Saturday, April 09, 2005

New Season - Time for a New Start

Well, that was a season of gross inactivity.

Fortunately, we can't say the same for the Mariners. After watching as much Spring baseball as I could, and attending Opening Day in some awesome new seats (section 237, row 3), I am convinced that (a) Adrian Beltre won't be too negatively affected by Safeco, and (b) Richie Sexson has enough power to hit it over the left field bleachers and onto Royal Brougham, regardless of prevailing winds. Also, please ignore the collective hand-wringing over Jeremy Reed going 0-for-his-first-13 at-bats this year. The kid has a fine approach at the plate, and he will come around nicely (I just wish I could say the same thing about Miguel Olivo). Finally, Ichiro! is Ichiro! I know I am about the eleven-millionth person to make this observation, but I think he is the one guy who would not surprise anybody if he made a run at baseball's most hallowed records -- Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, and becoming the first man since Ted Williams to hit .400.

Now, if only we could do something about that pitching.

I truly believe the Mariners will be better this year. Actually, it's hard not to improve on a 99-loss season, but I mean "improvement" in a more meaningful way than that -- .500, or maybe a game or two better than .500. Still, this is not a team that should contend. I know that stranger things have happened, and I'm not ruling it out or anything, but until we address that pitching, I don't expect contention out of this team, and I will be very happy with a .500 club.

It says something about your staff when your Opening Day starter is a 42-year old change-up artist. No disrespect to Jamie, but he is not exactly "ace" material, even if I do think he will bounce back nicely this year, to a 14-15 win season. Now, granted, if Joel Pineiro was healthy, he would have gotten the Opening Day start, but does anybody really think Joel is a #1? I think it is a stretch to call him even a #2. Let's face it: the Mariners have an entire starting rotation filled with once and future #3 starters. That may be good enough to get to .500 (if they stay healthy -- and please, Bobby Madritsch, get well soon), but it isn't the kind of staff you contend with.

Next year? That's a different story. I haven't given up on Clint Nageotte, or Travis Blackley. At some point in 2006, those guys may be ready to help the club. But, better than that, Felix Hernandez has potential "ace" written all over him, and he may be ready this year. In fact, I put the over/under on his major-league arrival at July 15 -- his first post-AAA-All-Star Game turn in the Rainers' rotation (of course, I expect he will pitch in the AAA All-Star Game, but . . .). Add to that a healthy Rafael Soriano, and you have significantly upgraded both your starting staff and your bullpen. There are not a lot of good free agent pitchers coming available this next offseason (it's a list populated with guys like Paul Byrd, Tim Wakefield, Kevin Millwood, Kevin Brown, Shawn Estes, and Ryan Dempster . . . though a few names, like A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny (if healthy), and Chris Carpenter are reasonably intriguing), but I expect the M's to pursue somebody who is a solid #2-#3 type. Like this year on the offensive side, I think next year they will be players for the best 2-3 pitchers available on the market (assuming they can figure out who those pitchers are -- I still twitch at the memory of the 2003-2004 offseason and what it showed us of the Mariner front office "talent evaluators"; yes, they've redeemed themselves somewhat this past offseason, but I am still in "show me" mode). Gone are the Ryan Franklins (if he wants to start, anyway) and Aaron Seles of the world, to be filled with the bought and the promising. Hitting + pitching = contention. Hitting + a staff of stopgaps = .500, hopefully.

So there you go. Hopefully, Jack and I can get up for blogging again. Go M's.


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