Here were the bright spots for the 2011 Mariners: Felix Hernandez, and Dustin Ackley. That’s pretty much it. Ichiro, the face of the franchise, had a disappointing season, his worst in America. The rest of the pitching staff struggled, and #2 starter Doug Fister was dealt to the Tigers in July. In 2012, the Mariners have improved in places (most notably, with a full season of Ackley, a healthy Justin Smoak, and a new DH in top prospect Jesus Montero), but likely won’t contend for a division title this year.
Depth Chart (as of 3/29)
C: Miguel Olivo
1B: Justin Smoak
2B: Dustin Ackley
SS: Brendan Ryan
3B: Kyle Seager
LF: Chone Figgins
CF: Michael Saunders
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
DH: Jesus Montero
SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Jason Vargas
SP: Blake Beavan
SP: Hector Noesi
SP: Kevin Millwood
CL: Brandon League
Montero is the team’s biggest acquisition, coming over from the Yankees in exchange for starter Michael Pineda (who is now struggling with his velocity, and is battling to even make the Yankees rotation). Fourth starter Hector Noesi also came over in that deal, making it look even better for the Mariners. The team also brought in veteran Kevin Millwood to eat innings at the back of their rotation, which really isn’t a bad thing at all. Seattle also traded for catcher John Jaso, who will back up Miguel Olivo this season before possibly taking over full-time in the future.
Middle infielder Adam Kennedy signed with the Dodgers. Oft-injured former closer David Aardsma signed with the Yankees, but won’t be ready until midseason anyway. The team signed infielder Carlos Guillen, who then retired. Josh Lueke, the reliever whose acquisition almost cost GM Jack Zduriencik his job, was dealt to Tampa Bay for Jaso.
Hello, Jesus Montero. He’s the odds-on favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year, and he’ll likely give the Mariners offense a huge boost this season if he lives up to even just half of his potential. Italian-born Alex Liddi has made the team’s Opening Day roster, and will get some playing time at third eventually, assuming Chone Figgins struggles. The team also has a trio of starters that will start the year in AA with a chance to make an impact this year in Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker.
Considering that Seattle’s season has already started, the position battles are already essentially decided. The team is rolling with a couple of guys who only made the Opening Day roster due to injury, most notably Munenori Kawasaki and Carlos Peguero. They’ll likely get sent down to the minors when Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez are ready to come off of the DL.
Carp has a sprained right shoulder, and started the season on the DL. I think he’d be back before the end of the month. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez might be out a little longer, as he has a partially torn pectoral muscle. Catcher Adam Moore is on the DL with a fractured bone in his wrist as well, but I don’t think he’d crack the final roster regardless.
Can the Mariners approach .500 in 2012, or will they continue to languish as a 70-win team?
Hernandez has another Cy Young caliber season, Montero is the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year, Carp and Ackley progress as hitters, and the team cracks .500 while making a late run at a wild card berth.
Montero falls on his face, and is back in AAA by mid-season. Hernandez is left alone to carry the rotation, with the rest of the staff struggling terribly. Ackley is the lone hitter that performs on offense, as Ichiro takes another step back. The team doesn’t win 70 games, and members of management lose their jobs.
It will take a lot for Seattle to get to .500, and I don’t think they can get there. Ackley and Montero are a good core on offense, but the pitching is extremely weak after Hernandez. I’m thinking maybe 76 wins for Seattle.