2006 W-L: 78-84 (4th place)
2006 Pythag: 78-84
Sean Burroughs, Chris Reitsma, Horacio Ramirez, Matt Perisho, Aaron Small, Justin Lehr, Arthur Rhodes, Jeff Weaver, Jose Guillen, Sean White, Miguel Batista, Jose Vidro, Rey Ordonez
Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro, Rafael Soriano, Carl Everett, Eduardo Perez, Bobby Livingston, Chris Snelling, Emiliano Fruto, Clint Nageotte
The Mariners In a Nutshell:
Someone who knew nothing about Mariners GM Bill Bavasi might have looked at this team in October and thought that it could be salvaged for 2007. While the M's had to replace three-fifths of their rotation, Gil Meche and Jamie Moyer were barely better than average starters, while Joel Pineiro was far worse. Most of the offense is back, and a few of those players might even be expected to improve on their '06 performance.
Then, Bavasi struck. He filled up the rotation with Miguel Batista (expensive and mediocre), Jeff Weaver (expensive and mediocre, if you're an optimist), and Horacio Ramirez (mediocre and injury-prone). The third of those required giving up Rafael Soriano, who is finally healthy and looking dominant. Instead of wondering whether this M's team can hang with the big boys in the AL West, fans are left hoping to pick up a game or two on last year's record.
Let's start with the ugly. Last year, Mariners DHs had an aggregate line of 233/298/359. These are the guys who are paid to do nothing but hit. By contrast, Adam Jones's MLE line was 263/307/426. That's not good, but it's better than what Carl Everett and company managed. By comparison, the average team got 261/354/483 from their DH.
I don't need to tell you that's bad. But I do feel obliged to show you just how bad it is. Using the quick-n-dirty runs created formula (AB*OBP*SLG), Mariners DHs last year were worth 61 runs. The average team got 98 runs from that position. That's almost four wins! (Adjust for Safeco, and you probably still end up with a three-win difference.) In other words, if Everett had simply been average (or, perhaps, if Roberto Petagine had gotten a chance) the Mariners probably would've broken even last year. Just average!
Theoretically, it shouldn't be hard to get an average DH. Sure, you could spend $10M per year on Frank Thomas, but you don't need to do that to be able to count on average production. For that, you just need to put together a decent platoon--heck, Craig Wilson's career numbers are 265/354/480, and the Braves got him for peanuts. (Kind of like what they paid for Soriano.) Instead, Bavasi spent two prospects and several million bucks on Jose Vidro.
I don't need to belabor how ugly that deal was; it's been done better elsewhere. What's worth pointing out is that the M's are unlikely to improve much in the one position that a) they desperately needed to improve, and b) should have been the simplest to improve. If Vidro gets all 571 DH at-bats and lives up to his PECOTA forecast (273/338/380), he'll create 73 runs. That's an improvement, but a pretty lame one, especially for the price. (For the record, PECOTA projects Craig Wilson at about a win above that.)
The other change is the addition of Jose Guillen, along with Ichiro Suzuki's move to center field. Center was the other disaster area in the Mariners offense, a crime we can lay at the feet of Jeremy Reed and Willie Bloomquist. (Adam Jones didn't help in his 23 starts, but his punchlessness seems more forgiveable.) PECOTA projects Guillen to hit 260/310/432.
That's PECOTA's way of saying he could return to his 04/05 level of production, or he could discover he'll never hit again. Indeed, his 75th percentile projection is much more optimistic, at 281/334/476, while his 25th and 10th percentile projections suggest he'll be out baseball soon, perhaps playing golf with Carl Everett.
The rest of the offense is not nearly so interesting. No one seems primed for a breakout season, or for a disastrous fall back to earth. I'd be astonished if Raul Ibanez OPS's 870 again, but he probably won't suddenly turn into, say, Carl Everett. I wouldn't be surprised if Jose Lopez took another step forward, though PECOTA only likes him to the tune of another seven points of slugging percentage.
The M's were 7th last year in runs per game on the road, and this offense ought to be able to repeat that. The advantage of having Vidro (maybe "advantage" is too strong a word) and the possible improvement from Guillen could push them up a couple more notches. It's a good enough offense to keep Seattle in the race. The rest of the team...that's a different story.
There's little question that Seattle's rotation will be mediocre; having Jarrod Washburn, Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista, and Horacio Ramirez around will see to that. The bigger issues are the pitchers in front of and behind those four.
This year, there's little doubt that Felix Hernandez is the ace of the staff, and there's no Jamie Moyer around to prevent him from starting on opening day. At first glance, his 4.95 ERA from last year doesn't look very appetizing, but you don't have to go far beyond that number to be reminded of what a special pitcher King Felix is.
He'll turn 21 the first week of the season, and he's already spent a year and a half in the big leagues. (For a pitcher, that's unheard of.) His FIP--an approximation of ERA based on his peripheral stats--was 3.99 last year, and his xFIP, a more detailed attempt to adjust for peripherals, was 3.56. Unless there's something really odd going on with the batted balls Hernandez gives up, his true talent level is probably much closer to 3.56 than 4.95.
PECOTA agrees, forecasting a 3.64 ERA for him. Because it's conservative for innings pitched (144, over 23 starts), that's still only single-digit wins, but it's easy to see just how important a player he could be. Better luck could've given him an additional few wins last year, and it seems reasonable to assume that he's still getting better.
The back end of the rotation offers some reason for optimism, as well. Both Jake Woods and Cha Seung Baek were better than average in their brief auditions last season. Whether they ought to go into the season behind Weaver and Ramirez on the depth chart is an open question, but if they do, they'll give Seattle one of the best #6/#7 combos in baseball. It's likely Seattle will need more of a contribution from starters beyond their front five this year, so it should be reassuring to have solid options available.
As uninteresting as this rotation is from #2-#5, it's those guys who will determine how successful the unit is. Washburn's ERA+s for the last five years have been 138, 96, 99, 131, and 93. My gut tells me to expect more in the 90s, but another one of Jarrod's good years would be worth a couple more wins. Batista is a known quantity, but between them, Ramirez and Weaver could give you anything from 65 league-average starts to four months on the DL and an expensive DFA.
Summing it up, it's reasonable to assume Felix will be one of the best pitchers in the league, Washburn and Batista will be a league-average starter, one of Weaver and Ramirez will be a little below average, and the other one will be a disaster. That leaves 20-30 starts for Woods or Baek, which will go pretty well. Add it all up, and you've got an average rotation with a little upside. (And no, I'm not referring to Jim Parque.)
I hate making lame proclamations like this is February, but it's appropriate: the Mariners pen could be quite good this year, or it could stink. Or, you know, it could be anything in between. It seems reasonable to count on J.J. Putz to be excellent and Julio Mateo to be decent, but after that, anything goes.
I love the Rhodes signing--in fact, I'm shocked that no one offered him a major league deal. I've written elsewhere that he could turn out to be a steal; he's only one year removed from a stellar performance, and his strikeout rate hasn't faltered. Then again, it's tough to speak confidently about a 37-year-old pitcher coming off a 5.91 ERA. The guy could be done. I don't think he is, though; he won't replace Rafael Soriano, but he will turn out to be a solid late-inning option.
I'm not willing to say the same about Reitsma. It's nice that doctors discovered his extra muscle (insert Antonio Alfonseca joke here), but that seems like the kind of thing it would take a while to adjust to. The Mariners may be fine sticking him in the middle innings for a while, but they're paying for more, and planning on more. Maybe I'm overly optimistic about Rhodes, but I'd be much more confident counting on Arthur as my setup man than Reitsma.
George Sherill had a decent season as the M's lefty specialist, and seems like a decent bet to do as well this year. Woods is a nice luxury to have as a swingman, though the team has to plan on having him in the rotation at least some of the time. Huber was great in 16.2 innings last year, but his minor league track record makes him difficult to get too excited about.
After losing Bobby Livingston and Emiliano Fruto, the M's have a little less depth for the 5th, 6th, and 7th bullpen arms, but the bigger concern ought to be how they will replace Soriano. Not only was Soriano the only credible setup man, he was the only guy in the pen who could step in if Putz got hurt. Now that role descends to Reitsma, which as Braves fans can tell you, is enough to make you want to trade for...well, Rafael Soriano.
Returning to where I started: if everything breaks right, including Reitsma's health and effectiveness, it will look like Bavasi put together a strong relief corps. It wouldn't take much to cause the whole thing to fall apart, and the team will rely on a lot of question marks to get them through the 7th and 8th innings. It's tough to see this bullpen being as effective as it was last year.
All Together Now
I'm not sure that the Mariners could've taken their existing budget and leftover personnel and put together an 88-90 win team that would compete in the AL West. However, I am sure that Bavasi could've done better.
Barring injury, the offense ought to improve a little, while the bullpen will take a step back. If everything breaks right for the rotation--meaning 150 or more starts, mostly decent, from the front five--that's the one area in which this team could make themselves competitive. It would take career years from three or four starters, though, to push this team into the high 80s.
Instead, I think we'll see the chase for .500. The Mariners will battle the Rangers for last place in a close division, and when one of the Mariners young relievers starts to excel, rival general managers will start licking their chops.