Originally written January 28, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
In The Outfield Headline: With FanFest wrapped up, it’s time to dive into the season ahead and the outfield spots… This season may not be as predictable as originally anticipated. Some have called Jack Zduriencik desperate and worried about his job by adding veterans like Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, or one-year contracts like Kendrys Morales or Michael Morse. If this multitude of outfielders fighting for only three spots does nothing else, it has created some serious competition during Spring Training. The Mariners lineup could range from a young lineup with Michael Saunders, Eric Thames and Casper Wells, or have incredibly mediocre defense and good hitting with Bay, Morse, and Ibanez. Here are some potential positives and negatives for the Mariners outfield in 2013. 3 Positives Improvement Last season, the outfield group that played together the most was Wells, Saunders, and Ichiro Suzuki. (I would have lost a lot of money in disbelief that Wells played 93 games in left field a year ago). This season will bring better production from the plate. That seems like a bold statement for an OF that will play 81 games at SafeCo Field, but optimism abounds two months before the season starts. Morse, in RF or at 1B will be a good bat and platoon players like Bay, or Ibanez, will bring added power to a powerless lineup. The bat of Jason Bay could be a plus, but the D will lack for sure (Photo: Komo News) Power The 2012 M’s outfield hit less than 50 home runs (anemic, pathetic, embarrassing), if everything goes to plan Josh Hamilton alone could push that number, an improved Saunders and the rest of the Seattle OF will pass that number by the All-Star Break. Late-Inning Flexibility This seems like a small advantage, but whenever I am watching October baseball (not the Mariners, but other, good teams) there are always players that can come in late and either get a hit or play superior late-inning defense. This advantage also leads to some negatives, like the first one below. 3 Negatives Inconsistency Even if Manager Eric Wedge eventually picks an ideal outfield that is producing at their highest level, the likelihood of that group staying healthy with players like Bay, Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, Ibanez (etc) for over a week seems slim. Unless there are some trades (or perhaps releases), it will be hard to play a struggling player if they are in a slump. Say, heaven forbid, Saunders is in an 0-22 slump and Jason Bay is healthy and on the bench. Everyone will be calling for a change. The averages won’t allow themselves to even out if change is apparent every day. For this reason, I suspect a trade will be made before opening day (Gutierrez, Wells). Another player brought back in, Morse could be the pop the M’s need (Photo: nasorb.com) Defense It will be upsetting for Seattle fans and myself if the Condor (Saunders) does not play all season in centerfield. Not only is his offense continuing to improve, but also his defense is quickly becoming the best on the team. No offense to Gutierrez, but Saunders length and continued experience is propelling him forward. The addition of quality bats to the lineup will indeed impede the Mariners’ defense. Bay and Raul Ibanez are bad defenders and have been for a few years. Here’s to hoping only one of them plays at a time. Speed Listen, I will trade power for speed everyday in Seattle, the infield can take care of the speed. Aside from Saunders 20/20 potential, the rest of the players aren’t going anywhere quickly. Last Note Word out of Mariners’ camp so far is that Wells and Bay are competing for playing time in LF. This is terrible news to me, Wells is an average player that can’t keep his back foot planted when he swings-making strikeouts easier than singles while giving him some extra pop. A year ago, Saunders was prominently viewed by Wedge and was in front of the cameras more often than most fans anticipated. His breakout season then followed. If I had to guess, Jack Z is working the ‘Casper Wells may start’ angle to increase his trade value. Let’s hope it works. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE MARINERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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