Lost in the delirium of crazy Wild Card finishes was that the final game of the regular season wasn't Boston's collapse nor Tampa Bay's classic clincher. No, the final contest of the 2011 MLB regular season ended with a whimper as the punchless Seattle Mariners were shut out by the Oakland A's 2-0.
Another season, another 95+ loss campaign for the M's, their third in the past four years. The level of losing has surely grated fans and players but the higher ups in the organization believe the team is headed in the right direction as GM Jack Zduriencik recently received an extension and manager Eric Wedge will return in 2012 as well.
But what will 2012 look like for the M's? One thing we know for sure: Seattle owns the #3 pick in next June's MLB Draft. That being said it's way, way to early to predict who the M's are targeting. After all, it was about a year ago when Anthony Rendon was the consensus pick to go 1.1 and he ended up dropping to the Nationals at #6. Then there's top-five talent Matt Purke, who fell to the third round, coincidentally also to Washington.
Otherwise everything else is an educated guess. For now the Opening Day roster projects something like this:
C Miguel Olivo - $3.5M
1B Justin Smoak ~ $1M
2B Dustin Ackley ~ $2M
SS Brendan Ryan ~ $2M
3B Kyle Seager ~ $1M
LF Casper Wells ~ $1M
CF Franklin Gutierrez - $5.5M
RF Ichiro Suzuki - $17M
DH Mike Carp ~ $1M
INF Chone Figgins - $9M
OF Michael Saunders ~ $1M
OF Trayvon Robinson ~ $1M
C Adam Moore ~ $1M
Olivo isn't good but the pitchers seem to like him. Plus good catchers aren't growing on trees these days. Prepare for twenty passed balls! This was a lost season for Smoak due to hand/face injuries but his mighty struggles were bookended by a hot start and good finish. If his true talent is a .400 slugging first baseman then we should've got Jesus Montero. Look for Ackley's BB:K ratio to spike up as he develops into a more complete player and possible All-Star. Ryan is cheap, a great glove and fiery-clubhouse type every team should have there's little need to replace him. I suspect the M's will play Ackley's college teammate on the hot corner until Seager proves as ineffective as Chone Figgins.
Oh, this outfield. So many questions. Will Ichiro not suck? Will Franklin not really suck? Can Casper Wells cut down on his strikeouts? If not there's an entire cadre of AAAA outfielders (Robinson, Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders) waiting in the wings. There's a real chance the outfield in 2013 is something crazy.
In an ideal world Figgins grows into a super utility role who fills in a hundred games. If he gets traded or released then Luis Rodriguez fills his spot on the roster. I'm not exactly sure how the outfield reserves will play out as it's reasonable that a guy like Halman could find his way on the 25-man team. Or the M's could even go with one outfielder, use Carp as an emergency LF and bring up Alex Liddi to shore up infield depth. But I think that's not a good plan. The Mariners do have some flexibility to experiment with their bench especially if the team decides to go with 11 pitchers instead of twelve. I'm assuming Adam Moore recovers from a huge injury, which is a lot to ask at such a demanding position. In that case prepare for the return of Josh Bard. Or maybe even Chris Gimenez!
As for the arms:
SP Felix Hernandez - $18.5M
SP Michael Pineda ~ $1M
SP Jason Vargas ~ $4.5M
SP Charlie Furbush ~ $1M
SP Blake Beavan ~ $1M
Brandon League ~ $5M
...and the rest! ~ $6M
Felix and Pineda are firmly entrenched in the Mariners staff while a possibly new-and-improved Vargas is a lock to return following his (possible) late season adjustment. Furbush and Beavan fill a rotation that's missing a lot of depth. Seattle will probably sign a veteran starter and maybe even throw Danny Hultzen straight into the fire.
I really doubt League gets traded this winter considering he's the only reliable reliever the team has but Zduriencik loves to wheel and deal. Other fungible arms include Jeff Gray, Tom Wilhelmsen, Chance Ruffin, Shawn Kelly, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes and perhaps the return of David Aardsma.
Roughing the roster math comes out to $47M lineup + $37M pitching = $84M payroll
Next time I'll take a look at some possible signings and trades the Mariners may consider this winter.