This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
The Seattle Mariners have been in the doldrums lately, winning only 63, 63, and 78 games the past three seasons. This is somewhat surprising, as a quick glance at the Mariners’ roster reveals a lineup that is stocked with solid players, even stars, and a pitching staff filled with dependable hurlers.
So what accounts for the extremely poor showings of the past three years? The answer is on-base percentage, as in utter destitution thereof. Although the Mariners lineup can mash homeruns with the best of them, nobody knows how to work the count or take a walk, and the strikouts have recently been giving coffee and rain a run for their money as the thing that first comes to mind when Seattle is mentioned. Last season, only the Devil Rays finished with a worse OBP than the Mariners among AL teams. Yes, that’s right, the Devil Rays.
Unfortunately for the Mariners and their fans, team on-base percentage is one of hardest things to improve, but on top of that, the Mariners front office seems rather oblivious to what the team’s real problem is.
The team came into the offseason with two glaring holes in the lineup–in center field and at DH, where Jeremy Reed (.260 OBP) and Carl Everett (.297 OBP) “played” last season. Unfortunately, Bill Bavasi and his staff opted to fill these holes with Jose Guillen, he of the .321 career OBP, and Jose Vidro, who was once a great hitter for a second baseman, but was always subpar for a DH, and is clearly on the downside of his career.
While the Guillen signing, taken on its own, was not so bad, as it is an incentive-laden, one-year contract, the Vidro trade has been widely panned, as the M’s traded away promising outfielder Chris Snelling along with a major-league ready reliever to get him, and the declining Vidro still has several years and millions of dollars left on his contract. Although Snelling battled through some injury problems last season, he is 7 years younger than Vidro and can be reasonably projected to outhit him this year. After all, Snelling is the same guy who batted .370 in triple-A as recently as 2005.
Other blunders were made as Bavasi and Co. tried to rebuild their rotation after the losses of Jamie Moyer, Joel Piniero, and Gil Meche, as the Mariners signed the extremely mediocre Miguel Batista to a 3-year $24 million deal, “lured” Jeff Weaver away from the Cardinals, and traded arguably their best reliever, Rafael Soriano, to the for oft-injured Braves fifth starter Horacio Ramirez, who only managed to pitch 76 innings last season.
Sure, Weaver had a great postseason run, but he is also the same pitcher who was 3-11 with a 6.60 ERA in mid-July. In short, the Mariners are heading into 2007 with a rotation consisting of 3 fifth-starter types filling out the back end of their rotation.
The pressure was on this offseason for the Mariners, with an increasingly disgruntled Ichiro up for free agency next winter and looking to play for a contender. If Vidro, Guillen, and Ramirez can all stay healthy this year, and if Felix Hernandez can belatedly blossom into the ace people were expecting he would become, and if Raul Ibanez can repeat the career year he had last season, and if Ichiro can make the adjustment to playing center field, the Mariners have a chance to improve on their 78 wins from last season.
But that is a lot of “if’s” and any way you slice it, the Mariners do not look like a team that will even get within distant-rumble-hearing range of the postseason.
Expect Ichiro to suit up for new team in 2008.
Offseason Grade: D+
Acquisitions: Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, Miguel Batista, Horacio Ramirez, Chris Reitsma
Losses: Rafael Soriano, Gil Meche, Joel Piniero, Chris Snelling, Emiliano Fruto
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer
CF Ichiro Suzuki – .322/.370/.416, 45 SB
2B Jose Lopez – .282/.319/.405, 10 HR
LF Raul Ibanez – .289/.353/.516, 33 HR
1B Richie Sexon – .264/.338/.504, 34 HR
RF Jose Guillen – .216/.276/.398, 9 HR
DH Jose Vidro – .289/.348/.395, 7 HR
3B Adrian Beltre – .268/.328/.465, 25 HR
C Kenji Johjima – .291/.332/.451, 18 HR
SS Yuniesky Betancourt – .289/.310/.403, 8 HR
RHP Felix Hernandez – 12-14, 4.52
LHP Jerrod Washburn – 8-14, 4.67
RHP Miguel Batista – 11-8, 4.58
RHP Jeff Weaver – 8-14, 5.76
LHP Horacio Ramirez – 5-5, 4.48
CL J.J. Putz – 36 SV, 2.30