It’s a preview, so I could easily bang this post out in my sleep (the only real requirement involves Being Totally & Completely Wrong). But, I read this little number from Larry Stone yesterday, and I couldn’t resist playing Copycat. For the record, Stone is MUCH more forgiving than I am (one would think it’d be the opposite, with the fan (me) figuring out ways as to how this squad will be a MILLION times better than last year’s, but I digress).
Let’s start with the Catcher position:
Olivo/Moore vs. Moore/Bard/Rob Johnson. This looks to be no contest in favor of 2011’s tandem. Rob Johnson was a waste of fucking life, Bard is no better than any other aging career backup (a.k.a. Rob Johnson in five years), and Moore briefly started to get things going, then he got hurt and never recovered. Olivo looks to be better than all of them combined, but then again what is that really saying about our 2010 catchers? At best, he’s top 2 in team OPS (again, what is THAT really saying about our team as a whole?); at worst he’s a Jose Lopez-like drain smack dab in the middle of the order. The horror.
Nevertheless, give the nod to 2011. I may have complained about the signing when it happened, but he’s going to be a crucial part of our success (or failure) this season, so I better get used to Miguel Olivo.
Smoak vs. Kotchman/Smoak. Stone gave the edge here to 2011, but I’m holding the damn phone. While I will TOTALLY grant you that this position couldn’t POSSIBLY get any worse (unless it were the DH position of a year ago), I’m still not so sold on Smoak. He’s going to have to prove it to me. Because if he comes out struggling (for whatever excuse you want to give: pressing too much, trying too hard, wanting to do too much, not staying within himself), he’s likely going to be benched and probably even sent down to Tacoma to “work on his swing”, whatever that means. Struggling begets struggling in this game, and if struggling leads to Smoak turning into Adam Kennedy, we’re going to WISH we still had Casey Kotchman to kick around.
Ergo, I’m saying this is Even and giving the edge to no one until Justin Smoak shows me otherwise.
Jack Wilson/Dustin Ackley vs. Figgins. Stone gave the edge to 2010, mostly based upon a marginally torrid second half out of Figgy. When “.286 after the All Star Break” is the barometer you’ve set for success, you know you’re gonna have a bad time. Personally, I like Jack Wilson. Yes he gets a bad rap for always getting injured (probably because he’s always getting injured), but when he’s healthy I think he’s quite effective! I mean, he’s no Luis Sojo, but the guy has been known to get hot at the plate every once in a while. Of course, he’s also been known to get equally as cold, but that’s neither here nor there. I like Jack’s bat a helluva lot more than I like Josh Wilson’s, and I might even like it even more than Brendan Ryan’s. As for Ackley, I think it’s a foregone conclusion he takes over second base for good, once the Mariners are officially 20 games out of first place (a.k.a. sometime in Early June). But, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily sold on Ackley The Rookie coming in and dominating. You know how I feel about rookies. Yes, I think they should get the most playing time on bad teams to show what they can do, but no, I don’t think they should be counted on to produce like All Stars.
I’m calling this one Even as well. I think Jack Wilson’s first half will be close to equal to Figgins’ second half last year; and I think Ackley’s second half will be close to equal to Figgins’ first half last year.
Brendan Ryan vs. Wilson/Wilson. I was going to make this a trifecta of Infield Evens, but I think Stone convinced me to give the edge to 2011. Look, Josh Wilson’s a likeable guy, and he filled in admirably last year (especially on the defensive side of things; we never missed a beat with the glovework between the two Wilsons), but he’s more Mascot or Team Pet than he is a Major League ballplayer. Brendan Ryan is a Major League ballplayer. No, I don’t expect him to set Safeco Field’s fences on fire with all his doubles power, but he’s got to be worth more than an injury-plagued Wilson and a singles-slapping Wilson.
Advantage 2011, but just BARELY.
Figgins vs. Lopez. The theme of 2011, what everyone is banking on is: It Can’t Get Any Worse. So many players last year were at their absolute worst, including Bradley, Lopez, Kotchman, Griffey, and yes, Figgins. Most of those players are no longer with the team; ALL of those players were priced to move for any trusting club to take off of our hands. BUT, Figgins remains. And I’ll go ahead and bite: Figgins COULDN’T POSSIBLY be any worse than he was in 2010. Unless you think his career is over, and I don’t. NOT because of his “hot” second half last year, but because he’s had these anomaly-type seasons before and has always bounced back. I’ll even go so far as to believe the switch back to third base will be beneficial. But, there’s no way he’s done. I’m going to leave it in the hands of Faith on this one.
Lopez, meanwhile, is done. Just ask the Colorado Rockies. Advantage 2011.
Bradley/Saunders vs. Bradley/Saunders. I’m tweaking this from Stone’s version, as I believe Saunders will eventually stick in Left Field. Something tells me he’s going to turn it on this year at the plate. I do agree with Stone that (like third base), we couldn’t possibly do any worse, but there’s no way Bradley survives a full season of playing in the field. SOMEONE else will force a platoon, and why not Saunders? In 2010, he finally showed a little of that power he’s always had; now, if he can just manage to get a hit in better than 1/5 of his at bats, we just might have something here.
To 2011! To Michael Saunders realizing his full potential (finally)!
Guti vs. Guti. Stone has the edge to 2010 based solely on the fact that we don’t know what’s wrong with Guti’s stomach and we don’t know how long it’s going to keep him out. I agree wholeheartedly that this is of utmost concern – in fact, it might be the biggest story of the season that no one is really talking about. What if they NEVER find out what’s wrong with Guti? What if he tries to eventually play through the pain only to struggle like he did last year? Guti is a core guy! He’s a building block to what’s supposed to be a winning ball club (in a few years)! We NEED this guy!
I’m calling this a Draw based on the simple fact that I’m going to be optimistic in this one instance. Guti started strong, then faded badly in 2010; I’m banking on the reverse this year.
Ichiro vs. Ichiro. How could this NOT be even. Stone and I are of the same mind here. Give the man 200 hits and a Gold Glove and GET THE HELL OUT OF HIS WAY!
Cust vs. Branyan/Griffey/Sweeney. Stone likes Cust. I like EVEN! Essentially, Cust IS Branyan, except without the pure power. I believe if you took 2010 Branyan, played him all year at DH with the 2010 Mariners, they would have almost identical lines except Branyan would have a few more homers than 2011 Cust. Yes, Griffey was complete and total dead weight, but don’t forget Sweeney was a man possessed when he finally got the nod (and before he went down with back spasms). Sweeney, in his month of terror, was better than every hitter except for Ichiro last year. Man, I miss Sweeney. I miss the hugs!
I like Cust, but I don’t like him THAT much. And I think his strikeouts will start to outweigh his power and his walks over the course of a full season. Even Steven.
Overall, my impressions aren’t great, but they’re equal to or better than 2010 across the board. Mostly going on faith in this one. I’m going to trust Olivo has enough pop to make up for what Lopez was SUPPOSED to give us last year. I’m going to assume Figgins will return to glory and Bradley will … not fall below the Mendoza Line once and for all. I’m going to go out on a limb and hope for progress out of Smoak and Saunders, and I’m going to pray to the Pepto gods that Guti gets over whatever it is he’s got. I’m going to perish the thought of Ichiro finally starting to show his age, and finally I’m going to not expect too much out of our middle infielders (and accordingly be pleasantly surprised).
Do I think we will be better? Compared to what? The sheer abomination that was 2010? We were LITERALLY the worst hitting ballclub in the modern era! How could we NOT be better?
Well, let’s see. Maybe Ichiro’s bat speed takes a dive and he hits .240. Suddenly, he’s not legging out those infield singles anymore and what little power he had completely vanishes. Smoak and Saunders continue to struggle, putting them mere steps away from being out of baseball. Miguel Olivo is our home run leader with 16. Jack Cust turns into Richie Sexson-heavy. Jack Wilson gets injured in May and Adam Kennedy is Eric Byrnes Redux. Brendan Ryan remains Brendan Ryan; Milton Bradley remains Milton Bradley. Chone Figgins discovers he’s got the full blown Mariners Curse. Franklin Gutierrez never fully recovers from his stomach ailment. And with a rash of constant injuries beleaguering our lineup from top to bottom, we’re forced to play a bunch of AAA guys who seriously are NOT ready for Prime Time.
I guess that’s how we could be worse. Dear God I hope we’re not worse.
And I don’t REALLY think we will be. But, that doesn’t mean I believe we’ll be all that much better. I wish I knew what amount of wins it would take to guarantee that Jackie Z keeps his job, because I want to see what he can do next winter when he’s actually got some money to throw around. Does it even matter? Is 70 the magic number? Is it 75? Or is it simply NOT losing another 100 games while showing marginal improvement from the guys who are believed to be the Future of the Franchise?
I hope it’s that. Because I think that’s something we can actually accomplish. There’s a lot to like with what Z is doing for our farm system. We’ve improved tremendously since he got here AND we have the Number 2 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. That’s another rising star not long for the minors.
I’m getting off topic here. Do I think we’re better? Yes, but not by much. The outfield is exactly the same as last year. Exactly. The infield is basically the same as it was for the second half of last year, just shuffled around a bit. Brendan Ryan is pretty much the same type of power threat as Jose Lopez was in his underperforming last season. Cust is Branyan, meaning our only real improvement is Olivo over Rob Johnson/Josh Bard. We’re 1 man better (with a lot of hoping and praying that everyone else who did poorly last year improves). That should amount to more overall wins, but not many.
Record Prediction: 65-97. AL West Finish: 4th Place. Draft Pick in 2012: 4.