State of the Franchise: Seattle Mariners
April 21, 2011 1 Comment
Last week, we covered the Cleveland Indians, a team that may have been playing over their heads to start of the season. Before that, we covered the Red Sox, a team clearly playing below their standards and a team that was only a matter of time away from rebounding. This week, we’ll talk about a team right where a lot of people thought they would be.
The Seattle Mariners is a team limited with its potential as currently constructed. But, that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to stay in this position forever. They have the necessary pieces coming up from the minor leagues to add some pop to their batting order and they have two starting pitchers every other team in the Major Leagues would love to get their hands on.
The conversation with the Seattle Mariners starts with the King, Felix Hernandez. The defending American League Cy Young Award winner is the starlet of the Mariners organization. He was rushed to the big leagues at the age of 19, and has been a dominating presence ever since. Despite a 13-12 record last year, King Felix won the Cy Young behind league-best 2.27 ERA, 232 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP. The year before, Hernandez finished second in the Cy Young balloting with a 19-5 season, 2.49 ERA, 217 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP. At 25-years old entering this season, the argument can be made that Felix’s best baseball is still ahead of him. The best news for the Mariners: Hernandez is locked up through 2014 with his five-year, $78 million contract he signed recently.
Just in case one Felix Hernandez wasn’t enough, the team believes they may have found another in their deep farm system. 22-year old Michael Pineda broke camp with the Mariners this year with high expectations tagged next to his name. Through three starts this season, consider the expectations shattered. Pineda is 2-1 this season with a 2.33 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Its a very small sample size, but Pineda is widely considered the front runner for this year’s AL Rookie of the Year award and should be able to take some pressure off of Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation in the long term.
While Hernandez and Pineda provide the Mariners with hope in their starting rotation, there are a couple of players giving life to the team’s offense as well. Of course, any talk of the Mariners offense starts with star right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki. The future Hall of Famer has had a ridiculous career while manning right fielder in Seattle. He’s made an All-Star game each year he’s been in the league, won league Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in the same season (2001), has won 10 Gold Gloves, holds the single-season record for hits in a season (262), has led the league in hits seven times and has posted 200+ hit season each year of his career. If Albert Pujols is called “The Machine”, then Ichiro has to be known as “Mr. Consistency”. Even at 37-years old, there is no reason to think Ichiro is ready to slow down.
Last year’s big trade deadline deal the Mariners made involved moving pitcher Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers. The package of prospects the team got in return was headlined by first baseman Justin Smoak. After a rough 100-game introduction to Major League pitching last year, Smoak is off to a quick start in 2011. He’s hitting .291 with two home runs thus far in 55 at-bats. The Mariners will need Smoak to continue at his pace to provide this line-up with any sort of power in the middle. With second baseman Dustin Ackley tearing up minor league pitching on his way to the show, more youth is on their way to the Seattle infield.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, the compliments and hope tend to stop right there with the remainder of the 25-man roster. Brendan Ryan, 29, is the only other starter at the Major League level under 30 along side Justin Smoak. Five of the nine regular starters are hitting under .200 for Eric Wedge’s bunch, and Smoak’s .291 is as close to .300 as any regular.
In the rotation, lefty Erik Bedard continues to underwhelm as his ERA has ballooned to over 7.70. Two other lefties, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, are nice organizational pieces, but neither has any true front of the line potential. The bullpen is still without closer David Aardsma, who is recovering from an arm injury suffered last season.
Looking at the Mariners this season, its hard to envision them finishing anywhere besides the basement of the AL West. They will have Dustin Ackley up at some point this season to add a little pop to their line-up, but there are too many holes everywhere on this roster to think that major progress will be made this season. Its hard to watch a team waste a talent like Felix Hernandez on such a bad offense, but that’s a process that Mariners will have to go through in order to get back to their glory days of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez.
There is plenty of work to be done in order to get to that point. But, in baseball, anything is possible.