Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 82 points (8th MLB, 6th AL)
Starting Rotation – 35 points (1st MLB, 1st AL)
Line-Up – 32 points (17th MLB, 7th AL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 15 points (T-11th MLB, T-5th AL)
Offseason Additions – Eric Bedard, Carlos Silva, Brad Wilkerson
Offseason Subtractions – Jose Guillen
Biggest Strength– Starting Rotation
The Mariners rotation rated as the best in MLB going into 2008. While all the fuss in the media is about Johan Santana going to the Mets, you could argue that the better pitcher in 2007 was the one the Mariners picked up, Eric Bedard. Bedard had a better ERA (3.16), K/9 rate (10.93, best in baseball) and H/9 rate (6.97, 2nd best in baseball). If were on a team a decent record, he would have been talking about a lot more in the Cy Young race. The Mariners also picked up a solid 5th starter in Carlos Silva. They may have paid him like a #2, but to have someone who has been real solid 3 of the last 4 years as your 5th man says something about the depth of the rotation.
Biggest Weakness– Offense
Seattle still has Ichiro getting hits like a crazy person, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess who will hit him in. A couple years ago, the Mariners went out and got Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexton to bolster their offense. Beltre has been average and Sexton has been atrocious. Last year’s 2nd leading RBI man is gone (Jose Guillen) and they did very little to replace his production. They have a lot of solid hitters (Jose Vidro, Kenji Johjima, Raul Ibanez), but no big-time bat to carry load. One of their younger players (Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez) is going to have to step up.
Key Player in ’08– Felix Hernandez
You could make a fair argument that “King Felix” has the best raw ability of any pitcher in baseball. He has a 99 MPH heater, and 92 MPH slider. When he is on, he is nearly unhittible (ask the Red Sox). However, he is only 22, and hasn’t been as dominant as he could be. He had a respectable 3.92 ERA in 2007, but really should be below 3.00 once he matures. Whether or not that maturation starts this year will be huge for the Mariners. A Bedard/Hernandez 1-2 COULD be the best we’ve seen since Johnson/Schilling and WOULD mean a trip to the playoffs.
Player to Keep an Eye On– J.J. Putz
J.J. Putz was the most dominant reliever of 2007, it wasn’t even close, and you probably never saw him throw 1 pitch. For the season, Putz pitched 71.7 innings, with 82 K, a 1.38 ERA and an absolutely unfair 0.698 WHIP. That WHIP was the 3rd lowest in ML history by a pitcher with 70+ IP in a season. The #2 pitcher on that list won the Cy Young and took steroids (Eric Gagne), the #1 pitcher is Dennis Eckersley. Not only was Putz the best reliever in 2007, but had one of the best seasons ever for a reliever. Check him out when you get a chance.
Outlook/Prediction– 2nd Place, AL West. The Wild Card team in the AL will come down to the Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians and Mariners. I’m very tempted to go with Mariners because I really love their rotation and back of their bullpen. They would be an absolute shoo-in for me if Felix Hernandez was coming off his breakout season. However, they are banking that this is the year he breaks out. They could use some help on offense. Maybe Brad Wilkerson will turn back into the guy who was traded straight up for Alfonso Soriano, maybe Adrian Beltre will think he’s in a contract year again, maybe Richie Sexton will hit .220 instead of .200….and maybe not. If this team does make the playoffs though, they are definitely a sleeper contender for the title.