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Seattle Mariners 2009 Baseball Preview

April 15, 2009

Yes… I realize that we are over a week into the major league baseball season, but I don’t think it’s too late to give a preview of what to expect from the
Seattle Mariners this season. Here’s one thing I don’t think you should expect from the M’s this season: keeping up the hot start they have going at the moment.

First, I’m going to break this team down position-by-position:

Catcher – The only people that should be happy to see Kenji Johjima behind the plate for us are his relatives and personal friends. This guy is not an asset at all. After a reasonably good debut season in 2006, his numbers dipped noticeably in 2007 and then fell off the face of the earth last year. There’s no reason to expect him to turn things around this season and the M’s would be much better off letting Jeff Clement develop in the majors, with Johjima playing the roll of veteran backup. Grade: F

First Base – Is there anything worse than Richie Sexson? Maybe…. and his name is Russell Branyan. Branyan is pretty much a Sexson clone that hasn’t ever been able to hold down a regular job in the bigs. He could be making some new fans in Seattle with his current .280-.357-.520 line, but that’s pretty fluky. Like Sexson, Branyan has legitimate pop, but will always be a black hole in the line-up because of his inability to make consistent contact. It’s quite possible that he will hit 35 home runs this year, but expect that lofty total to come with a .230ish average and 200 strikeouts. Grade: D

Second Base – Jose Lopez is probably the brightest spot in the M’s line-up outside of Ichiro Suzuki. After hitting .297 with 17 HRs, 41 2Bs, and 89 RBI in his age 24 season, it’s unlikely that we’ve seen Lopez’s ceiling as far as power is concerned. While I’d like to see more patience at the plate and a bit more speed on the base paths, I do think Jose Lopez just might be the most underrated player 25 years old or younger in the majors. Grade: A-

Shortstop – I’ll say that I’m a Yuniesky Bentancourt fan, but I don’t think he’s much better than the average major league shortstop. He’s not really an asset or a liability. I like his range defensively, but he does make a lot of errors. Offensively, he is a solid hitter from the ninth hole, but I don’t think we’re going to see too much improvement from him in the future. Grade: C

Third Base – Okay, so Adrian Beltre is not a .330 hitter with 40 homer potential… us Mariner fans have learned that much during his tenure with the team. Beltre had one of the all-time greatest fluke seasons in 2004 and is yet to top 100 RBI, 26 HR, or a .300 average as a Mariner. With that said, if you can overlook the anomaly season in 2004, Beltre has actually been one of the most consistent offensive third basemen in baseball the last four years. On top of that, Beltre plays a real solid 3-bag defensively. Also, it’s worth noting that even though Beltre is off to a slow start, this is a contract year for him and we all know how he did last time he was in this spot. Grade: B

Left Field – Endy Chavez has been nice out of the gate this season… he’s got nice speed and is a good glove in left, but his hitting leaves something to be desired. In reality, no MLB team should be too excited to have this guy as a regular starter on their team. So far, so good though. Grade: D+

Center Field – The jury is still out on Franklin Gutierrez. I’m not really sure what to expect from him, but I think he has some good upside. Again, defensively, he seems solid and our outfield as a whole should be one of the better defensive outfields in all of baseball. Offensively, it looks like Gutierrez could have 15-15 upside, but not much else. Grade: C

Right Field – Ichiro Suzuki returns to the line-up today and won’t hurt a team that is already off to a solid 6-2 start. I don’t really need to tell anyone that Ichiro is the best hitter by a long shot on this team. On top of a being a guarantee for 100 runs, a .300 average and 40 SBs, Ichiro is a gold glove caliber right fielder. Grade: A

Designated Hitter – It’s easy for us Mariner fans to get excited about the return of Ken Griffey Jr. and that’s understandable. However, it’s important to remember that The Kid is in the twilight years of his career and his glory days are long past so we all need to temper our expectations. Regardless, Jr. still has that beautiful swing and the ability to knock the ball out of the park. The M’s need to keep Griffey off the field as much as possible and ensure that he stays healthy. If he can log 140 games or so, I don’t think 30 homers and 80 RBI are out of reach for the 39 year old. No matter the case, it’s awesome seeing the best player to ever rock a Mariner uniform back on the team and we will all pay money to see him play again. Grade: C+

Bench – Mike Sweeney is in a similar position as Griffey, albeit without all the nostalgia, nor was he nearly as good as Griffey during their primes. It’s been four years since Sweeney had a relevant season and there is no reason for M’s fans to expect him to make an impact this year. Ronny Cedeno and Rob Johnson are irrelevant back-ups as well. Matt Tuiasosopo is really the only intriguing reserve after ripping up spring training, but it’s quite likely that he will be sent to Tacoma for more seasoning to make room on the roster for Ichiro. Grade – F

Starting Rotation – Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez have crazy potential. Bedard is only a 15 months or so removed from being the best pitcher in the American League, so his hot start is not all that surprising to me. I owned him in a fantasy league in 2007 where he didn’t lose a single game for a four month stretch. The question is whether he can stay healthy or not. If so, he can be a force at the top of our rotation. It’s easy to forget that King Felix is only 22 years old this season when you overlook the fact that he’s got three full seasons under his belt and broke into the rotation as an 18 year old. As longtime M’s fans that saw the early emergences of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, we might have a misconception of how rare it is for an 18 year old kid to be major league ready. Considering that, Felix has as much upside as any starting pitcher in the American League and is still a few years shy of the typical breakout season age. I wouldn’t be shocked to see both Bedard and Hernandez win 15 games a piece. The back 60% of the rotation is where things start to get murky. I don’t care if Jarrod Washburn threw a no hitter in his first start, I still wouldn’t be excited about his potential this season. He’s a #5 starter (if that) in a #3’s clothing. He sucks. Carlos Silva is similar to Washburn, just much, much worse. After those two, the #5 spot is up in the air… Currently Ryan Rowland-Smith occupies the slot… and while he’s put up impressive numbers in his short career (3.48 ERA, 120 Ks in 160 IP, 2:1 K/BB ratio), anyone that is slotted behind Carlos Silva is a scary proposition. Grade: D

Bullpen – Another weak spot for the Mariners. Although I like what we got back in the J.J. Putz trade, I don’t really understand it. Honestly, I think our rotation needs Brandon Morrow more than the bullpen does and considering that was the plan heading into 2009, the Putz trade makes even less sense. Who did they expect to step up and close games if Morrow was starting? Miguel Batista? Roy Corcoran? Outside of maybe Mark Lowe and Morrow, there’s not really an arm you an trust after our starters get ousted. Grade: F

Overall – Yes, things look great for the M’s after a nice 6-2 start, but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect this trend to continue. Our offense is merely mediocre and we’re going to be hard-pressed to keep on winning these low-scoring games. After Bedard and Felix, our rotation looks miserable and our bullpen can’t really be relied upon in close games. This not the kind of make up that a first place team usually has. If you take a look around baseball, you’ll also find the Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, and Kansas City Royals holding down first place, respectively, in their divisions. All of those teams are projected last place squads. So yeah, the M’s are looking good right now, but it’s only a matter of time before the back end of the rotation implodes and this team shows it’s true colors. I would consider this season a success if we win 80 games. Grade: C-

MVP – Ichiro Suzuki
Ace – Felix Hernandez
Speed Demon – Ichiro Suzuki
X-Factor – Erik Bedard
Closer At Year’s End – Brandon Morrow

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