The price of competition just grew in the AL West. The Mariners looked like they were game through the All-Star break last season, and then suddenly fell on hard times. The reality is probably that they were never game. A 162-game schedule has a way of separating the pretenders from the contenders.
The problem in the great Northwest is offense. The Mariners simply don't have any. They are in better shape than their counterparts in Oakland because they have resources to work with. Safeco Field is a nice stadium and Ichiro still generates some interest in the Asian market. To date, those resources haven't netted the Mariners of hitter of note since Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez left town the first time around.
The Mariners' farm system is an interesting dichotomy. They have top of the line prospects like Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, but the depth just isn't there. Yet, they made some solid deals last season to help guide them through the rebuilding process. They added John Jaso in the offseason to get some depth behind Miguel Olivo. If Jaso hits like he did in 2010, he may very well win that job.
Justin Smoak was actually a positive impact hitter, according to TPR. If he continues to improve, the infield picture will begin to look a lot better. The prize on this team is Ackley. Outside of Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia, he has the chance to become the best all-around second baseman in the American League.
Brendan Ryan and Kyle Seager appear to be the guys on the left side. Ryan should have been the AL Gold Glove winner, but often gets overlooked because he doesn't hit well. Chone Figgins may still very well play a majority of the time, but Seager is penciled in at the moment. The M's can't afford to go through another season with Figgins if he plays like last season.
The Mariners suffered through tragedy this winter when Greg Halman was murdered. It doesn't affect their 2012 plans that much, but it is indicative of the luck they have had recently. Franklin Guitterez is among the best there is defensively when he is healthy. He wasn't healthy in 2011. Ichiro Suzuki used to be one of the best, but like his offense, his defensive game is slipping.
The Mariners are a good example of where the Angels will be when Albert Pujols comes to the end of his contract. Suzuki has been a great player over the years, but he isn't one anymore. The trouble is that is still being paid like he's a great player.
Left field is a bit of a mystery going into the season. Mike Carp will likely see more time at DH but could see time at first base and left field. Michael Saunders and Trayvon Robinson are in line now. Carlos Peguero is also a possibility. At this point, it will be a spring training battle to watch. Watch out for Casper Wells as well.
Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda are a solid one-two punch on top of the rotation. Jason Vargas quietly put up a very solid season as well. Blake Beaven made good on his promise and became a solid fourth starter. So, the M's are in good shape in the rotation. They have a huge question mark on the bottom of the rotation, but most teams in baseball have the same problem.
Right now, Charlie Furbush (from the Tigers in the Fister deal) is penciled in as the fifth starter, but there will be a competition in camp for that spot and the club has another couple of months to find a veteran in free agency.
Brandon League came through in a pinch when David Aardsma was unable to go. The rest of the bullpen was below average. Shawn Kelley and Tom Wilhelmsen may become good setup men with more experience, but the bullpen is very thin at the moment. Getting a couple of solid relievers is priority one for the Mariners for the rest of the offseason.
The Rest of the Offseason
While it might be tempting to try to add offense (say Prince Fielder), the Mariners will never catch the Rangers and Mariners. If they add some inexpensive relievers they will be remain competitive and keep the payroll at a reasonable level.