This has been a weird offseason for Your Seattle Mariners, but it’s surprisingly almost over. Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in a few weeks, with the season just over two months away. Actually, since the Mariners open the season in Japan, their season starts a couple of weeks early. Yes, the season opener will be at like 3:00 in the morning on the other side of the International Date Line. Plan your lives accordingly.
Anyway, if you haven’t been paying attention or haven’t stopped to think about what the team looks like, I’ll try to help you out with a little fake Q & A. I’m making up the questions and I probably won’t have any answers, so don’t expect too much, but this will still be a pretty good time.
Who’s new this year?
Well, Jesus Montero’s the big one. More on him in a minute. Then there’s John Jaso, the mediocre young catcher acquired from Tampa Bay, who could actually be a pretty big upgrade. Not a lot after that. There are a bunch of relievers who may or may not make the team. More importantly, the Japanese pipeline is back open, with Hisashi Iwakuma likely to join the rotation and Ichiro’s workout buddy Munenori Kawasaki vying for a backup infield spot. Iwakuma could be pretty good. Kawasaki is good with the glove but unlikely to hit, so that’s nothing new. They just signed Kevin Millwood for rotation depth as well.
So this team will still be bad?
Well, they’re not likely to be great with this roster. I also don’t think they’ll be as bad as they were last year. They lost Michael Pineda in the Montero deal, but the rotation could still be solid, especially if Iwakuma is effective and one or both of mega-prospects Danny Hultzen and James Paxton can have an impact. On offense, there’s a lot of young talent that should get better. They still have plenty of questions, of course. Ackley seems like a sure thing, but he’s not, really. Neither is Mike Carp. I think Justin Smoak will be a lot better, but it could go either way. And what happens in the outfield? Some combination of Carp, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, and a hopefully healthy Franklin Gutierrez might blossom, or they might all be terrible.
What about that Prince guy?
He’s still out there, and it’s still anyone’s guess where he’ll sign. The initial reaction after the Montero trade was that the Mariners would no longer be interested in Fielder, but that may not be the case. I don’t think Fielder wants to come to Seattle, but whether he would if Seattle is his biggest offer remains to be seen.
So, if he does want to come to Seattle, should they sign him?
That’s a good question. He would certainly be a big addition (mandatory Fielder fat pun). Ideally, you’d save the money for a year or two, figure out where you have holes after some young guys fail or succeed, and then add a superstar at one of those positions (likely outfield or third base). In practice, that’s not so easy, because those guys may not be available or want to come to Seattle. Alternatively, you could add Prince now, hope his health holds out, and build the team around him. Both plans have risks. If you add Prince, you at least get some excitement and what should be a significantly better team for 2012.
What about that Montero guy?
He’s pretty good, or at least he should be. He’s about as good an offensive prospect as you can currently find in the minors. He’s right handed, which isn’t ideal, but he has huge power and can take it to the opposite field, which is. Projecting for rookie seasons is difficult, but I’m betting he holds his own this year and is an elite bat before long. He gets compared to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza often, and Edgar since the trade. So that’s cool.
Where will he play?
That’s the big question. He’s always been a catcher, but most analyst types don’t think he can catch in the big leagues. Plenty of people disagree with that, so who knows for sure. I would expect that he’ll get plenty of time at catcher, at least in the first half of the year. If he can’t catch at that point, he’ll see more and more time at DH and first base, depending on what happens with Prince and Smoak. It would be huge if he can catch, even if they limit him to 60-100 games a year and put him at DH the rest of the time.
Any other rookies to watch for?
Hard to say for sure. Hultzen and/or Paxton should see Seattle sometime in 2012, possibly as soon as opening day. They could have a Pineda-like impact, or they could struggle like most rookie pitchers. On offense, Alex Liddi might make a more extended appearance at third, but it would probably be ideal if he spent most of the year in Tacoma. Watch out for a couple of sort of sleepers. Nick Franklin and Vinnie Catricala are both major prospects, but most don’t expect them to see Seattle this year. The front office loves Franklin, though, and his bat would be a huge improvement there. He lost much of last season to some weird injuries, but before that he was on the fast track. Catricala has the biggest non-Montero bat in the Mariners minors, but defense is the question. If he can improve at third, don’t be surprised to see him get a prolonged shot before the season ends.
Anything else? How about the bullpen?
Good question. Relievers are really hard to predict. Guys go from good to bad and bad to good and everything in between with little warning. That said, it should be better this year. Pretty much everyone is back. League could be traded, but not likely before the trading deadline. Tom Wilhelmsen showed the ability to be a shut down guy at the end of last year. George Sherrill was added (forgot about him above!) and is still a weapon against left-handers. Plus, George Sherrill! That guy’s great. I wonder if he still wears his hat weird. So anyway, the bullpen should be better, but don’t be surprised if it’s not.
Still here. In the best shape of his career, of course. Still have a hard time believing they’d have him on the opening day roster, but that’s a lot of money to eat if they can’t find a trade partner. And no, no one is going to take on his whole salary in trade, but you might save a few million or get a different disappointing veteran back. Think the Silva-Bradley trade. Except Figgins might be worse than either of them.
Don’t forget Ichiro.
How could anyone forget Ichiro? 2011 was the worst season of his career, but Ichiro’s such a unique player that it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll bounce back or not. I’m guessing (hoping) he will, but he might not. Having a couple of Japanese players around might help, and I’m sure he’s working doubly hard this offseason. A renewed Ichiro would be a huge addition. It’s easy to forget how great he’s been. If he played at his career averages in 2012, that would provide a huge and consistent threat on offense that would make a major difference. Ichiro!
That covered quite a bit. If you have any other questions or thoughts, put them in the comments and I’ll give you my opinion, which will probably not help, but that’s the way it goes. Happy almost baseball season!