Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 2/15/12

As TSHQ continues our MLB preview, we stay in the American League and look to a team that has been on the down since they ridded themselves of Alex Rodriguez: the Mariners. From the days of the early 2000s, the Mariners looked like the cream of the AL West crop. Since their last playoff run, however, they have been in a perpetual state of rebuilding. After the Rangers and Angels bulked up in the offseason, do the Mariners have what it takes to make a serious run in 2012?

Projected Position Players

C – Miguel Olivo (John Jaso)

1B – Justin Smoak (Alex Liddi)

2B – Dustin Ackley

3B – Chone Figgins (Kyle Seager)

SS – Brendan Ryan

LF – Mike Carp (Casper Wells)

CF – Franklin Gutierrez (Trayvon Robinson)

RF – Ichiro (Michael Saunders)

DH – Jesus Montero

The Good

Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero, at one point or another, have all been top minor league prospects. This will be their first full season together at the major league level. Smoak, who came over in the Cliff Lee deal from Texas, has yet to find his swing at Safeco Field in Seattle. Much like Adrian Beltre found out during his time in Seattle, the big park severely hurts one’s power numbers. Freshly acquired Montero will soon find out that the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium are not what he will be seeing for half of the season.

After ten consecutive seasons with at least 208 hits, Ichiro registered his worst season last year with 184 hits and a .272 average. The lowest Ichiro had ever hit prior to the 2011 season was .303 which was all the way back in 2005. His 30 extra-base hits were also a career low. If the Mariners want to improve offensively this season, they need Ichiro to come back to form a top their order and produce more than the 80 runs he scored last season. Despite being 38 he is still their best hitter and needs to act that way.

The Bad

Chone Figgins has yet to make an impact in Seattle like he had for years in Anaheim. During his first season as a Mariner in 2010, Figgins stole 42 bases in 57 attempts. Certainly solid production for the third baseman, despite his .259 batting average. Last season, Figgins was as much of a non-factor as humanly possible. His .188 average over 81 games was easily the worst year of his career. Even on the bases (when he got there) he was only able to swipe 11 bags in 17 chances. Figgins is now 34 and his legs are not getting any younger. Even in the field, he made as many errors as he turned double plays (11). If he cannot turn it around, he will be spending his time on the bench while Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi take his time at third.

Also, Franklin Gutierrez has long been viewed as “potential” since his days in Cleveland. At 29, his time is now. No one will ever question his glove out in centerfield, but he needs to make strides in the batters box if the Mariners are going to progress this season. In 92 games last season, Gutierrez hit .224 with one homerun. While power has never been his strength, one homerun is unacceptable for a guy who hit 18 his first year in Seattle. His 13 stolen bases were nice, just imagine the 30 he could have if he could raise his .261 OBP. The deeper this lineup is, the better this team will be. Gutierrez and Figgins need to play better offensively if this lineup is going to consistently score runs.

Projected Pitching Rotation & Bullpen

SP – Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beaven, Hector Noesi, Danny Hultzen, Charlie Furbush

RP – Shawn Camp, Shawn Kelley, George Sherill, Cesar Jiminez, Hong-Chih Kuo, Tom Wilhelmsmen

CL – Brandon League

The Good

Felix Hernandez. Can me move on? No? Alright fine. Hisashi Iwakuma comes over from Japan at age 30 and will be a rookie this season. He is pegged as the team’s number three starter behind Hernandez and Jason Vargas. A .500 season would be a win for the Mariners and Iwakuma.

The real “good” for this club comes in the form of Hector Noesi and Danny Hultzen. Noesi came over in the Michael Pineda trade along with Montero. Noesi has long been considered a top prospect in the Yankees organization and posted a 2-2 record last season over the course of 30 games. Two of which were starts that came at the end of the season, both against Tampa Bay. Noesi’s longest outing, however, came against Boston in June where he allowed two runs on three hits over six innings.

Hultzen, however, pitched zero games for the Mariners last season as he was their first selection (second overall pick) in the 2011 draft. The lefty tore up the ACC at Virginia and has a chance to make this team outright this season. A hard throwing lefty with a solid change up showed flashes of dominance in the Arizona Fall League. At 22, the Mariners lose nothing by at least giving him a shot at the big league level this season. If he does not crack the rotation during Spring Training, a mid-season call up is certainly not out of the question.

The Bad

After trading their number two pitcher for another arm and a designated hitter, the Mariner’s rotation certainly thinned itself out. After Hernandez (who remains one of the top pitchers in all of baseball), Vargas as the number two is an immediate setup for failure. Since Vargas has come to Seattle he has yet to register a season at .500 or better. As a matter of fact, each year he finishes exactly three wins below .500 (’09: 3-6, ’10: 9-12, ’11: 10-13). While you can say there has been progress, a team’s number two should have at least one average season under his belt. What is worse is this team has signed Kevin Milwood to a minor league deal Although Milwood did go 4-3 for the Rockies last season, the 37 year old does not have much left in the tank. If he is making starts for the Mariners, he is merely keeping the seat warm while Noesi and Hultzen figure it out. Mariners’ fans will know their season is yet another bridge year if they see Milwood on the mound more than five times.

2012 Projection

The Mariners have put together a nice little offense over the past two or so seasons by picking up top talent around the diamond. Their outfield is still a little suspect, but players like Ackley and Montero should play well enough to at least keep fans entertained and interested. If Smoak can figure out how to adapt his swing and power to Safeco, this team may be able to steal a few series against top tier competition. The pitching rotation is still a problem for this team. Yes, Felix Hernandez is the King for a reason. But Noesi and Hultzen are at least another year away from being reliable starters for this team. While King wastes away another year of his prime, Seattle will be battling with Oakland for last place in the AL West yet again in 2012.


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