Attention: As of this writing, Major League Baseball’s spring training is under way.
It’s that time of year again when hope springs eternal for us baseball fans, if only for a brief few weeks until the reality of the regular season sets in when we realize – sometimes before the end of April – that our team is either A) A contender, B) A pretender or C) Neither of the above. For Seattle Mariner fans like myself, all too much lately we’ve been forced to pick B.
I realize Seattle’s franchise, in entering its 36th season, is still a relative newcomer in baseball’s grand scale, and we shouldn’t be too bitter about having been to the post season but a handful of times. I mean, thank God we’re not the Chicago Cubs, right?
But we’re also not the Miami Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays, both of whom have been to the promised land of the World Series – the Marlins winning twice – but are newer than Seattle. Nor are we the Toronto Blue Jays, who entered the league the same year as Seattle and have also won a pair of Series rings.
But the Mariners have been close, and there’s no reason to settle for having to wait decades between playoff runs So Seattle fans, fueled by Starbucks and powered by the immediacy of the .com universe, should be a little impatient at the thought of another rebuilding year, which is what the M’s have been doing for almost three seasons under general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge.
M’s fans hoped for some movement in the offseason to bring some to an offense that has ranked last in the Bigs the past couple of seasons. We got movement all right – they moved the fences in so that cavernous Safeco might not be so cavernous anymore.
What that will do to the Mariners pitching staff is a concern. The team negotiated a $175 million contract keeping staff ace and marketing gold mine Felix Hernandez in town for a good part of the productive portion of his career.
But with the departure of innings eater Jason Vargas in a trade to get the offense of first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales (lifetime .281) the Mariners lost experience in their rotation. They hope to get it back by acquiring Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders, but Saunders is very similar in style to Vargas and while that might mean a lot of innings, Vargas also gave up a lot of home runs.
Remember, they moved the fences in at Safeco.
Seattle also acquired .295-lifetime hitter Mike Morse for his second stint in the Northwest, along with free agents Jason Bay (lifetime .261) and Raul Ibanez (.278). It’s Ibanez’ third time in Seattle, having come up through the M’s farm system in the early 1990s, and if his bat isn’t quite what it used to be, perhaps his experience and reputation as a clubhouse leader will be valuable. How that translates into runs and wins, heck you got me.
The problem is these guys are all outfielders, adding to a list that includes Casper Wells, Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez. A projected lineup has Gutierrez in center, Morse in left and Saunders in right, batting in the second, third and eighth respectively, and my guess is the others will get enough innings to hopefully increase their potential trade stock later in summer.
The key might be Gutierrez, who was great offensively in 2009 but has been plagued by injuries since. If he can return to that early promise it will be a bonus.
The infield is unchanged with Kyle Seager at third, Brendan Ryan at short, Dustin Ackley second and Justin Smoak first. The organization hopes Smoak achieves the promise he showed when they traded pitcher Cliff Lee to Texas for him, and after a stint in the minors late last year, returned to Safeco where he hit .288 over his final 42 games.
While a “smoking’” bat from Smoak, hitting sixth, would be nice I’m looking for major improvements from Ackley in lead off, showing us why the M’s drafted him No. 1 out of North Carolina in 2010.
How all this will work in an American League West Division that saw the Los Angeles Angels get stronger through free agency, the Texas Rangers still looking like a contender and bargain-basement payroll Oakland returning as reigning champions is anybody’s guess. But for now, at least there’s hope.
And oh yeah, they moved the fences in.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.