This post was going to start out by saying: "Whenever a team has a season like the Seattle Mariners did last season..." But that was quickly abandoned because it has been a long time since any team had a season like the Seattle Mariners did last season. Their team offense completely disappeared in such a dramatic fashion that Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award precisely because voters were amazed that he won 13 games despite no run support. The rest of the sentence that was supposed to start this post would have read: "...it would seem favorable for the team to bounce back even a little bit." But the early projections for the Mariners attach little love for the Mariners and predict them to lose 93 games.
The offensive projections predict another awful offensive season. Baseball Prospectus, for example, has predicted they will score only 575 runs or just 3.55 runs a game. And since the pitching is expected to give up 676 runs, you can see the problem. Is there a chance that these projections are overly pessimistic? For example, Zips projections, Baseball Prospectus and one other obscure projection this Fan looked at all predicted Ichiro Suzuki to bat below .300. That's pretty pessimistic since he's NEVER been under .300 in his career. Heck, BP even has him pegged in the .270s! Sure, the guy is 37 years old, but still.
Chone Figgins is another that is not expected to bounce back. Last year, Figgins had his worst year and in 2011, BP and Zips puts him around the .254 mark with a .330s OBP. Figgins is a career .287 hitter with a career OBP of .359. Despite him being 33 years old, wouldn't you expect him to at least reach his career norms? He'll be back at third base this year after being moved to second last year. So the move should make Figgins more comfortable and happy. The Fan expects him to perform much better than last year.
None of the Mariners young players are given much chance to succeed in 2011. Dustin Ackley (.246./327), their best hitting prospect, Justin Smoak (.236/..337) and Michael Saunders (.229/.295) are not given much hope of hitting well. Say if two of those three can beat those projections and beat them by quite a bit, then that would make a huge difference.
No matter who plays shorstop, you're not going to get a lot of offense. Jack Wilson is who he is. He's a slick fielding, somewhat injury prone, below major league average hitter. Brendan Ryan, who the Mariners acquired from the Cardinals, is as good or better a fielder than Wilson and, despite a horrible offensive season last year, may just have a higher offensive upside than Wilson. If the Fan was a GM, then Ryan would get the first shot at the job. The trouble with that scenario is that Wilson makes a lot of money. Ryan could play second, but the feeling seems to be that the Mariners would love Ackley to win that job.
Franklin Gutierrez is projected to hit .249/.299 for the season. Again, that projection is very low and pessimistic. There is no reason to doubt that the center fielder can hit in the .270 or .280 range with an OBP in the .330s. That's still not great, but it's a heck of a lot better than the projections.
The catching situation was abominable last season and doesn't figure to be any better this season. Miguel Olivo is the current starter and though he should be better than Adam Moore was last year, he's still a terrible offensive player. How bad? Well, how about BP projecting is OBP at .271? Oof. Moore has had two years and has not been able to show he can hit major league pitching, but his upside is still higher than Olivo. but Olivo will be the catcher.
The DH features Jack Cust and Milton Bradley. Bradley has hit well this spring, but who knows where his life will be this summer. Cust has fallen off after years of being a fearsome slugger who struck out a lot and walked a lot. He won't enjoy trying to hit homers in Seattle. But at least he still should walk a lot. Either way, the DH production HAS to be better than last year.
From looking at what could happen in a best case scenario, it is certainly possible for the Mariners to score 625 runs instead of 575. Fifty runs would make a huge difference in their win total. The pitching has to be as good as projected though.
The bullpen will struggle to be league average, and that's assuming that Aardsma will be available at some point this season. The rotation is, of course, anchored by King Felix, who should have another great season. But Fister, French, Vargas, Pineda and even Bedard have to have good seasons. Surprisingly, Bedard has pitched this spring and it went well. Stranger things have happened.
So what do we have here? Well, we don't have a contender, that much seems sure. Not in 2011. But this team could be a lot better than last year, especially on offense. Several things have to go well, but it just seems to be asking a lot for things to be as bad as the projections think they'll be. The one good thing is that the projections are so low that if just half of the line up can be a lot better, this team could win 72 to 75 games. That would at least be a lot less painful to watch for Mariners fans.