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2012 Preview: Seattle Mariners

MESA, AZ - MARCH 8: Jesus Montero #63 of the Seattle Mariners bats during the game against the Chicago Cubs at HoHoKam Stadium on March 8, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - MARCH 8: Jesus Montero #63 of the Seattle Mariners bats during the game against the Chicago Cubs at HoHoKam Stadium on March 8, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
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So far in this series, I've looked at five clubs -- the Nationals, Jays, Rangers, Rays, and Cardinals. I'm doing this in reverse alphabetical order, but so far, it happens to be a pretty good collection of teams. Now we get to the Mariners, who, quite frankly, aren't good. They've finished with a losing record in six of the last eight years, and barring a miracle, they'll add on a seventh year in 2012.

The offense, obviously, is a big weakness for Seattle. To get a sense of this, all you need to do is browse through the hitters' ZiPS projections. Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero are projected to lead the team with wOBAs of .336 and .331, respectively. Just five other hitters are projected to clear .300. And then there's Chone Figgins, who posted a sub-.500 OPS in 2011, and Ichiro Suzuki, whose numbers took a nosedive last season (82 wRC+). There's some upside, particularly with the aforementioned Ackley and Montero. And Ichiro and Figgins could both have bounceback seasons (frankly, it's hard to imagine them being much worse than they were last season). Don't forget Justin Smoak, either. Keith Law of ESPN recently ran through a list of six former top prospects whose futures he still believes in, and Smoak was one of them. He has yet to produce at the major-league level (a career 94 OPS+ is rather terrible for a first baseman), but it's worth noting that he just turned 25 a few months ago.

In any event, this is an offense that ranked dead last in the majors in hitting last season, and they aren't going to be a whole lot better this year. Their lineup is, however, chock full of intriguing players, for whatever that's worth. In addition to all the aforementioned hitters, there's Michael Saunders -- ranked by Baseball America as the 30th best prospect back in 2010, Mike Carp (another 25-year-old with upside), Trayvon Robinson, and Kyle Seager. Though this offense certainly won't hit well, as a whole, it will assuredly be an interesting group of hitters to follow (particularly the high-upside young talent).

The Mariners rotation, of course, sent Michael Pineda to New York in the deal that brought them Montero, so they no longer have that strong, young one-two punch of Felix/Pineda. Instead, it's looking like Jason Vargas will be the number-two starter; he's solid, a notch above average, but he's more of a middle-of-the-rotation type of starter. Or perhaps not. Vargas made some adjustments back in early September, and ended up finishing the year on a strong note. Whether this will actually translate into a more successful 2012 remains to be seen, but there's reason to be hopeful.

The rest of the rotation will likely be filled out by Kevin Millwood, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Hector Noesi. Millwood allowed only eight walks in nine starts for the Rockies last season, and despite otherwise mediocre peripherals, was actually pretty decent. He is, however, 37 years old. Iwakuma missed time back in 2006 and 2007 with various injuries, and he battled shoulder injuries last year, but if he's healthy, he'll be a very nice (and cheap, might I add, at $1.5M guaranteed) addition. It's relatively hard to know what to expect from a pitcher coming over from Japan, but the projection systems all seem to peg him for an ERA around 4.00 with a very low walk rate. Finally, there's Hector Noesi, who came over in the Montero deal. Given his consistent track record of success in the minors, it's within the realm of possibility that he could be a 2-to-3 win pitcher next year. Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan will probably each make a fair share of starts for Seattle in 2012 as well. All told, this rotation looks like it'll be somewhere between middle-of-the-pack and above-average in 2012.

If George Sherrill can continue to do what he's done his entire career and Hong-Chih Kuo has a resurgent 2012, the bullpen should be murder on lefties. Brandon League stepped up in the closer role last year, and having allowed only eight unintentional walks, was able to maintain a sub-3 FIP. The two relievers Shawn, Camp and Kelley, meanwhile, are both projected for sub-4 ERAs. And there's the pair of prospects, Chance Ruffin and Tom Wilhelmsen, who will also solidify the 'pen. Nobody really stands out here, but it's still a fairly solid collection of relievers.

The Mariners might be the worst team in the American League in 2012. In fact, Clay Davenport's projections have them finishing at an AL-worst 70-92. Even with the addition of a second wild card spot, it's hard to see them going anywhere this year, especially given how strong the Rangers and Angels look. But between Ichiro, Jesus Montero, Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley, et al., this will nonetheless be an extraordinarily interesting team to follow.