Springtime Storylines: Was the Mariners' offseason all that it was cracked up to be?

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Mariners logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The new-look Seattle Mariners


The
big question: Was the Mariners’ offseason all that it was cracked up to be
?

No, but that’s mostly because it was cracked up to be something monumentally-transforming by a lot of people and it really wasn’t. It was a good offseason, make no mistake about it, but this was a team that was still deeply flawed despite 2009’s improvement. Despite all of the good things that happened over the winter, none of them disposed of those flaws in any definitive way.

Adding Chone Figgins was great because he provides some serious on-base ability, and that’s an absolute good.  But even though his presence provides a great 1-2 punch with Ichiro, the 3-4-5 punch remains a real problem.  Casey Kotchman hitting third, Milton Bradley batting cleanup and (I guess) Ken Griffey hitting fifth does not exactly put fear into the hearts of the AL West.  Taking away Russell Branyan’s power from that lineup doesn’t help matters.  Putting it all together and you don’t have much of an improvement over a lineup that had severe problems scoring runs last year.

Likewise, Cliff Lee is a wonderful addition to the starting rotation, but again, 3-4-5 — Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Doug Fisterdon’t resemble the sorts of pitchers that are usually found on playoff-bound teams, which is what so many people assumed the Mariners would be as Jack Zduriencik pulled the levers this winter.  An OK group, especially if the defense holds up, but one that presented depth questions even before Cliff Lee’s abdominal injury.

This isn’t to say the Mariners didn’t have a great offseason. They did. It’s just that last year’s team probably overachieved a bit, there were a lot of holes to fill and it’s too much to expect them all to be filled in one winter.

So what else is going on?

  • Last year the story in Seattle was defense, defense defense. Can it be repeated? Defense is hard to predict and is often subject to random ebbs and flows, but my gut says yes, because it’s not like anyone who played good D for them last year was a fluke or anything.  Taking away Russell Branyan at first and adding Casey Kotchman is an upgrade. Having Jack Wilson at short all year is an upgrade. Lopez moving to third and Figgins taking over at second is a tad weird (and Adrian Beltre will certainly be missed), but I don’t see either guy having trouble handling their new positions. Milton Bradley in left could be an issue, but it’s not like he’s such a fixture that he won’t be substituted for quite often.
  • Not that Bradley will always be there, what with the inevitable
    suspensions and all. Which is really just a snarky way of saying we
    don’t know which Milton Bradley the Mariners are going to get.
    Mild-mannered and relatively good citizen Texas Ranger Bradley or the
    Chicago flameout?  The story we’ve heard all offseason is that the
    Seattle press is a lot less antagonistic than their Chicago counterparts
    and that if a man can just disappear anywhere it’s in Seattle. But
    Bradley hasn’t been particularly quiet this spring
    , and one wonders if he won’t find a way to continue the high drama in his new home.

  • Cliff Lee’s abdomen is obviously the big story of late spring for the Mariners. Lee had this type of an injury in Cleveland once.  The biggest problem wasn’t getting him back. It was that he had a hard time pitching effectively once he got back.  If Lee isn’t Lee once he heals, this team is going to be in a lot of trouble.
  • Though his stats weren’t anything special Dustin Ackley is turning heads at Mariners’ camp. The former outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned second baseman could be in Seattle this year. If he makes it, Figgins might go back to third and Lopez may be out altogether.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is not a Mariners’ team with a lot of margin for error. They have no reliable power threat. One of the two aces on which they’ve wagered so much is hurt.  They wouldn’t have to experience unprecedented bad luck in
order to go into the toilet.  I like the Mariners’ direction, but I don’t think
they’re heading to the playoffs this year.

Prediction: Third
place, AL West, followed by a series of highly unfair articles criticizing Jack Zduriencik for not doing enough to pull the team into contention.

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Giants and Brandon Belt have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday

San Francisco Giants'  Brandon Belt reacts after being called out on strikes by home plate umpire Jim Joyce to end the top of the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in a baseball game Friday, Sept.. 4, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Brandon Belt filed for $7.5 million and was offered $5.3 million by the Giants when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. That’s a pretty sizable gap. While there’s still a chance that an agreement will be worked out at the last minute, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that an arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Giants haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 2004, when they lost to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Schulman hears from one person involved that because of the gap between Belt and the Giants, there’s a real chance this will break that string and require a hearing.

Belt batted .280/.356/.478 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI over 137 games in 2015, but he dealt with concussion symptoms for the second straight season. An arbitration hearing could bring some unpleasant conversation to the surface.

Padres sign veteran utility player Skip Schumaker

Cincinnati Reds' Skip Schumaker is tagged out at home plate by San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The Padres have inked veteran utility player Skip Schumaker to a minor league contract, per FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Schumaker, who turned 36 last week, has spent the last two seasons with the Reds. He batted .242/.306/.336 with one home run and 21 RBI over 131 games last season while making starts between all three outfield spots and second base. Cincinnati cut ties with him in November after declining a $2.5 million club option for 2016.

While Schumaker had to settle for a non-guaranteed deal here, it would be no surprise to see him land a bench job with the Padres come Opening Day.

Report: MLB, union making progress on new slide rule at second base

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada falls after a slide by Los Angeles Dodgers' Chase Utley during the seventh inning of an NL Division Series baseball game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. (John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News via AP)
John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News via AP
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After Ruben Tejada suffered a fractured right fibula on a takeout slide from Chase Utley during the playoffs, there was momentum for a new rule about slides at second base. We haven’t heard much about it since the Owners’ Meetings in November, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that talks between MLB and the players’ union are making progress and a change is expected for the 2016 season.

The exact wording of the new rule is still unclear, but Olney hears that there’s a focus toward “ensuring that sliding runners either touch the base or make an effort to touch the base.” Below are some more details:

Sources said that in the union’s internal discussions, players made it clear they had been taught since they first began playing baseball to go into second base with the intent of breaking up double-play attempts. Although the union wants to improve safety for middle infielders, it does not want to eliminate players’ aggressiveness on slides or the ability to break up a double play.

However, there is a desire on both sides to eliminate slides on which a baserunner goes beyond the effort to reach second to make contact with middle infielders.

There’s already a rule in place for a situation like we saw with Utley, but it’s rarely, if ever, enforced. It’s unfortunate that Tejada’s fractured fibula had to be the catalyst for change or clarification with the rules, but hopefully this will result in fewer injuries in the future. Similar to the “Buster Posey Rule” for plays at home plate, get ready for life with the “Chase Utley Rule.”

Here’s the video of the Tejada/Utley play:

And here’s the video of another high-profile play from 2015 which resulted in a torn lateral meniscus and a fractured tibia for Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang:

Report: Tigers and J.D. Martinez agree to a two-year, $18.5 million deal

J.D. Martinez
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
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UPDATE: Jason Beck of MLB.com confirms that it’s a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

8:00 p.m. ET: Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Tigers have avoided arbitration with outfielder J.D. Martinez by agreeing to a two-year contract. No word yet on the terms involved, but Robert Murray of Baseball Essential reported earlier today that he was hearing rumblings about a two-year, $18.5 million deal.

Martinez filed for $8 million and was offered $6 million by the Tigers when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. There has been some talk about a long-term extension, but we heard last week that the two sides were discussing both one- and two-year deals. This new deal will buy out Martinez’s final two years of arbitration, so as of now, he’s still on track to go into free agency after 2017.

After a breakout 2014, Martinez batted .282 with 38 home runs and an .879 OPS over 158 games last season.