The Mariners entered the 2008 season feeling they had a legitimate shot to compete with the Angels for the AL West title.Â Seattle knew that Bill Bavasiâ€™s legacy would ultimately be decided by the results of his decision to trade top prospects Adam Jones and Tony Butler along with left handed set-up man George Sherrill and change to the Orioles for Erik Bedard.Â Fans knew Bedard was a gamble given his introverted personality, his history of injuries and the scant two years remaining on his contract.Â All of our worst fears were realized as Bedard not only spent most of the year on the DL, but became a clubhouse pariah for his refusal to cooperate with the media and declared his desire to test the free agent market when his deal is done, forcing the Mariners to hope he pitches well early in 2009 and can be traded to a contender for some small consolation prize.
While Bedard was struggling to pitch in agony, the rest of the Mariners tanked unexpectedly, finishing just 61-101.Â Lemony Snicket would be proud of the series of unfortunate events that befell this team, starting on day two of the season when ace closer J.J. Putz tore cartilage in his rib cage detonating his season and throwing the once proud Mariner bullpen into chaos.Â This was followed by a string of shockingly unlucky or just plain awful performances from 2007 holdovers like Jose Vidro, Kenji Johjima (who was rewarded for his sparkling .180 BA on May 2ns with a 3 year contract extension, which seemed to have a crushing psychological impact on the rest of the team), Richie Sexson, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Jamie Burke, and the newcomers didnâ€™t help.Â Jeff Clement, Wlad Balentin, Brad Wilkerson, Miguel Cairo, Carlos Silva and a string of failed bullpen options including gimmicky cast-off R.A. Dickey and former phenom Mark Loweâ€¦the list goes on and on.Â The collapse likely ended the major league career of Bill Bavasi (as least as a GM) â€“ though he caught on as an advisor to the second worst GM in the game in Cincinnati.Â It also killed John McLarenâ€™s chances of ever managing in the big leagues again and cost more than 3 dozen Mariner employees their jobs when â€śnew hopeâ€ť Jack Zduriencik arrived and was allowed to clean house.Â
Griffey is back in Seattle.
Armed with a video scouting department, a sabermetrics department, and a whole new class of talent evaluators, the Mariners enter 2009 forced to cut their payroll and rebuild in a new direction.
2008 regular season finish: 61-101
Rank: Fourth in the AL West, 1.5 Games Back of First Draft Slot
Home field: Safeco Field
CF Franklin Gutierrez (Acquired from Indians)
1B/3B Russell Branyan (1 Year/1 M)
1B Chris Shelton*
OF Endy Chavez (Acquired from Mets)
1B Mike Carp (Acquired from Mets)*
LHP Jason Vargas (Acquired from Mets)*
OF Ezequiel Carrera (Acquired from Mets)*
SP Maikel Cleto (Acquired from Mets)*
UT Reegie Corona (Claimed in Rule V Draft from Yankees)
RP Jose Lugo (Purchased from Royals)
RP Tyler Walker (1 Year/ 750K)
RP David Aardsma (Acquired from Red Sox)
IF Ronnie Cedeno (Acquired from Cubs)
SP Garrett Olson (Acquired from Cubs)
1B Mike Sweeney*
RP Tyler Johnson*
RP Luis Pena (Claimed off Waivers from Brewers)
CL Josh Fields (Signed after long post-draft holdout)*
C Jason Phillips*
LF/DH Ken Griffey Jr. (sigh â€“ 1 Year/3 M with incentives)
Lost at Sea
LF Raul Ibanez (Signed with Phillies)
UT Willie Bloomquist (Non-tendered, Signed with Royals)
SP R.A. Dickey (Signed with Twins)*
CL J.J. Putz (Traded to Mets)
RP Sean Green (Traded to Mets)
OF Jeremy Reed (Traded to Mets)
IF Luis Valbuena (Traded to Indians)
SP Fabian Williamson (Traded to Red Sox)*
UT Tug Hulett (DFA)
* - Signed to a minor league contract
Strengths â€“ Rotation andâ€¦Defense?
If Bedard can stay healthy (big if, I know), the Mariners have tremendous starting pitching depth.Â The early rotation is penciled in below, and includes one newcomer â€“ Brandon Morrow (the teamâ€™s closer for much of the 2008 season).Â However, if the Ms manage to trade Jarrod Washburn or if he fails to produce early in 2009, he could be replaced with other good young pitchers like Garrett Olson and Ryan Rowland-Smith.Â Many insiders think that with the right defense, and health permitting, the Mariners may have one of the best rotations in the AL.Â To back up his pitchers, Zduriencik placed a high premium on gifted defensive outfielders and on conditioning.Â Capable fielders who have been underperforming (guys like Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt) were asked to slim down and/or work on their defense during the offseason.Â New acquisitions Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez â€“ neither of whom is much of a hitter â€“ are expected to get the bulk of the innings in LF and CF complimenting Ichiro and giving the Mariners â€“ playing in spacious Safeco â€“ one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
Weaknesses â€“ Inexperience, Bullpen, HITTING
In order to build a new and successful organization, the Mariners are going to ask young and relatively inexperienced players like Jeff Clement, Yuniesky Betancourt, Franklin Gutierrez, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith and potentially other prospects like Matt Tuiasosopo, Adam Moore, Michael Saunders, etc. to step up their games.Â To facilitate the kind of job pressure and healthy competition that has been desperately lacking in Seattle since 2001, Zduriencik loaded up on freely available spare parts at his weak positions (first base, middle infield, catching, bullpen, back of the rotation), filled his minor league system with a lot of recent cast-offs who still have some potential, and is going to let 50 guys battle it out for as much playing time as they get as high up in the org as they can get it.Â This model could be undermined if the Mariners sign big name free agents too early, which is as good a reason as any that they didnâ€™t take advantage of this extreme buyerâ€™s market other than for some cheap nostalgia to put butts in the seats to watch a lousy team.
The problem, of course, is that their team, as currently constructed will need improvements from 5 or 6 players (guys like Jose Lopez, Jeff Clement, Adrian Beltre, Franklin Gutierrez, Kenji Johjima and even Ichiro are capable of hitting much better than their 2008 counterparts didâ€¦but itâ€™s probably not going to happen all at once) just to be an average hitting club, and the bullpen is now jam packed with candidates, all of whom have control problems, so late innings are going to be very frustrating.
RF Ichiro Suzuki
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
DH Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Adrian Beltre
2B Jose Lopez
1B Russell Branyan
CF Franklin Gutierrez
C Kenji Johjima/Jeff Clement
LF Endy Chavez/Wlad Balentien
â€śKingâ€ť Felix Hernandez
Erik â€śKKKKKKâ€ť Bedard
Carlos â€śslim!!â€ť Silva
RHP David Aardsma
LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith
RHP Mark Lowe
LHP Cesar Jimenez
RHP Tyler Walker
Your Guess from here is as good as mine.
Can we PLEASE sign Felix Hernandez to an extensionâ€¦like now?Â Please???Â He is fast approaching free agency and this team cannot be making him too happy.Â If we make the mistake of not locking him up, it will absolutely destroy this franchise.Â The Mariners need to make sure the few young players theyâ€™ve managed to develop stay with the team for a long time or their 3-year plan is going to turn into a 10-year plan.
As bad as the Mariners were last year, they werenâ€™t 61-win bad.Â They underplayed expectations by a longâ€¦long way.Â They were unlucky by Pythagoras (by 8 games), they were unlucky in the health department, and just about nothing went right for them in terms of player development or aging.Â The change in management, the infusion of fresh blood and some normal luck alone should push the team back toward respectability, but itâ€™ll be a feat of legend for them to break even.Â Expect somewhere between 75 and 80 wins in 2009.