2008 Seattle Mariners Team Preview

Brad Wilkerson replaces Jose Guillen (AP Photo)

After winning 88 games with smoke and mirrors in 2007, the Seattle Mariners made a significant upgrade to their starting rotation, but endured losses both on offense and in the bullpen. What lies in store for 2008?


The Seattle Mariners, who have not won the American League West since 2001, enter 2008 considering themselves a legitimate contender to win their division. Last offseason, Bill Bavasi – buoyed by an expert-defying wins total in the 2007 season – dealt the farm for left-handed ace Erik Bedard and he signed Carlos Silva to a four year, 48-million dollar contract in an attempt to fortify the rotation. Pitching and defense wins championships, right?

2007 Standings - AL West W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Los Angeles Angels 94 68 0.580 - 54-27 40-41 822 731 90 72
Seattle Mariners 88 74 0.543 6.0 49-32 39-42 794 813 79 83
Oakland Athletics 76 86 0.469 18.0 40-41 36-45 741 758 79 83
Texas Rangers 75 87 0.463 19.0 47-34 28-53 816 844 79 83


Since 2004, the Seattle Mariners have been in a rebuilding phase that seems to have ended with their trading of top-prospect Adam Jones and signing of Silva. The Mariners, clearly, believe that they are past the point of plotting the future. Have they? Are the second-place Seattle Mariners of last year for real?
Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Erik Bedard RHP
Carlos Silva RHP
Miguel Cairo IF
Brad Wilkerson OF
R.A. Dickey RHP
Greg Norton IF/OF
a
Departed Pos.
Jose Guillen RF
George Sherrill RHP
John Parrish LHP
Jeff Weaver RHP
Adam Jones OF

Catcher
2007 Starter    Kenji Johjima
Projected 2008 Starter   Kenji Johjima

Johjima, who is 31 years old, has quickly become a favorite backstop of mine for his grit on the field and his skill in dealing with pitchers. At the plate, he has decent power and hits for a good average (for a catcher). Last season, his homerun totals decreased, but his doubles increased, his OPS+ remained almost unchanged (103 to 101), and it is fair to expect similar production out of Johjima. Slated to bat seventh in the Mariners' lineup, Johjima will be a source of consistency for the Seattle Mariners.

First Base
2007 Starter   Richie Sexson
Projected 2008 Starter   Richie Sexson

Sexson is a mystery. His batting average and his power numbers fell off the face of the earth last year, and while I'm inclined to believe it to be a permanent change in his game, I am not too quick to make that judgment, as Sexson has seen his homerun totals fluctuate before and bounced back. A poor sign for Richie Sexson and the Seattle Mariners comes from his batting average, however. Excepting his injured 2004 season with Arizona, Sexson has never been so close to the Mendoza line, and he was only barely above it at .205. He's 33 years old, playing in a monster of a park, and it's hard to tell whether or not he will rebound, but I'd bet against it. I expect this to be sub-standard production for the Mariners in 2008.

Surprise Candidate
Jose Lopez
Disappointment Candidate
Jose Vidro
Second Base
2007 Starter   Jose Lopez
Projected 2008 Starter   Jose Lopez

Lopez is only 24 years old, and there's much room for him to improve on his 2007 numbers, which were more in line with his 2005 and 2004 totals than his current career-best 2006. John Dewan's Plus/Minus system ranks Lopez' defense to be slightly above-average, and the Mariner pitching staff, particularly Carlos Silva, should appreciate his solid glove work very much. Lopez should be a plus, especially if he continues to grow and develop as a hitter, but since he is likely to hit ninth, he should be productive. If he hits second, as some have speculated, it might hinder his growth as a hitter, and he might be a liability.


Jose Lopez
Third Base
2007 Starter   Adrian Beltre
Projected 2008 Starter   Adrian Beltre

Defensively, Adrian Beltre should be an asset for the Seattle Mariners. The Gold Glove winner should continue to play solid D for the Mariners, and the pitching staff will be grateful for his presence at the hot corner. Offensively, it is hard to predict what Beltre will do. Almost certainly, he will not come anywhere near his career-year total with the Dodgers in 2004, but an .800 OPS, a .265-ish batting average, and around 30 homeruns sound about right to me, judging from his upward trend over the last couple of years.

Shortstop
2007 Starter   Yuniesky Betancourt
Projected 2008 Starter   Yuniesky Betancourt

Betancourt rates as a mediocre defensive shortstop and might be a liability on the field for the Seattle Mariners, but offensively, he is a solid player. Not great; he won't wow anyone, but he is a good, consistent hitter who will contribute to the lineup.

Outfield
2007 Starters Raul Ibanez, Jose Guillen, Ichiro Suzuki
Projected 2008 Starters Raul Ibanez, Brad Wilkerson, Ichiro Suzuki

What can be said about Ichiro that hasn't already been said? This ever-graceful, cannon-wielding defender will win another Gold Glove next year (barring injury) and deserve it. Offensively, he will get over 200 hits yet again and will be a force now and into the future for the Mariners at the top of the order.

What about the rest of the outfield? Frankly, I think it is a terrible alignment, defensively and offensively. Wilkerson and Ibanez should consider themselves fortunate to have Ichiro covering as much ground as he does or else their weaknesses would be further exposed. As it stands, they will hurt their pitchers and fail to deliver offensively. Simply put, Wilkerson is in serious decline (not that he was ever particularly good) and Ibanez, while adequate with the bat, can not make up for his poor defense or his lack of significant production. It should be noted that this is largely a powerless outfield; when you're not sure you'll get fifty homeruns out of your outfield, there's something wrong.

Designated Hitter
2007 Starter   Jose Vidro
Projected 2008 Starters   Jose Vidro

At US Cellular Field, one of my two hometown ballparks, my favorite announcement is: "Designated hitter, Jim, TOOOOOOE-MAY." Jose Vidro? Not so much. It is my opinion that he overachieved in terms of reaching base last year and his power numbers speak for themselves. Jose Vidro is not an asset to any ballclub at this stage in his career and he should not, under any circumstances, be a designated hitter.

Mariners Fun Fact
The 2007 Mariners won nine more games than predicted by their runs scored and runs allowed, most in franchise history, surpassing even the mark of plus-seven attained by the 116-win 2001 squad
Bench
2007 Crew C Jamie Burke, INF, 1B Ben Broussard, INF/OF Willie Bloomquist
Projected 2008 Bench C Jamie Burke, INF Miguel Cairo, INF/OF Mike Morse, INF/OF Greg Norton, INF/OF Willie Bloomquist, OF Jeremy Reed

This bench is terrible and unlikely to provide much of anything. Jamie Burke should watch out for Torii Hunter in LA, but other than that, this crew is not deserving of much playing time.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Felix Hernandez, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn, Jeff Weaver, Horatio Ramirez, Cha Seung Baek, Ryan Feierabend
Projected 2008 Starters Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista, Jarrod Washburn, Cha Seung Baek


JJ Putz

This is an excellent pitching staff that will reap benefits from Safeco Field and a weak division. If Washburn can regain something resembling his 2002 form and Batista can continue being a solid and effective pitcher out of the fourth hole, this rotation might be able to take the Seattle Mariners somewhere. But I consider that unlikely, as I do not believe their offense to be capable of scoring the number of runs it will take to win their division. The pitching staff should make it easier on the hitters, but then again – maybe the lineup will make it difficult on the pitchers.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers RHP J.J. Putz (closer), RHP George Sherrill, RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, RHP Sean Green
Projected 2008 Relievers RHP J.J. Putz (closer), RHP Brandon Morrow, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, RHP Sean Green, RHP Chris Reitsma, RHP R.A. Dickey

They are a solid bunch, with Putz being perhaps the best closer in baseball (at least for a season) and the other pitchers all being good pieces for a bullpen to have in them. Bullpens are volatile, however, and so it is impossible to predict how good they will remain, but these are as safe a bet as any. Beware injuries, however.

Outlook for the Season

The pitching staff is poised for a fine year and should provide ample reason to watch the Mariners play baseball, but the lineup figures to be mediocre and it should cost them. It is very possible that the Mariners overachieve again next year, but it is not a sure or safe bet. Still, anything can happen when you have a quality pitching staff top to bottom, so I wouldn't be surprised if they fade down the street, nor if they get into a dogfight with the Angels.


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