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Springtime Storylines: Was the Mariners' offseason all that it was cracked up to be?

Mar 29, 2010, 11:15 AM EDT

Mariners logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The new-look Seattle Mariners

big question: Was the Mariners’ offseason all that it was cracked up to be

No, but that’s mostly because it was cracked up to be something monumentally-transforming by a lot of people and it really wasn’t. It was a good offseason, make no mistake about it, but this was a team that was still deeply flawed despite 2009’s improvement. Despite all of the good things that happened over the winter, none of them disposed of those flaws in any definitive way.

Adding Chone Figgins was great because he provides some serious on-base ability, and that’s an absolute good.  But even though his presence provides a great 1-2 punch with Ichiro, the 3-4-5 punch remains a real problem.  Casey Kotchman hitting third, Milton Bradley batting cleanup and (I guess) Ken Griffey hitting fifth does not exactly put fear into the hearts of the AL West.  Taking away Russell Branyan’s power from that lineup doesn’t help matters.  Putting it all together and you don’t have much of an improvement over a lineup that had severe problems scoring runs last year.

Likewise, Cliff Lee is a wonderful addition to the starting rotation, but again, 3-4-5 — Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Doug Fisterdon’t resemble the sorts of pitchers that are usually found on playoff-bound teams, which is what so many people assumed the Mariners would be as Jack Zduriencik pulled the levers this winter.  An OK group, especially if the defense holds up, but one that presented depth questions even before Cliff Lee’s abdominal injury.

This isn’t to say the Mariners didn’t have a great offseason. They did. It’s just that last year’s team probably overachieved a bit, there were a lot of holes to fill and it’s too much to expect them all to be filled in one winter.

So what else is going on?

  • Last year the story in Seattle was defense, defense defense. Can it be repeated? Defense is hard to predict and is often subject to random ebbs and flows, but my gut says yes, because it’s not like anyone who played good D for them last year was a fluke or anything.  Taking away Russell Branyan at first and adding Casey Kotchman is an upgrade. Having Jack Wilson at short all year is an upgrade. Lopez moving to third and Figgins taking over at second is a tad weird (and Adrian Beltre will certainly be missed), but I don’t see either guy having trouble handling their new positions. Milton Bradley in left could be an issue, but it’s not like he’s such a fixture that he won’t be substituted for quite often.
  • Not that Bradley will always be there, what with the inevitable
    suspensions and all. Which is really just a snarky way of saying we
    don’t know which Milton Bradley the Mariners are going to get.
    Mild-mannered and relatively good citizen Texas Ranger Bradley or the
    Chicago flameout?  The story we’ve heard all offseason is that the
    Seattle press is a lot less antagonistic than their Chicago counterparts
    and that if a man can just disappear anywhere it’s in Seattle. But
    Bradley hasn’t been particularly quiet this spring
    , and one wonders if he won’t find a way to continue the high drama in his new home.

  • Cliff Lee’s abdomen is obviously the big story of late spring for the Mariners. Lee had this type of an injury in Cleveland once.  The biggest problem wasn’t getting him back. It was that he had a hard time pitching effectively once he got back.  If Lee isn’t Lee once he heals, this team is going to be in a lot of trouble.
  • Though his stats weren’t anything special Dustin Ackley is turning heads at Mariners’ camp. The former outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned second baseman could be in Seattle this year. If he makes it, Figgins might go back to third and Lopez may be out altogether.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is not a Mariners’ team with a lot of margin for error. They have no reliable power threat. One of the two aces on which they’ve wagered so much is hurt.  They wouldn’t have to experience unprecedented bad luck in
order to go into the toilet.  I like the Mariners’ direction, but I don’t think
they’re heading to the playoffs this year.

Prediction: Third
place, AL West, followed by a series of highly unfair articles criticizing Jack Zduriencik for not doing enough to pull the team into contention.

here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Mar 29, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    The former outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned second baseman could be in Seattle this year. If he makes it, Figgins might go back to third and Lopez may be out altogether.

    This might be a better question for Klaw, but doesn’t it seem odd that they spent all this money for Figgins, then moved him to a position that is now occupied by their top prospect in the minors? Obviously you move Ackley b/c of Gutierrez(sp), but why move Figgins if you are just going to move him back?

  2. Bill@TDS - Mar 29, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    I think they’re showing Lopez off. Teams have shied away from him because of questions about his defense, and his arm is strong and his range is not. So if he plays third better than he plays second, it’ll be easier to trade him to make room for Ackley. Figgins is nothing if not flexible, so I doubt they’re worried about switching him back to third after a coupla months.
    captcha: be inanely. I’ve got no problem being inane, but be inanely what?

  3. KC Mariner - Mar 29, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Bill beat me to it. Yes, they are showing him off. He doesn’t fit in their long term plans and by showing that he can play 3 positions (remember he played a few games at 1B towards the end of 2008) and comes with a pretty reasonable contract ($2.5 million this season and a club option for $4.5 next) it might make some teams take notice. If it wasn’t for the glut of 2B free agents this off-season he’d probably have been gone already.
    My captcha: send gulag. I’d rather be inane.

  4. carlos - Mar 29, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    It’s funny how everyone was on the M’s bandwagon early in the off season when they were making moves, then all of a sudden you start seeing these ‘not all their cracked up to be’ articles.
    Third place maybe, but this team will be in the hunt for quite a while. I look forward to watching them, regardless of what sports writers have to say.

  5. CharlieH - Mar 29, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Isn’t that funny. Even though Jack went out and spent a lot of money and made some blockbuster trades his team is picked to finish third in their division. And he was picked as one of the top five GMs in baseball. What does that tell us about those reporters that rate the GMs. Milton Bradley?

  6. Mariner Fan - Mar 29, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    So based upon this wisdom, I pressume that Craig Calcaterra will be on somebody’s short list for replacement GM or field manager? Those that can’t do write about it.

  7. Bobomo - Mar 29, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    And those who can’t deal with legitimate, yet mild, criticism of their team whine about it.

  8. Sick of Chicago Baseball Writers - Mar 29, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Bradley hasn’t been quiet this spring?
    When you have carloads of Chicago baseball writers who want to keep interviewing Milton about last year, what do you expect? Stir the pot, so to speak.
    These baseball writers from Chicago are like a girl that got dumped by email and want to know why, or like the bunny-boiling stalker. Get a life, you have two baseball teams to write about.

  9. The Rabbit - Mar 29, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    I’m a big fan of pitching and followed all the teams last year.
    I watched most of Ryan Rowland-Smith’s starts. Although his W/L column didn’t reflect it, he pitched reasonably well. He had a respectable ERA and better than league average WHIP. He’d be a number 3 or 4 starter on most teams.
    I’d have to check out how often he was replaced by the “erratic, then fat pitch down the middle” reliever, Chris Jakubauskas. I did see that the Pirates who claimed him on waivers last year optioned him to AAA on Tuesday.
    Ian Snell has some good stuff but he clearly had some issues in Pittsburgh. Of course, he wasn’t alone in that respect. It might be an interesting clubhouse with both he and Milton on the same team. (As I’ve said before, I like people who “run with scissors”; therefore, it’s no surprise that I like Milton.)
    I really don’t see anyone running away with this division. I’ll give a slight edge to the Angels but injuries (or lack of same) will probably determine the outcome.

  10. D - Mar 29, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    Bradley was brought in because they were able to get him and unload Silva at the same time. Different player, essentially the same contract. Bradley has great OB percentages for his career and may actually thrive batting 3rd or 4th this season. Silva just sucks.
    When Bedard comes back, and assuming everyone else is healthy, you have a Felix-Lee-Bedard-Rowland Smith-Best of the rest rotation which should be one of the best in AL. Throw in a good bullpen and the defense/park they have and they won’t be giving up many runs.
    I think they should still grab Washburn, his numbers at Safeco were sweet last year.

  11. HawksDawgs&Ms - Mar 30, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    Agreed, all the writers are willing to downgrade the Lee signing because of an injury that may or may not hold him out of any games, but none are willing to take that further and report on how quickly Bedard seems to be coming back, and the fact that he’s WAY ahead of schedule.
    There’s also no love for Gutierez who very likely will put up around 30 HR’s this year, or Lopez 100 RBI’s and about 25 HR’s.
    This team is young and getting better. If Sweeny were to hit any where near his capabilities, and Kotchman is as consistent as he’s capable, and Bradley is the guy who batted clean-up for Texas. This team will have no problem scoring enough runs to win, considering their pitching and defense (and 81 games in Safeco).
    Anything could happen, including monkeys flying out of somebody’s you know what.

  12. IdahoMariner - Mar 30, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    “Taking away Russell Branyan’s power from that lineup doesn’t help matters.”
    Well, yeah, but we wouldn’t have had “Russell Branyan’s power” even if we’d resigned him, since he continues to be injured. I think you meant “not replacing Branyan with another HR hitter doesn’t help matters.” Problem with that is that there wasn’t a lot of HR hitting to be had out there that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. So, yeah, not happy we don’t have a little bounce where Russell was in the lineup, but happy we didn’t overpay or pay for nothing. Because we are still rebounding and rebuilding. If we do almost as well as last year and play with half the sense of fun and dazzling display of defense, I will be happy.
    captcha: to BASKETBALL
    no, not to basketball — baseball is all I care to watch, anytime of the year.

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