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Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who's on first?
A platoon system could be the way the Mariners go at first base. Left-handed-hitting Russell Branyan has plenty of power and would start against right-handers, for sure. But he has struggled against lefties during his career, which could create playing time for a right-handed batter such as Mike Sweeney or the versatile Mike Morse.
2. Who will replace J.J. Putz as the closer?
3. Who will get the most playing time in left field?
Manager Don Wakamatsu prefers to open the regular season with one primary closer. There are plenty of candidates, young and old. Right-hander Mark Lowe leads the pack among the least experienced, while veteran Miguel Batista has the most saves and save chances during his MLB career of anyone on the staff. This figures to be a seven-week battle that won't be decided until the final week of camp.
This could take awhile to sort itself out, especially if general manager Jack Zduriencik secures the services of a free-agent outfielder, possibly Garret Anderson or Ken Griffey Jr. If that doesn't happen, left-handed-hitting Endy Chavez figures to get most of the playing time. The Mariners like his defense, which features speed and strong arm, but offensive run production is another issue. Chavez has little power. Either Wladimir Balentien or Morse could become the starter against left-handers.
61-101, Fourth place, American League West
Projected batting order
1. RF Ichiro Suzuki
.310 BA, .361 OBP, .386 SLG, 6 HR, 42 RBI in 2008
2. 2B Jose Lopez
.297 BA, .322 OBP, .443 SLG, 17 HR, 89 RBI in 2008
3. 3B Adrian Beltre
.266 BA, .327 OBP, .457 SLG, 25 HR, 77 RBI in 2008
4. 1B Russell Branyan
.250 BA, .342 OBP, .583 SLG, 12 HR, 20 RBI in 2008
5. CF Franklin Gutierrez
.248 BA, .307 OBP, .383 SLG, 8 HR, 41 RBI in 2008
6. DH Jeff Clement
.227 BA, .295 OBP, .360 SLG, 5 HR, 23 RBI in 2008
7. C Kenji Johjima
.227 BA, .277 OBP, .332 SLG, 7 HR, 39 RBI in 2008
8. SS Yuniesky Betancourt
.279 BA, .300 OBP, .392 SLG, 7 HR, 51 RBI in 2008
9. LF Endy Chavez
.267 BA, .308 OBP, .330 SLG, 1 HR, 12 RBI in 2008
1. Felix Hernandez, 9-11, 3.45 ERA in 2008
2. Erik Bedard, 6-4, 3.67 ERA in 2008
3. Brandon Morrow, 3-4, 3.34 ERA in 2008
4. Carlos Silva, 4-15, 6.46 ERA in 2008
5. Ryan Rowland-Smith, 5-3, 3.42 ERA in 2008
Closer: Mark Lowe, 1/5 saves, 5.37 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: David Aardsma, 5.55 ERA in 2008
LH setup man: Tyler Johnson, 1-1, 4.03 ERA in 2007
The new guys
Gutierrez: Zduriencik insisted on the 25-year-old outfielder being included in the three-team, 12-player deal with the Mets and Indians. Gutierrez is a natural center fielder with great speed and a strong arm, and he has displayed occasional power. His approach on offense, making the pitcher work, is badly needed on a team loaded with free swingers.
Another acquisition in the mega-trade, the former Mets outfielder is similar to Gutierrez on defense, but without as much power on offense. He also has a tough act to follow, replacing Raul Ibanez -- the most reliable run-producer on the team the past four seasons.
The hard-throwing right-hander is one of several closer candidates, averaging 9.06 strikeouts per nine innings last season with the Red Sox. If not the closer, the 27-year-old could be a good fit for a late-inning setup role. The former first-round Draft choice has moved around, also playing for the Giants, Cubs and White Sox.
Signed as a free agent in January, Walker gives Wakamatsu another option when matching up against opposing pitchers. Walker held right-handed hitters to a .186 batting average (14-for-129) last season with the Giants, and he was especially effective against National League West foes, sporting a 1.42 ERA. The Mariners play the NL West in Interleague Play this season.
The left-hander signed a Minor League contract after missing the entire 2008 season while recovering from left shoulder surgery. But the Mariners believe he is completely recovered and capable of being a quality weapon against opposing left-handed hitters, something Seattle hasn't had since trading Arthur Rhodes to the Marlins last July. Johnson's best season was in 2007, when he held opposing lefty hitters to .217 average while pitching for the Cardinals.
A Rule 5 Draft selection out of the Yankees' organization, the 22-year-old Corona hasn't played higher than Double-A. The switch-hitter is best known for his speed (24 stolen bases last season) and defense. "We're excited about giving this kid a chance," Zduriencik said. "He can run, play the infield and has a little bit of a bat. When you put together a team, you have to have a guy like this."
Another acquisition in the Mets trade, Carp probably is a year or two away from making his big league debut. The 22-year-old hit 17 home runs at Double-A Binghamton last season, earning an Eastern League All-Star Game invitation, and finished with a personnel best .299 batting average.
The former Mets left-hander missed the entire 2008 regular season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum, but caught the Mariners' eye during the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 2.10 ERA in nine games. He held opposing lefty hitters to a .200 batting average.
The veteran right-handed hitter signed a Minor League contract in January, and he hopes to earn a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster. If he doesn't, the first baseman/designated hitter said he would retire. Regarded as one of the classiest players in the business, Sweeney could have a huge influence in a clubhouse that needs veteran leadership.
The left-hander was acquired from the Royals for cash immediately after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft last December. He pitched for Class A Fort Meyers last season, compiling a 2-6 record and 4.04 ERA in 54 relief outings. His 76 strikeouts in 69 innings caught the Mariners' attention.
Prospects to watch
The power-hitting Wilson belted 27 home runs for Double-A West Tennessee last season, but he also struck out 117 times in 406 at-bats. The former second-round Draft choice (in 2001) ranked third in the Southern League with a .549 slugging percentage and was named to the All-Star and post-season All-Star teams.
The former three-sport star in high school made his MLB debut last September and held his own for the most part, rarely looking overmatched. His first career hit, off Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, came in his first career start. How well he plays at Triple-A Tacoma this season could determine how hard the organization tries to re-sign third baseman Adrian Beltre.
The organization named Halman its Minor League Player of the Year in 2008 after he hit 29 home runs and drove in 83 runs for Class A High Desert and West Tennessee. The 21-year-old outfielder from The Netherlands figures to start the '09 season at either West Tennessee or Triple-A Tacoma.
Rated by Baseball America as the Mariners' sixth-best prospect, Moore will get plenty of catching duty during Spring Training. He could be the best overall catcher in the organization, combining good defense with a productive bat. His likely destination coming out of camp is Triple-A Tacoma.
On the rebound
Silva: The veteran right-hander signed a four-year, $48 million contract as a free agent and started his first season with the Mariners with a splendid 3-0 record in April. He won two games the remainder of the season, lost 15, and gained a bunch of weight along the way. The Mariners are counting on a complete turnaround from the new-look hurler, who lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason.
Eyebrows were raised when the Mariners traded five players, including their best prospect, outfielder Adam Jones, to the Orioles. Jaws dropped when Bedard spent more time on the disabled list than on the mound, was more introverted than anyone imagined, and eventually underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his left shoulder. It behooves Bedard to have a superb season in 2009 because he becomes eligible for free agency.
For the first time in his 14-year professional career, Johjima lost his job as the team's primary catcher on account of poor performance. The Johjima that played so well during the first two years with Seattle finally showed up in September, when he batted .333 and drove in 13 runs.
Ibanez: The Mariners made a casual attempt to re-sign the team's most productive hitter the past four seasons, but would not have been able to pay him what other teams offered. Ibanez eventually signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Phillies, and Seattle will receive two Draft choices as compensation.
It was a tough call for Zduriencik to trade the team's closer for the past 2 1/2 seasons. But an opportunity to re-stock a Minor League system hit hard by the Bedard trade was too good for the GM to pass up. During his tenure as the closer, Putz became just the second pitcher in franchise history to record at least 100 saves.
A valuable late-inning setup reliever with a funky delivery scuffled during the second half of last season, possibly because he was used so often in the first half. He was dealt to the Mets in the three-team 12-player trade.
A solid defensive player, it became apparent to the organization that Reed did not have enough of an offensive upside, so he was included in the package Seattle sent to the Mets. Reed, who spent all of the 2005 and '06 seasons with the Mariners, suffered a broken thumb while diving for a ball in '06 and spent most of last season in the Minors.
A backup at many positions during his six full seasons with the Mariners, the Northwest native finally gets a chance to become a full-time player with the Royals, who signed him to a two-year, $3.1 million contract. Bloomquist will compete for the starting second-base job.
The second-time-around Mariner contributed versatility to the team last season and batted .316 with runners in scoring position. But the organization decided to go with younger backup infielders, making Cairo expendable. He is still looking for a job.
The knuckleball specialist had a chance to return to the Mariners this season, but the Twins pursued him harder and offered him a better opportunity of earning a spot on the 25-man roster. So Dickey opted to continue his career in the Twin Cities. He can start or relieve and would pitch every day if allowed.
A late-season callup, Valbuena played excellent defense at second base. He has great range going to his right or left, but needs a lot of work on his offense. He was traded to the Indians in the three-team, 12-player swap.