I guess we have some time to kill: a Seattle Mariners preview

It's awfully nice of Jesus Montero to give runners hugs when they cross home plate. - Mike McGinnis

In which we take a glance at the team out west who somehow became our punching bag.

Offense: Michael Saunders-RF, Kyle Seager-3B, Kendrys Morales-DH, Michael Morse-LF, Justin Smoak-1B, Jesus Montero-C, Dustin Ackley-2B, Franklin Gutierrez-CF, Brendan Ryan-SS. Bench: Kelly Shoppach-C, Robert Andino-INF, Jason Bay-OF, Raul Ibanez-OF.

It's still far too early in the season for me to be displaying runs per game from this year, so we fall back into the past and notice that the Seattle Mariners had the absolute worst offense in the American League last summer. Their 3.82 R/G represent the only team in the AL to finish below 4.0 R/G, finishing ahead of only the Cubs, Marlins, and Astros. So what did they do to fix this? They moved the fences in and added some flawed and injury-prone power hitters. Jack Zduriencik may very well be the sabermetric Dayton Moore. Michael Saunders was one of the few (relatively) bright spots when it came to Mariners position players last season. He gamely stepped up Franklin Gutierrez went down with even more injuries, playing a passable center field while providing some much needed power. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough to be an on-base threat, so he really needs last year's power spike to not be a fluke. He's a very talented base runner though.

Can you name the player who led the M's in homeruns last year? If you have good reading comprehension/deduction skills, you can probably tell that it's Kyle Seager, since his name is next in line and all. Way to take all the wind out of my sails, you big jerk. Seriously though, the best returning hitter in this lineup is Kyle Seager. I'm not saying he's bad or anything, 20 homers and a .321 wOBA are pretty nice to get from a (then) 24-year-old third baseman. Throw in the fact that he's good defensively and a decent base runner/thief and you might be wondering why I came off so condescending towards him. Well it's because his ceiling isn't much higher than where he's at and while there's nothing wrong with a 3-4 WAR player, he can't be the cornerstone of this offense if they want to succeed. Kendrys Morales had a respectable comeback year in 2012 after losing a year and a half to this injury. He's not quite back to where he was before that, but maybe this will be the year? He should be the biggest power threat in the lineup and could reasonably be shifted to first base if they ever decide to actually give up on Justin Smoak.

The Michael Morse trade returned the former shortstop to the team that sent him to Washington in the first place (after we sent him to Seattle, of course). All it cost the M's was John Jaso, their best position player. They're betting on box cars instead of playing the pass line. Yeah, he's a good power bat when healthy, but his career high in games played is 146 with his 102 games played last year finishing second. His plate discipline is somewhat subpar and he's better suited to playing first base than left field. Justin Smoak has been a tremendous disappointment in Seattle. The crown jewel of the Cliff Lee trade has been worth 0.5 bWAR over 285 games and outside of last September isn't showing too many signs of life. The switch-hitter just looks over-matched almost every time he comes to the plate. His plate discipline is okay and he's a decent enough fielder, but even with a .273 BABIP in 2011 he only managed a .234 batting average. His power will keep getting him chances, but at some point you have to think the M's will cut ties.

Jesus Montero is a catcher in that he dons the tools of ignorance. But when you have a 22-year-old playing DH more than his natural position things aren't quite going exactly as you'd hoped. He still has plenty of time to grow as a hitter, but other teams will be able to run unchecked while he's behind the plate. He has legitimately impressive power for a catcher, but once more you're picking up on the theme. It's far too early and would be wildly irresponsible to say he won't develop into an incredibly valuable player, but it would be nice to see some forward progress this season. Dustin Ackley encountered a sophomore slump last summer, dropping down to a .274 wOBA. He should rebound to at least over .300 this year, which will be needed with the rest of this lineup. How unlucky is it for the Mariners that he is who they had to draft instead of Stephen Strasburg, all because they won two more games. Not saying Ackley won't be good, but not Strasburg good. Dustin should be a 15/15 kind of guy with good defense, which is a nice enough consolation prize.

There was a time when it looked like Franklin Gutierrez might become one of the premier center fielders in all of baseball. That time was 2009, a year that also brought us Avatar and the return of 3-D movies. 2009 was stupid. His BABIP-fueled offensive abilities faded the next season and he hasn't been able to stay healthy since, which is a pretty disappointing because he's a pretty fun player to watch when healthy. He's a great defensive center fielder (and the current heir to the mantle "Death to Flying Things") and could show 20-20 skills if he stays healthy. But he can't do that and he can't draw walks. I really want Nick Franklin or Brad Miller to develop and do so quickly because I am painfully tired of watching Brendan Ryan hit. Yeah, I'll always have a soft spot for him because he swung at a terrible pitch to give Philip Humber a perfect game and he wears tall socks, but his plate appearances are uglier than Joseph Merrick. He'll keep getting work because he is a true defensive wizard, but as seems to be the theme with this entire team he's a good enough complementary piece in a lineup full of them.

Pitching: Felix Hernandez-RHP, Hisashi Iwakuma-RHP, Joe Saunders-LHP, Brandon Maurer-RHP, Blake Beavan-RHP, Tom Wilhelmsen-CL.

Felix Hernandez is better at baseball than most of us will ever be at anything. You should probably try harder. Over eight seasons he's halfway to a Hall of Fame career, especially since by the time he's eligible there will be an influx of smarter/more reasonable/less awful voters. But back to the point. He's had his struggles against the Sox, but with roster turnover that really doesn't matter. It's still pretty cool being the team outside his division to have the most homeruns off him though. He doesn't really have any true weaknesses. The King throws a sinking low-to-mid-90s fastball, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball and they're all good because life isn't fair. It's not very easy for me to draw conclusions about Hisashi Iwakuma since he's only played one year in this hemisphere and NPB stats don't translate too well for pitchers. Last year he split time between the bullpen and the rotation but it looks like the plan this year is to keep him in the rotation throughout. He has good command and control, but seems to have a slight problem with the homerun. Keep in mind everything about him is very small sample size. He throws a sinking four-seamer in the low-90s, a slider, a splitter (or shuuto if you're hip to the lingo), and a curveball.

The well-traveled Joe Saunders is the lone southpaw in the rotation. The sinkerballer will continue to find work because he is left-handed and not terrible, but other than an outlier season in 2008 he's just kind of there. He keeps his infielders busy (45.1% career GB%) but still gives up too many homeruns when the ball just isn't sinking. As is the case with almost all groundball artists, he does not strike many hitters out. Saunders throws a sinker in the upper-80s, a curveball, and a changeup. Brandon Maurer (which I keep typing as Mauerer, making him more Mauery than Joe Mauer) came into this season as the Mariner's number six prospect according to Baseball America. He pitched 137.1 innings for the Jackson Generals of the Southern League last year. He has good strikeout stuff but struggles a bit with walks. They're fast-tracking him to make up for injury time, but his ceiling is no higher than a third starter at best. He throws a four-seamer in the low-90s, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball with the slider being his best offering.

Blake Beavan came over with Smoak and while less disappointing, isn't exactly interesting either. He doesn't walk anyone, but he also doesn't strike anyone out. Okay, so he must be a groundballer, right? Nope! Less than 40% of the balls put into play off him are of the earthen variety. When you add in that he gave up 23 homeruns over 152.1 innings last year, it's easy to see that he'll never develop past a fifth starter if he even manages to stick in the majors past his arbitration years. That was harsh, but I'm tired of studying. I kind of love Tom Wilhelmsen because his backstory makes me laugh. By 2005, he'd been caught smoking pot twice and decided to just quit playing professional baseball. He then tended bar near the University of Arizona's campus for five years before deciding baseball was better and then came back and wound up being part of a combined no-hitter last summer. He's developed into an underrated closer with a mid-to-upper-90s four-seamer and a strong 12-6 curveball.

Outlook: For whatever bizarre reason, the White Sox have come to represent a confounding nemesis for the Mariners. There is absolutely no reason one team should go 24-4 against another team over three seasons, but here we are. Sox win the season series 5-1.


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