2005 Team Preview: Seattle Mariners

by Keith Glab

2004 Record: 63-99 (4th Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 698
2004 Runs Allowed: 823
Expected 2004 Record: 69-93

The 2004 Mariners produced the fewest runs on offense in the American League, scoring 16 less than Tampa Bay did. Seattle began to address this issue in mid-season when they swapped a reliable innings-eater in Freddy Garcia for two promising young hitters in Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed. Continuing this trend in the offseason, they signed super slugger Richie Sexson and sudden slugger Adrian Beltre, while failing to improve a pitching staff that allowed 29 more runs than the Rangers last year.

So while Safeco Field is the best pitcherís park in baseball, the Mariners canít hang with a Rangersí staff that pitches in the best non-Coors hitterís park around. The Mís are younger and better defensively than a year ago, but a better defense wonít help them if Jaimie Moyer and Ryan Franklin, who combined to allow 77 homers last year, canít keep the ball within spacious Safeco Field.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of Seattleís offseason:

Catcher

2004 Starters: Dan Wilson, Miguel Olivo

Projected 2005 Starter: Olivo

The White Sox criticized Miguel Olivo for not being able to handle the pitching staff well last year, despite the fact that Chicago pitchers had a lower ERA with Olivo behind the plate than any of the other three backstops they tried. Miguel doesnít project to be Mike Piazza on offense, but heís going to fly by the two homers that Dan Wilson managed in 319 at bats last year.

First Base

2004 Starters: John Olerud, Scott Spiezio

Projected 2005 Starter: Richie Sexson

Davis, Martinez, Sorrento, Segui, OlerudÖ the Mariners have had some darn effective first basemen over the past two decades. Thereís no reason to believe that Sexson wonít be every bit as effective as his predecessors were. Heíll certainly outdo the production of Seattleís 2004 first basemen.

Second Base

2004 Starter: Bret Boone

Projected 2005 Starter: Boone

Although Boone made as many errors last year as in 2002 & 2003 combined, he remains a slick second baseman with good range. And although his offensive numbers last year resembled the ones he put up in the NL for several years, there is still a chance that he will bounce back and be a threat again. Donít get me wrong; the guyís on the decline, but I doubt heís already as bad as his numbers indicated last season.

Third Base

2004 Starters: Scott Spiezio, Willie Bloomquist

Projected 2005 Starter: Adrian Beltre

At least Beltre is used to hitting in a pitcherís park. The problem is that no one really knows whether 2004 was a Sosaesque breakout year or an Erstadian fluke. Not many people realize that 2004 was an uncharacteristically good one defensively for Beltre as well: he posted a Fielding Percentage 22 points higher than the NL average at third and amassed a UZR of 16 runs better than the league average third sacker.

Shortstop

2004 Starters: Rich Aurilia, Jose Lopez

Projected 2005 Starters: Pokey Reese, Lopez

Aurilia and Lopez combined for 9 homers, 50 RBIs, and a .237 BA in 468 at bats last year. Pokey Reese is one of a select few Major Leaguers who you can guarantee will be less productive than that in 2005. A fan favorite wherever he goes, Reese is probably better suited to 2B than he is to SS, and may just wind up as a utility player if Jose Lopez even approaches his productivity in AAA last year.

Outfield

2004 Starters: Ichiro, Randy Winn, Raul Ibanez

Projected 2005 Starters: Ichiro, Winn, Jeremy Reed

Jeremy Reed is a career .327 hitter in 1183 Minor League at bats, and a .397 hitter in 58 Major League ones. Heís fast, hard to whiff, and a perfect #2 hitter to complement Ichiro. His CF defense should be an improvement over Winnís, just as Winnís should be an improvement over Ibanez in LF. If Ichiro can avoid a slump like April of last year, he might challenge the 250-hit mark again.

Designated Hitter

2004 Starter: Edgar Martinez

Projected 2005 Starters: Ibanez, Jacobsen, Spiezio

Ibanez and Jacobsen form an impressive lefty-righty platoon, and should also see spot duty in the outfield and at first, respectively. The Mariners might look to trade Spiezio, but he could prove to be a valuable utility guy if he can relearn how to hit. Whatever happens, itís going to be weird seeing a DH for the Mariners other than Edgar Martinez.

Pitching

2004 Front Three Starters: Jamie Moyer, Joel Piniero, Ryan Franklin

Projected 2005 Front Three: Moyer, Piniero, Franklin

Injuries limited Piniero to 21 starts last year. He needs to be healthy and the staff ace in 2005 if the Mariners have any notion of contending. Franklin and Moyer are finesse pitchers who would benefit from the improved Seattle defense if only they didnít give up so many dingers. Moyer may finally be done.

Other 2004 Starters: Gil Meche, Freddy Garcia, Bobby Madritch,

Other Possible 2005 Starters: Meche, Madritch, Aaron Sele

Boy, do the Mariners miss Freddy Garcia. They asked him to be an ace when all he could be was a dependable #2 or #3 guy. The rotation has no depth now: Meche gives up too many walks, hits, and homers; Madritch is unproven, and certainly not as good as his 3.27 ERA of last year might indicate; Sele had just 51 Kís in 132 innings last year!

2004 Top Relievers: Eddie Guardado, J.J. Putz, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Julio Mateo

Projected 2005 Top Relievers: Guardado, Putz, Hasegawa, Scott Atchison

A healthy Guardado would be a big plus for this bullpen, but itís even more important that Seattle figures out what happened to Hasegawa, the former setup ace who would induce 13 double plays a year before getting only 4 in í04. A full season from Atchison will be a big boost as well, since he has no problem striking out more than one batter per inning.

Final Word:

The Mariners can expect offensive improvements at first base, third base, catcher, and designated hitter. Their role players will also likely outperform the Jolbert Cabreras and Willie Bloomquists that wasted at bats last year. Defensive improvements should be seen in left, in center, at third, short, and catcher. The team doesnít look like it will decline drastically at any position, offensively or defensivelyóthe problem is with the pitchers.

Now, these pitchers should benefit from an improved defense as much as any staff in baseball, as none of them are a threat to strike out much more than 7 batters per 9 innings. But itís going to be hard for any defense to get to line drives peppered around spacious Safeco Field, and theyíre certainly not going to help with the walks and the homers.

Itís ironic that everyone worried about Seattle losing Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Junior years ago, while losing the players they received in those deals, Freddy Garcia, Mike Cameron, and Carlos Guillen, turned out to be the blow from which it will take them years to fully recover. The Mariners dropped 30 games in the win column between 2003 and 2004; theyíll probably make up about half that ground in 2005.