AL West preview: Seattle Mariners


Leading up to the start of spring training, we’ll be taking a look at each of Texas’ three AL West divisional opponents. Let’s get started with the Seattle Mariners:

What’s good

Hard to find many positives on a team that went 61-101 last year and finished last in the AL West, but one good thing is for sure: Felix Hernandez. Hernandez led the American League in ERA (2.27) and innings pitched (249.2) and was second in strikeouts (232) and WHIP (1.06) but because of Seattle’s MLB-worst .236 team batting average and league low 513 runs scored, King Felix could get little to no run support and finished the season with a 13-12 record. Still, though, the 24-year-old’s 2010 performance was enough to earn him the AL Cy Young award. His presence in a weak starting rotation (Hernandez was the only Mariner starter to finish the year with a winning record) along with Ichiro’s presence in a weak offense (.315 avg., 214 hits in 2010) look to be the only bright spots Seattle can truly count on in 2011.

What’s bad

Where to start? The offense finished dead last in the American League in all 12 team offensive categories. After Ichiro, their second highest batting average on the team belonged to Chone Figgins at .259. Their leading RBI guy was Franklin Gutierrez with 64 and their leader in home runs was Russell Branyan with 15. Even if Hernandez replicates his 2010 season in 2011 and even if guys like Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have ERAs somewhere in the threes, it still might not be enough to carry a team with an anemic offense as bad as Seattle’s.

Who’s new

Jack Cust- Cust’s goal is to hit the ball out of the ballpark. On every pitch and every swing that’s what he’s trying to do. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the powerless, runless, and all together hopeless Seattle offense. Cust will serve as the starting designated hitter and barring injury he’ll get enough at-bats to be a legitimate 25-HR, 100-RBI guy, which is exactly what the Mariners need. Granted his batting average will be low and his strikeouts will be high but if he could muster up a .250-.260 average he’ll be considered Cobb-esque in Seattle standards.

Brendan Ryan- Ryan will be penciled in as the starting second baseman after being traded to Seattle from St. Louis. The former Cardinal shortstop had his worst year offensively in 2010 batting a low .223 with an on-base percentage of only .279. Not quite sure why Seattle would trade for a guy like Ryan, especially seeing they had to give up RHP prospect Maikel Clato who has hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Unless he can replicate his 2009 season when he hit .292, he’ll probably just fall in line with the rest of the Seattle lineup as a low average, low RBI hitter.

Who’s gone

Jose Lopez- The 27-year-old third baseman was traded to the Rockies in December. He hit .239 with 10 home runs and 38 RBI.

Russell Branyan- After being traded to Seattle from Cleveland half way throught the season last year, Branyan played well and hit 15 home runs before being granted free agency in the offseason. Branyan was the only thing Seattle had that resembled a power hitter in 2010 but the addition of Cust should give the Mariners what they had in Branyan and more.

Prospect watch

Justin Smoak- The first base job will be Smoak’s to lose heading into spring training so its hard to still consider him a prospect, but he’s still in the developing stages of his game. He was regarded as one of the best offensive prospects in baseball going into 2010 when he was with Texas and was projected by many to be a solid, power producer for years to come but when the Rangers called him up from AAA he struggled and was eventually dealt to Seattle as a part of the Cliff Lee deal on July 9th. He hit .239 (30 points higher than his average in Texas) in 30 games with the Mariners but was sent to the minors for a month and a half of that time. This will only be his first full season in the major leagues but Seattle has to have Smoak start to resemble at least a glimpse of middle-of-the-lineup power presence so many thinks he can be.

Dustin Ackley- Ackley, the 2nd pick in the 2009 draft, hit .424 and earned MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League this past fall and is ranked by as the fifth best  prospect in baseball. He’ll most likely start the season at AAA-Tacoma but Mariner fans anticipate Ackley will be called up to Seattle sometime early in the season. He’ll have to get through veteran Adam Kennedy and Ryan for the job at second base, but if the Seattle offense struggles early on like it did all of last year, then the Mariners will have no choice but to call up Ackley.

Projected record

It’ll be hard for the Mariner offense to get much worse than it did last year. The addition of Jack Cust should help a lot and third baseman Chone Figgins should improve upon a career low .259 batting average from last year. Plus, young centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez should continue to develop his offensive game as well as continue to play top-notch defense and Felix Hernandez should continue his dominance on the mound. The Mariners will improve slightly, especially with new manager Eric Wedge, but it’ll be hard for them to compete in a very competitive AL West…75-87…4th in the AL West