 24 season. Michael Saunders and Adam Moore hope to improve and remind us of why they were interesting prospects. King Felix will hold court and Ichiro will be Ichiro.
There are plenty of things to look forward to in this 2011 campaign, and payroll relief will arrive next season.
Below you'll find a table of contents with links for your convenience.
Slide 02: Player Profiles
Slide 27: Prospects to Watch
Slide 30: Coaching Staff
Slide 38: Bold Predictions
Slide 43: Division Rivals
Slide 46: Team Projection
Felix Hernandez will get his fourth opening day nod as the Mariners' ace. Coming off a Cy Young winning performance in 2010, "King Felix" will make his first two starts of the season as a 24-year-old.
While he'll still have to pay a surcharge to rent a car until his third start, he's ran off two phenomenal seasons carrying a heavy load for the struggling Mariners.
Some run support would be fantastic for the amazingly-still-young Felix to reduce his high-stress inning count in 2011. Other than that, expect a bunch of the same from one of the best in the game.
Vargas had a good 2010, surprising perhaps.
He stands to hang around the same performance level, which is your soft-tossing lefty who relies on Safeco Field and a good defense behind him.
While his true talent is that of a fourth or fifth starter in a good rotation, he could sit at No. 2 in this one. If Eric Bedard is fully healthy with no pain, the M's may roll him out there and slide Vargas down to No. 4. I'd expect them to be conservative with Bedard while also giving him more favorable matchups in the No. 5 spot, though.
Unlike Vargas, his 2010 may not be as sustainable. The portion of his season before the injury, anyway.
While his post-injury numbers may not be the best indicator either, he'll probably continue to rely on some luck, park factors and defense to carry him to stretches of decent performance.
Don't expect much more than stretches, though. We were all caught by surprise by his hot start last season because no one outside of his family believed he could do it.
He's a nice innings eater for the M's, but in a better rotation he's a No. 5 at best, and probably more likely a long reliever.
Don't hold your breath as nothing is certain with Bedard. Anything the Mariners get from him will be a bonus.
Tip your hat to him a little, though. Having chose a non-guaranteed contract from the M's over guaranteed money elsewhere, it gives you some hope that the guy wants to prove something here.
If his arm doesn't blow up this spring, he might even provide some value for the team to deal at the deadline. He's thrown multiple bullpens and live BP now and has not reported any pain. So far, so good.
If Bedard pitches the first half at his potential, I have a hard time seeing him in teal and blue come August 1.
The Mariners have other guys in camp in case Bedard can't go or they want to play the service-time game with Pineda.
He was just named No. 16 on Baseball America's 2011 top 100 prospect list.
I think he'll have a strong spring, though, and find himself as the fifth guy in the rotation. He has a much better chance of making the leap now than Ackley. Pineda isn't in line for super-two status like Ackley, and the Mariners likely plan to have him up sometime this season anyhow.
If they had a legit shot at making the playoffs, perhaps you hold him back a bit to save innings. Since they aren't, though, I think it's time to see what we have in the youngster.
Pineda Day and Felix Day back-to-back could make the season that much more bearable.
He could start the season in place of Bedard, then end up in the bullpen, but there's also a chance this is where he starts and stays.
As a lefty, the team has options to use him as a LOOGY, in long relief against heavy left-handed lineups and as a spot starter.
He doesn't have impressive stuff, but he is left-handed so Safeco Field will treat him well, especially with the solid defense he'll have to help out.
The Mariners will likely opt to have David Pauley in the pen as the right-handed long relief and spot starter option as opposed to a prospect.
As the season wears on his role could change. This could be the case when Shawn Kelley returns (expected in June). Pauley will provide the M's with a sponge, though, in a season where they don't expect to compete and don't need to rush the kids.
When David Aardsma returns, Pauley may be the odd man out if Manny Delcarmen, Chris Ray and Rule 5 pick Jose Flores are pitching well.
Being left-handed and having a good defense behind him reduces the risks of an otherwise replacement- level player in Olson.
He may make some spot starts if Bedard goes down or they choose to skip Pineda here and there. I'd realistically expect him to be a LOOGY for most of the season, though.
A Rule 5 draft pick, Flores is tasked with making the really large jump from Single-A ball.
He should make the team unless he shows nothing this spring, as I doubt the club took him with zero intention to play him. As you may know, Rule 5 picks have to spend the entire season on the major league roster or they must be offered back to the club you took them from.
The Mariners could toss him back to the Indians for some change, or pull one of those fake disabled list stunts teams are known to do with these kids. He'll turn 22 in July, so he'll get the honor of wearing the pink backpack as the newest member of the bullpen.
Ray is a guy with closing experience, having saved 33 games for the Orioles in 2006 and 16 more the following season.
He's had his issues the past few seasons but could be a nice low-risk reclamation project.
I don't know that he earns the interim closer role, but I think he could show enough to enable the Mariners not to give service time to youngsters Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke.
He could have himself a nice spring and stumble into the closer role until Aardsma returns.
The Mariners don't need to give Brandon League leverage in arbitration next winter, which is exactly what a handful of saves would do.
Delcarmen also chose Seattle over Tampa Bay. While that could be attributed to facing AL West hitters versus AL East hitters to rebuild value, the Mariners and his agent may have also dangled the possibility of closing while Aardsma heals.
Once Aardsma does return, Delcarmen should be able to hang out in the pen for the rest of the season as the right-handed setup guy if the Mariners don't thrust Cortes or Lueke into the same role.
I think the Mariners need to use Aardsma's injury as an excuse to see what they have in League as a closer.
They, of course, will need some ninth inning leads to do that, which won't come easy with this offense. However, if they can send League in to slam the door 10-plus times, it should give them a good idea.
I don't know that they'll want to put him in that role and build his arbitration/extension leverage, though. They may decide to stick him in the role he'll be in all season. If Aardsma has any major setbacks, though, I think you move forward with League as your closer.
Aardsma has been putting weight on his foot and healing from offseason surgery.
It's expected that he should be back in late April to resume his closer duties. Once there, he'll begin building trade stock.
As one of the trade chips the Mariners had hoped to use this offseason, things got put on hold after it became obvious he needed to go under the knife.
By July, Aardsma may have a handful of saves and be on his way out of the Emerald City.
Miguel Olivo returns to Seattle after a five-year hiatus.
Originally acquired in the trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the White Sox, he was then shipped off to San Diego after not being very good.
Fast forward and Olivo is relatively better. But coming off the best year of his career at age 32 screams expected regression. Safeco Field was death to his offensive skill set five years ago and since his approach hasn't changed, don't expect his stats to this time around either.
The money the Mariners paid for Olivo makes him a lock for this role. If I'm a betting man, Adam Moore probably ends up back in Tacoma to play every day.
With Olivo back in the fold, Bard gets another crack with the Mariners.
While it isn't a certainty, I can't see the the M's having Adam Moore play once a week as a backup. Even if they've decided he has no long-term future, they'd destroy any trade value or potential development by planting him on the bench.
So, because of that, back comes Bard. He's a switch-hitter so he provides some versatility. He won't provide anything earth-shattering at or behind the plate, but he's good for depth.
It's certainly not out of the question that Adam Moore will be back in Seattle this season.
What I believe to be in question is if he starts here. With the signing of Miguel Olivo, like it or not, it may be a better idea for Moore to at least start the season in Tacoma where he can play every day.
The cost for Olivo indicates he's not here for a backup role or time share, and Moore's development would take a huge hit if he's playing once a week. Furthermore, doing so would remove trade value for Moore as it would send a red flag up the pole to other teams that the team who sees him every day views him as a backup.
Justin Smoak is going to get every chance to succeed at the big league level in 2011.
While his first trip to the rodeo wasn't what either Texas or Seattle hoped, there's plenty of reason to think he'll be fine. The Rangers likely rushed him to the big leagues last season, resulting in struggles while he adjusted to the best pitchers on the planet.
His stint in Tacoma and subsequent call-up in September showed why he was a top prospect. He got things back together and handled his second trip, albeit a short one, much better. He ended the season with a 10-game hit streak, a few home runs and six walks.
I wouldn't rule out another trip to Cheney Stadium, but he's a lock for the opening day gig, and I'd look for Smoak to spend the entire season in Seattle while improving.
For Dustin Ackley to get this spot, it would require him to have a scorching spring performance and injuries to two or three of a group including Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan, Josh Wilson and Adam Kennedy.
The Mariners added a bunch of middle infield depth this winter, possibly in part so their hand wouldn't be forced by Ackley.
Brendan Ryan figures to be the opening day starter. Wilson, of course, is prone to injury, which would slide Ryan to shortstop and one of the others above into the second base job until Ackley arrives in June.
Recently, the news has been Ryan getting reps at short, and some speculating he and Wilson could flip-flop roles to start the season.
I think the Mariners are just allowing both to have time there as Ryan will play there some when they need Adam Kennedy's left-handed bat in the lineup, which also will give Wilson a day off and limit his risk of injury.
Look for Ryan to provide great defense and average offense to the middle infield.
Wilson apparently showed up to camp 12 pounds lighter and is taking precautions not to get hurt again.
We'll see if that holds up. His injury last season was of the ever popular "slipped in the bathroom" variety. Which probably means he did it playing hoops with a neighbor kid or riding his razor scooter down Aurora.
Who knows. No one knows. We just know, be it one reason or another, the guy can't stay on the field. The Mariners know this and will limit his playing time with the additions of Brendan Ryan and Adam Kennedy.
Wilson will surely get the opening day nod and be at short for the lion's share of games, but look for him to get regular rest days with Kennedy's left-handed bat at second and Ryan sliding to the 6 spot on the field.
The Mariners hope that Adam Kennedy can be the left-handed veteran second baseman that shows Dustin Ackley the ropes.
He'll start the season as a bench player, spelling Brendan Ryan at second base and maybe even Chone Figgins at third from time to time.
At some point in the season, the Mariners will either place Jack Wilson on the disabled list or trade him. At which point, Dustin Ackley will arrive in Seattle to take over second base.
Kennedy should stick on the roster all season if he's healthy and move out of his infield rotation role and become a full time backup and mentor to Ackley.
Chone Figgins is the other reason middle infield depth was added this winter.
The Mariners wanted to slide Figgins back to his best position now that Jose Lopez is (mercifully) gone.
Who knows if the position change played tricks on Figgins' offensive focus, but moving him back to third immediately improves his value and that of the club also.
Don't expect 2009 from Figgins again, but you can also happily not expect a 2010 repeat.
From all accounts, this is Michael Saunders' job to lose.
Even if he has a poor showing in Arizona, I'd still expect Saunders to be in left on opening day. The Mariners have to find out what Saunders is and if they should press forward with him.
He's a guy who has nothing to prove in the minors and who is on the brink of the nasty AAAA tag. There's talent in there, a guy still young with some pop, speed and defensive value.
The 2011 season is going to be crucial for him to take a step forward.
Coming off a Gold Glove season in center, there's no doubt who will patrol the spacious green in the middle of Safeco's outfield.
Franklin Gutierrez is now a proven elite fielder, which is where most of his value comes from. He'll never be a guy in danger of not having a major league job as long as his legs don't betray him. What the Mariners would really like to see, though, is improved value by way of his offense.
His 2009 contributions at the plate would be fantastic. We're not asking for leaps over that, as his defense coupled with league-average offense make him a high value player.
Ichiro will have 200 hits this season.
Ichiro will hit over .300 this season.
Ichiro will provide elite outfield defense and win a Gold Glove this season.
Ichiro will be an All-Star, steady, funny and put butts in seats this season.
Ichiro will surprise no one this season.
Jack Cust was the poor man's Hideki Matsui; costing a fraction of the price the A's gave Matsui and five years his junior.
Though he won't be a masher or the answer to the Mariners' offensive (and they sure were offensive) woes of a year ago, Cust is an improvement over the Ken Griffey/Sweeney/Milton Bradley trio of rotating suck in the DH spot.
A low-cost signing, he doesn't kill payroll. He's not going to sell a bunch of season tickets, but he won't embarrass himself either and Safeco Field should play well to his hitting skills.
As a switch-hitter who can play the corner outfield spots if needed, it looks like Bradley indeed will stick with the club after charges in LA were recently dropped.
There's still a good chance things don't work between himself and manager Eric Wedge, but for now the $12 million he is owed this season probably has landed him a roster spot.
If healthy, Bradley has the ability to be a legit hitter in this league. There are serious question marks around his health, though, both physically and mentally.
Ackley will start the season back at Triple-A to work on his defense and save service time.
He was just named No. 12 on Baseball America's 2011 top 100 prospect list.
The Mariners have no reason to rush Ackley's development, or hand him super-two status. The latter would give him a fourth year of arbitration eligibility. Considering his upside, that could cost the Mariners a pretty penny.
So, in a lost season, he'll not make his way to Seattle until June at the earliest.
Once here, I can't envision Ackley as a guy who goes up and down much. He'll probably stay in the big leagues for a long time, establishing himself as a good defsnive second baseman with a plus bat.
Finally, the Ackley era is arriving.
Cortes got a taste of the big leagues last September.
He'll likely start the season back in Tacoma to save service time, though, I would not be surprised to see him on the scene as early as May if there are bullpen issues.
He throws hard and is a big kid. He has back-end-of-the-bullpen heat and stuff, and could end up as a nice setup man or closer someday.
Another young gun with heat and solid stuff, Josh Lueke should arrive in 2011.
The issues surrounding his legal issues are well documented. The Mariners could be prepping as though they plan to move forward with him in an attempt to build some trade value.
I just don't see that. If he's a problem here, he'll be a problem anywhere people frown on sex crimes.
His probation ends this year, which means he can travel unrestricted (Canada would have been an issue last season) and by all accounts he has changed.
It'll be hard for some to root for the guy, and that's understandable. Let the kid live, I say. He made an enormous mistake that shouldn't be downplayed or sugarcoated. He has served his debt to society now, and legally has the right to work even if that work is in a role idolized by kids.
Like many future managers, Eric Wedge was a catcher during his playing days.
He spent four seasons in the big leagues with the Red Sox and Rockies. After a few more years in the minors after his final big league stint, Wedge called it a career and became a coach in the Indians system.
After five years managing minor league teams in their system, the Indians appointed Wedge as their big league manager in time for the 2003 season. He'd go on to manage there for seven seasons where he posted a .495 winning percentage.
He did win AL Manager of the Year for the 2007 season after the Indians won 96 games and lost to Boston in a seven-game ALCS.
Wedge is known for having a more intense approach to things than Mariners managers of recent memory.
The past four full-time managers, Don Wakamatsu, John McLaren, Mike Hargrove and Bob Melvin, were all considered aloof compared to the fiery Lou Piniella who left Seattle after 2002.
Wedge is now tasked with a mix of player development and trying to win enough games to keep attendance up. He faced a similar task in Cleveland where he took over a young unproven team.
While there are reports that Wakamatsu may have clashed with GM Jack Zduriencik on certain personnel issues, Wedge may actually have a better working relationship despite his fiery attitude. Having worked with the Indians he is familiar with working with a front office that leans heavily on development and utilizes advanced metrics.
Thompson isn't your typical bad-player-turned-coach.
He spent his entire 11-year career with the San Francisco Giants as a second baseman, where he was a two time All-Star and collected a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger along the way.
During Eric Wedge's time in Cleveland, Thompson was a special consultant mostly, but did spend the 2005 season as his bench coach.
Thompson should serve as a solid coach for soon-to-be rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley.
Chris Chambliss is tasked with maybe the toughest job in America.
Helping the Seattle Mariners hit.
Chambliss played for 17 years with the Indians, Yankees and Braves. He was the 1971 AL Rookie of the Year in Clevland. With the Yankees he won a Gold Glove, was an All-Star selection in 1976 and, more importantly, won a pair of World Series rings.
After his playing career was over, he'd go on to win four more World Series with the Yankees as a hitting coach.
While, obviously, those late 90s Yankees teams had better hitters, Chambliss brings a wealth of experience on the big stage to these young Mariners.
Willis spent parts of nine seasons at the big level as a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. As a member of the Twins, he won a World Series in 1991.
He's no stranger to either Eric Wedge or the Mariners.
Last season, he was Seattle's minor league pitching coordinator and later ascended to the interim pitching coach job after Don Wakamatsu and Rick Adair were fired.
Before joining the Mariners, he served as the Indians pitching coach from 2003-2009 under Wedge.
This experience creates a comfort level amongst both the pitchers he's worked with and the skipper. It also comes with having spent several years working with a front office that develops players similar to how the Mariners have been the last few years.
Being the only holdover from Wakamatsu's staff, Brumley brings experience with the team to the table. He began as the team's third base coach but moved over to first last season.
The son of a big league catcher with the same name, Mike spent chunks of eight seasons with seven different teams as a utility player with shortstop being his natural position.
As a coach, he was the manager of the Triple-A Salt Lake Stingers for a couple of years then became the minor league field coordinator for the Rangers from 2005-07. For the 2008 season, he became the manager of the Dodgers' rookie ball Ogden Raptors.
Datz is a former catcher who played seven games for the Tigers in 1989.
His playing career not panning out, he became a coach like many former catchers do. He's another former Cleveland coach, having worked under Wedge in the same capacity from 2002-2009.
Navarro was a big league starting pitcher for 12 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Indians.
His record was under .500 but he did have a couple respectable seasons including a two-year stretch where he won 15 and 17 games, respectively, with an ERA in the mid 3's for the Brewers.
Things went downhill from there, but he hung around the big leagues for several more seasons, last seen in the majors in 2000, before a few more minor league and Italian league seasons.
He's been in the Mariners system as a coach since 2008 when he was the pitching coach for the Single-A ball Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In 2009, he moved up to High Desert in the same role. Last season, he made the jump all the way to Triple-A as the pitching coach for the Rainiers.
Having been in the system this long, Navarro has experience in the development of several Mariners pitching prospects who will soon arrive on the scene.
This also means he has an understanding of how Jack Zduriencik and his crew want their players developed, something that can now be continued at the major league level.
Phillips is only 34 and played in the big leagues as recently as 2007. He played for seven years with the New York Mets, Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays.
In 2009, he was a non-roster invitee to Mariners spring training. When it became evident he would not get a roster spot, he accepted the role as the team's bullpen catcher.
Though his playing career didn't pan out, he provides youth and experience to a young roster that soon could include several key prospects in the bullpen.
A guy who didn't throw a single pitch in 2010 will find a way to bring something of value back to the team.
Erik Bedard signed sort of an "I owe you" contract with the Mariners this winter. While he reportedly had a guaranteed contract offer or two from other teams, he chose a non-guaranteed deal from the Mariners worth $1 million with a bunch of incentives.
Maybe he's not such a jerk after all, right?
It might be extremely optimistic to expect Bedard to break camp with the team still, but he's now had several bullpen sessions and pitched to live batters with no pain reported.
Let's say he does make the rotation out of camp. I'd project him for the No. 4 spot to limit his workload a little and give him more favorable matchups.
Whatever happens, we know he has to be healthy.
When he is healthy, we've seen tremendous results. The package Bavasi gave up was foolish, but the pitcher we thought we were getting is the same pitcher we could finally get some results from and trade for an interesting minor leaguer or two.
Teams always need pitching at the deadline. If Bedard shows flashes of his former self, he'll be a cheap option clubs will look at.
I'm going to predict that Bedard does just that, and that the Mariners find a taker for him to close the book on his Seattle tenure.
On the surface, this doesn't seem so bold. Why couldn't a 25-year-old on top of his game do it again?
However, no player has repeated as a Cy Young winner in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000. Roger Clemens did it a pair of times and Jim Palmer did it in the '70s.
Aside from that, it hasn't been an easy feat.
The AL is widely regarded as the better hitting league, and while Felix dominated some of the best hitting clubs in 2010, you may wonder if that small sample can be repeated.
I think it can.
Many will point to the workload he had in 2010, which might be concerning. Felix showed no signs of tiring towards the end of the season, though, and aside from a couple of scares he hasn't had any major arm injuries or a delivery that should worry us.
There are a bunch of comparisions between Felix and Pedro and Clemens. In 2011, there will be one more.
I'm not going to say that Figgins can repeat his 6 WAR 2009 season.
He can, however, be closer to his career norms. Though he had a good second half, his first half was so miserable that the numbers overall look like he fell off a cliff.
Part of the blame can go to his BABIP of .314 which was the second lowest of his career. He's averaged .337 and if the breaks go his way and he returns to that average or higher, it's not outside the realm of possibility to see him have success in 2011.
In fact, I'm betting on it and the major projection systems tend to agree.
How big will the bounceback be? We could see his batting average raise to anywhere from .280 to .300. His steals were dead even with 2009, even with the low percentage he was on base.
His defense at third will be better thus improving his overall value.
He's a guy with something to prove at the plate, though. I expect him to get on base 20 points higher, which will result in more steals, more runs and thus more overall value. Plus, the return to third base should put him back in a comfort zone.
Smoak's first trip to the big leagues didn't go as anyone had planned.
Between Seattle and Texas, he hit .208/.307/.371 which is too much like a weak-hitting middle infielder, not a first baseman with some pop that was the key to the Cliff Lee trade.
Being a struggling rookie and having your first call-up met with a trade for one of the best pitchers in the game can't be a great confidence booster.
So down to Tacoma he went. In 35 games there, he didn't show what he did in the Texas system, but he did post a slash line of .271/.377/.481.
Back in Seattle for 14 September games, he finished well. It's a small sample, but a 10-game hit streak, with four games seeing multiple hits to end the season for a last-place club is nice to see.
In 2011, I think he'll put things together. I'm not talking about his potential ceiling, but I could see a .285/.390/.490 type line while he racks up a bunch of doubles and cracks 20 homers.
He's got the potential, even at only 24. This is the season he starts to put it all together.
Last season, Ichiro finished sixth in BA in the American League, 44 points behind leader and MVP Josh Hamilton.
So, how can Ichiro make up the gap?
One indication could be his BABIP. A lumbering slugger like Russell Branyan or Jim Thome might hover around .300 with seasons of extreme variance in either direction. There's a bunch of luck involved, like bloop singles or the quality of a defense you face.
Due to the nature of his approach, though, Ichiro is a guy who always runs higher than a league average BABIP, and is prone to extremely high spikes when everything goes right.
If you look at his best seasons, 2001 (MVP) and 2004 (all-time hit record), where he won a batting title, his BABIP was over .350. The other super-high BABIP seasons were 2007 and 2009. In each, he posted a batting average over .350 and finished second in the batting title race.
So if Ichiro runs a BABIP in the 90th percentile or higher, as he's done often, and gets some lucky breaks, he's capable of racking up a ton of hits and thus a high average.
"Hey, this is his age 37 season!"
Players with Ichiro's skill set age well. The stories about his conditioning and stretching are well known.
Ted Williams was 39 when he won his last batting title. Obviously, Ichiro is not Ted Williams. He is, though, like Teddy Ballgame, capable of continuing to play well in his late 30s.
Coming off a season that saw them as the World Series runners up, the Rangers are hungry for more in 2011.
The Rangers stand to remain the team to beat in the AL West. They lost Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, but added Adrian Beltre and Arthur Rhodes. They tossed in some other players like Brandon Webb and Yorvit Torrealba.
The Athletics have made some improvements to their club to close the gap. As it stands now, though, the Rangers should keep a grip on the division.
The addition of Beltre would push Michael Young into something of a super-utility role where he'd backup all four infield positions and DH when he's not doing that. Of course, we've learned Young doesn't like this idea and would prefer to be traded.
While those trade talks have led nowhere, the Rangers are pressing forward with that plan. The loss of Young would be a hit that could cost them a couple of games based on WAR projections. While this seems minor, a more closely contested AL West could come down to the final days of the season.
Projected Record: 89-73 (-1, 1st place)
Oakland finished 2010 with an even record of 81-81 and in second place of the AL West.
They've had a busy offseason where they have added to all phases of the game.
They sent speedster Rajai Davis to the Toronto for a couple pitching prospects. They made up for the loss in the outfield by trading for David DeJesus from Kansas City and Josh Willingham from Washington.
For more thunder, they added Hideki Matsui to be their DH. This of course led to Jack Cust signing with Seattle.
On the pitching front, they signed free agents Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to bolster the bullpen. They brought back one of the "big three" by signing Rich Harden.
Billy Beane is known to be active and creative, so look for the A's to continue to be involved in more ideas. When they missed out on Adrian Beltre, a rumor started to float around that they were interested in Mariners third baseman Chone Figgins.
Their additions, along with Texas' losses, should close the gap a little on the AL West. Though, I don't think it's quite enough since they'll be relying on some of their smaller additions to hit their upsides.
Projected Record: 85-77 (+4, 2nd place)
Angels' owner Arte Moreno had dreams of big free agent splashes and recapturing the AL West. They were believed to have targeted names like Cliff Lee, Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford.
They got none of those and had went through a period where it seemed like no significant upgrades would be made to their club.
Enter Vernon Wells.
The phone rang at Blue Jays headquarters, as I fathom the situation, and they found themselves surprised that there was a team not only willing to take on Wells' ridiculous salary and poorly aging skills, but send them warm bodies in return.
The Angels have some nice prospects in the wings and should recover in future seasons, but for this next one, things aren't looking to go the way Mr. Moreno had hoped.
Projected Record: 78-84 (-2, 3rd place)
We've said it before, but it's worth relishing again: 2010 is behind us.
So how can a roster that remains largely the same be better?
Regression to the mean has to happen. It will happen.
Unexpected putrid seasons from Chone Figgins, Franklin Gutierrez, Adam Moore, Jose Lopez, Justin Smoak, Milton Bradley, Michael Saunders and Ryan Rowland-Smith, along with injuries to Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard, Jack Wilson and Mark Lowe.
Really stop and take that list in. Is it possible for that large of a percentage of your team to be bad or hurt? Will guys speed out of the clubhouse on bicycles after blowing a squeeze play? Will players try to fight the manager? Will the franchise icon take his ball and go home?
No way. No how.
The Mariners will see improvements from nearly all of those players. Some like Bradley and Moore may have marginal improvements due to smaller roles.
Others guys like Gutierrez, Figgins, Smoak, Saunders and Bedard all figure to show significant improvement. Especially the latter, since even a 2 WAR performance would be huge.
Sometime in June, Dustin Ackley will arrive. He could be primed to make an immediate impact and add as much as 3 WAR to the club. I'm going to peg him at 2 WAR, though. That 2 WAR will replace a now league average guy in Adam Kennedy, and Brendan Ryan will slide to short where his value will rise just from being there as opposed to second.
Felix and Ichiro will do what they do, and toss in a combined 11.5 WAR.
I'm not expecting any sort of magical run to contention, but this is a team that stands to be miles better just by playing at their career norms. If a couple players break out for career years, they might even find themselves out of the cellar.
Projected Record: 72-90 (+11, 4th place)