(Check out No. 29, the San Diego Padres, here.)
Last year was a year to forget for the Seattle Mariners. They finished dead last in the Major Leagues in hits, runs scored, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. The Mariners were able to win games last year with their solid pitching staff. Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda led the staff that finished with a 3.90 ERA. Before last season, the Mariners seemed poised to have a strong rotation for years to come(Felix, Pineda, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister). But the M’s struggled last year, and they traded 28-year-old Fister and rookie sensation Pineda within the past seven months. The Mariners recently let closer David Aardsma go into free agency where he eventually signed with the New York Yankees on Feb. 22.
The M’s did get some great hitting prospects in return for their pitchers (Most noticeably Jesus Montero and Casper Wells), but you can’t expect these guys to completely change the hitting culture in Seattle in one year. Moving Ichiro to third in the lineup should get some more runs for the Mariners, because he’ll finally be batting with runners on base. The lineup may be a little better, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be for the M’s to contend for an AL West title. Especially with how powerful the Angels’ and Rangers’ lineups will be in 2012.
Reason(s) for Optimism: Jesus Montero. The Mariners have been looking for a big bat for a while, and they may have finally found one in Montero. They paid a steep price for a guy that struggles defensively and will most likely be a DH, but he instantly improves this lineup.
Reason(s) for Concern: The two major concerns for the Mariners are their starting pitchers and having Chone Figgins bat leadoff. The starting rotation after King Felix and Jason Vargas is scary. The fact that the M’s are relying on Kevin Millwood to be a solid, No. 3 or No. 4 starter is not good. The starting pitching depth may be suspect, but it’s not nearly as bad as relying on Chone Figgins to bat leadoff. Figgins’ batting has rapidly gone downhill the past three years. (In 2009, he batted .298. In ’10, he batted .259. In ’11, he “batted” .188) Moving Ichiro down in the lineup only works if the players in front of him get on base.
Best Possible Scenario: Safeco Field lives up to its reputation as a pitcher’s park, giving the Mariners a chance to win low-scoring games. Ichiro gets 100+ RBIs in the three-hole and Montero and Franklin Gutierrez provide some much needed pop to the lineup. Unfortunately for Seattle, the LA Angels and Texas Rangers are so far ahead of the M’s offensively and defensively that the best I can see Seattle finishing is third in the West. Going .500 would be a good accomplishment.
Worst Possible Scenario: Jesus Montero turns out to be a bust, Chone Figgins somehow finds a way to bat under .100 (it’s possible) and the Mariners are out of playoff contention by the middle of May. The rough start makes the M’s sellers at the trade deadline and (look away M’s fans) they trade Felix Hernandez.
Chances of seeing the Mariners in the playoffs: Two percent. The Angels and Rangers are just too good.