Well, well, well...it was hard to pass up on doing the review for the Mariners due in large part to the fact that they have probably made more moves this off-season than any other team. Clearly the upper management is either a) tired of mediocrity or b) interested in at least satiating the fans and providing some guise of hope. Me? I'm bullish on Seattle this year, but let's take a look at what's happened this off-season.
2009 Record: 85-77, 12 GB the Los Angeles Angels
As with the additions to this team, where do you start? Here's a list and blurb about each one:
Jerrod Washburn (SP) - traded last year, everyone knows the Mariners traded him at the right time, he's sucked since leaving Seattle.
Eric Bedard (SP) - I guess you have to know when it's time to cut your losses, and with Bedard, letting him go is probably the best move they can make.
Adrian Beltre (3B) - lost via Free Agency to the Red Sox; I think Beltre is a good player and they'll miss his bat.
Russell Branyan - Lost via free agency; little known fact, Branyan's 162 game average for HRs is 30...of course with that you also get a .234 lifetime hitter.
Mike Sweeney (DH) - Lost via free agency to the White Sox; Seattle never really had intention to bring Sweeney back, especially considering they brought Ken Griffey Jr. back and have now signed Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko. Sweeney is on the backside of his career, they didn't lose much here.
Endy Chavez (UT) - Voted by the players as the "Most Likely to have a Journeyman Career", seriously though, it is surprising that this guy continues to get major league gigs.
Kenji Johjima (C) - Went to play in Japan, probably more where he belongs. Johjima was a much better game/pitcher manager than he was a hitter. The Mariners will miss him, but it's not a back-breaker.
Chris Jakubauskas (SP/RP) - It didn't seem to me that the Mariners knew what to do with this guy last year, he started some, relieved some, but was overall pretty worthless. The Pirates claimed him off waivers. The dude is 30 and last year was his first year in the Bigs, if I'm the Mariners I say "Good Riddance."
Bill Hall (3B) - Traded to the Red Sox, I have nothing to say about Bill Hall.
Miguel Batista (SP) - Hard to call this guy a "key departure." He's 38, he's been given one last shot by the Nationals, my money is on him retiring after this season.
Clifton Phifer Lee (SP) - Adding Lee is easily the biggest splash the Mariners made in the off-season, we'll see how Cliff Lee re-adjusts to the American League, I don't personally think he'll do very well with Seattle, but if he does well, the King Felix/Cliff Lee combo will be a nice one.
Desmond DeChone Figgins (3B) - Figgins will be a nice speed boost to the Mariners team and he also brings intangibles like scrappiness and heart. In all seriousness, I like Figgins a lot, he's been getting better and better and I well, I wish the Twins had gotten him.
Milton Bradley (OF) - Trading for this guy pretty much insured the self-destruction of the Mariners this year.
Yusmeiro Alberto Petit (SP?) - This is what the U.S.S. Mariner had to say about this acquisition: "The M’s continue to collect moderately interesting, low upside pitching without expending any resources."
Casey John Kotchman (1B/DH) - the "loot" from the Bill Hall trade. I'm guessing Kotchman will be a bench player mostly and play some 1st base as well. He's middle-of-the-road, a good back-up.
Ryan F. Garko (1B/DH) - Garko was a free-agent and just recently signed with the Mariners, he'll platoon with Kotchman, personally I like Garko, it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop in Seattle.
Eric Byrnes (OF) - This makes sense for the Mariners. While the Diamondbacks are on the hook for $11M of Byrnes' salary, all Seattle has to do is pay $400,000 and they give a guy who was once pretty good, a chance to resurrect his career.
Talent En Route:
The Mariners do have a pretty exciting farm system, which in addition to the new talents, can bolster the hopes of the fans in Seattle. Four guys deserve mention:
Greg Halman (OF) - this guy is pretty much the definition of "free-swinging." He fell a homer short of the 30-30 mark getting as high as Double-A, but had a miserable batting average and struck out a minor-league high 183 times. Halman is only 22, so he's got a long time to figure things out, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets his first taste this year.
Michael Pineda (RHP) - A Double-A when healthy, he posted a 2.84 ERA in 10 starts and walked just six in 44 1/3 innings, striking out 48 and limiting hitters to a .190 average. (source)
Alex Liddi (3B) - At 21, this guy looks crazy good. He plays good defense, hits for average AND power and last year was the MVP of the California League and also played for Italy in the WBC. Look for this guy to break into the Bigs in the next few years.
Kenn Kasperek (RHP) - The 6-foot-8 Kasparek limited hitters to a .236 average, striking out 134 while walking 32 in 141 2/3 innings. (source) Sounds like the Mariners may have found the next Randy Johnson?
2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook:
As Mitch Ratcliffe of Northwest Diamond Notes contends, the Mariners have really set themselves up nicely for an extended period of prosperity. Right now, they have around $90MM committed to their 25-man roster for 2010, in 2011, that number will drop to about $75MM, but you'd figure they'd re-sign Cliff Lee which will more than likely cost them the difference. BUT, that low figure allows them to make further moves this off-season and also make more move mid-season, or next year. So, while this year may be an experiment of sorts, next year and in years to come, the Mariners could be a force to recon with.
The Future of the Mariners:
I think if you're a Mariners fan, you have to like the direction your team is headed in. They just re-signed their star young-stud pitcher to a lengthy contract extension, they've been very active in the off-season making deals and adding talented pieces and they have set themselves up well to continue to do so over the next few years. Add to that a well-stocked farm system and a manager who appears to have his hands firmly on the helm and you're looking at a high-upside team with a lot to be excited about. This year may not yield results, but over the next 5 years, I think the Mariners will see more up than down.