Strengths and Weaknesses
Opening day is two days away. Huzzah! The M’s start at 0-0, just like everyone else. So, in that vein, lets take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 2007 Seattle Mariners.
The best arm of any starting pitcher in baseball along with an apparent dedication to hard work and improving his game. If there’s one thing to love about the M’s, its Felix. Not only is he a competitive advantage over every team in the division, he’s also 20 years old. All hail the king.
Adrian Beltre and Yuniesky Betancourt are two of the best defenders at their positions in baseball. Jose Lopez is good enough to man second base. Richie Sexson’s glove is a problem, but if you’re going to have a bad defensive infielder, first base is the place to have one. This well above average collection of groundball vacuums should benefit the pitching staff, as well as those who just love to watch the leather being thrown around.
The opening day line-up is going to have Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt batting 8th and 9th in some order. Both are projected to be nearly league average hitters, and they’re filling out the last two spots in the batting order. What the offense lacks in thump, it attempts to make up for in balance.
If his arm gets loose and he can unleash 98 MPH fastballs and 90 MPH splitters on the AL, he’s as good as it gets in the 9th inning. Closers are generally overrated, but when you have a relief ace as good as Putz, the hype is justified by the wins he adds.
The Mariners aren’t a team that can survive multiple injuries. There’s not a capable major league replacement in the organization for Johjima, Beltre, Betancourt, or Lopez. If any of those four get hurt, the downgrade is going to be significant and swift. The same goes for Felix and Putz, the two good power arms on the team, who would be replaced by the likes of Cha Baek or Jake Woods on the roster. If long term injuries strike any of these key players, the season’s over.
Middle Of The Order
You’d be hard pressed to find a worse 3-4-5 combination in baseball than Vidro-Ibanez-Sexson. Vidro’s a contact gap hitter who can’t run, while Ibanez is trying to sustain his late career surge at age 35, and Sexson’s hoping to overpower the decline that is chasing him around the field everyday. All three are flawed players with little upside and would be role players on any other team with hopes of contending. On the Mariners, they’re the run producers.
Last year, the Mariners had one of the very best bullpens in baseball. After giving away Rafael Soriano, throwing money away to try and rehab Chris Reitsma, and counting on Julio Mateo to serve a prominant role in the bullpen, the team is going to have to sweat its way through every 7th and 8th inning lead. The team’s best chance for bullpen success lands on the very inexperienced shoulders of Brandon Morrow. For the 2007 team’s sake, he better be ready.
In general, the field manager doesn’t make as much difference as fans believe. Mike Hargrove is not “in general”, however, and he’s easily one of the least qualified people to be running a team currently residing in a major league dugout. His teams have consistently underperformed under his watch, and his strategic decisions aren’t just poor, in many cases, they are indefensible. The front office hasn’t inspired much confidence in their roster construction, either, and the leadership has clearly taken a win-now approach that could jeopardize future talent in an effort to preserve jobs.
This is a flawed team that needs a lot of things to go right to contend for the division. There is talent all over the field, but every player comes with a substantial question about his ability to perform. The only sure thing on the roster is that Willie Bloomquist can’t hit. Everything else is questionable. Going into the season with so many variables leads to a lot of possible paths, from division champ all the way down to worst team in baseball. There’s no scenario you can imagine that isn’t at least somewhat plausible with this roster.
This team is, essentially, baseball’s version of the rusty trunk thats been stored in your grandparents home for 80 years. There’s a real chance that you could find several gold bars, one of the first photographs in american history, and the original copy of the declaration of independence. Or you might find a pair of false teeth, a hoard of rats, and a shirt containing remnants of the bubonic plague.
You won’t know until you open the trunk. We’ll find out on Monday.