Despite the cold and overcast weather, pitchers and catchers have arrived in Arizona for the start of the Cactus League season. For seasoned vets, it is a time to get into shape for the long grind of the upcoming season, and for wide-eyed rookies, it is their chance to impress the manager and front office with their abilities.
There are also the players who are hoping for one more season in the sun and, due to either age or injury, are giving it one last try as they are not yet ready to give up their big league experience.
Every team will have its share of injuries, disappointments, concerns and players who rise from the unknown ranks to perform so well that they make it impossible to be cut from the final roster.
Of course, shining in Spring Training with the sun and weather that is highly conducive to offense and doing it in a cold, damp climate at the start of the season are often two very different things.
For the Seattle Mariners, this is a year where they must literally put up or shut up as fans have grown very tired of the excuses and promises of good things to come once the young prospects arrive. With a roster comprised of batting averages in the .220-.260 range, fans are tired of empty promises and what is viewed as a lack of any real improvement in the roster.
Naturally with the arrival of spring, and hope and optimism is everywhere. Mariner players are confident that the additions of Kendry Morales and Michael Morse will give them legitimate power threats in the 3 and 4 spots in the order which will take the pressure off younger players such as Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. They also point to the leadership of Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez as veterans off the bench to be a much needed shot in the arm.
Moving in the fences at Safeco Field is seen by many, myself included, to be a band-aid to the team’s offensive issues. Sure moving in the fences may result in a few more homers and doubles for the team, but it will also mean more homers and doubles for the visiting teams as well, most of whom have better offenses that the Mariners.
The burden will rest on the pitchers to keep the other teams in check. Felix Hernandez is expected to be rock solid, but the trade of #2 starter Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels has left a series of questions marks in the rotation. The result of this is likely a taxed bullpen at the start of the season.
Manager Eric Wedge will have to show patience with the young players and be the leader he is expected to be. With the inclusion of the Houston Astros to the division, the team celebrates having to play the Angels, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s as much as they have in the past, but has conceded that they are still mired in fourth place in the AL West on paper.
Fans of the team are not expecting a miracle run to the post-season. Rather they want to see an improved team that is competitive, entertaining, and capable of a .500 or better record this season.
Those are realistic expectations for many as anything short, the chants for the removal of the front office will grow even louder and more and more empty seats will greet the players this summer.