Seattle Mariners 2010 preview

After a dreadful 101-loss season in 2008, the Mariners were the majors’ most improved team in 2009, jumping from 61 wins to 85 wins. This offseason, Seattle added an All-Star infielder and another ace, raising expectations even higher. The formula this season will be defense, pitching and run prevention, but Seattle will have to score more. "Defense is important. If the other team doesn’t score, you don’t lose," first baseman Casey Kotchman said. "But just like every team, we’re going to have to score some runs to win."

After Cliff Lee (pictured) and Felix Hernandez, do the M's have enough pitching?
After Cliff Lee (pictured) and Felix Hernandez, do the M’s have enough pitching?

Three questions

1. Is the rotation deep enough after the co-aces?
It is rare that a team adds a bona fide No. 1 starter to a rotation featuring arguably the best young pitcher in the game, yet still must deal with questions about its starting five. Cliff Lee won the AL Cy Young award in 2008 with the Indians, delivered both of the Phillies’ World Series wins in 2009 and should flourish in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field (in a contract year). Felix Hernandez tied for the major league lead with 19 wins last season and set career bests with a 2.49 ERA, 217 strikeouts and 238 2/3 innings pitched.

Behind them, however, things get murky. No. 3 starter Ian Snell went 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts for Seattle last season — after posting a 5.36 ERA with the Pirates. Ryan Rowland-Smith (3.74 ERA in 15 starts) and Doug Fister (4.20 ERA in 10 starts) were impressive, but remain unproven over a full season. The wild card is Erik Bedard, who could provide a huge boost once he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. He isn’t expected back until at least June.

2. Will there be enough offense?
Seattle finished last in the AL and 28th in the majors in runs scored last season (just four more runs than the 30th-ranked Pirates). However, the team’s offensive deficiency was somewhat masked by its 35-20 record in one-run games. The Mariners finished in the middle of the pack in homers, but they lost their leading home run hitter, Russell Branyan, in free agency. Table setters Ichiro Suzuki (.386 on-base percentage in 2009) and Chone Figgins (.395) will get on base, but will anyone drive them in?

The solution to the Mariners’ problem could be the Cubs’ biggest problem from last season: Milton Bradley. Just two seasons ago as a Ranger, Bradley set career highs with 77 RBIs and 22 homers while leading the AL with a .436 on-base percentage. A healthy season from Ken Griffey Jr. also would be welcome, and continued development from Franklin Gutierrez can be expected.

3. Where will Chone Figgins play?
When signed, Figgins was penciled in at third base. However, he has worked extensively at second this spring, with Jose Lopez getting a look at third. The thinking is that Lopez will do less defensive damage at the hot corner, and Figgins’ versatility could make the change possible.

"We’re very comfortable if we decide to go back (to Lopez at second) at the end, that will be a much easier transition. He’s worked hard, looks good in our workout sessions, hands are good, good throwing arm," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "Figgins is very quick, very agile athletic, done some nice things at second. We’ve seen good out of both."

Projected lineup
1. RF Ichiro Suzuki: MLB-record 9 straight 200-hit seasons.
2. 3B Chone Figgins: 4th in MLB in times on base (285) in ’09.
3. LF Milton Bradley: .871 career OPS in AL; .775 in NL.
4. DH Ken Griffey Jr.: Career-worst .214 AVG last season.
5. 2B Jose Lopez: .303 career OBP; led team with 96 RBIs in ’09.
6. CF Franklin Gutierrez: .335 AVG vs. lefties last season.
7. 1B Casey Kotchman: .999 fielding percentage since ’05 leads all MLB 1B.
8. SS Jack Wilson: .214 AVG after June 30 last season.
9. C Rob Johnson: Must hold off Adam Moore for job.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Felix Hernandez: 6-0, 1.52 ERA in final 7 regular season starts in ’09.
2. LHP Cliff Lee: 2-4, 6.13 ERA in final 7 regular season starts in ’09.
3. RHP Ian Snell: Averaged 5.2 BBs per 9 IP last season.
4. LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith: 2.70 ERA at home; 5.22 on road last season.
5. RHP Doug Fister: 11 HRS allowed in 61 IP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP David Aardsma: All 38 career saves came in ’09.

Grades

Offense: C. The need for more power and more run production remains glaring. The team should improve upon its next-to-last finish in the majors in on-base percentage (.314) last season with Figgins and Bradley aboard. But getting on base is much different than crossing home plate.

Pitching: B. Lee and King Felix are arguably the majors’ best 1-2 rotation punch, but the Nos. 3-5 spots remain question marks. The bullpen’s 3.83 ERA ranked third in the AL last season, but David Aardsma must follow up his strong first season as closer.

Bench: A. The bench will be deep, so much so that veteran pinch hitter Mike Sweeney might not make the cut. Ryan Garko can back up at first, and rookie third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo has hit well enough this spring to provide another bench bat. Ryan Langerhans is a solid fourth outfielder, and Eric Byrnes also is in outfield mix.

Manager: B. It is tough to argue with a rookie manager who delivers a 24-game improvement, as Don Wakamatsu did last season. After only one season as a major league manager, Wakamatsu has proven to be a strong fit for a team that emphasizes defense, pitching and strong fundamental play.

Sporting News prediction: Seattle will put plenty of pressure on the Angels but will fall just short of a postseason berth, mainly because of their lack of pop.

Coming Friday: A’s preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

After a dreadful 101-loss season in 2008, the Mariners were the majors’ most improved team in 2009, jumping from 61 wins to 85 wins. This offseason, Seattle added an All-Star infielder and another ace, raising expectations even higher. The formula this season will be defense, pitching and run prevention, but Seattle will have to score more. "Defense is important. If the other team doesn’t score, you don’t lose," first baseman Casey Kotchman said. "But just like every team, we’re going to have to score some runs to win."

After Cliff Lee (pictured) and Felix Hernandez, do the M's have enough pitching?
After Cliff Lee (pictured) and Felix Hernandez, do the M’s have enough pitching?

Three questions

1. Is the rotation deep enough after the co-aces?
It is rare that a team adds a bona fide No. 1 starter to a rotation featuring arguably the best young pitcher in the game, yet still must deal with questions about its starting five. Cliff Lee won the AL Cy Young award in 2008 with the Indians, delivered both of the Phillies’ World Series wins in 2009 and should flourish in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field (in a contract year). Felix Hernandez tied for the major league lead with 19 wins last season and set career bests with a 2.49 ERA, 217 strikeouts and 238 2/3 innings pitched.

Behind them, however, things get murky. No. 3 starter Ian Snell went 5-2 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts for Seattle last season — after posting a 5.36 ERA with the Pirates. Ryan Rowland-Smith (3.74 ERA in 15 starts) and Doug Fister (4.20 ERA in 10 starts) were impressive, but remain unproven over a full season. The wild card is Erik Bedard, who could provide a huge boost once he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. He isn’t expected back until at least June.

2. Will there be enough offense?
Seattle finished last in the AL and 28th in the majors in runs scored last season (just four more runs than the 30th-ranked Pirates). However, the team’s offensive deficiency was somewhat masked by its 35-20 record in one-run games. The Mariners finished in the middle of the pack in homers, but they lost their leading home run hitter, Russell Branyan, in free agency. Table setters Ichiro Suzuki (.386 on-base percentage in 2009) and Chone Figgins (.395) will get on base, but will anyone drive them in?

The solution to the Mariners’ problem could be the Cubs’ biggest problem from last season: Milton Bradley. Just two seasons ago as a Ranger, Bradley set career highs with 77 RBIs and 22 homers while leading the AL with a .436 on-base percentage. A healthy season from Ken Griffey Jr. also would be welcome, and continued development from Franklin Gutierrez can be expected.

3. Where will Chone Figgins play?
When signed, Figgins was penciled in at third base. However, he has worked extensively at second this spring, with Jose Lopez getting a look at third. The thinking is that Lopez will do less defensive damage at the hot corner, and Figgins’ versatility could make the change possible.

"We’re very comfortable if we decide to go back (to Lopez at second) at the end, that will be a much easier transition. He’s worked hard, looks good in our workout sessions, hands are good, good throwing arm," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "Figgins is very quick, very agile athletic, done some nice things at second. We’ve seen good out of both."

Projected lineup
1. RF Ichiro Suzuki: MLB-record 9 straight 200-hit seasons.
2. 3B Chone Figgins: 4th in MLB in times on base (285) in ’09.
3. LF Milton Bradley: .871 career OPS in AL; .775 in NL.
4. DH Ken Griffey Jr.: Career-worst .214 AVG last season.
5. 2B Jose Lopez: .303 career OBP; led team with 96 RBIs in ’09.
6. CF Franklin Gutierrez: .335 AVG vs. lefties last season.
7. 1B Casey Kotchman: .999 fielding percentage since ’05 leads all MLB 1B.
8. SS Jack Wilson: .214 AVG after June 30 last season.
9. C Rob Johnson: Must hold off Adam Moore for job.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Felix Hernandez: 6-0, 1.52 ERA in final 7 regular season starts in ’09.
2. LHP Cliff Lee: 2-4, 6.13 ERA in final 7 regular season starts in ’09.
3. RHP Ian Snell: Averaged 5.2 BBs per 9 IP last season.
4. LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith: 2.70 ERA at home; 5.22 on road last season.
5. RHP Doug Fister: 11 HRS allowed in 61 IP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP David Aardsma: All 38 career saves came in ’09.

Grades

Offense: C. The need for more power and more run production remains glaring. The team should improve upon its next-to-last finish in the majors in on-base percentage (.314) last season with Figgins and Bradley aboard. But getting on base is much different than crossing home plate.

Pitching: B. Lee and King Felix are arguably the majors’ best 1-2 rotation punch, but the Nos. 3-5 spots remain question marks. The bullpen’s 3.83 ERA ranked third in the AL last season, but David Aardsma must follow up his strong first season as closer.

Bench: A. The bench will be deep, so much so that veteran pinch hitter Mike Sweeney might not make the cut. Ryan Garko can back up at first, and rookie third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo has hit well enough this spring to provide another bench bat. Ryan Langerhans is a solid fourth outfielder, and Eric Byrnes also is in outfield mix.

Manager: B. It is tough to argue with a rookie manager who delivers a 24-game improvement, as Don Wakamatsu did last season. After only one season as a major league manager, Wakamatsu has proven to be a strong fit for a team that emphasizes defense, pitching and strong fundamental play.

Sporting News prediction: Seattle will put plenty of pressure on the Angels but will fall just short of a postseason berth, mainly because of their lack of pop.

Coming Friday: A’s preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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