With the 2011 MLB draft behind us, the Mariners have a new crop of prospects (assuming they sign) to add to a system that's been replenished by GM Jack Zduriencik after inheriting a bare cabinet from Bill Bavasi.
One of the things about prospects is that they're prospects. If you think about an old use of the term, gold prospectors in California would dig, pan and sluice their way to riches. Well, except that the guys who became rich were few and far between.
Gold prospecting is really hard. I've done it. Climb into eight-foot hole. Fill bucket with dirt. Climb out of hole. Drag heavy bucket to sluice box in river. Go to slow stream with pan. Wahoo! One flake worth a quarter! Maybe after 70 trips I'll find a nugget.
Prospecting for baseball players is similar to this. Teams send scouts out all over the world, fill a bucket with prospects, wash them through the sluice box and hope a few pan out.
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Drunk Sacks: Mariners Players Win Dancing With the Stars
The Mariners are sort of surprising everyone in 2011, though it's 2012 where we thought the resurgence to relevancy might begin, with the young core having some time under their belts, more players on the way and some cash to spend.
Here's what the 2012 club could look like.
R: Felix Hernandez
R: Michael Pineda
L: Jason Vargas
R: Doug Fister
R: Jason Marquis
Coming into the season, I said Erik Bedard had little chance of still being around in 2012. With the team contending, though, it's hard to see them moving him in a trade as they may have hoped to do.
Having missed all of 2010, they could only hope he achieves Type B free agency status, which would net them a second-round compensation pick should they choose to offer him arbitration. That might even increase the likelihood of him coming back, but I’d expect Bedard to try to cash in on a resurgent season and the Mariners to non-tender him due to the risk.
Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick from the draft, is expected to move through the system at a decent clip, and some think he could be in the major leagues as early as next season. It wouldn't be until midseason at the earliest and maybe not next season at all. They took Hultzen, some speculate, because of the immediate dividends he could provide.
Jason Marquis is a ground-ball-inducing, innings-eater type that would be a capable placeholder for Hultzen or another young arm.
2B-L: Dustin Ackley
1B-S: Justin Smoak
DH-L: Prince Fielder
LF-L: Mike Carp
C-R: Miguel Olivo
CF-R: Franklin Gutierrez
3B-S: Chone Figgins
SS-R: Brendan Ryan
With one big free agent signing, this lineup becomes markedly better. It will have Dustin Ackley with half a season under his belt, Justin Smoak having completed his first full big league season and the big bopper this city has been crying for.
The free agent pitching class isn't going to be super deep, meaning even a guy like Marquis could cost a decent amount of money. Prince Fielder won't be cheap either, mind you, but the Mariners may be best suited making their big splash with the offense.
Ichiroand Figgins are virtual locks to return, despite your feelings on them. Gutierrez and Ryan are also locked up and figure to return.
C-R: Adam Moore
OF-L: Michael Saunders
OF-R: Greg Halman
INF-R: Alex Liddi
I know. Carlos Peguero hits the ball really hard when he makes contact. The problem is that his approach is awful, and he just isn't a big leaguer right now. If Mike Carp's progression is at all legit and sustainable, coupled with his far better approach at the plate, this team only has room for one outfielder with bad defense.
Saunders and Halman offer a couple of athletic role players that can play anywhere in the outfield. Halman makes for a platoon partner with and late-inning defensive sub for Carp. He can also spell Gutierrez or Ichiro if need be. Saunders would be a somewhat platoon partner for Gutierrez, though Guti would get the bulk of CF starts. Saunders also provides a capable pinch hitter and pinch runner that can stay in the game as a defensive sub.
Moore's days as a prospect are behind him. He's now going to have to ease into a backup role for the final year of Olivo's contract.
Liddi is hitting .278/.350/.510 with 12 homers in Tacoma this season. While the team won’t be able to push Chone Figgins out, and Liddi might not be a huge upgrade due to his defense anyway, the youngsteris making a decent case for playing time with the big club. He can provide Figgins, Ackley or Smoak a day off when a lefty is on the hill.
CL-R: Brandon League
SU-R: Josh Lueke
SU-L: Mauricio Robles
SU-R: Dan Cortes
LR-L: Aaron Laffey
LR-R: David Pauley
MR-R: Jamey Wright
This was probably going to be David Aardsma's last season in Seattle regardless, but now the Mariners are left to hope he can get back on the mound this season and build enough value to be a Type A or B free agent, with the latter maybe more likely now.
Brandon League will have his fourth year of arbitration this winter, so it's possible the M's could look to turn his season into an interesting offensive piece. That's what they did with J.J. Putz to get Gutierrez, and if a team has a logjam where the M's have a need, it makes sense. For now, though, we'll pencil League in as the returning closer.
The clock may have struck midnight for Jamey Wright. It's a small sample, but his last few outings have looked a lot closer to the old Jamey Wright than the first two months of the season did. He may not completely turn into a pumpkin, but a guy who will be 37 next season shouldn't be expected to be transform too far from his career norms.
That said, managers love grizzled veterans. If Wright doesn't suffer a complete collapse, look for Eric Wedge to want Wright back in the mix of all these youngsters.
Lueke and Cortes have both had stints in the big leagues, neither looking too impressive. They throw hard, though, and there is some cheap upside here. Robles still has a chance to be a starter, but with every injury and setback I'd start to look for the club to transition him into a late-inning lefty option with solid stuff to hide his weaker secondary offerings and control issues.
After the first month or so of the season, the bullpen will probably drop a member, and another infielder could be added to the mix.
This group of players, mostly in-house youngsters with established veterans and only a couple of free agent additions, gives the Mariners a nice mix of athleticism and defensive upside and a middle of the order that could provide some pop.
The attendance struggles this season means we probably won't see a huge payroll spike. It will likely remain level or perhaps even be reduced depending on how 2011 plays out. Don't expect a huge spending spree, but one big splash and a couple decent pieces is realistic.
It’s not perfect, and the team will still be looking to 2013 to open up the purses, but this could work within the budget and put a legitimate product on the field to compete in the AL West.