Mariners Backers Could See Profit in 2007
by Robert Ferringo - 04/06/2007
Potential, that ever-alluring trait and currency of fools and dreamers, has once again intoxicated scores of baseball fans in its annual Spring Seduction. Hope and expectations abound, with much of the excitement for fans, gamblers and fantasy baseball eunuchs revolving around the promise and latent possibility radiating from young studs, just-entering-their-prime superstars and hidden gems whose production has been long awaited.
Well, the 2007 Seattle Mariners are the opposite of potential. With a roster full of aged or rotten veterans, the Mariners find themselves pining for the past rather than breathlessly anticipating the future. However - and I know I'm going out on a limb here - I have a gut feeling that Seattle may be ready to post its first profitable season in five years while threatening in the American League West.
Technically, the Mariners only have the 14th oldest roster in the Majors at an average age of 28.9 years old. But that stat is a bit misleading. Only seven guys (28 percent) of the M's 25-man roster were born before 1977. Conversely, the Mets have the highest average age in MLB (31.3) but that number is inflated because of relics like Moises Alou, Julio Franco and Tom Glavine. New York actually has 10 players (40 percent) age 29 or younger on their 25-man.
The other major difference between the supposedly middle-aged Mariners and the allegedly menopaused Mets is that the Amazin's boast up-and-comers like Jose Reyes and David Wright while Seattle's budding superstar bats are…drum roll please…Yuni Betancourt (career .279 hitter with 10 home runs) and Jose Lopez (.264 with 17). So whose roster would you rather have in this time of Well Wishing?
Since winning 93 games back in 2003 the Mariners have averaged just 70 victories in the past three seasons. They have managed to improve their mark each year since hitting rock bottom in the disastrous 2004 campaign (63-99). However, with most of their top players apparently on the downside of their careers, one has to wonder what the ceiling is for this team.
The much-lamented front office in the Emerald City has seemingly adopted a bizarre hybrid of the Yankees/Giants Method of trading prospects for veterans and the Pirates/Royals Method making sure that the only pick up beaten-down, has-been, washout veterans that were usually never very good to begin with. It's an interesting mix, and one that I can't say I fully endorse.
But that doesn't' mean that there aren't the makings of a decent ball club here. Guys like Richie Sexson, Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro and Adrian Beltre are All Star-level players. Or at least they were at one time. If those players can pickpocket just one more strong season from Father Time then the M's could boast an imposing middle of the order. Not to mention Ichiro at the top.
The pitching staff is pretty much on par with every other aspect of the team - you recognize the names as guys who, at one time or another, were impressive players on good teams. Miguel Battista pitched in Game 7 in the 2001 World Series while earning a ring with the Diamondbacks. Jarrod Washburn was the Game 1 starter for the eventual champion Angels in the 2002 World Series. Jeff Weaver picked up the series-clinching win for the Cardinals last year as they won the World Championship. That experience, coupled with the amazing potential (OK, this is the one guy we can attach that word to) of Felix Hernandez gives the Mariners the makings of a respectable pitching staff.
But experience at the top of the rotation is no substitute for a few rally-killing double play balls or a decent out pitch. These are names that have been linked to championship success, but you have to question how many of those titles they were actually responsible for. And more importantly, are they capable of doing it again under less than ideal circumstances?
Further, the middle relief is an accident waiting to happen. In keeping with the team theme, washouts Chris Reitsma and Arthur Rhodes are being asked to anchor the bullpen. Both hurlers have lengthy track records of blown saves, late-inning meltdowns and damaged dreams. But now they're being counted on for a team that doesn't have the margin for error that allows for too many heart-breaking losses late in ball games.
There are also the up-in-the-air contract situations for Ichiro and Manager Mike Hargrove. Hargrove is a lost cause and may be the biggest reason not to get to excited about this team. Essentially, he's worthless. Ichiro is unquestionably the M's best player. But Seattle management might be inclined to involve him in trade discussions rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency next winter. These are a pair of intriguing subplots and two potentially season-sabotaging situations that could turn Seattle from sleeper to sideshow faster than you can say, "Harold Reynolds has happy hands."
All these red flags and all of my better instincts tell me that I should avoid this team like those damn latte-drinking, hemp-wearing, WTO-bombing hippies in the Pacific Northwest avoid non-biodegradable materials. But I can't help this sense that Seattle could be an undervalued asset entering this season. They started out on the right foot by taking two of three against the Athletics. That was actually an important series win because 1) the A's absolutely own the Mariners and 2) in a city that's already got one foot out on the door on this team it's critical that they get off to a positive start.
Much like the Brewers in the National League, I intend to track the progress of the Mariners and update you with articles on how things are breaking for them. I don't think that Seattle is a playoff team, but I'm going on record that they have the potential to be a semi-reliable moneymaker for gamblers this summer and a team to keep an eye on.
After all, that's the buzzword this time of year: potential.
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