Seattle Mariners: The Long Road Back
Hello to all you Seattle Mariners fans, and welcome to yet another offseason rebuilding project!
I know, it's kind of hard to get excited about it. We've been perpetually rebuilding and restocking for years now, and the early decades (yes, decades) of the franchise were nothing but building and rebuilding.
So why should this time be different? Most likely, it's not. Like every other major league club, the Mariners walk the tightrope with free agents and prospects being signed and moved up, hoping the wind doesn't knock them off of the rope.
Obviously, with so many holes to fill, we are not talking about one offseason, but more likely two or three. With the GM spot already filled by Jack Zduriencik, the next steps are at manager, any holes on the coaching staff, two outfield spots, first base, and pitching.
There are players in the system now who could potentially step up and fill those holes.
Mike Morse had a great spring training last year and looked poised to take the right field spot before tearing his arm halfway off early in the year. With another strong spring he could solidify his place in the outfield.
Up to this point, outfielder Jeremy Reed has been a giant disappointment for the Mariners, especially being part of a trade that gave the White Sox a very good pitcher in Freddy Garcia.
However, considering the alternatives of Wladimir Balentien, it may be Reed's job to lose. His glove would definitely be an improvement over the departed Raul Ibanez, and his speed on the base paths may help jump start one of the most anemic offenses in recent memory.
First base is a mystery. Many people were impressed with Brian LaHair's poise, but his numbers were underwhelming. Some mention of switching Jeff Clement to first has been batted about, but his numbers also were very weak.
Of course, in recent years we've seen the manager can get more out of seemingly low-class talent. The managerial candidates are an interesting lot, the most likely of whom seems to be Joey Cora.
A former Mariner with a World Series ring from the White Sox, Cora, who could bring some of the butt-kicking fire back to Seattle that has been absent since Lou Piniella, was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2002. (I didn't even realize you could trade a manager until that happened.)
I think the one area in which the Mariners have a great deal of young, up-and-coming talent is their pitching staff. Felix Hernandez is a Cy Young winner in waiting, Brandon Morrow and Mark Lowe are fireballers who can become great pitchers, and the bullpen is solid with JJ Putz, Sean Green, and Roy Corcoran.
If the dead weight of Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva can either be traded or play like they should, the pitching staff will hold their own.
The offense is where the problem lies, and that problem is not getting smaller.
Adrian Beltre may have a monster season next year because it's his pre-free agent season. We saw what happened last time he had one of those—he nearly won an MVP award in the National League.
Ichiro will do what Ichiro does, and Jose Lopez is an All-Star-caliber second baseman.
Unfortunately, after those three there are a whole lot of unknowns and nobodies.
The bottom line is the Mariners need to be active in trades and development this season.
It's not going to help attendance to call the season lost from the beginning and bring all the youngsters up and release all the veterans, but it may hasten the rebuilding process just a little.
I'd look for Beltre, Washburn, and, depending on performance, Batista to be shipped out sometime this season for prospects, and by June we'll be watching the Tacoma Rainiers featuring Ichiro.
But that's not a bad thing, folks. Watching the fifth highest payroll in the majors post the second worst record is a bad thing.
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