The AL West, baseball's smallest division, has been pretty much the same for the past couple of years. The Angels have won with an anemic offense and butt loads of pitching. The A's have been rebuilding. The Rangers can't pitch at all but can hit. And the Mariners trot out Ichiro and a bunch of homeless guys.
Will it be different this year? Maybe just a little. The Angels and Mariners should still be the same, but watch out for the rebuilt A's and the improving Rangers.
All AL West Team:
C- Mike Napoli, LAA
1B- Chris Davis, TEX
2B- Ian Kinsler, TEX
3B- Adrian Beltre, SEA
SS- Orlando Cabrera, OAK
OF- Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
OF- Josh Hamilton, TEX
OF- Vladimir Guerrero, LAA
DH- Jack Cust, OAK
SP- John Lackey, LAA
SP- Ervin Santana, LAA
SP- Felix Hernandez, SEA
SP- Justin Duchscherer, OAK
SP- Joe Saunders, LAA
CP- Brian Fuentes, LAA
Shall we look at some sausage? Nay! Team previews!
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
It's been the same old story for the Angels. Vlad the Great continues to lead an otherwise unimpressive offense. The defense is great. And the pitching is deep and talented. They win 95 to 100 games and feel really good about their chances. And they get knocked out by the Boston Red Sox. Will this happen this season? I wouldn't bet against it as the team is poised for another great regular season but, barring any major moves, won't make too much noise in the playoffs.
When catcher Mike Napoli is healthy, he's one of the best in baseball. He only played in only 78 games last season but still managed to hit 20 homeruns, 4th most in the majors. He also had a .586 SLG, a full 53 points higher than big league leader Brian McCann. In addition to being very skilled at the plate, Napoli is good behind it. His backup, Jeff Mathis, actually was long-considered a better prospect than Napoli and, although he's been surpassed, is certainly capable as a backup. At first, the unproven Kendry Morales will get his first extended shot at the majors at defecting from Cuba a few years ago. The switch-hitting Morales is very talented but clearly wasn't ready for the show when he was signed to a major league contract just before the 2006 season. He's displayed solid power and an adequate glove, but is too antsy at the plate. Perhaps the coaching staff and the stability of a full job will calm him down. Chone Figgins is listed as the starting 3rd baseman. Figgins can play almost anywhere on the field and routinely gets on base and can work a count. He doesn't have much power, but he has speed to burn, never having stolen fewer than 34 bases in a season in which he played at least 100 games. While Figgins has the talent and has forced himself into a full-time role, he might actually be better suited playing 4 or 5 times a week at whatever position needs some time off. If that does happen, or if Morales can't cut it, expect long-time uber prospect Brandon Wood to finally be given some playing time. It seems like Wood has been around forever (indeed, he's been Baseball America's top Angel's prospect since 2006) but he's still only 24 years old. Wood tore it up in the minors last year, as he always has. He seemed to reverse the trend of becoming less patient at the plate, robbing him of his tremendous power. Wood is a great athlete who came in the system as a shortstop but has the arm to play third. Up the middle is a young pair of homegrown talents. Both shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick missed time due to injuries last year, but both should be healthy for Opening Day. Aybar is a slick fielder who can run a bit but needs to be more patient at the plate. Kendrick? A better hitting, worse fielding version of Aybar but not by much in either direction. The outfield is showing a little gray bush but should be the core of the Angels' offense. New acquisition Bobby Abreu could be a steal for the team. At his peak, Abreu was a 5 tool contributor. Now? Abreu is a 5 tool contributor but at a reduced rate. He had a 20-20 season for the 8th time in his career and continued to be a good right fielder. Moving to left now, he should be a plus left fielder. Torii Hunter's first season away from Minnesota was a success last year. His power numbers did drop a bit and his glove will continue to decline from its once incredibly level, but Hunter was often the only other threat in the Angels' lineup until the mid-season acquisition of Mark Teixeira and he was everything the Halos could have hoped for. Since signing with the Angels just before the 2004 season, Vladimir Guerrero has been more banged up than just about anybody. That being said, at no point has he not been the team's best player. Vladdy is still, despite being robbed of his once prodigious speed by back and knee issues, one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Guerrero has averaged 34.5 HRs a season since 1998 and routinely gets high on base numbers despite the propensity to swing at any pitch thrown in the general vicinity of the west coast. He still has a cannon for a right arm and plays sound, if limited in range, defense. It's a shame what injuries have done to Vlad, who has been one of my favorite players since his early days in Montreal. Much like Ken Griffey, Jr. the reader should dig up some older highlights of Vald to see just how awesome he used to be. Whenever an outfielder needs a rest, the Halos turn to the most expensive 4th outfielder in the world, Gary Matthews, Jr. Matthews parlayed one really good season with the Rangers into a big payday and hasn't really lived up to the hype. Still, he plays like a poor man's Hunter and he's good enough to start for many teams, so there are plenty of worse options. DH will likely be filled by the powerful but impatient Juan Rivera. Rivera plays like a much less talented Guerrero and, if he's healthy, could hit 20 or so HRs. The biggest strength for the Angels year in and year out is their depth on the pitching staff and on their bench. This year should be no different with a great second squad that will include Mathis, Wood, Matthews, Robb Quinlan, Macier Izturis, and the white-Chone Figgins (read: less athletic), Reggie Willits.
Once again, the largely home-grown depth of the Angels pitching staff is what carried the team last season. Big John Lackey continues to pitch like an ace. He gets great downward action on his pitches that causes a lot of groundballs for the Angels great defense and a lot of swings and misses. He did miss some time last year and did give up a lot of HRs (26 last year compared to 18 the previous season in 9 fewer starts). Still, this likely isn't an issue and one can expect Lackey to be right back in the swing of things in 2009. Ervin Santana is a pitcher who will miss some time at the start of the season. That being said, when he comes back he should continue his development into one of the better pitchers in the AL. Santana has filthy stuff and strikes out a lot of hitters. He finally seemed to harness his talent last year as his ERA dropped over 2 runs per 9 innings. This was in no small part thanks to his decrease in walks allowed, as he gave up 11 fewer than in 2007 despite pitching in 69 more innings. Joe Saunders pitched very well as the number 3 last year. Saunders isn't the hardest thrower, but he places his pitches well and mixes up his selection to be effective. He's improved every season of his career and his 1.21 WHIP indicates that he should continue to be very solid for the team. Jered Weaver should probably be the number 2 in the rotation based on talent alone, but he's never put it all together. Weaver's numbers have actually gotten worse the past three years as he's pitched more. At 6'7" and a lanky 205lbs, he can have trouble repeating his motion correctly and that leads to control issues and his pitches flattening out. Still, at worst he's one of the better 4th starters in the league who's capable of producing a gem every now and then. The last spot in the rotation will be filled by the duo of former reliever Dustin Moseley and youngster Nick Adenhart. Moseley doesn't have great stuff and is probably best suited for a relief role, but he's had a very good spring and has enough talent to merit a look. Adenhart is projected as the 5th starter to be, though at 22 years old, he may need some more seasoning. He didn't pitch well at all in his first taste of the bigs last year, but he is generally considered the Angels best prospect and has a devastating changeup that could take him far. The bullpen, like the rest of the Angels, should prove to be quite deep. Losing record-setting flame thrower Francisco Rodriguez will no doubt hurt the Angels, but signing Brian Fuentes should ease the transition. Fuentes managed to compile a sub-4.00 ERA in 7 seasons in Colorado, no small feat. Fuentes does walk a lot of hitters for a reliever, but he also strikes out a bunch. Fuentes doesn't give up many hits and does a good job of utilizing his defense. If Fuentes should falter for whatever reason, Scot Shields is and has been the best setup man in baseball for the past few years. Shields doesn't waste any pitches and has a great slider that has allowed him to compile a 2.93 career ERA and a 1.19 career WHIP. In front of Fuentes and Shields will be a bevy of talented pitchers including Darren Oliver, Justin Speier, and Jose Arredondo.
No matter how many times the A's have to rebuild, they seem to do so. It seems to have happened yet again as the A's look locked and loaded to once again challenge for western supremacy. With a deep squad full of talent, Billy Beane's squad should at least stick around for most of this season though they may be another year from truly being a threat.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki provides good defense and a solid stick for Oakland. He doesn't have a lot of power but he shows good patience at the plate, striking out only 69 times in 530 ABs. His backup will likely be the untested Landon Powell. Powell is a big guy who plays pretty good defense. The corner infield situation is a little unsettled but has some talent in play. The one sure thing will be that if he's healthy, a big if in recent seasons, Eric Chavez will be the starter at third base. Chavez has good power for the position as he's never hit fewer than 22 HRs in a season where he's had at least 400 ABs. His patience at the plate has waned in recent years, but again, he has been hurt. Chavez still doesn't lefties particularly well (his career batting average vs LHP is over 40 points lower and his career OPS is almost 180 points lower), but he's talented enough with the bat and still plays great defense at third that if he's healthy, the A's should have one of the finest 3rd basemen in the AL on their team. At first, it appears as though Jason Giambi will get the opportunity to play. Giambi returns to his old stomping grounds in Oakland after seven up and down years with the Yankees. The Giambino certainly isn't the player he once was but still has a lot of power in his bat (32 HRs and a .502 SLG in 2008). Giambi's best asset though has always been his patience at the plate, however he's become a more free swinger in recent years. Never, great with the glove, Giambi will likely spend a lot of time at DH too. If/when one of those two go down, expect to see Daric Barton and Nomar Garciaparra step in. Barton was projected as the first baseman of the future this time last year but disappointed in his first full season, hitting like a good-fielding shortstop instead of a powerful first base option. Still, Barton is young, athletic, and a far superior fielder than Giambi, so he'll get his opportunities to show his stuff. Garciaparra hasn't been healthy in years and his skills are starting to diminish. He doesn't have the great bat speed he once did and he has been robbed of much of his athleticism by various injuries. Still, he's versatile and a professional hitter who is still very tough to strike out (only once has he struck out more than 63 times in a season, his rookie year). New shortstop Orlando Cabrera joins the A's as one of the most steady performers in baseball. Cabrera doesn't walk a lot and doesn't have great power (though it's adequate for a shortstop), but he does everything else pretty well. This includes playing very good defense, a necessity for Oakland's young pitching staff. His double play partner will be Mark Ellis. Ellis is very similar to Cabrera in that he does a lot of things pretty well. He cut down on his strike outs last year and increased his number of walks, which indicates that he'll have another useful season. Ellis is capable of knocking a few balls out of the ballpark too, being just a year removed from hitting 19 HRs. The mystery of the team will be Bobby Crosby. Since being named AL Rookie of the Year in 2004, Crosby has been completely unable to stay healthy, until last season. However, any time on the DL seems to have hindered any possible growth as Crosby's OBP has been below .300 the past three years and he only hit 7 home runs, one fewer than in 2007 despite taking over 200 more at bats. Crosby clearly has some talent, but it's debatable as to whether or not he'll be able to ever realize it. There was some talk of a trade that would send him to the Yankees as a temporary replacement for ARod, but those talks appear to be dead. The outfield should be young and talented. Travis Buck was hurt much of last season, preventing him from building upon a very solid rookie campaign in 2007. Buck showed much less patience last season but did hit 7 homeruns in 38 games, matching his 2007 82-game total. Buck clearly has some pop and is a pretty good fielder, so one would expect that if he's healthy he should continue to develop into a very good outfielder. Youngster Ryan Sweeney should be manning centerfield. Acquired for Nick Swisher last offseason, Sweeney played very well in his rookie season. A very good athlete with developing power, Sweeney showed impressive abilities in the field and should only continue to improve. In left, Matt Holliday immediately becomes the A's best player after being acquired from Colorado this offseason. Holliday is a 5 tool star who may have been helped by the Coors effect slightly but not as much as some might expect. Holliday did miss some time last year and his HR total dropped, but his stolen base total jumped dramatically from 11 in 2007 to 28 last year. Holliday is a free agent-to-be next offseason and will likely command top dollar, something the A's can't afford, so if the team falls out of contention, expect Holliday to be traded for some big time prospects. The DH should be the powerful Jack Cust. Cust is the type of player Billy Beane dreams about. He can't play defense, he can't run the bases, and he strikes out a lot (197 last season). But Cust is a hitter. In 2007 and 2008, his only two full seasons, Cust has hit 26 and 33 HRs, walked 105 and 111 times, had an OBP of .408 and .375, and had a SLG of .504 and .476, respectively, all at an absurdly low price. A strength for the A's has always been their organizational depth and that should show again with a strong bench this coming season that will include players like Powell, Barton, Garciaparra, Crosby, Cliff Pennington, Eric Patterson, and Rajai Davis.
Oakland pitching is often known for having a plethora of talented young pitchers, and that should be no different this year as only Russ Springer and Justin Duchscherer figure to be significant pitchers over the age of 30. Duchscherer, despite having a ridiculous last name, made the transition from effective reliever to effective starter tremendously last year. He doesn't have great stuff but he possesses good control of all his pitches, walking only 34 batters last year, en route to a specatcular 0.995 WHIP in 22 starts. Duchscherer is expected to some time early in the season due to a minor arm injury, but he should be ready to roll a week or two in. Dana Eveland and Sean Gallagher are scheduled to be the 2 and 3 in the rotation. Both are young guns who pitched pretty well last season. Eveland was acquired in the Dan Haren deal last offseason and performed well in his first season as a starter on the big league level. His WHIP was pretty high at 1.48, but he managed a respectable 4.34 ERA by scattering hits across innings and utilizing his defense to his advantage. Gallagher was acquired from the Cubs mid-season for Rich Harden. Once one of the top prospects in the Cubs system, Gallagher has never really gotten the chance to prove himself until last season. He certainly had his growing pains, walking 36 in 56.2 innings, but he also showed flashes of success, striking out 54 in said 56.2 innings. If he can get his mechanics in order, Gallagher has good enough stuff that he should be an impressive pitcher for a while. It's unclear who the final two starters will be, but it should be from the group of Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, and rookies James Simmons and Brett Anderson. Braden pitched well in 10 starts last season. He's a lefty who doesn't strike out many but does a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone. Gonzalez has good stuff but had some issues in his rookies season with control (25 walks in just 34 innings). Still, he did strike out 34 and projects quite well. Simmons isn't the most talented or projectable player in the A's system, but he has been extremely successful at every level and utilizes a very good changeup to get outs. Anderson is almost big-league ready. Anderson has incredible control of his pitches and has a nasty slider that, combined with his 6'4" frame, make him impossible to hit when he's on. Still just 21, he and fellow top prospect Trevor Cahill, also 21, will likely start the season in AAA. Keep an eye out for Michael Inoa. Inoa is only 17 years old, but is already 6'7" and 210lbs. Coming out of the Dominican Republic, he was given a $4.25 million signing bonus, the largest given to an international amateur free agent ever. He likely is a few years away, but is already being compared favorably to Felix Hernandez. The bullpen should once again be very deep. It isn't entirely clear who will be the closer, but expect some combination of Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler. Devine was absolutely untouchable last season in a setup role. In 45.2 innings, he complied an ERA of 0.59 (not a typo), a WHIP of 0.83 (also not a typo), and struck out 49. Ziegler came out of nowhere last season. A former independent league player, Ziegler set a American League record by starting his career with 39 consecutive scoreless innings, just 2 short of the Major League record of 41 set by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1911. Ziegler has a funky delivery that is usually sidearm but can go up to 3/4ths or down to submarine. He doesn't strike out many, but his ability to change arm slots makes it very tough to make solid contact on him. The rest of the bullpen will be filled by effective players such as veteran Russ Springer, Michael Wuertz, Santiago Casilla, and Josh Outman.
As usual, the Rangers hit well but were lacking in the pitching department. Still, the team didn't make too many offseason moves thanks to a few years of good player development that has left the team busting at the seams with potential stars in the minors. While the Rangers likely won't contend this season, they are poised for a great run in near future.
The Rangers are deeper at catcher than probably any other team in baseball. At the big league level, the team traded solid starter Gerald Laird to the Tigers meaning that youngster Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a former Braves' top prospect is the man of the hour. In limited playing time last year, Saltalamacchia didn't hit particularly well, but showed good patience at the plate and a knack for getting on base (31 walks and a .352 OBP in 61 games). In addition, he has power in his 6'4" and 235 lbs frame, and his defensive abilities are good. The backup will likely be Taylor Teagarden. He's got power to spare at the position (6 HRs in 16 games last season), and probably has the highest ceiling of any player in the organization. At worst, he'll be able to alternate with Saltalamacchia between catcher, DH, and first base. Also look out for Max Ramirez. Like the other two, he projects quite well and is big league-ready now. Any of the three could perhaps be moved if the right deal presents itself. First base will be manned by Chris Davis, a revelation last season as a rookie. Davis, just 23, had 23 doubles and 17 homeruns in 80 games, and played a solid first base. Davis is a good athlete (he also played 32 games at third last season) and should be a fixture in the lineup for years. Michael Young moves from shortstop to third. Young's offensive output was great at short and should still be above average at third, but his value does drop a bit. Young always has pretty good power and solid on-base numbers and he played a pretty good shortstop, so if that translates well to third he should continue to be one of the more underrated players in baseball. Young's replacement at short will be the 20-year-old rookie Elvis Andrus. Andrus is a proto-typical slap-hitting speedster. He doesn't have much power, but that should develop as he gets older and his glove and speed and ability to get on base should more than make up for it. His one weakness, as with many young players, may be his impatience at the plate. At worst, he instantly becomes one of the best fielders in baseball. The cornerstone of the infield is Ian Kinsler. Kinsler, in three seasons, has averaged 17.33 HRs, 30 doubles, 20 SBs, a .360 OBP, and a .473 SLG all while playing good defense at second. He should only continue to move into the upper echelon of MLB regulars. Centerfielder Josh Hamilton proved that his 2007 wasn't a fluke and rather just the beginning of his talent. Hamilton has overcome severe depression and major drug issues to finally realize his immense potential, potential that made him the top pick of the 1999 draft. Hamilton hit 32 HRs to go along with a 35 doubles, a .371 OBP and a .530 SLG. He's not quite as fast as he used to be but still covers a lot of ground while playing a very good centerfield. The other outfielders rightfielder David Murphy and leftfielder Nelson Cruz aren't quite as impressive but certainly get the job done. Murphy finally got the chance to be a regular for the Rangers last season and didn't disappoint. He hit 15 home runs and 28 doubles in 108 games while providing good defense. Cruz is a big guy who has long been a top prospect. He did much better in a reduced role in 2008, showing vastly improved patience at the plate. He hit 7 homeruns in 31 games, so if he can maintain that patience he should develop into a very solid player. One player to watch is Andruw Jones. Jones was arguably the worst player in baseball last season for the Dodgers before being shut down and eventually released. Jones has never had much plate discipline and his swing was too long to do anything. Plus his once elite defensive abilities have deteriorated incredibly. Still, Jones is only a few years removed from routinely hitting 35+ homers and if somebody can fix his swing (a very tall order), he could once again become at least a passable player. The primary DH will probably be former third baseman Hank Blalock. Blalock is just getting back to healthy after three injury plagued years. He came back at the end of last season and played well. If he can stay healthy, Blalock brings pretty good power to the plate and can play a good third or first base. The Rangers bench isn't the most talented group but they are quite deep, including players such as Teagarden, Jones, Frank Catalanotto, Marlon Byrd, and Joaquin Arias.
The pitching staff was a sham last season, sporting the worst ERA in baseball, but there is a lot of hope on the horizon. Kevin Millwood is the nominal ace. He doesn't have good stuff and his 1.59 WHIP was sub-par to say the least. But Millwood does throw a lot of innings and you can expect pretty much the same from him game in and game out. Number 2 Vicente Padilla is very similar to Millwood. He pitched slightly better last season but anything better than that performance shouldn't be expected. The final three in the rotation should be the young trio of Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison, and Brandon McCarthy. Feldman doesn't have great stuff and doesn't strike many out, relying instead on his control. However, that isn't that great and he doesn't project as anything more than a 5th starter or swing man. Harrison pitched fairly last season in his first taste of the big leagues. He didn't strike out many but does have pretty good stuff and should improve this season. McCarthy missed a lot of time last year. When he was healthy he pitched well enough. McCarthy, once the top prospect in the White Sox's system, has quite good stuff but at 6'7" has difficulty repeating his throwing motion and thusly having any consistency on the mound. If he can work out his mechanics he could be a very solid 3rd starter. Other than McCarthy and maybe Harrison though, none of these pitchers will keep any of the Rangers' top youngsters out of a rotation slot. Whenever the group of righties Neftali Feliz and Michael Main and lefties Derek Holland and Martin Perez are ready, they will immediately be plugged in. Main and Perez project as middle of the rotation guys, while Holland could be an ace for some teams, and Feliz is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. The bullpen has a lot of arms but not many effective ones. Closer Frank Francisco is one of the better ones, but he's probably miscast as a closer. Still, he struck out 83 in 63.1 innings. Lefty CJ Wilson, the former closer, pitched very poorly after a solid 2006 and a good 2007. He gave up a lot of hits and a lot of HRs and was often trying to pitch out of trouble. Other potential bullpen arms include former closers Eddie Guardado and Derrick Turnbow as well as Brendan Donnelly, Dustin Nippert, and Kason Gabbard. Alas.
The Mariners were absolutely horrendous last season despite a payroll of over $100 million. Upon further review, the team didn't have that many holes...except at nearly every position. It may take years to dig themselves out of this hole, but dig they will with a few solid core players.
Catcher Kenji Johjima had the worst season of his career sporting a lowly .277 OBP and a paltry .332 SLG. In addition he played average-at-best defense and at age 34 is unlikely to get any better. In addition, the team had Jeff Clement, a former top prospect, who at least would produce similar stats, and a guy the team had invested some money in ready to go. So naturally, the team resigned Johjima to a 3-year extension. Clement did play some last year and will likely be the backup and part-time DH and first baseman. He didn't hit much better but showed pretty good power for a catcher. Clement may occasionally spell starter Russell Branyan at first base. Branyan has power, as his career .485 SLG and 12 HRs in just 50 games last season will show. But looking at his career .328 and 797 strike outs in 766 career games will also show that it's hit or miss with Branyan, more often on the miss side. On the other side of the diamond, Adrian Beltre was probably the 2nd best hitter for the Mariners last season (not really saying much, but still). Beltre hit 25 HRs last year, the 7th time he's hit at least 20 and the third straight season over 25. He also slugged a respectable .457 and continues to play very good defense at third. Beltre however has never had good OBP numbers, with a career mark of just .327. In addition, ever since he was signed (illegally) at age 15, he's been accused of dogging it and never putting forth full effort (except during his contract year of 2004). Whether this is the case or not, Beltre is a solid player and not nearly the biggest of the Mariners problems despite his hefty contract. If Beltre wasn't the second best hitter last season, then it was 2nd bagger Jose Lopez. Lopez had 191 hits including 17 HRs, 41 doubles, and a .443 SLG. He has dramatically cut down on his strike outs from earlier in his career making him much more effective at the plate. Still, his OBP was low at .322 thanks to low walks. Lopez is prone to swing at just about anything, and while he usually makes contact, he is prone to hitting weak stuff. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt played reasonably well and continued to have a great name. Betancourt is a pretty stereotypical light-hit, great-field shortstop. He has some decent doubles power, but his ability to get on base with enough consistency is in question. He also has some speed, but isn't a great baserunner, kind of negating that asset. Ichiro Suzuki was once again Ichiro. He collected 213 hits to tie with Dustin Pedroia for the league lead (he's never had fewer than 208 in a Major League season and has finished either 1st or 2nd in the AL each year of his career), he stole 43 bases (he's never stolen fewer than 31), and he played stellar defense (he's won a Gold Glove every season in the Majors). There isn't much to cheer about in Seattle, but Ichiro continues to be one of the very best players in baseball. To expect anything less this season would be ridiculous. Former Dodgers' and Indians' top prospect Franklin Gutierrez is expected to play centerfield. Gutierrez was once seen as a 5 tool star in the making, but he's never lived up to those expectations. Still, Gutierrez has some speed, some power, and is an above-average fielder and is still young enough that he could improve. If that's going to happen, he'll need to to become much more patient at the plate and improve upon his career OBP of .308. Endy Chavez is scheduled to be the starting leftfielder. Chavez has some speed but isn't anything more than a 4th outfielder. He has little power and doesn't get on base with any regularity and, despite his speed, doesn't have great range in the outfield, often taking poor routes to fly balls. The starting DH is scheduled to be the great Ken Griffey Jr. A shell of his former self, Griffey has finally come home to Seattle, where his best days were during the 90s. At 39 years old, Griffey has definitely lost a step or 6, but he's still an effective player. He no longer has great bat speed but can still kill mistakes. He hit 18 HRs and 30 doubles last season with a .353 OBP and a .424 SLG, not great numbers but certainly capable in the Mariners' pathetic lineup. Griffey is no longer a starting-caliber centerfielder, but he can play some left or right field in a pinch. If this is Griffey's swan song, he deserves to be remembered how he is: one of the greatest and most complete players to ever grace us with his presence. The bench, like the team, is unimpressive with players like Clement, Chris Shelton, Ronny Cedeno, and Wladimir Balentien.
The pitching staff, like the rest of the team was bad. There is some talent, but not enough. Felix Hernandez was one of the few bright spots for the team. Hernandez will turn 23 early this season and continues to get better. Hernandez has great stuff but occasionally gets caught relying on stuff alone. He struck out 175 batters but also walked 80. Still, as he matures, he should continue to learn to pitch and become better and better. Erik Bedard was the prize of last offseason but made just 15 starts before being shut down with a shoulder injury. Bedard was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in 2007 when he struck out 221 in 182 innings for the Orioles. But even that season he missed time due to injury. If Bedard is healthy, he can be expected to be a very good number 2, even possibly an ace-quality pitcher, but he has only once stayed healthy an entire season and with just one year left on his contract and being unlikely to resign unless the Mariners are willing to shell out top dollar (a possibility) the 5-for-1 trade for Bedard may go down as one of the worst in history, especially if Adam Jones and Chris Tillman live up to even 3/4ths of their potential. Brandon Morrow was probably the team's best pitcher last year, making 5 starts and appearing as a reliever 40 times. The team wants him to become a full-time starter, but Morrow was significantly better as a reliever (5.79 ERA and 1.46 WHIP as a starter, 1.47 ERA and 0.90 WHIP as a reliever). Morrow doesn't have great stuff but mixes his pitches very well and uses deception to get outs. Thus, he's much better the first time through the lineup and more suited to be a reliever. The rest of the rotation will be filled from the group of four including Ryan Rowland-Smith, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, and Garrett Olson. Rowland-Smith, like Morrow, is a convertered reliever who made 12 starts last year and 35 relief appearances. Unlike Morrow, Rowland-Smith didn't have a large difference between his starts and relief appearances. Rowland-Smith is a tall lefty from Australia whose ceiling isn't particularly high, but he'll probably get a little better than he was last season. Silva and Washburn are both wildly over-paid innings eaters who don't have good stuff. They had WHIPs of 1.60 and 1.46, respectively, last season and probably won't be any better this season. Olson is a former Orioles prospect who pitched terribly in parts of two seasons the past two years. He does have some talent and was once projected as a solid 4th or 5th starter, but it remains to be seen if he can harness his junk-ballin' lefty stuff. The bullpen? Shudder-worthy. There doesn't seem to be a set closer, but the leading candidate (other than whomever loses out on a rotation spot) would be Mark Lowe. A tall righty, Lowe got in to trouble last year when he started walking guys, but was moderately effective at times. Another option could be Roy Corcoran, who posted a 3.22 ERA despite a pedestrian 1.39 WHIP. Other bullpen arms include David Aardsma, Tyler Walker, former Nationals' closer and arm injury waiting to happen Chad Cordero, and yet another over-paided swing man, Miguel Batista. Bad news bears.