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Better Know An Enemy: Pt. 6, Seattle Mariners.

I'll be honest. I was thinking about putting this one off until the end. Not because the Mariners are not interesting. And not so much because I'm upset that Ichiro doesn't play for us. It was because of this. Do not try to make sense of this trade. It's impossible. I've looked at it from every possible angle. The Transaction Oracle says it best.

We're not even done. This one is pretty classic as well. To grossly paraphrase Lewis Black, thinking about these transactions is what gives you one of these. Bill Bavasi should have lost his job at birth. It's that simple.

Starting Pitching.

The Mariners are going to have to deal with some "losses" here. I say "losses", because the specifically not aforementioned Horacio Ramirez should be okay to duplicate Gil Meche's performance in a best-case scenario: (11-8, 4.48 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) or new Red Sox pitcher Joel Pineiro's numbers in a worst-case scenario. Horacio did pitch in the NL last year, so the Mariners are probably "hoping" he comes in in-between those two.

Returnees: Jarrod Washburn. I'm not sure when he's going to live up to his contract, if ever. His BABIP was right around average last season, so it's possible he's simply starting/continuing to regress. King Felix Hernandez was slightly unlucky last season. Look for his hit totals to come down while striking out a similar amount of hitters and improving his control slightly. My prediction? 16-8, 205 IP, 3.85 ERA, 198 K. Not quite his ceiling, but I think the Mariners will take it for his age 21 season (he turns 21 a few days after opening day.).

Miguel Batista. Miguel signed with the M's for 3 years/24M. I liked this signing at the time: I still can't tell you why. He is a ground-ball pitcher, and the left side of the M's infield can stand up to anyone's as far as defense is concerned. He could also pitch out of the bullpen, though $8M/yr. for someone who in a best-case scenario is your secondary setup man is a little steep.

The Mariners also have a bit of a fifth starter decision to make. They're one of the finalists in the Brian Lawrence sweepstakes. I'm kind of tired of reading about that, so I'll stop there. Internal candidates include Cha Seung Baek. Baek was pretty successful in six starts last season, with a WHIP of 1.14 in just over 34 innings. Jake Woods is also in the mix. If I'm the M's, I forget about Lawrence, give it to Baek, and pay attention to Jason Woods's splits. He's a more successful pitcher in the bullpen.

Bullpen.

J.J. Putz. The Putz came from out of nowhere (well, relative obscurity anyway) to take over the closer spot from Eddie Guardado. He's still a bit of a gamble, I think. He's never had a season anywhere near as successful as last year. His BABIP (.320) was actually above-average (the bad version of above-average), so who knows. Maybe he turned a corner.

I was actually pushing the Red Sox (with my complete lack of influence) to sign Chris Reitsma. (Check out his b-r.com page. I had no idea he was a former first-rounder that we picked). He seems a decent gamble to rebound, and potentially a better option to compete as a closer than Joel Pineiro (I really should stop beating this dead horse). George Sherrill is the M's lefty specialist, though he faced nearly as many RHH(.805 OPS against). He's actually extremely good against lefties (.412 OPS against last season), and probably shouldn't be used beyond that.

Jon Huber's good part of the season last year may have been a fluke. Not sure how much the M's are counting on the "youngster" (25/26) next season, but they should be cautious. Sean Green was a career MiL until last season. He spent parts of four seasons at A-level ball, before moving through AA and AAA the last two years. He certainly showed enough at those levels that we can reasonably predict at least some time in the ML as a decent 6th and 7th inning pitcher. I'm not sure any of the other guys are worth wasting virtual ink on: The M's could still sign Brian Lawrence, and you'd have to assume they would find room for Baek in the bullpen.

Infield/Catcher/DH.

The much-maligned Adrian Beltre. "Wow. THT instead of b-r. He must want to make some point about win shares." I do. Beltre was tied for third in the AL in WS by a third baseman with 19, fifth in defensive WS. He's never going to really earn his contract, but if he can raise his OBP and SLG a bit next season, he'll be a very valuable player.

Yuniesky Betancourt is an exciting player to watch in the field, but if he can't improve his hitting, he may not last too long in the ML. His double-player partner will be Jose Lopez. Lopez made the All-Star team last season, and will need to improve his defense (and continue to improve his offense) to stick in the bigs. These two are going to mature together, and if they do so, are a good bet to hold down the MI for the Mariners for several years to come.

There are some things that Richie Sexson can do. He can hit HRs. He'll probably rack up some RBIs. And he'll probably K a lot. This is the player he is. They couldn't/were unwilling to unload him in the offseason, and he's a bit too old (32) to expect him to improve on his two seasons in Seattle.

Backing up these players will be Willie Bloomquist. Bloomquist does everything for the M's, from OF, to IF, to concession duty. Offensively, he can run. He can also run. Ben Broussard will see the majority of time at 1B when Sexson sits or is the DH. Broussard is somewhat of a non-mystery. He doesn't walk enough, he hits for a good bit of power, and isn't terrific defensively. There's a lot of these guys floating around the bigs and AAA.

Kenji Johjima will see the bulk of time behind the plate. He'll probably see another 140+ games and put up the same kind of offense. His transition was a success, and there's not much reason to expect it to stop. His backup is Rene Rivera. The truth of his offense is probably somewhere between his 2005 OPS+ of 147 and his 2006 OPS+ of 15.

Jose Vidro. Jose Vidro. Jose Vidro. He'll probably throw up an OPS just around .750-.775 next season. He's no longer a 2B, though he might see time there. He's not really a 1B, though he could see time there as well. He'll primarily DH. ...see the poll.

Outfield.

Career year? Career year? What's that? Ask Raul Ibanez. It'd be hard to assume he could repeat 2006. You've read these, you know I like to look at BABIP and see if he had an exceptionally good year due to luck. It's right around the average, so he could come close to last season, but it was an outlier in many ways.

Ichiro will probably spend most of the season in CF, assuming our next player can produce and stay healthy. He'll be an asset there defensively, and he's still a good leadoff hitter (his OBP is pretty average-driven) and can run well(80% career success rate). He's been above 100 runs every season in the ML.

Gambling. Jose Guillen. At his best, Jose Guillen is a good RF defensively with a cannon arm, and could hit 25-30 HRs with 90+ RBIs. At his worst, Jose Guillen might only play half a season while injured for the Mariners. At $5M, it's a medium-risk investment. I like the Indians' chances with Trot Nixon a little better.

Mike Morse could see time at as many positions as Bloomquist next season, while probably putting up a little more offense. I'm curious as to whether or not Jeremy Reed will make the roster. He's been a disappointment for the Mariners offensively, could potentially use some more time hitting at AAA, and Ichiro averages about 160 games a year. You do the math, because my head hurts.

If Guillen struggles or can't stay healthy, look for the M's to move Ichiro back to RF and try now-OF prospect Adam Jones in CF, unless they believe Reed can hit. Aside from either of those two possibilities, they'll probably have to look outside the organization. A look at Sickels's list tells us Jones is their only OF prospect in the top 10.

Overall.

This is a team that could surprise, if only because the other teams in the AL West aren't exactly powerhouses. Beyond Felix, their rotation is mediocre, and similarly beyond Putz in the bullpen. They were second-to-last in the league in runs scored, and unless Guillen comes through, there's not a lot of reason to expect a big improvement.

My guess? 4th place. No team in the West significantly upgraded (though the Rangers made some moves that could pay off), but none lost a lot either.