The Mariners turned back the clock to 1984 in 2010 and tried to win with speed and defense. Well, they got that speed and defense, ranking fourth in the AL in stolen bases and sixth in fielding percentage. Unfortunately, the wins were in short supply.
It got so bad for the Mariners that by mid-July, they had to trade Cliff Lee, their prize acquisition that offseason, to the Rangers for rookie Justin Smoak, signaling a clear shift in focus from today to tomorrow.
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Clearly, the Mariners still value defense -- the acquisition of Brendan Ryan to play second base tells you everything you need to know there -- but at least now they don't view themselves as contenders. That resignation should make them an interesting team to watch this summer, when Dustin Ackley, the player drafted after Stephen Strasburg in 2009, makes his much-anticipated debut. Together, he and Smoak should give the Mariners an elite right side of the infield for years to come.
And Ackley isn't the organization's only cause for enthusiasm. Michael Pineda and his high-90s heat should also debut sometime this season, teaming with AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez to give the Mariners a pair of aces and turn a rotation of retreads into a legitimate asset.
Of course, reaching the majors and reaching full potential are two separate accomplishments, as Smoak proved last year. For now, retreads still litter the landscape, making players like Franklin Gutierrez, Jack Cust and Michael Saunders the offense's best hope of improving.
That's not to say the Mariners won't factor in Fantasy. Hernandez is probably the best pitcher other than Roy Halladay, and David Aardsma, like any closer, has value if he can bounce back from hip surgery. Ichiro Suzuki continues to put up elite numbers, and Chone Figgins remains a high-end source of stolen bases, if nothing else.
But right now, this team is in waiting mode, biding its time until the real talent arrives.
Sleeper ... Justin Smoak, 1B
Yeah, it looked bad, but Smoak's rookie season wasn't a total loss. The 24-year-old made measurable progress over the course of the season. It probably didn't stand out because his numbers were so bad already, but in September, after the Mariners called him back up from the minors, he hit .340 with three homers in 50 at-bats, showing the combination of power and patience that made him such an enticing prospect to begin with. Scouts have compared him to Mark Teixeira in the past, and though he'll have a harder time meeting that potential in Seattle than he would have in Texas, talent is talent. Most likely, Smoak is following in the footsteps of Justin Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez and countless others who struggled in their major-league debuts before turning the corner later, only we've already seen signs of him turning the corner. And the best part is you can get him for next to nothing on Draft Day.
Bust ... Ichiro Suzuki, OF
Not much momentum for this pick, really, but you can't deny the lack of regression is starting to feel more than a little unnatural. A 37-year-old in the early rounds? That shouldn't happen. It doesn't happen in the post-PED days, which means Ichiro's run is nearing an end. Better to anticipate the changes before they actually happen, right? Last year, Ichiro's slugging percentage was under .400 for only the second time in his career, both coming in the last three seasons. Couple that with his career-high 86 strikeouts, and you get the impression his impeccably controlled bat is slowing down. So are his legs. He rebounded last year, but he stole just 26 bases in 2009, a development that should continue in his late 30s. Ichiro has a long way to fall and probably won't do it all at once, but as a player who needs to hit .330-.350 to justify his price tag, he's on a slippery slope.
Can't-miss prospect ... Dustin Ackley, 2B
Yeah, the Mariners acquired Brendan Ryan to play second base, but no one really buys that as a long-term solution, right? It's a classic stopgap scenario, which means soon enough, whether in April, May or June, Ackley is taking over. And when he does, Fantasy owners will want him on their rosters. He was the best hitter in a draft class headed by Stephen Strasburg, which should tell you everything you need to know about his upside. Some question his power, especially coming off an uninspiring minor-league debut, but he more or less put an end to those doubts by hitting .424 with four homers and a 1.338 OPS in the Arizona Fall League, setting a record for on-base percentage and capturing MVP honors. This from a middle infielder. Even if Ackley isn't a 20-homer guy right away, his incredible batting eye should help him succeed right away, perhaps making him another Dustin Pedroia. That's talent worth stashing.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Ichiro Suzuki||RF||1||Felix Hernandez||RH|
|2||Chone Figgins||3B||2||Jason Vargas||LH|
|3||Franklin Gutierrez||CF||3||Doug Fister||RH|
|4||Jack Cust||DH||4||Erik Bedard||LH|
|5||Justin Smoak||1B||5||Luke French||LH|
|6||Michael Saunders||LF||Alt||David Pauley||RH|
|7||Miguel Olivo||C|| |
|8||Jack Wilson||SS||CL||David Aardsma||RH|
|9||Brendan Ryan||2B||SU||Brandon League||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Garrett Olson||LH|
|R||Milton Bradley||OF||RP||Shawn Kelley||RH|
|R||Matt Tuiasosopo||UTL||RP||Danny Cortes||RH|
|Arizona Fall League MVP a natural hitter with good batting eye. Should arrive in 2011 even if power lags.|
|Hard thrower would be projected ace if not for King Felix. Could begin in Triple-A, but debut coming.|
|Smallish SS became legit last year with 20-20 season. A projected starter if he keeps hitting for power.|
|Remained productive with promotion out of hitter's league. Not a stud, but looks like 3B of the future.|
|Serious power thwarted by seriously bad plate discipline. Close, but still working out kinks in minors.|
|Best of the rest: Danny Cortes, RP; Mauricio Robles, SP; Guillermo Pimentel, OF; Taijuan Walker, SP; Johermyn Chavez, OF; Josh Lueke, RP; Jose Flores, RP; Marcus Littlewood, SS; Kyle Seager, 3B; James Jones, OF; Blake Beavan, SP; Carlos Triunfel, SS; and Gabriel Noriega, SS.|
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