30 Teams in 30 Days: Seattle Mariners Roundtable

Mariners

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and Griffin Cooper from SoDo Mojo.

Question 1 – Will Milton Bradley be a distraction?
Eugene: I think Bradley will play nice this year, which he did 2 years ago in Texas. I think he knows that he’ll need to behave because he’ll want to prove the Cubs and their fans wrong. I would also think that he knows that he’s running out of teams to play for, but you never know with someone like him. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of common sense, based off what he’s said in the past.

Daniels: Depends on the Seattle media. I don’t really follow west coast media sources all that much, but the amount to which Milton Bradley is a “distraction” seems directly proportional to the number of writers looking to make a story in a region. In Chicago, they wanted someone to blame the season on. Seattle might be the perfect place for him. It strikes me as a town where people are allowed to be themselves with a fan-base not looking to constantly find scapegoats. Not to mention, isn’t Junior just a calming influence on everyone?

Aaron: No way Bradley’s a distraction. From everything I’ve read, the M’s will have what amounts to a “zero tolerance” policy with Bradley. Take that for what it’s worth, but the Mariners’ front office and field management is a hard-ass regime that won’t put up with distractions.

That said, I agree with Daniels. Bradley makes for a easy – and sometimes deserved – target, but Bradley’s most productive (and relatively incident-free) stretches were in locales away from the media glare. (Yes, I know it wasn’t smooth sailing in Oakland, San Diego and Texas, but at least Bradley wasn’t being blamed for an entire flawed team’s failings like last year with the Cubs.)

Also, do not underestimate the presence of a strong African-American mentor for Bradley, as Ken Griffey, Jr. has seemingly become. Frank Thomas and then-coach Ron Washington took Bradley under their wing in Oakland in 2006, Washington managed him in Texas in 2008 and both guys were repeatedly cited for serving as a calming influence on Bradley.

As a black guy, myself, I’m not trying to suggest cause-n-effect, but it can’t hurt.

Matt: I expect Bradley to come to camp with something to prove. I don’t think he’ll be “distraction” in the way he was in Chicago. It’s becoming more and more clear that he was only partially culpable for that shit storm. I have more uncertainty about whether or not he’ll be able to stay on the field. (Bradley has played more than 126 games only once in his career.) The Mariners really need him to act as a middle-of-the-order presence, like he was with Texas in ’08. However, they are also going to ask him to play a significant amount of outfield. Honestly, I’m not sure they wouldn’t be better off with Griffey in left (mixed with Michael Saunders) and Bradley as a full-time DH, to at least limit his opportunities to hurt himself.

Griffin: I think whether or not Bradley is a distraction is going to depend on strongly on two things; what kind of an offensive start he gets off to, and how the media handles him. Seattle is a much more laid back city media-wise than Chicago, and he’s going to be under significantly less pressure to succeed here. He’s a good hitter with a chance to be a huge piece of this team, so hopefully he’s able to stay relaxed in this environment and produce. Otherwise, the team always has the option of cutting him, without too big of a loss. As for Matt’s comment on putting Griffey in left, I’m going to have to disagree. Griffey’s equally as much of an injury risk as Bradley, and a significantly worse defensive player, at this stage of his career anyway. I don’t think there’s any circumstance whatsoever in which Griffey should be playing the outfield.

Matt: Griffin’s certainly correct. Griffey is as brittle and lead-footed as anybody at this stage of his career. However, the Mariners are also expecting much less from him offensively and his loss for a week or two at a time isn’t a detrimental to the lineup. However the M’s choose to handle it, if last year is any indication, Griffey will take frequent games off, thus providing opportunities for Bradley to DH and opportunities for a fourth outfielder to get some at-bats.

The other factor in this equation is Michael Saunders, who is long-term solution in left field. I would imagine that he will start the season at AAA, but whenever Griffey or Bradley hit the DL, I expect him to get the first call and play everyday. If he plays well (he had a 922 OPS at AAA in ’09), the Mariners could look to get him into the regular rotation, even when Bradley and Griffey are both healthy.

Question 2 – Have the Mariners improved enough to return to the post-season?
Matt: That’s the $80 Million question in Seattle. ($80 Mil. being approximately the amount of new salary they acquired over the offseason.) They were a good team in ’09 (85 wins) and they got significantly better with the additions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, and Milton Bradley, while their primary rival, the Angels, got at least marginally worse. Is it enough to overcome the 12 game difference between them, not to mention leapfrogging the Rangers? I’m not certain that it is.

Seattle still has a pretty paltry offense, even with Bradley and Figgins, and I question whether their bullpen can be as good as it was in ’09 (3.83 ERA, 3rd in AL). I think they might pick up another 2-4 wins, but I don’t think that will be enough to win the division. They will, however, be hanging on until the very end, which should be great for fans in Seattle.

Griffin: It’s impossible to know for sure right now, but they very well may have. On paper they’re right up there with the Angels and Rangers, and perhaps even a bit better. It’s going to be an extremely tight division, in which all four teams have a chance, and the Mariners are certainly going to be right in the mix. A big factor for them is going to be health – specifically the health of Milton Bradley and Erik Bedard. Both of them are going to be key, and if they can’t stay healthy it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Aaron: Obviously, there are other components in play here. Have the Angels fallen far enough back to the pack for the Mariners to catch ’em? What about the upstart Texas Rangers? And, how long will Cliff Lee’s abdominal injury be a problem? The M’s will be better in 2010, but there are still too many questions (on their team and within the division) for them to make the playoffs.

Griffin: Aaron, you act as if the Rangers and Angels don’t have questions of their own. The Rangers still have a mediocre rotation, which will be relying on one of the most injury prone starters in the game. The Angels only real strength is their offense, while their defense is average and their pitching is mediocre. Every team has questions, and the Mariners are just as talented as any other team in this division. I’m not going to definitively say that they’re going to make the playoffs, but to imply that they don’t have a shot just isn’t realistic.

Daniels: The last time I thought the Mariners were going to make the post-season, they gave me 61 wins and the award for Most Stunningly Bad Prediction In Retrospect. Huzzah to them. They have made a lot of good moves this offseason. I do think the stars have aligned for them to have a small renaissance in the West. I think the Angels’ have been hurt a lot by this offseason and, really, I just don’t buy the Rangers.

Question 3 – What are the chances of retaining Cliff Lee?
Matt: Assuming things go well this season and Cliff Lee likes pitching in Seattle, I think the Mariners will have a very good chance of retaining him, if they so choose. Seattle finally got out from under some very bad contracts, so, even after their spending spree this offseason, they are about $10 Million under their ’09 payroll and about $30 Million under their ’08 payroll. If things go well this year, I think there’s a good chance Zduriencik is given the go-ahead to push back into the $100 Million range.

So, the big question isn’t whether the Mariners can afford Lee, it’s whether that is the best use of their funds. The Mariners weakness right now is certainly offense. They may choose to dedicate their ’10 offseason to pursuing guys like Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, and Derrek Lee, rather than renegotiate with Cliff Lee. Or…they might do both.

Aaron: The ab injury to Lee might actually increase the chances of the team to retain him. I’m sure the Mariners aren’t rooting for a situation where the injury negatively impacts the number (or effectiveness) of innings that Lee produces in 2010, but if it does, Lee could be looking at few long-term, big-money offers after the season which could open the door for Seattle to bring him back.

Daniels: I don’t think there’s a chance the M’s resign Lee if he has anything approaching the season he had last year. Even in a pitching-rich free agent market, Lee’s going to be one of the two best available options. Boston will certainly look to him if, as per normal, negotiations for one of their own free agent’s fall through, and the Mets will certainly offer one or both of them a big money deal to try and catch a 2001 Diamondback-type title with two huge pitchers before Carlos Beltran’s deal falls off the books in 2012. It’s going to be really hard for the Mariners to come up with a good reason to give 1/4th their payroll to one pitcher for his declining years.

Question 4 – What place will the Mariners finish in?
Griffin: If you want to just go strictly by on-paper, true talent levels, then the Mariners are probably the team with the best shot of winning the division. However, we all know that on-paper talent isn’t always exactly how the standings layout come October. I’m extremely optimistic about this season, and right now my standing prediction is that the Mariners are going to win the AL West, which is an entirely realistic scenario. Of course, you have to remember that even in the AL West, there are four teams competing for what’s probably going to be one playoff spot, and each one of them has a realistic shot at contending, which makes it a really tough call.

Matt: I’m very eager to see the Mariners play this year. I love what they’ve done this offseason and I think the AL West will be an exciting division with three teams who are legit contenders. In the end, however, I’m picking the Mariners to finish third. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they finished first, and I expect them to be well above .500, winning 85-90 games, but I think the offense will be an Achilles heel that will be difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, Ichiro and Chone can’t drive themselves in (at least not consistently), so Seattle needs a couple guys in the RBI spots – guys like Franklin Gutierrez, Milton Bradley, and Casey Kotchman – to step up and have career years.

Daniels: I didn’t learn my lesson a few years ago. I think the M’s are good enough to take the West this year. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Eugene: I agree, I think the additions and the Angel’s lack of additions make the Mariners the favorites. Of course, it depends on Bradley and health.

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