Like the new wave of hope and optimism that swept the country this year, the Seattle Mariners have reason to feel good about their expectations. Whereas the moves made by the front office in the past few years created an unrealistic sense of what could be, this year, with a new G.M. and a new on-field manager, the M’s are focusing on what is.
Back in December, General Manager Jack Zduriencik (so I copy/paste his name, sue me) had long list of priorities and very little time. One of the critical areas the team needed to improve was on run production, and even though Big Z has been wheeling and dealing, it’s hard to conclude that his moves will drastically (marginally even) improve the offense.
Due to budgetary reasons, the initial list of free-agent run producers the M’s focused on was short, with names like Adam Dunn, Cliff Floyd, and Bobby Abreu signing elsewhere.
Zduriencik instead decided to pursue low-cost players that may be undervalued and could potentially produce, signing Russell Branyan and inviting a rejuvenated Mike Sweeney to spring training with a minor league deal, for instance.
Big Z also made some interesting acquisitions via the trade route, getting Ronny Cedeño from the cubs (who may challenge for an infield spot) in a deal that sent the recently-acquired Aaron Heilman to Chicago; and in a bold move, traded closer J.J. Putz to the Mets in a three-way deal that brought in Endy Chavez from New York and Franklin Gutierrez from the Indians. Both players will likely take over left and center field respectively and with Ichiro in right field, this set up gives the Mariners a mighty defensive outfield, but I suspect neither Gutierrez or Chavez are going to open the RBI flood gates.
Then there’s Jeff Clement. The Mariner’s young catching prospect has been fast tracked into the Bigs, and will probably make the team as a designated hitter. As of now, manager Dan Wakamatsu has Johjima as his no. 1 catcher, but the Mariners may want to give Clement some time behind the plate.
Zduriencik saved the biggest move for last. After a prolonged courtship, the Mariners brought back Ken Griffey Jr. to the delight of the clubhouse and fans. More than anything, giving Junior this home coming was as much about putting butts in the seats as it is about sparking a fire in the team, and less about run production. Let’s be honest, Junior’s career is drawing to a close (albeit gracefully by coming back to Seattle), and there shouldn’t be an expectation for him to produce many runs (for the sake of argument, in 131 at-bats with the White Sox last year, Junior collected 18 RBIs). But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look right at home in a Mariner’s uniform.
Turning to pitching, even though Putz is no longer with the team, Big Z has made some moves to solidify the bullpen, trading for David Aardsma and signing Tyler Walker who indicated he’s willing to take on the closer role (not that the fans see that as a good thing). That closer question, however, is one that is yet to be addressed, but it’ll be settled from within the current crop of arms in the bullpen.
As far as the rotation is concerned, the Mariners have a surplus of starters. They resigned Eric Bedard and avoided arbitration with Felix Hernandez, inking him to a one-year deal.
Although Zduriencik explored various trade scenarios for Jarrod Washburn, with the latest rumor surfacing as late as February 3d, no deal was made. In this case, perhaps, Big Z misplayed his hand, as Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times notes, since a Washburn deal could have landed a decent prospect instead of letting him walk as a free agent at the end of the season.
Also in the rotation are a slimmed-down Carlos Silva, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow.
Notable additions: Ken Griffey Jr, Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Sweeny, Russell Branyan, Ronny Cedeño.
Notable losses: Raul Ibañez, J.J. Putz, Sean Green.
Projected rotation, line-up and closer
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Eric Bedard
SP Ryan Rowland-Smith
SP Brandon Morrow
SP Carlos Silva
SP Jarrod Washburn
C Kenji Johjima
1B Russel Branyan
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
3B Adrián Beltré
LF Endy Chavez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Jeff Clement/Ken Griffey Jr.
CL Mark Lowe?
Hot Offseason Grade: C
It would be an unrealistic expectation in and of itself to say that Zduriencik turned the team around in one offseason. Although he was busy all winter, making plenty of moves, the Mariners will be a work in progress in the next few years. It’s not clear that the young talent he acquired via trade will be the crop of players he’ll build his team around, and he’s banking on some of his vets (and a free agent or two) to make a strong come back. Ultimately, it’s about trying something different this year, and so far, that’s one step in the right direction.