StrategyMarch 22, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Seattle Mariners

By Michael Stephens

You have to reach rock bottom before you can be on top, right? After finishing 40 games under .500 last season and last in the American League, and finishing second in the race for the league’s worst record (the Nationals nipped them at the end, securing a win in the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes), the Mariners come into the 2009 season with many question marks: Who will play first base? Who will catch games on a regular basis? How long will Ken Griffey Jr.’s hamstrings hold up? With a healthy starting rotation and a measure of consistency from the bullpen, Seattle will look to win more close games than they were able to win last season, but that isn’t saying too much. The stars of Felix Hernandez and Ichiro will continue to shine brightly, and Mariners fans are praying they will be joined by Erik Bedard and company this year, so they can move closer to contention and further from a top-three pick in next year’s draft!

For a closer look at the Seattle Mariners and the rest of the AL West, be sure to check out The Can of Corn AL West Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Kenji Johjima.227.277.332297392112 
1B Russell Branyan.250.342.5832412201132w/Mil
2B Jose Lopez.297.322.4438017896644 
SS Yuniesky Betancourt.279.300.392667514559 
3B Adrian Beltre.266.327.4577425778556 
LF Wladimir Balentien.202.350.342237240243 
CF Franklin Gutierrez.248.307.383548419399w/Cle
RF Ichiro Suzuki.310.361.38610364243686 
DH Ken Griffey, Jr..249.353.4246718710490w/2T

Unsettled: Catcher and first base. The acquisition of Branyan and Griffey should tell you that Seattle doesn’t think Bryan LaHair and Jeff Clement are quite ready for the big leagues. Clement possesses prodigious power and will probably stick once and for all when he gets his next chance at the major league level, but that time is not here just yet. With the ability to play first base, catcher and designated hitter, he will likely find enough at bats to justify being a second catcher option this season, but we are probably one more year from seeing his true emergence as an everyday starter and significant fantasy producer. LaHair is only worth a look in the deepest of AL-only leagues, as his power and average are nothing special and he is already getting up there in age (26 years old).

Target: Jose Lopez. He’s enjoyed a hot start to the season while playing for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, with 10 hits in 21 at bats as well as two home runs. He posted career highs in all five fantasy categories last year (.297/80/17/89/6) and at 25 years of age, it is not hard to believe he even has a little bit more in him for the 2009 campaign. The batting average might dip a little bit, but 20 home runs and 100 runs batted in are not out of the question for Lopez this season. He doesn’t strike out a lot but won’t walk much either, so his peripherals will not hurt you (though they won’t help you much either). After the elite second basemen are off the board, you could do a whole lot worse than Lopez.

The Rotation

Felix Hernandez (R)9-113.451.3917580200.2 
Erik Bedard (L)6-43.671.32723781.1 
Jarrod Washburn (L)5-144.691.468750153.2 
Carlos Silva (R)4-156.461.606932153.1 
Brandon Morrow (R)3-43.341.14753464.2RP

Unsettled: Brandon Morrow. There is a definite spot in the Mariners’ rotation for Morrow, but preseason injury concerns with his pitching arm leave questions as to whether or not he will be able to start the season. He threw 20 pitches on Monday, March 16 and felt no discomfort, which is a good sign — now he just need to get some innings under his belt so he isn’t starting way behind the curve this season. After moving from the bullpen to a starting role at the end of the season, Morrow posted 28 strikeouts in as many innings, going 2-2 including a sparkling start against the Yankees in his debut as a starting pitcher. When he is healthy and in the rotation this season, Morrow will show you why the Mariners spent a top-ten pick on him two years ago.

Target: Felix Hernandez. At the ripe old age of 22 last season, Hernandez posted career highs in IP and ERA, falling one short of his career high in strikeouts (176). His win totals didn’t match his peripherals, because the Mariners gave away a lot of games he left when he was winning, and provided menial support in most of the others, so look for many more than nine victories this season. Considering that the Ms have been careful with Hernandez earlier in his career and that he will turn 23 shortly after the season begins, this might be the last year you can buy Hernandez outside the top ten of starting pitchers. A level of 15 wins and 200 strikeouts is well within reach this year, and his upside in keeper/dynasty leagues makes him worthy of being one of the first starters taken.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Chad Cordero (R)02.082.08534.1 
Mark Lowe (R)15.371.76553463.2 
Tyler Walker (R)04.561.28492153.1w/SF
Miguel Batista (R)06.261.867379115 

Chasing Saves: Chad Cordero or bust. First, many thought the closing job would be handed to Brandon Morrow, but when the Ms pledged to keep him in the starting rotation, the job was up for grabs between Lowe, Walker, Batista and even Roy Corcoran. As if things weren’t muddy enough in the Seattle bullpen, they signed Cordero to a minor league deal last week. Adding him to the mix now makes for SIX guys with a chance at the closer job for the Mariners this season. Morrow is probably the easiest one to rule out, but it certainly isn’t out of the question if nobody else gets the job done. Cordero is really the guy to watch during Spring Training though – all things point to his arm being healthy and he is now working to regain his velocity while commanding his pitches like he used to for the Nationals. He is still quite young (just turned 27) and has a 47-save season under his belt, which is more than you can say for anyone else in this mix. Monitor his progress through the spring and he might be worth a last-round flier. Cordero is the guy to keep your eye on in this bullpen as Lowe, Batista, Walker and Corcoran are too volatile to keep the job for extended period of time.

Final Thoughts

There is no place to go but up from their 61-101 season last year (though sweeping that final series to give away the #1 draft pick was truly a legendary move on their part), so look for the Mariners to improve in 2009 based on the merits of a stronger pitching staff and ample run support and win at least 70 games. If and when a true closer emerges to replace J.J. Putz, this staff should be a lot better from top to bottom than it was last year. Jose Lopez will be looking to build on a career year in ‘08 and a hot start in the World Baseball Classic and he will have to carry a lot of the offensive load until some of the other questions can be answered at first base and catcher. It will likely be another year spent in the cellar of the AL West for the Ms, but I think a step in the right direction would go a long way for this organization in 2009.

Yesterday we previewed the Oakland A’s. Check back tomorrow for our look at the Texas Rangers in the final installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Michael Stephens is an avid sports enthusiast with over 7 years of fantasy experience, who writes for the Cafe. He is an aspiring sports journalist who hopes to continue fantasy writing as a career in the future. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he is naturally a die-hard Mariner fan! You can find Michael in the Cafe's forums where he actively posts under the name of WaCougMBS.
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