Seattle Mariners Explode During Off-Season, Vying for Postseason
The American League West has been run by the Oakland Athletics and Anaheim Angels since 2001, the last time the Mariners were crowned champions. But 2010 could be a different story due to some wise financial decisions from general manager Jack Zdurienick and the rest of the Seattle front office.
In 2009, the Mariners hung around for the majority of the year, but never had that feeling that they were in the race. In fact, it’s been that way since 2003 when the team threw away their playoff chances in the last week of the season.
As my Milwaukee Brewers’ blood will tell you, the best thing the Mariners have done all off-season is lock up some of their own young talent. Felix Hernandez was given a 5-year, $78 million extension and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez was given a contract that will keep his Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield for four more years.
Hernandez is the key to the Mariners’ success, as the Cy Young contender from last season seems to finally be hitting his stride. After three average seasons as a full-time starter to begin his major league career, Hernandez’s pro potential was finally realized last season when he won 19 games and posted an ERA under 2.50. He struck out 217 batters and walked just 71 in over 238 innings.
Much like Hernandez, Gutierrez had himself a breakout year as he hit .283 with 18 home runs and 71 RBI’s while appearing in all but nine of the Mariners’ games. He is one of the best gloves in the outfield and will be a foundation in the outfield for years to come.
As important as locking those two young studs up was, the Mariners made their biggest off-season moves outside of the organization.
The first was bringing in utility man Chone Figgins, a highly sought-after free agent who will play third base next season. Last season Figgins put up All Star numbers and is the perfect fit to bat in the second spot behind Ichiro, forming one of the best one-two punches at the top of the lineups in all of baseball. The Mariners lost out on the Jason Bay sweepstakes, but might end up better off with Figgins in the lineup for the next four seasons.
Amazingly, the signing of Figgins wasn’t even the biggest deal the Mariners made. Instead, they decided to continue their spree and bolster their rotation by acquiring Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee from the Phillies two weeks later. The Mariners had to part with a couple of key prospects, including pitchers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez along with speedster Tyson Gillies.
Clearly the logic was “you have to give something to get something”, and get something the Mariners did. With Lee at the front of the rotation, the Mariners have arguably two aces on their staff, with Hernandez filling the No. 2 duties. The back-end of the rotation is still a question mark, but rumbling have been made that the Mariners are interested in re-acquiring Jerrod Washburn, a player they dealt at last year’s trade deadline.
In between the two major acquistions, the Mariners also traded for first baseman Casey Kotchman, sending Bill Hall to the Red Sox in exchange. Kotchman is expected to take over first base duties (assuming Russell Branyan is not brought back) and provide some middle-of-the-order stability. After being bounced around with the Braves, Angels, and Red Sox, the 26-year-old first baseman will get to play every day and prove his wealth.
Milton Bradley also jumped on board the Mariners’ 2010 makeover when he was traded from the Cubs in exchange for Carlos Silva. Despite the horrific breakup in Chicago, Bradley still has the potential to hit 20 home runs, and being in a clubhouse with Ken Griffey Jr. should do him some good.
The Mariners have also signed Ryan Garko, Eric Byrnes, Chad Cordero and are rumored to be looking at second baseman Orlando Hudson.
In addition to all these moves, Seattle also has up-and-coming youngsters that are sure to improve vastly in 2010. Joe Saunders projects to be the future in left field, while Doug Fister and Ryan Rowland-Smith are two pitchers that should fill out the rotation in 2010, along with Ian Snell.
With veterans Ichiro, Griffey Jr., Jack Wilson and Jose Lopez manning the leadership responsibilities, along with the great off-season moves and rising prospects, it’s easy to see why FanFest Weekend numbers hit an all-time high in Seattle this winter. 2010 could be a great year for the Mariners, but all these moves are still just words on paper. The real question will be whether or not the group can succeed as a team and stay healthy over the course of the year.
But if Zdurienick’s aggressive moves this off-season are any indication, the AL West might have just added another horse to the race.