Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Seattle Mariners 2008 Preview: Making Their Bedard and Sleeping In It

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Mariners won 88 games in 2007 and chased the Angels Of Several Southern California Towns throughout the summer, eventually falling six games short. That seems fairly groovy. However, the bilges were carrying more water than the captains think. Opponents outscored the Mariners last year 813-794, and while the Mariners deserve credit for posting a record better than the sum of the parts, the shiny won-lost record disguised the fact that the roster was not really that of a contending team. Emboldened by the idea that they are playoff contenders, management made a major trade this winter, sending four excellent prospects and a run in the mill reliever to Baltimore for Eric Bedard.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Mariners finished exactly at league average in runs scored in 2007. Their home park, Safeco Field, depressed scoring by about 3%, but while the Mariners did score more runs on the road, they didn't score enough to be a real offensive power. Ichiro Suzuki continued to be Ichiro!, rapping out 238 hits and scoring 111 runs. But the Mariners were playing a DH who hit six homers, a first baseman who batted .205, and a middle infield combo that contributed next to nothing to the offense. Nothing was done over the winter to improve any of those areas.

CF Ichiro!
DH Jose Vidro
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Brad Wilkerson
1B Richie Sexson
C Kenji Johjima
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt

Not to be rude, but that looks about as much like a championship lineup as this looks like a real woman. OK, you got me, that was pretty rude. Putting Ichiro! on the top of this lineup is like putting a cherry on top of a bowl of manure and calling it ice cream. Vidro is 33 and comes with a well stocked injury cabinet; the minute his average falls below .300 he's worthless as a hitter. Beltre has a little power and a little speed and a .327 career on base percentage. Betancourt drew 15 walks in 155 games last year; Lopez 20 in 149. The wheels came completely off of Sexson's wagon last year; at 33 don't be expecting them to ever fit back on properly again.

Of course, the Mariners could add a huge upgrade to this shabby lineup with the stroke of a pen, by signing this obscure free agent. Team management appears to have little to no interest in such a move, apparently feeling that signing Bonds would upset Ken Rosenthal.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Playing in a pitcher's park, the 2007 Mariners allowed more runs than the league average. Felix Hernandez remains more the Dauphin than the King, although he remained healthy didn't step backwards. Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista were solid innings eaters in the rotation. Closer J.J. Putz put up numbers that are usually found in high school, allowing the ridiculous totals of 37 hits and 13 walks in 71 2/3 innings. Twelve guys who pitched for the 2007 Mariners posted ERAs above 5.00. I guess that could be classified as belly itching.

SP Eric Bedard
SP Dauphin Felix Hernandez
SP Jarrod Washburn
SP Miguel Batista
SP Carlos Silva

CL J.J. Putz
RP Brandon Morrow
RP Ryan Rowland-Smith

Bedard is an outstanding talent who improves the rotation considerably over Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, and Jason Davis. He also takes over the number one spot in the rotation, relieving some of the pressure on Hernandez. Hernandez retains all of his enormous talent and could certainly break through in 2008. The remaining three starters won't be confused with Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz, but are all capable of 200 innings of league average work, which is valuable. Putz is one of the top two or three closers in the AL. Morrow has a great fastball but absolutely no control. He does have a lot of upside as either a starter or a reliever if he does begin to throw strikes. Rowland-Smith is not the guy who fought Fu Manchu but a decent lefty specialist.

Witnesses for the defense

Besides not being much of a scoring machine, the Mariners lineup isn't much into the fielding thing either. They didn't make a lot of errors; that'll happen when you don't get to a lot of balls in the first place. The Mariners were the second least efficient team in the AL in turning batted balls into outs last year. Ichiro!, Lopez, and Beltre are above average fielders at their positions, everyone else is less so. Replacing Guillen in right with Wilkerson isn't going to do anything to turn that around. If the Mariners aren't going to play guys who can hit, they should at least find some more who can field and help out the pitching staff that way.

Farm aid

The Bedard trade cost the Mariners one of the game's very best prospects (Adam Jones), an outstanding pitching prospect (Chris Tillman) and two other decent young arms. Catcher Jeff Clement is a lefthanded power bat who is ready to be a regular major league catcher now, but is blocked by one of the Mariners' better players in Johjima. The Mariners will try to find a spot for his bat somehow; they need it. Rightfielder Wladimir Balentien is a slugger with 40 homer potential who could snag the rightfield job out from under Wilkerson with a hot spring. Warning: use of this young player may lead to excessive strikeouts. Robert Rohrbaugh is a lefthanded starter who will likely get the first call if the rotation needs a bailout; he can fill a major league rotation spot but has no star potential. There are some very fine prospects at the lower levels of the system as well.

Watch out for that tree!

The warning comes a bit late for Richie Sexson, whose career as an effective hitter pretty much came to a crashing halt last year. Sexson starting dismally and actually got worse, putting up a .205-.288-.371 line over the second half. The Mariners owe him $14 million this year, the last year of a four-year contract, so they're probably stuck with him. Ibanez is 36 and isn't exactly Ted Williams at the plate; once he slips he'll slip badly. Batista is 37 and while he's been a league average pitcher over the last four years, he hasn't been anything more than that, either.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Although they obtained an outstanding power arm, the Bedard trade was a mistake. The Mariners simply were not as good in 2007 as management thought, and do not have the talent to overcome the Angels for the AL West title or any of the better teams in the East or Central for a wild card berth. At best, this is an 85 win team, and they may not even reach that unless they pull some offense out of a hat, or their sleeve, or somewhere. This will be a disappointing season in Seattle.

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