General manager Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners have been striving to find the perfect balance of veterans and rookies over the past couple of years. The problems resulting from that strategy for the Mariners are: a) nearly all of the veterans are underperforming and b) hardly any of the rookies are really stepping up.
That made for a discontenting two seasons, but 2012 will be different. Jack Z has some money to work with, some more experienced "rookies" and more new prospects on the rise.
So what will Jack Z accomplish this offseason, and where will the balance fall for 2012?
Here's a look at what the 2012 Mariners active roster will look like by position.
Miguel Olivo was one of the top offensive performers last year—one of a few small bright spots in an otherwise bleak lineup. He has also developed relationships with the pitching staff on the M's; a healthy relationship between catcher and pitcher can elevate a pitcher's game significantly.
Even if Olivo isn't an All-Star catcher, he's the best, or at least safest, that the Mariners have.
Adam Moore, who's currently playing Fall Ball, has yet to prove anything in the majors, but Jack Z and the fans agree that he deserves a real shot. He' been injury-plagued and without the ability to get into a rhythm in his three attempts at playing catcher on the M's.
Moore may not be the Opening Day catcher, but Olivo certainly doesn't have the starting spot locked down. If after a week or two Olivo hasn't contributed anything from the end of the order, Jack Z won't hesitate to put Moore in. However, if Moore gets his shot and doesn't capitalize on it, he may be out of a job altogether.
Justin Smoak will start at 1B for the Mariners in 2012. That's right, no Prince Fielder. He's going to be too expensive (the M's have the money, but not enough to be cheated...ahem, Scott Boras)and there isn't room for him defensively in Seattle.
Smoak was the biggest player who came to Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade and is expected to be a franchise player. He hasn't put up stellar numbers yet, but he's had very little playing time over the past two years due to bereavement and injury.
Look for Smoak to really pick it up in 2012 with a fresh start.
This guy isn't going anywhere. Ackley was promoted to the majors in June for the beginning of what we hope to be a career marked by excellence and longevity with the Mariners.
Ackley demonstrated his wide-ranging hitting talent from the top of the order last year with 16 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and a .273 average that only dropped in the last few weeks of the year from up closer to .300 for the better part of his first major league season.
Yes! Jack Z and the Mariners are going to avidly pursue Reyes this offseason. Reyes isn't exactly a power fix for the homer-deprived Mariners, but really, any bolstering the Mariners can do for their hitting will be a huge plus.
Also, power is not as huge of an issue anymore since Mike Carp, Dustin Ackley, Casper Wells and other new additions have made decent contributions to the long ball totals.
The M's would be looking at either Brendan Ryan or Kyle Seager to start at short next year, neither of whom is a particularly fruitful option as of now. Ryan hasn't shown any real potential to hit over .300 or for power, and Seager is still young and undeveloped.
Reyes could also assume leadoff hitter duties if Jack Z decides it's time for a change in Ichiro's career (a possible switch to the second or third spot where he could exercise his power stroke).
Nick Franklin looks to make his highly-anticipated, major league debut in 2012. He's currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, and we'll definitely see him during spring training. The question is: can he demonstrate major league readiness over the next few months?
Brendan Ryan, who started the majority of the games for the Mariners at short in 2011, may be on his way out of Seattle. Ryan was in the same boat as Jack Wilson and look at what happened to him.
Kyle Seager spent the last bit of the season playing shortstop since Ryan was injured, but his attention will more likely be directed toward the hot corner. Seager was brought up in one of the later waves of promotions to play third, but he didn't show us that he, above anyone else (Alex Liddi), deserved the role.
A demotion isn't in Seager's future though. He'll continue to battle Liddi for the third-base spot. And if the Mariners don't add Reyes and Franklin isn't ready, Seager could take over at short.
The first ever born-and-raised Italian in the MLB is making a splash with the Mariners. Liddi looked solid at the end of last year (a third of his hits were home runs and a third were doubles) and has a shot at starting 2012 at third for the Mariners, even without a whole lot of major league experience.
Could Aramis Ramirez really come to Seattle next year? It's a feasible option. Ramirez's contract with the Chicago Cubs ends this year, and although the team does have a $2 million option to extend a year, they haven't indicated any attachment to Ramirez.
He would be an [expensive] option if Eric Wedge and the Mariners don't have complete confidence in Alex Liddi heading into preseason next year. Luckily, the Mariners do have tons of cap room this year and can afford to sign one or two big names.
There's absolutely no reason the Mariners want to get rid of their ultimate utility man. Kennedy can play anywhere in the infield with decent consistency and put up respectable numbers for a guy who doesn't start.
Kennedy is there as a backup in case Smoak, Ackley, Ryan, Seager, Liddi, (Reyes) and/or (Ramirez) get injured or just need a day off.
Of course, Ichiro will be back on the active roster going into 2012. He may be switched around in the field or in the batting order, but he'll be here.
After Ichiro's career-worst season, there's more potential for a switch down in the order or possibly even to designated hitter. I've been an Ichiro fan since he got here, and I consider him the best leadoff hitter of the past 10 years, but I'm not opposed to allowing Ichiro to swing more openly for the fences.
Also, if Ichiro spent more time at DH, there'd be room for the plethora of outfielders the M's currently have stashed to expand and develop.
Mike Carp was the top-performing call-up for the Mariners last season. He spent most of his time at DH, but he can also play 1B (if Smoak can't for some new reason) and OF (if the other 14 outfielders can't). Carp has a power upside that pretty much locks a spot for him in the order, right around clean-up.
If the M's do, however, add a big name this offseason (Fielder, Pujols), Carp might play in left.
Carlos Quentin is heading into his last year of arbitration-eligible baseball with the Chicago White Sox, but he doesn't really fit into the scheme in Chicago. Quentin is a powerful hitter, but he's just a few years older than the curve that the Sox have going right now.
Since he has just one more year of arbitration, he's in a perfect spot to be traded. The Mariners could give up one or two of their less important prospects in exchange for Quentin, and Quentin could be part of a playoff-bound (at least within the next three years, but could be as early as next year) team where he was needed.
Quentin might replace Gutierrez, who has never really taken off for the Mariners, but who is still valuable and so might fetch a decent price on the market.
Trayvon, who came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the three-way deal that also sent Erik Bedard to Boston (and we don't want him back), saw a lot of playing time this year in left field and center field.
He didn't break out, but Eric Wedge will likely continue to give him playing time since he was excellent in the minors.
Chiang is a very promising young left-handed power hitter who could make a big-league impact early next season. The Mariners sent him (along with Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin and other highly-touted prospects) to the Arizona Fall League to get some offseason practice in.
Chiang could be a solution to the "outfield cycling" problem the M's have been experiencing.
Yep, he'll be back.
Yep, this guy too.
Hultzen was drafted for his major league readiness, and he's proved that he will be ready next spring through some solid AFL pitching. Hultzen's left-handedness is a nice complement to the one-two right-handed punch of King Felix and Prince Pineda.
All three of those guys are wicked strikeout pitchers who will viciously tear up opposing hitters. That's something we should all be excited to see.
I'm not part of the camp that thinks Jason Vargas will be traded. He's a middle-of-the-rotation starter who wouldn't fetch a high price and has fit nicely into the Mariners' rotation for a couple of years now.
Pineda ought to be bumped up to the second spot, so Vargas will take third, ahead of Hultzen, at least for the beginning of the season.
Paxton hasn't pitched Triple-A, but he's dominated in Double-A, and we've seen prospects jump under Jack Z before. This is a stretch, but the other options for the Mariners include Blake Beavan, Anthony Vasquez and Charlie Furbush—not exactly the cream of the crop.
Taijuan Walker is an option as well, but Paxton is a little father along in the development process and could be ready by Opening Day 2012. Personally, I'd much rather see Paxton in the starting five than Beavan, Vasquez or Furbush.
Watch for Chance Ruffin to move into the closer spot for next year. Brandon League had a great season with the Mariners, and that boosted his value significantly. Jack Z will likely market League to contender hopefuls who lack a solid closer.
Since the Mariners probably won't make a World Series trip next year, we can assume that Ruffin will get a lot of save opportunities in high-pressure situations that aren't really too high pressure.
The situations will be big with respect to the individual game, but Ruffin won't face the heat Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera always do. That'll be a great way for Ruffin to prepare for when the M's do make a run at the playoffs in a year or two.
Chance Ruffin is also one of the coolest names ever.
Dan Cortes is part of the up-and-coming youth movement that Jack Z has sweeping through the Mariners organization. He didn't get a lot of time last year, but he was a flamethrower down in the minors. He could settle in to a setup role for Ruffin.
Tom Wilhelmsen was one of the top performers out of the bullpen for the M's in 2011. Without much else in terms of consistency, we should see Wilhelmsen return for 2012 and be one of Eric Wedge's go-to guys for the seventh inning.
Another flame-throwing strikeout pitcher, Robles would be a great option for an inning late in a tight game. He was consistent through all levels of the minors and should be ready to pitch in the majors by the time spring training rolls around.
Wright is getting pretty old, but he's one of the better relievers in the Mariners' pen, and his experience will be valuable on an otherwise very young relief staff.