How do you go from the laughing stock of the American League to a contender for the divisional crown in two short seasons? Spend a truckload of money and pay off all the best players money can buy? No, we’re not talking about the free-spending New York Yankees, we’re talking about the Seattle Mariners! The Ms solved their myriad of issues in 2008 by making a very simple move last season, followed by a handful of sensible ones. Seattle replaced general manager Bill Bavasi with Milwaukee Brewers front office man Jack Zduriencik and they haven’t looked back to their 101-loss season since. “Jack Z” made a splash this offseason, bringing in the talented bats of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley and the sterling arm of former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, adding them to a team long on heart and defense but short on run production and pitching proficiency. Re-signing the franchise player, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez, to a mullti-year deal? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake! With the Rangers, Angels and Athletics all seemingly spinning their wheels last winter, the Mariners took the biggest step forward to bolster a team that got the most out of the least in 2009.
|C Rob Johnson||.213||.289||.326||21||2||27||1||258|
|1B Casey Kotchman||.268||.339||.382||37||7||48||1||385||w/ATL, BOS|
|2B Jose Lopez||.272||.303||.463||69||25||96||3||613|
|SS Jack Wilson||.255||.292||.362||37||5||39||3||373||w/PIT, SEA|
|3B Chone Figgins||.298||.395||.393||114||5||54||42||615||w/LAA|
|LF Milton Bradley||.257||.378||.397||61||12||40||2||393||w/CHC|
|CF Franklin Gutierrez||.283||.339||.425||85||18||70||16||565|
|RF Ichiro Suzuki||.352||.386||.465||88||11||46||2||639|
|DH Ken Griffey Jr.||.219||.324||.411||44||19||57||0||387|
Unsettled: Designated hitter and catcher. Ken Griffey Jr. is going to lace ‘em up for one more season in Seattle, but should he falter and the Milton Bradley experiment pans out (don’t hold your breath, but almost anything is better than Griffey hitting .230 as your DH), Bradley and his circus-like defensive skills could move from the outfield to the DH spot to make room for either off-season acquisition Eric Byrnes or skillful prospect Michael Saunders in left field. The Ms’ catching situation is one that should be avoided in fantasy, but since the team no way of doing that in reality, this could be a revolving door all season. Johnson is a good defensive catcher who works well with the young Mariners’ rotation, but he can’t hit to save his life. Unfortunately the off-season acquisition of Josh Bard and the developing bat of Adam Moore won’t strike much fear into opposing pitchers either. Moore probably possesses the most upside (he hit .287 with 12 homers in 435 at bats between Double-A and Triple-A last season), but none of this crew really holds value outside of A.L.-only formats.
Target: Jose Lopez. In his second season hitting in a run-producing spot near the top of the lineup, Lopez posted career highs in home runs (25) and runs batted in (96). Despite playing his home games in Safeco Field (a right-handed hitter’s nightmare), he’s increased his home run total in each of the last four years (hitting 30 homers at home and 33 on the road in that span), and at 26 he is nearing the “magical age” many believe represents the beginning of a hitter’s prime hitting years. Lopez has been a rock on the field and in the box scores since 2006, never playing in fewer than 149 games, consistency that is hard to find at a relatively thin and volatile position. Add in the fact that he played 16 games and first base last season and can fill your corner infield spot in a pinch, and you have yourself a real bargain around the end of the 10th round (in a 12-team league).
|Felix Hernandez (R)||19-5||2.49||1.14||217||71||238.2|
|Cliff Lee (L)||14-13||3.22||1.24||181||43||231.2||w/CLE, PHI|
|Ryan Rowland-Smith (L)||5-4||3.74||1.18||52||27||96.1|
|Ian Snell (R)||7-10||4.84||1.59||89||83||145.0||w/PIT, SEA|
|Doug Fister (R)||3-4||4.13||1.28||36||15||61.0|
Unsettled: Third, fourth and fifth starter. You’ll want nothing to do with the final two starters in the Mariners’ season-opening rotation (Rowland-Smith could be lumped in there too, but he does carry some value in deeper leagues and A.L.-only formats), but there is a huge “if” the Mariners will have on their back burner come April. That if’s name? Erik Bedard. He underwent shoulder surgery last season after being bitten (again) by the pesky injury bug that seems to find him each and every season, but Bedard is now in a contract year. When he returns to the Ms’ rotation in late May-early June, you can be sure he’ll be ready to prove that he should be paid handsomely as a free agent going into 2011 – this fact alone makes him worthy of a late-round flier in all formats.
Target: Cliff Lee. A move from the National League to the American League is rarely cause for excitement in fantasy land, but an ace pitcher moving from the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia) to the spacious pitcher’s haven that is Safeco Field is just that. Whether in Cleveland for the first half of the season or Philadelphia for the second half, Lee pitched brilliantly for most of the year, posting impressive numbers after his Cy Young campaign in 2008. Lee relentlessly pounds the strike zone, and since his return to prominence two years ago, he has been one of the best in the game at racking up his fair share of strikeouts while minimizing his free passes issued (351/77 K/BB ratio since the beginning of the ‘08 season). With a great defense behind him in Seattle, coupled with his ability to strike batters out while keeping the ball in the park (29 HR allowed in his last 455 IP), Lee should thrive in 2010. Think of his numbers from last season (above) as more of a baseline, with the upside of getting close to his ‘08 numbers (22 W, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP). Take him as the 13th-16th starter off the board and enjoy your fantasy ace at a much-appreciated discount!
The 8th and 9th Innings
|CL David Aardsma (R)||38||2.52||1.15||80||34||71.1|
|SU Mark Lowe (R)||3||3.26||1.25||69||29||80.0|
|SU Brandon League (R)||0||4.58||1.25||76||21||74.2||w/TOR|
Chasing Saves: Few doubted Aardsma’s talent in his years in San Francisco, but who could have predicted he’d be as effective as he was in ‘09 when given the opportunity to be a full-time closer? Aardsma converted 38 of 42 save attempts last season and enters this year with a firm grip on the job. Both Lowe and League could fill in as serviceable “vultures” should Aardsma falter or get injured, but know they’re both throwing for one of the safest jobs in the majors this season and neither will be handed the job without good reason. Keep them on your radar, but Aardsma is the guy you want to own – he could give you #1 closer numbers for a #2 closer price, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Mariners went from having only three fantasy relevant players last year (Ichiro, Lopez and Hernandez) to fielding a team equipped with useful fantasy regulars (Aardsma, Gutierrez and Bradley) and a number of stars deserving of your first six picks (Figgins, Ichiro, Hernandez, and Lee). There are still serious question marks for this team, like who is going to drive in the runs (as the Ms cope without Russell Branyan’s team-leading 31 homers in 2009), but make no mistake, this is a vastly improved squad – set up through free agency and prospect development – that is ready, willing and able to make a splash in both fantasy and reality.
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 WaCougMBS.
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