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2007 Seattle Mariners Team Preview

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
February 27, 2007

2006 Record: 78-84 (Last Place AL West Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 756
2006 Runs Allowed: 792
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 78-84



The Seattle Mariners return to action in 2007 with a very similar lineup to the 2006 cast, while only two-fifths of their starting rotation remains.  The additions of former Nationals and Joses Vidro and Guillen do not immediately seem like enough of a shakeup for an offense that ranked next to last in the American League in scoring.  Their pitching staff ranked a more respectable 9th in run prevention, perhaps making the drastic pitching moves puzzling. 

But once you consider the ballpark in which the Mariners play, the moves begin to make sense.  Safeco Field is the most extreme pitcher's park in the AL, and if you normalize the 2006 Mariners' run totals with Safeco's 3-year park factor, the club "finished" 4th in the AL in runs scored (839) and 12th in runs allowed (879).  Viewed through this prism, the Mariners' offseason moves appear quite suitable indeed.

The number in parentheses denotes the player's age as of this April.

Catcher
2006 Starter -
Kenji Johjima
Projected 2007 Starter -
Johjima (30)

Hideki Matsui nearly doubled his home run output in his second major league season, and did so in fewer at bats than he had logged his rookie year.  Similarly, expect Kenji Johjima to approach the 30-homer power that he averaged between 2001 and 2005.  Perhaps more importantly, Johjima should be more comfortable working with an English-speaking pitching staff after a year of living in America.   

If 2005 first round draft pick Jeff Clement can rebound from a disappointing 2006 season and usurp the offensively challenged Rene Rivera as Kenji's backup, it would be a plus for the team.

First Base
2006 Starter -
Richie Sexson
Projected 2007 Starter -
Sexson (32)

Make of this what you will - Sexson batted .219 with 8 HR and 34 RBI as a cleanup hitter, but .291/26/73 from the #5 hole.  He made the switch after a horrific start to the season, and wound up hitting .322 (1.012 OPS) in the second half.  Sexson is actually the perfect power hitter for a cavernous park like Safeco, since he can wallop the ball with anyone when he connects solidly.  According to Hit Tracker, the average home run hit by Sexson last year traveled just a hair under 400 feet, and he blasted a mammoth 488-ft bomb in September.  He could have a huge season.

Second Base
2006 Starter -
Jose Lopez
Projected 2007 Starter -
Lopez (23)

I'm not quite sure what to make of Lopez - he's just so young.  On one hand, he's a second baseman who at the age of 22, hit .309 away from Safeco Field and made the American League All Star team.  On the other, he faded to just a .336 SLG in the second half, and has shown very little in the way of plate patience.  He still has room to fill on his 6'2" frame, but that's not going to help either his walk or his error totals.

Third Base
2006 Starter -
Adrian Beltre
Projected 2007 Starter -
Beltre (28)

Because Beltre raised expectations impossibly high with his career year in 2004, he has become an underrated little player.  Last season, he notched an .805 OPS away from Safeco and an .892 second half OPS.  Those numbers alone would still leave you believing that Beltre is grossly overpaid, until you consider that he is among the best defensive third basemen in the game today.  Beltre turns 28 in April, and though he doesn't have another 2004-type season in him, he could still manage a .290/30/100-type season under the right conditions.    

Shortstop
2006 Starters -
Yuniesky Betancourt
Projected 2007 Starter -
Betancourt (25)

The Mariners supposedly moved top prospect Adam Jones from shortstop to center field because his way was blocked by Betancourt.  I don't get that.  Yuniesky has done very little in the pros to suggest that he will ever become anything more than average on either side of the ball.  Also troubling for the club is that Jones is plagued by the same lack of plate discipline that afflicts Betancourt, and indeed the majority of Seattle hitters.  This is one position where Seattle isn't likely to get a good season, nor have they a sound contingency plan for shortstop.

Utility
2006 -
Willie Bloomquist
2007 -
Bloomquist (29), Mike Morse (25)

Meet the unsound contingency plan.  Bloomquist is officially a bust.  Morse is still young, but has startlingly mediocre minor league numbers and a body type that doesn't lend itself towards being a middle infielder.  The best case scenario has the club ditching Bloomquist on a remote island somewhere and using Morse and Jose Vidro to spell their infielders on occasion.

Outfield
2006 Starters -
Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, Jeremy Reed, Chris Snelling
Projected 2007 Starters -
Ichiro (33), Ibanez (34), Jose Guillen (30), Reed (25), Adam Jones (21)

The big story here is that Ichiro is moving to center field.  He's already been one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball history, so you figure that he could handle center just fine.  Trouble is, Jeremy Reed might be the best defensive center fielder in the game today, boasting a +32 mark in expected plays made in 226 major league games.  For a point of comparison, Andruw Jones has a +/- value of +48 in 470 games, the best mark in the majors over the past three seasons.  Jose Guillen's arm is too good and his ego is too big for him to play left field, meaning that Reed is going to be a fourth outfielder wasted in left field for much of the year.

Of course, too much defense and too much outfield depth are good problems to have, particularly in cavernous Safeco Field, and particularly for a Mariners team that grossly lacked outfield depth last year. 

Designated Hitter
2006 -
Carl Everett, Ben Broussard
2007 -
Jose Vidro, (31) Broussard (30)

Having played through a myriad of leg injuries over the past four seasons, Jose Vidro may once again return to the .300 hitting that he displayed for five straight seasons earlier in his career now that he is predominately a DH.  Even if that doesn't transpire, a DH tandem of Vidro, Broussard, and likely Ibanez when a backup outfielder starts, is going to be a heck of a lot more potent than last year's five-headed monster, which was led by Carl Everett and his .619 OPS.

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Felix Hernandez, Gil Meche, Jared Washburn
Projected 2007 Starters -
Hernandez (21), Washburn (32), Miguel Batista (36)

Miguel Batista's contract has been vilified somewhat, but he posted a 3.77 ERA away from Chase Field last year.  He is an infinitely better fit for the Mariners than Gil Meche was.  Meche would walk the Universe rather than utilize a fantastic defense and a spacious ballpark.  Like Felix Hernandez, Batista is predominately a ground ball pitcher, which unfortunately is not ideal for pitching in Safeco, but it's still better than what Meche brought to the table.  Hernandez is going to have a very dominant season soon, but it might not be this year.  One pitcher on this staff who does induce lots of fly balls is Jared Washburn.   He should benefit greatly from the outfield defense if Mike Hargrove rotates it well.

Bottom of the Rotation
2006 Cast -
Jaime Moyer, Joel Piniero, Cha Seung Baek
Possible 2007 Options -
Jeff Weaver (30), Horacio Ramirez (27), Baek (26)

Unlike the situation with Batista, consternation over Jeff Weaver's contract is completely justified.  Some people say he was rewarded for having a good postseason.  I say he went 3-2 in the postseason, and has a career mark there of 3-4, so what's all the fuss about?  Weaver has had good seasons in the past, however, and if he's going to make a comeback, it will be in a pitcher's park with a fab defense behind him.  If he can't, Cha Seung Baek is finally ready to become an impact pitcher in the majors.  Ramirez is another ground ball pitcher that might be better suited for another team.  On the other hand, recent evidence suggests that a ground ball pitcher will usually benefit from his home park regardless of its type.  Either way, improved up-the-middle defense from Lopez and Betancourt will prove essential for the 2007 season with three groundball pitchers in the rotation.

Bullpen
2006 Mainstays -
JJ Putz, Rafael Soriano, Julio Mateo, George Sherrill, Jake Woods, Eddie Guardado
Probable 2007 Bullpen -
Putz (30), Mateo (29), Sherrill (30), Chris Reitsma (29), Woods (25)

This is the one area where the Mariners are not as strong as they were last year.  Not only is Rafael Soriano gone, but, the promising Mark Lowe has had two shoulder surgeries, and may miss all of 2007.  Chris Reitsma has proven that he's a bad starter and a horrible closer, but whenever he's been asked to be a setup guy, he's come through.  His season will make or break the pen, as everyone else after the suddenly slammin' Putz induces yawns. 

Final Word

Notice the ages of these Seattle Mariners players.  Virtually everyone on the team is in their 20's or their early 30's.  The only Seattle player who should expect a decline from last year's performance is Raul Ibanez, who should still be a productive player even with a drop off.  Should a couple of other players unexpectedly decline, the team has a good amount of depth with which to recover.  More importantly, many of these Mariners are poised to have breakout or career years.

Perhaps no team added more through subtraction this offseason than Seattle did.  Everett, Piniero, and Guardado were unbelievably detrimental to the team last year.  Gil Meche isn't worth one-tenth of the money that he's making, and Vidro, Guillen, and Ramirez all came over at bargain prices.  This has been a good offseason for the Mariners.

In an AL West that features an Oakland team decimated by free agency and an Angels ballclub still battling injuries, the Seattle Mariners are a fantastic sleeper pick to contend for the postseason.

 




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