The Mariners’ 2010 season was a colossal failure any way you care to measure it. The offense was both bad and unlucky. For reasons unknown to man and/or beast, manager Don Wakamatsu (before being fired) deployed Ken Griffey and Mike Sweeney with unnerving frequency — both of whom were part of an early season controversy involving the sleeping habits of the former. Milton Bradley had a bit of a Milton Bradley Situation. And somehow the Mariners lost three games behind God’s Most Blessed Angel, Cliff Lee.
Projected Starting Lineup
1 RF Ichiro Suzuki*
2 3B Chone Figgins**
3 LF Milton Bradley**
4 DH Jack Cust*
5 CF Franklin Gutierrez
6 C Miguel Olivo
7 1B Justin Smoak**
8 SS Jack Wilson
9 2B Brendan Ryan
To get a sense of how poor the offense was last year, consider this fact: in 2010, Mariner DHs slashed .194/.269/.340, a figure that compares a little too closely to the .143/.177/.176 triple-slash posted last year by National League pitchers. The team as a whole finised 30th in the majors with 138.4 weighted batting runs below average — a metric that adjusts for park. Basically, if Jason Kendall had started every game at every position, the Mariners would’ve been no worse off — from an offensive point of view, at least.
The 2011 season should see an improvement on the offensive side, if for no other reason than things are unlikely to get worse. Ichiro is — perhaps suprisingly at age 37 — still Ichiro!, and is likely to be good for four to five wins again.
After Ichiro, question marks abound. One is tempted to say that Chone Figgins is likely to rebound — and he is likely to rebound from a .259/.340/.306 88 wRC+. But he also (a) is entering his age-33 season and (b) possesses a walk-heavy offensive approach that’s unique for a player with so little power. A move back to third base — from second, where his one year UZR (which should, obviously, be taken with a grain of salt) was terrible — might help improve his offensive game, too.
As for middle infielders Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan? They’re plus defenders, is one thing you can certainly say about them, although they’re unlikely to post a league-average offensive numbers. The Miguel Olivo signing is a bit strange considering that his (i.e. Olivo’s) one asset (besides a strong defensive reputation) is power from the right side — something Safeco Field happens to deflate considerably. Franklin Gutierrez has shown past signs of offensive prowess in the past, but produces most of his value with his glove and long, long legs. Jack Cust will likely average more than four pitches per plate appearance. Whether he posts DH-worthy numbers is another question. Milton Bradley, it appears, will be playing baseball again. Expecting more than 100 games from him would be foolish, however.
Finally, there are some prospecty-types. Justin Smoak, the major piece coming to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal and he appears to have no competition at first base entering the season. He’ll have a long leash, given the fact that the Mariners are unlikely to contend. Dustin Ackley walked 26 times against only 11 strikeouts in the Arizona Fall League, and has shown flashes of power. Whether he can stick at second base is the question. Nick Franklin is very young (just 20 this season), but plays shortstop and showed power as a teenager in A ball.
“Felix Hernandez and pray for rain, and then pray for rain again, and then pray for two more days of rain” doesn’t flow off the tongue, but it might be an apt way of characterizing this rotation. The King, also winner of the 2010 Cy Young Award, is young, pretty, and can’t possibly be beat — at least no more often than the league’s best pitcher is beat.
Vargas and Fister actually both had decent 2010s, posting WARs north of 2.0. Vargas is the proverbial Crafty Lefty, throwing a fastball at around 87 mph, but mixing in a change that was good for 1.83 runs per 100 pitches in 2010. That helps neutralize righties and will also help him post an ERA somewhere around 4.00-4.25, probably. Fister is the less common Crafty Righty, also throwing an above-average change (1.69 run per 100 in 2010). If these guys were the four and five starters, that’d be ideal.
Luke French is youngish (25 this year), but has limited upside and features a profile much like Vargas and Fister’s, except somehow even less exciting. Bedard, I address below.
The bullpen has some pieces. Maybe. Closer Aardsma has been a nice scrap-heap find and has even odds of posting a K/9 rate of above 9.00. League has one of the league’s best pitches in a sort of split-change that he throws, but for some reason featured said pitch with less frequency in 2010 than in 2009 with the Jays. In lieu of that, he still throws an excellent sinker. Dan Cortes is not a former MTV personality, but rather a 24-year-old reliever with a ca. 97 mph fastball and decent secondary offerings.
If healthy, Erik Bedard could help the Mariners in a couple way. As to the size of that “if,” it’s maybe less big than in previous years. He missed all of last year due to recovery from labrum surgery, but has thrown real actual innings this spring training already.
While Bedard could help the Mariners win games, his primary value will likely come at the trade deadline, where — if he’s pitched anything like Erik Bedard — he could be worth a prospect or two from a contending team.
After some 2010 preseason moves that made new GM Jack Zduriencik look like a genius, the actual product on the field made many in the Twitterverse chant #6org.
Luckily (?) for the 2011 edition of the team, expectations are quite low. A decent season from Erik Bedard could net even more prospects for the Mariners, as the team looks ahead to 2012 and ’13.
Thanks to MLB Depth Charts for excellent information.
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