I am well aware that we’re in the infancy of Spring Training, but what else are we going to do for the next few weeks but speculate, speculate, speculate?
Therefore, without further adieu, I give you what I think will be YOUR Seattle Mariners in 2011 (at least, before injuries, cuts, trades, surprise retirements, and jail time set in).
We’ll start with the Starters:
- Felix Hernandez
- Erik Bedard
- Jason Vargas
- Doug Fister
- Nate Robertson
First thing’s first: that fifth starter is easily the weakest position on the team; you better come out of the block on fire if you hope to keep your job after the first couple months. Because we have hot shot Michael Pineda – who SHOULD be the unquestioned fifth starter, but won’t be because if we start him out in AAA, his years don’t start counting against the organization (in other words, if he started out the season with the big ballclub, he would be a free agent a year sooner, after team control finally ends).
Also, nobody is saying Nate Robertson has anything won; he’s on a minor league contract after all. There will be a 3-way battle (sans Pineda) between him, Luke French, and David Pauley. First place gets to rent the fifth starter job, second place gets to be our bullpen long man (and pitch every 11 days or so), and third place gets to go to Tacoma. And, since Pauley and French are already on the active roster, Robertson will have to heavily impress in Spring Training to be retained for the season.
On to the bullpen (with one minor note that David Aardsma WILL be our closer, but since he just had hip surgery, he might miss the first full month of the season; for the sake of argument, I’m including him in the following projection):
- Closer: David Aardsma
- 8th Inning: Brandon League
- 7th Inning: Chris Ray
- Set Up: Josh Lueke
- Set Up: Dan Cortes
- Set Up: Josh Flores
- Long Reliever: Luke French
My guess is, with French’s stability towards the end of last season, his hard work carries over to this Spring where he wins the backup job. He’s also a left hander, so that will be cool. Josh Flores is a Rule 5 guy Jackie Z decided to give a shot. He played last year in A-ball, but he has high upside, so I think we’ll do everything in our power to keep him. Lueke and Flores are both young up-and-comers who SHOULD win spots (one or both could run into the same Michael Pineda scenario where we try to delay their debuts with the big ballclub; if one has to start in Tacoma, I’d bet on Lueke, since Flores got to see some time with Seattle in September of last year). Chris Ray is one of a thousand relievers we signed to minor league deals, and his is one of the biggest names (he was an effective closer in recent years, coming off injuries). The other is Manny Delcarmen, and I have to believe one of those guys is done (my bet is Delcarmen, though he may have the better fastball). League will probably be our closer until DA returns (with probably Jamey Wright taking up DA’s spot in said meantime).
Like last year, there’s a lot to like about our pitching staff. Of course, it’s impossible to predict who’s going to tank out of nowhere like RRS did last year, but if things hold serve, having Felix, Bedard, and Vargas as our top three will be pretty impressive. If anyone regresses, it’ll definitely be Fister, who was unable to keep up his pre-DL production post-DL last year. He just doesn’t have the fastball, and if he’s not hitting spots with pinpoint precision, then he’s getting crushed and will likely be demoted once Pineda’s ready. Speaking of Pineda: when he enters the rotation and we can pump out Felix, Bedard, Vargas, and Pineda … WATCH OUT. A lot to like about those four guys.
The bullpen is even fascinating in its own right. Will DA return with a vengeance? Will League improve upon his up-and-down 2010, where at times he was unhittable and at others he was my worst nightmare? Will Ray or Delcarmen return to being awesome? Will Lueke and Cortes make impact names for themselves?
I don’t have nearly the glowing praise of the following hitters, but let’s take a look at the starting nine:
- Ichiro – RF
- Chone Figgins – 3B
- Justin Smoak – 1B
- Jack Cust – DH
- Franklin Gutierrez – CF
- Miguel Olivo – C
- Michael Saunders
- Jack Wilson – SS
- Brendan Ryan – 2B
Limited power! A lot of strikeouts! Low batting averages! Who could want anything more?
A key, as always, will be the 3-4-5 hitters. Will Smoak take the next step in becoming a bonafide major leaguer? Will Jack Cust be the designated hitter we’ve been lacking since 2004? Will Franklin Gutierrez adjust to how pitchers have adjusted to him? All three of these things need to happen for us to be an adequate ballclub; my guess is we see a lot of shuffling of the 3-4-5 spots like last year.
I see Miguel Olivo batting 6th primarily because he’s probably our 3rd best home run threat after Cust and Gutierrez. He might even be our 2nd best home run threat. Go ahead and let that sink in. I’ll wait.
If you haven’t already taken an overdose of sleeping pills, imagine the black hole our last three spots will be (don’t get up, I’ll go get the bottle). Ye gods; I have nothing positive to say about any of those guys so I won’t say anything at all.
Our bench is looking like this:
- Milton Bradley – LF/DH
- Adam Moore – C
- Adam Kennedy
- Ryan Langerhans
My guess is Bradley – because of his contract – and Moore – because we have to develop SOMEBODY at catcher after spending so many high draft picks on them – are locks to make the team. Adam Kennedy is in a dogfight with Josh Wilson and a bevy of other crappy infielders for that bench spot. My guess is his old batting form returns enough in Spring Training to earn him a job, only to suck balls once the calendar flips to April (a la Eric Byrnes last year). Ryan Langerhans is in a similar dogfight with such exciting names as Gabe Gross and Jody Gerut for the backup outfielder spot. I think he’ll pull it out because … I dunno, I just like him I guess. And because his last name reminds me of Jagerbombs.
Of note is Dustin Ackley, who will also be a Michael Pineda-esque casualty (only to be brought up mid-season like the other young’uns). On the one hand, I understand the financial aspect of getting these potential rising stars for an extra year; on the other, this team is HELLA-boring when the kids are in AAA. Assuming, of course, that we lose upwards of 60% of our games again. Which likely WILL happen.
So, that’s that; we’ll see how right I am. By the way, I’m still not ready for baseball to start. Maybe a little Spring Training buzz will light my fire.