3/31/10

Season Preview: Seattle Mariners

Well we've got 4 days - yes we're constantly making mistakes with our timeline. We don't know why - left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Seattle Mariners.


Lineup: The lineup tends to get glossed over when talking about the Mariners, partly because they seem to acquire position players with an emphasis on defensive ability and partly because the lineup isn't actually all that good. The additions of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley should make the biggest difference, as there are now three legitimate hitters in the lineup - if Bradley stays healthy, that is. And the third, of course, is Ichiro, who gets far less credit than a man of his exploits and abilities is due. Browse U.S.S. Mariner some time for a better idea. Franklin 'Death to Flying Things' Gutierrez is the superlative glove in center field, and guys like Eric Byrnes and Ryan Langerhans (whom we hate irrationally) will share time with Bradley in left - though ideally Bradley will operate mostly from the DH position. Around the infield, Jose Lopez and Figgins have swapped positions, with Lopez handling hot corner duties and Figgins manning the keystone - a move we don't care for, particularly because Lopez's bat plays much better at second than at third, and his defense is marginal at best both places. Jack Wilson plays a great short, but he's not all that much of  a hitter - good enough for a shortstop, we suppose, though they shouldn't be counting on him for even 150 games anyway. Casey Kotchman rounds out the infield, and he seems to be one of the first basemen in the league with little in the way of power but a decent glove to make him an acceptable option, if not the ideal choice. Rob Johnson and Adam Moore are the catchers; Moore is a pretty good prospect, but whether he'll get the playing time remains to be seen (Johnson is currently listed first on the team's depth chart).


Rotation: The addition of Cliff Lee gives the M's a 1-2 to rival any in the league, as Clifton and Felix are both established aces at this point - albeit having taken greatly different ways of getting there. Lee is currently suffering from a strained oblique that is suffering to make him miss significant time, though, so they could be weakened in the first month of the season. If that's the case - especially combined with Erik Bedard's late return from surgery - then the Mariners are all of a sudden relying heavily on Ryan Rowland-Smith, whose Twitter account is a relative treat), Ian Snell, Doug Fister, and one or both of Luke French and Jason Vargas. Rowland-Smith isn't terrible (4.28 career FIP), but Snell, who can't strike people out anymore (or, for that matter, throw a strike; 5.15 BB/9 last season, 4.12 for the career) is, and Fister, beyond the obvious benefits of a giggle-worthy name and good control, isn't someone we would want in the regular rotation. French, who apparently learned how to strike people out in 2008 (relatively so; 7.93 K/9 isn't impressive in its own right, but it is a full two ticks up from his previous norms) doesn't project to be much better than a guy who hopes to post a sub-5.00 FIP, and Vargas, despite a good 73 innings with the Marlins in 2005, has been sub-replacement level since. So, yeah, there could be trouble if Lee and Bedard don't contribute substantially.


Bullpen: This unit is going to rely heavily on David Aardsma and Mark Lowe to repeat or build upon his banner 2009 season, because the guys sharing the 'pen with them aren't exactly 'reliable' (and yes we realize it's odd to call two guys with career-best seasons last year 'reliable.'). Brandon League's not bad, but if you'd like an irrelevant fun fact, his FIP and ERA haven't been closer than a run apart since 2006. Shawn Kelly and Sean ('the Pitching Tomato,' if only he were redheaded) White both are projected to hover around a 4.00 FIP. Garrett Olson, on the other hand, is terrible, and rookie Kanekoa Texeira (who needs to get together with Mark Teixeira and determine which way the name is to be spelled, for all of our benefit) is projected to do poorly this season despite a pretty fantastic minor league career. So it's not exactly an inspiring cast, but, hey, they're relievers. They could just as easily lead the league in FIP as be a complete bunch of flamers (I couldn't find the clip, but if you don't recognize the Arrested Development joke, then just go watch the whole series and get familiar).


Overall: The Mariners have perhaps somewhat inflated expectations given that they're the darlings of the sabersphere. There's a lot to like about this team, true, but they still don't have what you'd call a potent lineup, the rotation could easily end in injury-related shambles, and the bullpen doesn't have a lot of big arms that you'd feel comfortable calling on in tight games. But they can still field the ball, and unless some of their premier guys see one of those season-by-season fluctuations that can occur in defensive play, that should remain their calling card - and in spacious Safeco, that's not entirely a bad thing. 


Predicted Record: 86-76, 1st place AL West. But we're very uncomfortable with that choice.


Beer: Fat Tire. A recent hot favorite in the American market, people who buy Fat Tire have lofty expectations. And it is very good. But it's not the superlative brew that people expect all the time. With the holes in the Mariners team, it's possible that they end up like a big glass of Fat Tire - delightful but not a life changer.

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