By Jonathan O'Konis, MLB Analyst (Sports Network)
2004 FINISH (63-99) - Fourth Place (AL West)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 3B - Adrian Beltre, SS - Pokey Reese, SP - Aaron Sele, 1B - Richie Sexson
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: SS - Rich Aurilla, C - Pat Borders, DH - Edgar Martinez
PROJECTED LINEUP: Ichiro Suzuki (RF), Jeremy Reed (CF), Adrian Beltre (3B), Richie Sexson (1B), Bret Boone (2B), Raul Ibanez (DH), Randy Winn (LF), Miguel Olivo (C), Pokey Reese (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Joel Pineiro (RHP), Jamie Moyer (LHP), Ryan Franklin (RHP), Gil Meche (RHP), Bobby Madritsch (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Eddie Guardado (RHP)
MANAGER: Mike Hargrove
The Mariners enter this season after a disastrous 2004 that saw them go 63-99, finishing 29 games behind Anaheim in the AL West. Seattle brought in free agents Scott Spiezio, Raul Ibanez and Rich Aurilla to provide some offense. None of these players were what the Mariners had been expecting, and with age catching up to Jamie Moyer, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone the Mariners never really got the season started before it was over. The lone source of excitement was provided by Ichiro Suzuki's pursuit of baseball's all-time hits record for a single season, which he set with 262.
There were rumors during the season that manager Doug Melvin had lost control of the clubhouse, causing his dismissal soon after the season ended. He was replaced with veteran manager Mike Hargrove, who had previously managed both the Indians and Orioles. General manager Bill Bavasi made a play for a number of big free agents in the offseason and ended up with third baseman Adrian Beltre, first baseman Richie Sexson and shortstop Pokey Reese. The Mariners enter 2005 with along way to go to reach the 93 win plateau they were at in 2003 but at least they're headed in the right direction.
After completing a monster makeover this off-season, first and third base will be manned by MVP candidates Beltre and Sexson. Beltre is coming off maybe the most productive season for a third baseman in baseball history. Last season Beltre tied Mike Schmidt for the most home runs in a season by a player from that position with 48. He also added a .334 batting average and 121 RBI. Those numbers were good enough to earn Beltre, who will turn 26 on April 7th, a five-year $65 million dollar contract. This was a good deal for the Mariners because Beltre should have his most productive seasons ahead of him. It is a gamble though as Beltre's former career highs were 23 homers and 85 RBI. Mariner fans shouldn't worry about Beltre's stats declining in moving to Safeco Field because Dodger Stadium is also one of the hardest parks to hit in. What the Dodgers were worried about was Beltre's intensity once he signed a long-term contract.
If you want a real gamble just go across the diamond to first base. Sexson, before last year, had averaged 39 HRs and 117 RBI the previous three seasons. Last year a left shoulder injury limited Sexson to only 23 games. When he did play he did manage to hit for power, belting nine home runs with a slugging percentage of .578. So the Mariners signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract. Sexson at 6'8", 237 pounds, is so big and strong that he should be able to hit the ball out of any park. However, he's a strikeout machine, and if he starts off poorly in Safeco things could get ugly. What Mariner fans should be concerned about is his shoulder. Jeff Bagwell, once an elite power hitting first baseman, suffered a similar injury and hasn't been the same player since.
To improve their defense up the middle the M's added defensive whiz Reese. Playing for the Red Sox last season, Reese was his typical self looking unbelievable with the glove and lost with a bat. The main problem is Reese hasn't played in 120 games since 2001 and shouldn't be expected to do so this year.
There are now rumors out of the Seattle camp that Reese may be traded to Washington and the Mariners would then give the shortstop job to 22 year-old Jose Lopez. Lopez hit 18 home runs last season between Triple-A and the majors last season.
Coming off of his worst season as a Mariner to date Boone is hoping to rebound in a big way. He certainly has the motivation to do so with impending free agency after the season. After offseason eye surgery, Boone should be able to put up better numbers with possibly a .280 average, 30 homers and Gold Glove defense.
Miguel Olivo takes over as the starting catcher after coming over in the Freddy Garcia trade to the White Sox. Olivo hit much better for the White Sox with a .270 average with an OPS (On-base + slugging percentage) of .812 with seven homers. After coming to Seattle he hit .200 with an OPS of .648 with six homers. With more at-bats those numbers should improve. He does suffer from the occasional defensive lapses.
The fact that Ichiro set a major league record with 262 hits and still managed to score only 101 runs should be indicative of just how bad Seattle's offense was last year. If the Mariners had been anywhere near contending last season Ichiro's name would have dominated the MVP discussion. He was all over the league leading categories last season, topping the majors with a batting average of .372, finishing ninth with an OBP of .414 and eight in steals (36). Add in the fact that Ichiro is starting to take more walks and strikeout less means discussion of a .400 season isn't entirely premature. He’s also one of the few defensive outfielders in the game highlighted by his incredibly accurate throwing arm. With Beltre and Sexson hitting behind him Ichiro may be able to score 150 runs this season.
Randy Winn very quietly put together a solid season for himself by batting .286, with 14 HRs and 81 RBI. He can steal a base, racking up 21 last season. His defense is better suited to left field rather then center, where he spent the majority of his time last season.
Jeremy Reed will take over the center field duties for the Mariners after coming over from the White Sox in the Garcia deal. At just 23, Reed is the future of the Mariners' organization. A September call-up, Reed hit the ground running, batting .397 with three stolen bases in 58 at-bats. Just two years ago Reed led all of minor league baseball with an average of .373 with an OBP of .453, so his average in the majors may not be a fluke. Reed has good speed, which should help in Safeco's huge centerfield.
Raul Ibanez enters the season as the incumbent DH. A pretty good hitter, Ibanez batted .304 with 16 homers last season. His career stats say that last season was typical for him, but not his best and not his worst. The return you're going to get from giving Ibanez 500 at-bats is at best a .280 average with 18-20 home runs. You should want better numbers from your DH.
The Mariners' other option is Bucky Jacobsen. He put together a monster year between the majors and the minors last season hitting 35 home runs with 116 RBI. At 29, he's too old to be considered a prospect, but if Seattle puts him in the line-up he's a power source for a team that desperately needs it. Most likely the two will settle into a platoon situation with Ibanez going up against righthanders and Jacobsen taking on the southpaws.
Last season was the first time since coming to Seattle in 1996 that Moyer failed to win 13 or more games, finishing at 7-13 with an ERA of 5.21. Moyer, who is 42 years old, didn't appear to be fooling many hitters last season giving up a major league-leading 44 home runs. The previous two seasons he had given up 47 home runs combined. Well performed well before the All-Star break, but was a disaster in the second half with an ERA of 6.40. If the Mariners are going to be competitive this year they need Moyer to return to his days of winning 14-16 games with an ERA of 3.20-3.40.
Joel Pineiro pitched his best game of the season on July 25th, going eight innings and allowing one earned run. It would turn out to be his last game of the season. Feeling pain in his right elbow on his last pitch of the contest and being so far out of contention the Mariners didn't feel they had to rush Pineiro back. Pineiro returned this spring, but was shut down early on with pain behind his right shoulder. He was expected to be Seattle's ace this season, but now it looks like he'll start the year on the disabled list. After going 30-18 in 2002-2003, Pineiro took a step back and went 6-11 with an ERA of 4.67.
Ryan Franklin holds the No. 3 slot. Franklin has a few problems with his game, beginning with the fact that he walks too many batters and doesn't strike out enough. In each of the last two seasons, Franklin has walked 61 batters while striking out 99 and 104 batters, respectively. Franklin went 4-16 with an ERA of 4.90 last season, while his team scored 3.14 runs per game, the worst in the majors. Over the past three years he has gone 13-14 with an ERA of 3.70 at Safeco Field. Away from Safeco, he's 9-20 with an ERA of 4.63. The facts are that Safeco makes all pitchers look better then they really are. He's a decent number four or five starter for Seattle, but without Safeco he may not make the starting rotation of some other teams.
Gil Meche finished up strong for the Mariners. He dramatically improved as the season went on putting up an ERA of 3.95 after the All-Star break as opposed to a 7.06 ERA before the contest. Like Franklin, Meche was a better pitcher at home last season, sporting a record of 3-5 with an ERA of 4.40 as opposed to 4-2 with an ERA of 5.79 on the road. Two things may scare you about Meche: 1) He still managed to give up 15 home runs at Safeco last year in only 71.2 innings. 2) His strikeout-to-walk ratio at home was almost 3:1 (61-23), but on the road it was a terrible 1:58:1 (38-24). If Meche could get everything together and decides to just pitch, he could be productive.
Bobby Madritsch, a 29 year-old lefty, will serve as the fifth starter. Madritsch was 11-5 last year, going 6-3 with an ERA of 3.27 for Seattle and 5-2 with an ERA of 3.75 at the Triple-A level. With a 90-95 mph fastball and a plus change-up, Madritsch could be an excellent pickup if he gets the opportunity to start every five days.
Once one of baseball's most durable closer's, Eddie Guardado was diagnosed with a slightly torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, but a second opinion allowed him to forgo surgery for rest and rehab. Due to the injury he pitched in only 41 games last season, his lowest total since 1995. When he was healthy enough to pitch he still managed to put up some pretty good numbers, racking up 18 saves, with an ERA of 2.78 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3:1 (45-14). After showing up in camp Guardado was diagnosed with a strained right hamstring, but he's likely to be ready by the season opener.
If he were not ready J.J. Putz would be expected to fill the closer spot. Putz closed for the Mariners at the end of 2004 and converted his final nine save chances. He did however blow four saves in a setup role, more of a middle relief pitcher than a closer.
The rest of the Mariners' bullpen - Ron Villone, Matt Thornton, George Sherrill, Scott Atchison, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Julio Mateo have some ways to go before the team ranks among the league's best relieving staff. Hasegawa, will turn 37 in August, was one of the best relievers in baseball two years ago, but is coming off a season where his ERA was 5.17. Mateo has a good strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost 3:1 (43-16), but his 11 home runs allowed in just 57.2 innings is a cause for concern. The good news is that Rafael Soriano may be back from shoulder surgery by midseason.
Willie Bloomquist will be the primary backup at third, shortstop and left. Scott Spiezio will also be around to back-up first, third, and the outfield. One of these players may be dealt, and with Spiezio's high price tag it may be Bloomquist. Both Jacobsen and Ibanez can back-up the outfield corners, but neither can play center. Ricky Gutierrez can play shortstop, second or third. Dan Wilson will be providing insurance should Olivo need a break.
Everyone is saying that the Mariners are on their way back, but in reality they're not that close heading into the season. Their rotation is full of holes with nearly every starter either having questions about their health or ability. If Guardado gets hurt their bullpen will be a mess. They're banking on Beltre to follow up last season’s breakout performance, but instead expect a season where 30 HRs is more likely than another season with 48. Expecting Sexson to come back and hit 45 home runs again is unlikely as well. It's also doubtful that Reese will be able to start 120 games. It may be a challenge for Hargrove, as he tests his patience with a few of his young players this season.