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

Leave a comment

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.

Click
here for other Springtime Storylines

Ronald Acuña batting sixth, playing left field in his Braves debut

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Braves have made it official, announcing that they have called up top prospect Ronald Acuña. He’ll bat sixth in tonight’s game against the Reds and will start in left field.

Acuña will be wearing number 13, no doubt to honor past Braves luminaries like Adonis Garcia, Nate McLouth, Ozzie Guillen, Juan Eichelberger and Jerry Royster, all of whom have worn the fabled 1 and 3. Feel like he stands a pretty good chance of besting their exploits.

The 20-year-old Acuña was 11-for-his-last-33 with a homer, a double, four walks, and three stolen bases at Triple-A Gwinnett following a slow start. He tore it up in spring training, however, and hit .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 44 stolen bases, and 88 runs scored in 139 games last season across three levels of the Braves’ minor league system.

The future was delayed a bit, but it’s here now for the Atlanta Braves’ phenom.