2009 Mariners: What are they doing?

Continuing with my MLB team by team preview for 2009, is the second worst team in 2008, the Seattle Mariners.

I was among the many who jumped the gun and figured the Mariners to be a challenger for the AL West crown last year. I even picked them so far as to losing to the Indians in the ALCS.
Luckily for 2009, reality has had about 10 months to set in.

Did you realize they actually had a winning record as late as April 22 last year (11-10)? Unfortunately for the M’s, their 50-91 record after that abolished years of hope for this team. Or how about only 5 Mariner players actually had enough at bats to qualify for the batting title last year?

As of today, it isn’t looking much better for the M’s. Unless management ponies up & gets some help for this offense and the bullpen, it’ll be another long year for Seattle fans.

Positives: The Mariners still have a lot of talent and they’ve shown they have been willing to spend big bucks in the past. When you’ve got Ichiro, Adrian Beltre and Felix Hernandez anchoring your dugout, you’ve at least got something to start with. Looking over Seattle’s transaction list for this offseason, shows the team is trying to do something. Sadly, nobody has a clue what that is.

Negatives: They traded away JJ Putz. I’ve not been a big fan of Putz, but he could be a machine in the 9th when healthy. As of now, nobody knows who’s going to be the M’s new closer. There’s a handful of guys that could do the job, at least to the point of finishing with 60 wins again. But what’s worse about the trade is they didn’t really get anything out of it. Endy Chavez probably gets a shot to start in the OF; Jason Vargas is likely to be a journeyman relief pitcher for the distance of his career (he walked more batters than he struck out in 2006); Aaron Heilman was smartly shipped off for a potential #4 or #5 starter in Garrett Olson and a cheap solution to the everyday utility guy with Ronny Cedeno. The key element from the deal is 1B Mike Carp. He had a great season in AA Birmingham for the Mets last year (.403 OBP; .874 OPS; 17 HR) and could quickly replace Bryan LaHair at 1B or Kenji Johjima at DH. Beyond that, Jose Lopez, Wladimir Balentin and Yuniesky Betancourt are never going to be household names in this lineup. They also have yet to replace Raul Ibanez, who at least helped provide some offensive power to the team.

Lineup, here’s how I’d start the season based on depth chart: 1. RF Ichiro; 2. 2B Jose Lopez; 3. .C Jeff Clement; 4. 3B Adrian Beltre; 5. 1B Bryan LaHair (or Carp); 6. CF Endy Chavez; 7. DH Kenji Johjima; 8. SS Yuniesky Betancourt; 9. LF Wladimir Balentien. With everything this city has been through in the past 18 months, the only hope of salvaging this season with the players currently on board are to throw LaHair, Carp and Clement straight into the middle of the fire and see what they can do.

If management isn’t willing to spend to put a competitive team on the floor, then give the guys with potential a chance to take over. It’s worked before in Seattle (A-Rod, Randy, Griffey, Buhner, etc).

The Mariners really shouldn’t have been a 100 loss team last season. There was enough talent here to finish at least near .500 last year. Of course this year, things look a bit different with a bullpen by committee. What that really means is this rotation is going to have to step it up and deliver 6+ innings most nights until at least 2 guys out of the pen come forward as “go-to” guys. If anybody can help make the bullpen work, you have to wonder if it isn’t Seattle’s BP coach, the same guy that handed over the reigns to the Yankee machine in the mid 1990s, John Wetteland. It’s a new staff and a new GM this year, so I expect to see some changes, and Seattle fans should keep their minds open and hopeful, once the free agent chips start falling (i.e. Manny), another bat will end up in the Pacific Northwest, I’m going to guess Bobby Abreu, but I won’t rule out Garret Anderson.

Bottom line: As the team sits right now, they are the bottom dweller in this division. They haven’t done near enough to compete with the improved A’s, the revamped Angels or an improving Rangers team. Based on current roster potential only, the Mariners should still have a shot at 70-75 wins this year, but I’m handing them 66.

Predictions: Unless something changes, it’s a last place AL finish again for the M’s, this time 66 wins.

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