2010 Seattle Mariners: It's Morning in Seattle.

BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 12, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Chone Figgins INF
Milton Bradley OF
Cliff Lee SP
Jack Wilson SS
Casey Kotchman 1B
Eric Byrnes OF
Brandon League RP
Josh Bard C
Departed Pos.
Wladimir Balentian LF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Kenji Johjima C
Jeff Clement C/1B
Russ Branyan 1B
Adrian Beltre 3B
Brandon Morrow P
Carlos Silva SP

The decade which has just ended saw the Seattle Mariners enjoy some brief highlights in an otherwise miserable era for Seattle baseball. Sure, the team began the decade by tying a major league record by winning 116 games in 2001 despite losing three of the biggest stars in the history of baseball, and the Mariners spent the last decade enjoying the services of one of the most interesting talents ever to play the game. But the last decade has been defined by several mistakes, miscues, and miscalculations that saw the front office spend absurd amounts of money on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, saw its manager retire out of the blue while the team was 12 games over .500 in 2007, and saw the team fail to make the playoffs for the last eight years, a period which included four last-place finishes.

Of all the teams in major league baseball, the Seattle Mariners are the team that most represent starting fresh in a new decade. With a new General Manager, a relatively new manager, and a host of new players, the Mariners look to break the trend of the last decade and start the 20-teens in winning fashion.

Reasons to Like the Seattle Mariners in 2010

1. Milton Bradley – Say what you will about Bradley: he is a danger to himself and those around him, he does not ingratiate himself to his teammates, and he is generally only good for a single team for a year or two, tops. Even if Milton Bradley were Ted Bundy, though, there would still be one undeniable fact about him that makes the Mariners better than they were in 2009: he is not Wladimir Balentien. With Bradley in left field, Gutierrez in center, and Ichiro Suzuki in right, the Mariners have the most solid defensive outfield they’ve had in a few years, and no one that is going to kill them on offense.

2. Jack Wilson – Say what you will about Jack Wilson: he’s getting quite old, he is not an offensive power, and he’s had trouble staying on the field the last few years. Even if Jack Wilson were Samuel L. Jackson’s character from the movie “Unbreakable,” though, there would still be one undeniable fact about him that will make the Mariners better than they were in 2009: he is not Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt’s unique combination of terrible offense and terrible defense probably make him the worst player in major league baseball, and the Mariners will be a better team simply because he is gone.

3. I won’t continue this trend, but will instead sum up right here: the respective ends of the Adrian Beltre Era and the Kenji Johjima Experiment also help the team significantly.

4. Component Parts – While the Mariners didn’t make any huge splashes on offense this off-season, they did collect several pieces that will make them a better team than they were in 2009. In addition to Wilson and Bradley, the Mariners also grabbed up Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, and Ryan Garko from the scrap heap; Figgins is a very underrated contributor (pop quiz: who led the AL in walks last season?), and either Kotchman or Garko could be this year’s Russ Branyan.

M's are Gonna Love
Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins
After a decade of players to yawn over, the M's fans have some fan-favorites to fawn over.
A Big Blessing in Disguise
Milton Bradley
Not only does Bradley push Balentien out the door, but don't forget he was traded straight up for a terrible pitcher in Carlos Silva.
5. Cliff Lee – Lee has shown Phillies fans something interesting about themselves: when the Phillies were in the hunt for Roy Halladay last summer and ended up with Lee, Phillies fans were furious. But they quickly fell in love with him, and when the Phillies traded Lee in the off-season to get Roy Halladay, furious again. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, Lee is going to be awesome in Seattle in a way that he couldn’t possibly have been in Philadelphia, and it is going to drive Phillies fans insane. Lee is a mature pitcher, a pitcher’s pitcher, and simply doesn’t get nervous; if you quickly google search images of Cliff Lee, you’ll discover tens of pictures of him in his pitching motion, and he is always smiling. Having Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top of your rotation is just like having Glavine and Maddux, Johnson and Schilling, or Clemens and Pettitte.

6. A Weak AL West – I’ll cover this in a preview of the Angels, but I really think the Angels have officially ended their run as a smart built-from-within franchise and become just another big money goliath. Unfortunately, this new model has left them with a roster filled with big-contract stars of yesteryear. The Rangers, meanwhile, need to produce at least two legitimate starting pitchers before I get excited about them, and the Oakland A’s appear set to hibernate for another year or two before making another low-budget run at a division title. The Mariners went 85-77 last season with some major holes in the lineup. They could easily add ten wins with the roster changes they’ve made, and 95 wins could easily win this division.

Other Things about the Mariners

Again, I’ll focus more on this when I preview the Angels, but the Mariners stole Chone Figgins away from Los Angeles and it will almost certainly come back to bite the Angels. The Mariners signed Figgins away for $36 million over four years from the same team that gave Gary Matthews, Jr. $50 million over five years just three seasons ago. All Figgins has done over eight seasons for the Angels is play everywhere he’s been asked, continually reclaim the third base starting job despite a donslaught of third base prospects who have come and gone, and consistently kept his on-base percentage over .350. If the Mariners manage to steal away the AL West crown this season, the grin on Figgins’ face will be wide.

This season I will be all about the Seattle Mariners, which I didn’t realize until I really started studying their roster and the moves they’ve made recently. Finally, it just all felt too familiar, so I looked up their General Manager, Jack Zduriencik, and low-and-behold, Jack is in his first year as GM with the Mariners after spending the last ten years in the front office of another one of my favorite teams, the Milwaukee Brewers. Indeed, Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin has pointed to Zduriencik as one of the main drivers behind Milwaukee’s development of young talent in the decade. This could be the beginning of a Mariners Epoch.

Major League Baseball teams regularly acquire players from other teams, but the Mariners seem to have built their 2010 roster on entire chunks of players from other teams. The roster current sports two former Pirates teammates (Ian Snell and Jack Wilson), two former Angels teammates (Casey Kotchman and Chone Figgins), and three former Indians teammates (Ryan Garko, Cliff Lee, and Franklin Gutierrez).

If I was going to lodge a complaint about the Mariners’ pitching staff, it would be that it seems a might left-hander heavy. Of course, come playoff time, it won’t hurt to be loaded with lefties against the New York Yankees.

Mariners Team Capsule

The Mariners are reportedly tinkering with the idea of Chone Figgins playing second base and Jose Lopez playing third base this season. This is almost as maddening as it is hilarious – the Los Angeles Angels never could accept the proposition of a speedy, light-hitting black guy playing third base, and now the Mariners can’t either. Nevertheless, somehow Figgins always ended up back at third base, and he was a good fit. I sure hope the Mariners know what they’re doing.

Any Mariners preview would be incomplete without some Ichiro Suzuki data, and there is plenty to be enjoyed.
Ichiro had a real good-news/bad-news season last year (to be fair, it was really an “awesome-news with points of concern” season, but whatever). Ichiro was his usual self in 2009, leading the league in hits and finishing with a .352 batting average. Ichiro also showed a surprising amount of pop in his bat, finishing with 30 or more doubles (31) for only the second time, and with 10 or more homeruns (11) for the third time; consider also that he played only 146 games, and this is remarkable. However, those 146 games are of slight concern; for the first time in his career he failed to play 157 or more games, and for the first time since 2003 he failed to play in at least 161 games. Also, he struck out 71 times, the second highest total of his career (again, in 146 games), and his K/BB ratio was the worst of his career. Consider also that of his 32 walks, 15 were intentional (which led the league), meaning he didn’t even draw 20 walks on his own in 2009, in 678 plate appearances.

Obviously, Ichiro continues to be an invaluable asset. But I’m just sayin’, there are some signs.

Finally, assuming all goes according to plan, Ken Griffey, Jr. will join the select group of players to have played in four decades on Opening Day. Griffey will also join the even more select group of players who have played for the same team in four different decades.

Outlook for the 2010 Season

This a team that followed up upon winning 85 games in 2009 by jettisoning its two worst players and acquiring a Cy Young winner who pitched his team into the World Series a year ago. This is a team that plays in a four team division with one team that doesn’t look to be competitive in 2010 and two other teams that look to have major flaws. In short, the good news is that this is a team that has a high ceiling in 2010, and should easily be in the playoffs come October. The even better news is that the Mariners seem to have the right mix in place to be competitive for the next several years.

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