Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guide Preview: Seattle Mariners

The beauty of saving the AL West for last in this guide preview series is that, with only four teams in the division, it feels like we're flying through the division. It's almost like having a 4-day work week: it doesn't seem like the one less day will make a difference, but everything just feels shorter and easier that week. That's how I'm feeling about this guide preview series, and, since the guide previews also serve as a countdown to Opening Day, it feels even better. Today, we get to look at the Seattle Mariners, who had the worst record in the AL last year, shocking some of the preseason pundits from last year.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Seattle Mariners
Last Year: 61 - 101, 4th Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News4



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Mariners went into the 2008 season with high expectations, but ended it at the bottom of the barrel. Things did not go well for anyone in the organization, and changes had to be made.
"For years, fans in Seattle clamored for change. It finally came in 2008. General manager Bill Bavasi. Manager John McLaren. First baseman Richie Sexson. Designated hitter Jose Vidro. All of them are gone. In fact, all of them were gone by the end of the regular season.

More recognizable faces left over the winter. Raul Ibanez, the steady run producer and clubhouse presence, signed with the Phillies. Popular closer JJ Putz was dealt to the Mets in a three-team, 12-player trade.

Meanwhile, a new leadership team took shape. Jack Zduriencik, who had been the Brewers' successful scouting director, took over as Mariners GM in October. Less than one month later, Don Wakamatsu became the manager. Based on last year's performance, Zduriencik and Wakamatsu have a great deal of work ahead of them. (Lindy's)"
The face of the Mariners for this past decade has easily been Ichiro, the exciting rightfielder, leadoff hitter and base-stealer. It may be even truer this year, after all the moves Zduriencik made in his first few months on the job. Ichiro anchors a speedy and power-deficient outfield that hopes to be one of Seattle's strengths.
"The [Putz trade] brought the Mariners two outfielders, including their top target in the deal, Franklin Gutierrez, who will handle center field after playing the corner spots in Cleveland. That will allow Ichiro to play right field, his preferred position and the spot where he can best use his sensational arm.

Endy Chavez, who came over from the Mets in the deal, will play left field, which was vacated when steady producer Raul Ibanez accepted a free-agent contract from the Phillies. Second-year outfielder Wladimir Balentien, one of Seattle's most-hyped prospects in recent years, also should see time there. (TSN)"
But it's the pitching staff that gives the M's and their fans the most hope. As good as Ichiro is, he does not have the nearly-unlimited ceiling that Felix Hernandez and some others have. At some point, King Felix has to live up to his hype, so why can't it be this year?
"If there is one major upside to the Seattle picture entering 2009, it's the starting rotation. Hard-throwing righthander Felix Hernandez, still just 22, will be the No. 1 starter. He only went 9-11 last year, but his ERA dipped to 3.45, down almost half a run from the 2007 season. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA and seventh in strikeouts with 175. Lefthander Erik Bedard might not be the most popular guy in the game, but he knows how to pitch. In between two stints on the DL (hip and shoulder), he won six games and had a 3.67 ERA. When healthy, Bedard is one of the top lefties in the league. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

TSN provides "The Book on... Felix Hernandez":
"He's as good as he wants to be, and there aren't many who are as talented. What's not to like? There might be some immaturity issues, but he's young and everyone would love to have him. He's got every quality you look for in a No. 1 starter. ...

Consistency has been his problem, but that's typical for someone so young. It can't help his development that he's had different pitching coaches every year the last few years and he's had a catcher who doesn't speak English. But he has the stuff to strike out 20 guys a night. ... You can't help but bet on him with his age, his stuff and his competitiveness. You can't help but think he's a star..."

The Mariners did not have a good season last year, losing 100 games for the first time in 25 years (though they did lose 99 games in 2004). Nothing seemed to go right for the team, despite having some better-than-average players in Ichiro, Beltre, and Felix Hernandez. I can't help but think that that had to be a result of a poor start snowballing into uninspired play as the summer wore on. I just don't see how the collection of players on the M's could add up to such a bad team.

For 2009, I don't really know what to expect, but I have to assume it'll be better than the stinker they put together last year. The hiring of GM Jack Zduriencik is a big move, but I'm not sure it'll be able to pay immediate dividends. As the scouting director for the Brewers since 1999, he was responsible for just about all of the great draft picks in recent years, which many credit with their recent success. As a Brewers fan, I'm sad to see him go, but I can only imagine good things will come from this for the Mariners. Hopefully, for M's fans, some of that will pay off soon.

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