The Mariners didn't even try to disguise their change in philosophy this offseason. By signing Chone Figgins and trading for Cliff Lee, they punted on power, instead aiming to win through pitching, speed and defense.
It's an old-school approach and one they began last year with the offseason acquisition of Franklin Gutierrez and the midseason acquisition of Jack Wilson. It worked to some effect then, allowing them to bounce back from a 101-loss season with a winning record. And now with reigning Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez locked up long term and former Cy Young winner Lee leading the charge with him, why not take the philosophy one step further?
Perhaps no player fits this new mindset better than Casey Kotchman. The Mariners acquired the Dave Magadan-like first baseman to play every day -- at least against right-handers -- thereby foregoing power at a position that demands it. No longer will they count on all-or-nothing sluggers like Russell Branyan and Richie Sexson to jumpstart a flailing offense. Kotchman might not hit any homers, but he won't let a ground ball into the right-field corner, darn it.
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What that means for the pitching staff is anybody's guess at this point. On the one hand, improved defense means improved ERAs, but will those subtle gains overcome the loss of run support? Jose Lopez enters as the team's one safe bet for 20 homers, with Franklin Gutierrez and Milton Bradley the only other realistic possibilities. Even if Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins get on base every time through the order, they might not have anybody to drive them in, which could lead to some lopsided losses with Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell and the winner of Doug W. Fister and Luke French rounding out the back end of the starting rotation (at least until Erik Bedard returns from shoulder surgery in June).
But when the Mariners do win, they'll quite often win 3-1 or 4-2, making closer David Aardsma a sleeper for 40-plus saves if he can build off last season's success.
Breakout: Franklin Gutierrez, OF
Gutierrez won't ever become an early-round pick in Fantasy. He lacks the plate discipline and the high-end power to do so. But in his first season as a no-questions-asked everyday outfielder, he showed enough potential to suggest he can make a difference in mixed leagues. As he enters his age-27 season, a 20-20 campaign is a distinct possibility. Rarely will you find that kind of production so late in a Rotisserie league draft. Gutierrez's 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio will lead to some cold streaks that make him not quite as valuable in Head-to-Head leagues, but even in those formats, he'll play well enough at times for you to use him. One thing's for sure: As desperately as the Mariners need offense, you won't have to worry about him losing at-bats.
Bust: Cliff Lee, SP
Lee's performance last season sure looks like a validation of his out-of-nowhere Cy Young campaign one year earlier, but let's not overlook the fact he allowed more hits (245) than any other pitcher. Granted, that's a side effect of him pitching so many innings (231 2/3), but typically ace pitchers allow less than a hit per inning. Considering Lee's relatively low strikeout rate, his contact rate might get him in trouble, as it did last year when he posted a 6.13 ERA over his final seven starts. Funny how most Fantasy owners overlook that number. Lee is a good pitcher -- a must-start, even -- but not the ace everyone makes him out to be. He eats innings and limits baserunners, but on a team not exactly wired for offense, that might not be enough for him to win more than a dozen games.
Sleeper: Milton Bradley, OF
As he approaches his 32nd birthday, Bradley seems more and more like a lost cause. Even when his body cooperates, his mouth gets him in trouble, as it did last season with the Cubs. But let's not forget he's just one season removed from a league-leading .999 OPS. Now, nobody will touch him in Fantasy. He tends to play his best in lower-pressure environments like Cleveland, San Diego and Texas, and Seattle certainly fits the bill. And though you could write off his success in 2008 as the byproduct of a good hitter's park, keep in mind his best performance as a major-leaguer came during his 42-game stint with the Padres, who play in arguably the worst hitter's park. Other than Ichiro Suzuki, Bradley is the Mariners' only potentially elite offensive player, meaning he'll get all the opportunities he can handle. He's worth the gamble in AL-only leagues.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Ichiro Suzuki||RF||1||Felix Hernandez||RH|
|2||Chone Figgins||3B||2||Cliff Lee||LH|
|3||Milton Bradley||LF||3||Ryan Rowland-Smith||LH|
|4||Jose Lopez||2B||4||Ian Snell||RH|
|5||Franklin Gutierrez||CF||5||Doug W. Fister||RH|
|6||Ken Griffey||DH||Alt||Luke French||LH|
|7||Casey Kotchman||1B||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Jack Wilson||SS||CL||David Aardsma||RH|
|9||Rob Johnson||C||SU||Mark Lowe||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Brandon League||RH|
|R||Ryan Garko||1B||RP||Shawn Kelley||RH|
|R||Eric Byrnes||OF||RP||Sean White||RH|
|1||Dustin Ackley||22||OF||DNP -- unsigned||Class A|
|Second overall pick to Stephen Strasburg a sure hitter. Possible move to 2B will make up for lack of HRs.|
|Hits for power and works deep counts. Future everyday player could take over if Griffey doesn't hold up.|
|Clear catcher of future with Jeff Clement gone. Hits well enough to steal job from Johnson eventually.|
|Nearly won job last spring. Lacks huge upside, but patient with pop. Could factor if Kotchman struggles.|
|5||Alex Liddi||21||3B||Class A||Double-A|
|Broke out with .345 average and 23 HRs in hitter's league last year. Move to Double-A will tell a lot.|
|Best of the rest: Greg Halman, OF; Carlos Triunfel, SS; Danny Cortes, SP; Matt Tuiasosopo, 2B; Josh D. Fields, RP; Michael Pineda, SP; Nick Franklin, SS; Steven Baron, C; Mario Martinez, 3B; Ezequiel Carrera, OF; Maurico Robles, SP; and Gabriel Noriega, SS.|
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