Strengths and Weaknesses

Dave · April 5, 2009 at 12:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So, the M’s have put a team together for 2009, sort of. The opening day roster isn’t really a finished product, but for the most part, we have a fairly good idea of what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are.


Outfield Defense

This one has been talked about a lot, but it’s worth mentioning again. An outfield of Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ichiro Suzuki is going to be one of the best defensive groups in baseball when they’re on the field. Chavez will share time with Balentien and Griffey, so the M’s won’t have this advantage constantly, but they should play together enough to make a noticeable difference. After years of watching some disastrous defenders roam around Safeco, seeing those three turn hits into outs should be a lot of fun.

Front Of the Rotation

The “1-2 punch” phrase was talked about so much last year that it became something of a joke, but on talent, it’s still hard to find a better pair than Felix and Bedard to start your rotation. How long Bedard will be a Mariner and whether he’ll stay healthy while pitching to his abilities are question marks, but for the first couple of months at least, the Mariners should roll out two starting pitchers who will give them a significant advantage.

Organizational Depth

The thing that sunk this team last year that is rarely addressed is just how bad the backup plans were. Sexson and Vidro were bust candidates and everyone knew it, but the M’s fallback option was… Miguel Cairo? Bryan LaHair? There were no stop-gaps in place in case of injury or poor performance. This year, the team has legitimate major league options at most positions – Ronny Cedeno can cover for the middle infielders, Chris Shelton could patch a hole at 1B/DH, Tui’s made enough improvements to hold third base down without totally embarrassing himself, Chris Burke has his uses as a utility guy, etc… The M’s won’t be left with a ridiculous hole if someone gets hurt or performs to the point that they need to be replaced.

Right-Handed Thump

The M’s line-up isn’t particularly well balanced between LH and RH hitters, which works against them, especially considering their home park. But while the lack of lefty hitters is a problem, it comes with a silver lining – the M’s can run out a pretty good line-up against southpaws. You don’t really want to face the M’s if you have a few LHPs coming up in your rotation, particularly on the road.

Power Arms In The Pen

I know everyone’s afraid of the bullpen imploding, but I think the focus on their lack of track records has somewhat hidden the fact that the M’s have stockpiled some serious power arms in the pen. Morrow, Aardsma, and Lowe all have fastballs that average 94 MPH or higher – Josh Fields sits in that range as well and could join the team in the second half. The end-of-game pitching staff for the M’s is going to miss a lot of bats. Yes, there are command issues with all of them, and I’m not predicting that the bullpen will be the best in the game, but it’s still quite a collection of power arms the M’s have assembled.


Left-Handed Offense

The M’s are carrying four left-handed position players – Ichiro, Chavez, Griffey, and Branyan. That’s it. MLB is full of right-handed sinker/slider pitchers who have good enough stuff to get RHBs out but struggle badly against LHBs (think Sean Green, for instance). The M’s, unfortunately, don’t have a line-up that can really put a hurting on those guys. On any given day, at least five of the team’s starters will be right-handed hitters, and that’s a pretty easy match-up for a lot of sub-par pitchers. We’re going to see a bunch of games this year where bad RHPs shut down the M’s, because their sinker/slider is good enough to get through a line-up of right-handers.

Back Of The Rotation

Silva, Washburn, and Rowland-Smith should all benefit from an improved outfield defense, but they’re all #5 starters in the majors. They’re below average starting pitchers, and they’ll be taking the hill more often than any of us would like. With some luck, the team might be able to dump Washburn on someone else during the season, but there’s not a better pitcher in Triple-A that he’s holding back. The team won’t improve by ridding themselves of Washburn’s salary, and the second half rotation could be particularly poor if Bedard is shipped off as well.

Command In The Pen

If you’re wondering why Chris Jakubauskas and Shawn Kelley made the roster, perhaps we need look no further than the walk rates for the rest of the relievers – Morrow, Aardsma, Batista, Lowe, and Corcoran all struggle to throw strikes consistently, and that’s essentially the high leverage portion of the bullpen. If a starter gets in trouble and needs to be bailed out of a bases loaded situation, Wakamatsu’s options for relief range from Guy With Bad Command to Guy With Horrible Command. You’re going to see several late inning bases loaded walks this year. Given this group of relievers, it’s inevitable.

Lack of Bench Flexibility

By carrying 12 pitchers, the M’s have significantly limited their options for in-game strategies. On days where Mike Sweeney starts at DH, the team won’t have a real back-up first baseman, which will limit Wakamatsu’s desire to pinch hit for Russ Branyan when the other team brings in a LOOGY. Sure, he could send Balentien up to pinch-hit, then use Cedeno as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement and push Lopez to first, but is he really going to burn half of his bench and play Lopez out of position to get Wlad’s questionable bat to the plate? The team has some pretty limited options when it comes to late game replacements at multiple positions. Other managers will be exploiting that often this year.


There’s some good stuff on the roster right now, but two of the better players might get traded mid-season. There’s some quality arms in the pen, but they all suck at throwing strikes. There’s some good right-handed hitters on the team, but not enough good left-handed bats. For every strength, there’s a corresponding weakness, and in most cases, the weakness is a bigger problem than the strength is a benefit. That, of course, is why this is a ~.500 team – the strengths and weaknesses mostly cancel each other out, leaving the 2009 Mariners as a fairly average Major League ballclub.


18 Responses to “Strengths and Weaknesses”

  1. lailaihei on April 5th, 2009 1:17 pm

    I see us more of a 75-win team with upside and not a lot of downside unless one of our few above-average players misses a significant amount of time (Ichiro, Beltre, Felix, Bedard, or Gutierrez getting injured would be pretty disastrous as we would be losing at least 2-4 wins to the talent that would replace them).

    If we can avoid those disasters, we have a few things that could go our way. Gutierrez has some untapped offensive ability, can Betancourt really get any worse? And if he does, Cedeno is probably at least as good as a non-improved Betancourt so no loss there, when Clement comes up he should bring some added value to whatever position he joins, RRS could reach his potential as a #4 starter, etc…

    To me, it looks like a 75-win team that has more upside than downside, but I’m not expecting to see .500 baseball from this club.

  2. ScottBrowne on April 5th, 2009 1:36 pm

    At least they won’t be as bad as last year… hopefully. There should be some good stuff to watch this year.

  3. Breadbaker on April 5th, 2009 2:09 pm

    I see front office foresight as a strength. Zduriencik is clearly looking a couple of chess moves ahead, bringing in all the starting arms for the future he did, recognizing that Bedard and Washburn are almost certainly gone during the season and certainly gone after it, bringing in Cedeno to replace one of the infielders, etc.

    Lack of switch hitters is a weakness. They increase flexibility tremendously and work against the other manager using his bullpen in a familiar pattern.

  4. jro on April 5th, 2009 2:44 pm

    81 wins sounds really big for this team, 75 more appropriate.

    Still, if the team goes +14 to +20 wins over one season, given the moves and available pieces to work with, Z deserves some serious credit.

    Or, on the flip side, maybe Bavasi put us in such a bad hole that any collective set of monkeys from Woodland Park Zoo could have re-structured the team and gained on last year’s season total.

    I’m an optimist, it’s sunny outside and tomorrow is opening day: it’s Z all the way. Go Ms!

  5. jeffs98119 on April 5th, 2009 3:06 pm


    Left-Handed Offense

    The M’s are carrying three left-handed position players – Ichiro, Griffey, and Branyan. That’s it.

    –Chavez is a left-handed bat too.

  6. coreyjro on April 5th, 2009 3:56 pm

    I don’t know if anyone agrees, but league average sounds like quite a bit of fun compared to last year, and…

    It’s almost Felix day!

  7. Paul B on April 5th, 2009 4:06 pm

    Not too hard to get a few more wins than last year. All that would take would be finding a combo for first base and DH better than Vidro, Sexson and Cairo.

    In other words, pretty much anyone at the two positions that are easiest to staff.

    Add in a healthy Bedard, and there’s a pretty nice improvement without even considering fielding.

    Having said that, I’m in the “.500 will be a stretch” opinion group.

  8. naufrago on April 5th, 2009 4:20 pm

    I just want to say that this team will be fun to watch play baseball. For every time the bullpen fails, it will give us great victory. Our offensive deficiencies will be matched by great catches.
    I’ll take .500 with upside anyday.

  9. TomC on April 5th, 2009 4:26 pm

    I thought a big weakness last year was the M’s abysmal plate discipline. Pitchers with a degree of command were able to get Mariner’s hitters out more easily by pitching out of the strike zone.

    I haven’t seen that this was addressed this year. I don’t know about the new guys – Branyan, Chavez, etc,- but the old hackers (I am looking at you Betancourt) are back and I am not sure we can expect better from them.

  10. BurkeForPres on April 5th, 2009 4:44 pm

    You don’t really want to face the M’s

    That is such a nice thing to hear. I don’t remember the last time any kind of sentiment like this was expressed about the M’s.

  11. jro on April 5th, 2009 5:26 pm

    Feeling nostalgic, I thought I’d lookup last year’s team construction review post (this one by Derek).

    The simple fact that there’s no assessment needed for Sexson, Cairo, Vidro, WFB, and the “Wilkermorse” imaginary platoon thing makes me feel better for this season already.

    At least this year maybe the guys will be harder outs than 2008.

  12. joser on April 5th, 2009 5:56 pm

    Outfield defense…. mmmmm… this is what I’m looking forward to….

    Or, on the flip side, maybe Bavasi put us in such a bad hole that any collective set of monkeys from Woodland Park Zoo could have re-structured the team and gained on last year’s season total.

    Well, look: This was really a 67-95 team last year, and yeah a monkey could improve on that just by throwing feces at Vidro and Sexson instead of giving them AB’s. But if the team really comes within spitting distance of .500 (I’m looking for about 77-78 myself) that’s still a significant improvement any way you slice it. But, as Dave noted in his prediction post, this gets a little wonky if they exchange essentially meaningless wins this year for potentially crucial wins in future years by trading some of the free-agents-to-be. So the measure of Zduriencik can’t just how much better the team does this year vs past teams put together by Bavasi or some hypothetical primate. I realize everybody is looking to get better asap after the debacle last year, but just like the economy, it took more than one year to dig this hole and it’ll take a few to get out. We should be willing to give Zduriencik a flier on 2009 — the team is already a lot better than I expected it to be (especially when you look at the influx of young talent… and the draft hasn’t even happened yet).

  13. ppl on April 5th, 2009 9:43 pm

    Well, I hope they get out the gate doing well and consider all options to maintain it. The first two weeks of any season will reveal a few things that very few saw coming, it always does, and if anything this is the sort of year where far more surprises can occur. Even with the reduced circumstances the Angels find themselves in, they could dominate, they certainly are the favorites right now. A really bad start by them would open all sorts of opportunities for the other three. If the A’s get good results early from the new pitching staff, it will be hard to project whether or not they can maintain it the second or third time around the league. It is possiblle that if the A’s get off to a good start they will lead bookend to bookend.
    And don’t rule out Billy playing add-on under those circumstances as he has in the past. I do think that if the A’s struggle early, they will not turn it around and the expected sell-off will occur long before the deadline. Texas is basically what they were last year and most libable to repeat exactly what they were last year. So a hot start by the M’s could set in motion a winning situation that could go deep into the year, and if the M’s play add-on instead of dealing off Bedard and Beltre we could have something interesting. I am with the norm, I see 79 wins. But you never know where a little early season “Mo” can go.

  14. Breadbaker on April 6th, 2009 12:24 am

    I haven’t seen that this was addressed this year. I don’t know about the new guys – Branyan, Chavez, etc,- but the old hackers (I am looking at you Betancourt) are back and I am not sure we can expect better from them.

    Barring major injury or major change in production, the team leader in walks drawn will pretty clearly be a product of the farm system, who made his debut 20 years ago (on the greatest sports weekend of my life, when I got to watch Michigan win the NCAA tournament at the Kingdome, drive home listening to Junior’s first at-bat–a double–and then watch my alma mater win the NCAA hockey title).

  15. joser on April 6th, 2009 7:20 am

    If a starter gets in trouble and needs to be bailed out of a bases loaded situation, Wakamatsu’s options for relief range from Guy With Bad Command to Guy With Horrible Command. You’re going to see several late inning bases loaded walks this year. Given this group of relievers, it’s inevitable.

    And we won’t be able to yell “You idiot!” the way we were when Hargrove/McLaren brought in a fly ball guy “to try to get a ground out” and other bullpen management idiocy. The only question will be whether to leave in the starter or roll the dice with the bullpen, and no answer to that question will be as obviously wrong as so many of Hargrove/McLaren’s were. That’s going to be painful. I’m sure a couple of the relievers will figure out some command, or just get lucky a few times in a row to give that illusion, only to disappoint us later. That’s going to make for some disappointing games (and some “amazing” comebacks among Mariners opponents).

  16. NorthofWrigleyField on April 6th, 2009 2:18 pm

    Well… considering all of your “strengths” come with major caveats (the main relievers’ control, Cedeno, Burke, Shelton aren’t guarantees to hit anything or they’d be major-league regulars by now, and Bedard’s health, stamina and attitude)… I’m not seeing even 75 wins here… and if the team starts trading Beltre and Bedard midseason, I might not even see 70 wins.

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here, I’m just not sure I see much on this team right now.

    I’m also not particularly fond of what they’re doing with the resources they have available to them… I’m not just talking about Morrow and Amount… the former is out of their control, the latter… well, I just hope they have a plan that involves him eventually being a rotation main-stay… but the Fields decision is now on Zduriencik. That is a first-round pick he could have used on something other than a late-inning arm.

    I was quick to give him the benefit of the doubt because he was and still is an obvious improvement over Bavasi… but I think I’m done with the notion that all or even most of his moves are going to work out until I see it happen.

    Let’s face it… Bavasi would have signed Griffey (although Bavasi might not have got Griffey to sign). He would have signed Sweeney. He would have sent Shelton and Clement to AAA and kept a 12-man bullpen chock-full of redundancy. He would have put Morrow in the pen. And, he would have signed Fields.

    When you anointed Zduriencik as the savior of this franchise, was Griffey in RF and Branyan at 1B on opening day against Francisco Liriano what you were really expecting?

  17. Dave on April 7th, 2009 2:28 pm

    Sometimes, I wonder why we bother. Some people are just going to be stupid.

  18. NorthofWrigleyField on April 7th, 2009 5:23 pm

    Doesn’t seem like you actually bothered, instead of just resorting to name-calling. Is calling people stupid necessary, Dave? Did you have a bad morning or something? Or are you so bolstered by the Mariners beating up on one of the only teams in the AL that would finish behind the Mariners if they were in the AL West, that you can just be insulting to whoever you want? I don’t really care… I couldn’t care less if you were talking about me or not. I’m watching newspapers fold all over the country and advertising revenue dry up for everyone and you want to be a prick and drive away customers… You have a forum, you have people who want to hear what you have to say and debate with you about it… You have options. I’ve been around here long enough to know you’re better than that. Come on, man.

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