MLB Preview 2011: Predicting the Seattle Mariners Starting Lineup

Alex CarsonCorrespondent IIIFebruary 14, 2011

MLB Preview 2011: Predicting the Seattle Mariners Starting Lineup

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    SEATTLE - APRIL 14:  Ken Griffey Jr. #24 of the Seattle Mariners is greeted by Mike Sweeney #5 during pregame ceremonies on the Opening Day game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on April 14, 2009 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Perhaps it's a bit early to be doing these sorts of things, considering pitchers and catchers just reported to Peoria, Arizona yesterday with today being the first day of workouts.

    As the position players trickle in, full squad workouts will begin. Then there will be the annual charity game with hated rival and complex co-tenant San Diego. Then Cactus League games kickoff, some split-squad contests and finally an exhibition against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    On the first day of April, the 2010 history can finally exit our mind as the last Mariners baseball we remember and 25 men—some new, some returning—will take the field in Oakland.

    Here's a look at who I believe those 25 men will be, and what roles they'll fill.

Starting Pitcher

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 05:  Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on August 5, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    We'll get the easiest "prediction" out of the way quick.

    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.


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    SEATTLE - JULY 17:  Catcher Miguel Olivo #8 of the Seattle Mariners adjusts his mask against the Baltimore Orioles during the MLB game on July 17, 2005 at Safeco Field in Seattle Washington. The Mariners defeated the Orioles 8-2.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Miguel Olivo returns to Seattle after a five-year hiatus.

    Originally acquired in the trade that sent Freddy Garcia to the White Sox, 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.

First Base

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    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19:  Justin Smoak #17 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on September 19, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    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.

    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.

Second Base

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    ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 16: Brendan Ryan #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws to first base against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium on September 16, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    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. Jack 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 May.

Third Base

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  Chone Figgins #9 of the Seattle Mariners at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 29, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    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.


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    SEATTLE - JULY 10:  Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees is tagged out at second base on a steal attempt by Jack Wilson #2 of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on July 10, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Jack Wilson will get hurt and end up on the disabled list in 2011.

    That's about the only sure thing, outside of 200 hits from Ichiro, that you'll find on this team. Unless that happens in the next month, he'll take the field in Oakland with a reported 12 pounds lighter frame.

    I don't think that 12 pounds makes him better or worse. In fact, that 12 pounds could have been added while he sat on the pine hurt last year. So it just stood to be lost.

    If healthy, Wilson is one of the best defenders on the team. Luckily, the Mariners will have Brendan Ryan to slide over to short when the inevitable happens.

Left Field

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    SEATTLE - JULY 24:  Michael Saunders #55 of the Seattle Mariners rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run to break up a no-hitter in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field on July 24, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Ot
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    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.

Center Field

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    SEATTLE - JUNE 22:  Franklin Gutierrez #21 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Chicago Cubs on June 22, 2010 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Coming off a Gold Glove season in center, there's no doubt over 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.

Right Field

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    MIAMI - JUNE 8:  Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners laughs at a joke during batting practice prior to the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Florida Marlins on June 8, 2005 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida.  (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    What really needs to be said here?

Designated Hitter

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    OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jack Cust #32 of the Oakland Athletics hits a single to score Cliff Pennington and give the Athletics a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 22, 2010 in
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Jack Cust is everything Hideki Matsui is, but at a fraction of the cost 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 Griffey/Sweeney/Bradley trio of rotating suck in the DH spot.

    A low-cost signing for pennies on the dollar compared to what Godzilla cost the Athletics, 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 style.

The Rest Of The Rotation

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    OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27:  Erik Bedard #45 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on May 27, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Outside of Felix, here are the best bets for the starting rotation:

    Jason Vargas: Vargas had a good 2010, surprising perhaps. He stands to hang around the same performance level. 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.

    Doug Fister: Unlike Vargas, his 2010 may not be as sustainable. Well, at least the part before the injury. While his post-injury numbers may not be the best indicator either, he'll probably continue to rely on luck and defense to carry him to stretches of decent performance.

    Erik Bedard: Don't hold your breath, as nothing is certain with this guy. 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.

    Michael Pineda: The Mariners have other guys in camp in case Bedard can't go or they want to play the service-time game with Pineda. I think he'll have a strong spring, though, and find himself as the fifth guy in the rotation. Pineda Day and Felix Day back to back could make the season that much more bearable.

The Bullpen

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 31:  Rookie pitcher Shawn Kelley #23 of the Seattle Mariners walks to the bullpen while wearing a 'Hello Kitty' backpack before a game with the Texas Rangers on July 31, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    With David Aardsma looking more likely to start the season on the DL, there is little doubt the Mariners will go with a 12-man pitching staff.

    There are 33 pitchers in camp with the team. Thirty three. There should be a serviceable bullpen in there somewhere among the youngsters and non-roster invitees. Predicting the seven guys that make the trip to Oakland may be a futile exercise, but here's how I think it shakes out.

    Manny Delcarmen, CL : He could have himself a nice spring. Being someone with closing experience is nice. Perhaps he gets the closer role as the Mainers don't need to give the league leverage in contract negotiations, 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 may have also pitched the possibility of closing while Aardsma heals.

    Brandon League, SU: 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. It'll also help build his stock should they not be able to find an Aardsma suitor. In the end, though, I think they pass him up for Delcarmen.

    Chris Ray, SU: He's another 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.

    Luke French, LR: He could start the season in place of Bedard, then end up in the bullpen, but there's a good 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.

    Garrett Olson, LH: I'd rather see Edward Paredes from a young talent perspective, but expect Olson to be the second lefty in the pen to save service time for the youngster who could still use some seasoning.

    Jose Flores, RH: A Rule 5 draft pick at the winter meetings, Flores should make the team unless he shows nothing this spring. The Mariners could toss him back to the Indians for little loss, 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 (see photo above).

    David Pauley, RH: The final spot could easily go to a Cortes or Lueke flame thrower to fill the void until Shawn Kelley returns, but I think the Mariners again decide to save service time for talented youngsters and slide another guy who could spot start into the final bullpen spot.

The Bench

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    NEW YORK - JULY 01:  Milton Bradley #15 of the Seattle Mariners runs against the New York Yankees on July 1, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Mariners 4-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    With a seven-man bullpen, the bench will only have three players. Realistically, it'll only be two since one slot goes to a catcher.

    S, Josh Bard, C: The Mariners may already know what they have in Adam Moore and view him as a backup. In that case, he starts the season in that role with the Mariners, though he's still young and sitting on the bench doesn't make him better. For that, I believe he goes to Tacoma and Bard gets the backup catcher job.

    S, Milton Bradley, OF/DH: 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 him land a roster spot.

    R, Josh Wilson, IF: The addition of Adam Kennedy could change this, though Kennedy recently got a DUI and is on a minor league contract. Unless he has a majorly less-crappy spring than Wilson, this is probably how the infield reserve role shakes out.