It is often said that hope springs eternal and that has never been more evident than with the start of baseball’s Spring Training. In a beloved ritual dating back generations, teams flock to the warm climates of Arizona and Florida to shake off the off-season rust and prepare for the upcoming season.
Though many teams know they are longshots for postseason glory, the arrival of spring allows teams to dream of better days ahead.
One team badly in need of better days ahead is the Seattle Mariners. After years of being the doormats of baseball, the team enjoyed a solid run of success in the 90s and early 2000s, thanks to stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriquez, and Ichiro.
Sadly, times have been lean for the franchise in recent years, as they have not been to the playoffs since the 116-win 2001 season. While they have had a few seasons over 500 since, they have by mired in mediocrity in recent years in large part to a highly anemic offense that ranks amongst the lowest in history in the modern Designated Hitter era.
The majestic Safeco Field has gone from being a lively and packed place to setting new lows in attendance, as fans have grown very frustrated with not only losing but an ownership that is seen as not being committed to placing a winning product on the field.
The team went into the off season with power and offensive being their top priority. They reportedly offered Josh Hamilton a 4-year, 100 million dollar contract and traded for Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Justin Upton, only to have both players reject the offers.
The Mariners traded within their division for DH/1B Kendry Morales and then worked a deal with the Washington Nationals to return 1B/DH Michael Morse to the team. In a further sign of desperation, the team took a flyer on former All Star Jason Bay hoping that he can reclaim a portion of his former glory playing closer to his home in western Canada.
The moves have been viewed as largely cosmetic by the fan base, who question if those moves, or the decision to move in the Safeco Field fences, will really address the issues about the team’s offense issues.
The team is in early contract talks with Cy Young winning Ace Felix Hernandez, who has stated many times that he wishes to remain with the team despite the losing ways. This has caused much debate as some see a trade of Hernandez as being a fast fix to the team’s issues, while others say it is best for the team to wait until their high-ranked pitching and offensive prospects in the minors are ready for the big leagues.
The Mariners are counting on C/DH Jesus Montero and 1B/DH Justin Smoak to emerge as the solid middle of the order threats they were projected to be. Smoak has disappointed greatly since being obtained from the Texas Rangers as the key piece of the Cliff Lee deal. He has shown flashes of power, but has been plagued by injuries and has complained openly about the difficulties of hitting the ball out of Safeco. As he did at the end of the 2010 season, Smoak finished the final month of the season in a flurry hitting 341 and showing flashes of power and consistency. Sadly, Smoak has done this before.
The team has a severe logjam at DH/1B with Morales, Bay, Morales, Smoak, Morse and Montero so many expect that trades/releases could be in the future for the team, especially for players such as Bay who must impress early in camp.
3B Kyle Seager must show that his 20 HR 86 RBI was not a fluke and that he is an everyday player. CF Franklin Gutierrez must show that he is free of the injuries that limited his play the past two seasons and regain some of his form or he can quickly find himself out of the picture.
On the pitching side, once you get past Hernandez things get very iffy as number-two starter Jason Vargas was shipped to the division rival Los Angeles Angels for Morales, leaving the team with Hisashi Iwakuma as their only real vet in the rotation. The team is hoping that one of their big three pitching prospects, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Danny Hultzen are ready to shine soon especially with the retirement of Kevin Millwood.
While the team may do better this year, especially with the lowly Houston Astros joining the division, the huge issues at offense and pitching behind Hernandez makes this look like another long season for long suffering Mariner fans.