Heading into 2011, Mariners fans had tempered expectations. They won just 61 games in 2010, and most expected similar results in 2011. In that regards, the Mariners didn’t disappoint, winning just 67 games. The biggest issue in Seattle was the league’s worst offense, for the second year in a row. The pitching was solid and is also a strength of the farm system. Knowing these shortcomings and potential strengths, GM Jack Zduriencik made perhaps the biggest trade of the offseason. He traded 23-year-old SP Michael Pineda after a tremendous rookie debut to the Yankees. In the process, he picked up uber-hitting prospect Jesus Montero to help the anemic offense.
Offensively this team has nowhere to go but up. The addition of Montero, who has been ready for over two years, is a step in the right direction. He should be starting right out of Spring Training. There is no doubt he will develop into an impact bat. The only question is will Seattle dick around and try to play him at catcher or just stick him in the DH slot and let him mash. In addition to Montero, a full season from Dustin Ackley and a healthy Justin Smoak should push the offense upward. This team still has several holes offensively, including a declining Ichiro who had his worst season as a professional in 2011, but the Mariners offense shouldn’t be comically woeful in 2012.
As far as the rotation goes, trading Pineda will move them back a step. That’s how rebuilding goes though. Felix Hernandez is the anchor, and should continue to be one of the league’s best starters. He’s followed in the rotation by a whole lot of “meh” though. Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan, and Charlie Furbush offer a lot of back-end rotation fodder. They’re just place holders though. The Mariners farm system is deep with potential impact starters, most importantly Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Hultzen was Mariners first round pick (2nd overall) in last year’s draft and is expected to move through the system quickly. Paxton tore up high A and AA ball last year. Both of these smooth lefties should see Seattle by midseason.
In 2011, the Mariners offered few bright spots, with the brightest being Pineda’s debut season. He’s now pitching in New York. On the field, 2012 should offer more bright spots, with the Mariners young players generating some excitement. That excitement won’t carry over to the standings though. The Angels and Rangers are clearly the class of the AL West. Seattle will probably finish at the bottom of the AL West again. However, with Hultzen, Paxton, and Taijuan Walker on the way to partner with a young offense led by Montero, Ackley, and Smoak, the Mariners could be on the verge of competing for a playoff spot in a year or two.