By now you have probably checked out enough previews and predictions, so I will try to take a bit different approach. Instead of giving some broad overview, or trying to give exact numbers, I will focus on key changes, and key players. With this team, that's more than enough to write about.
So, here are my reasons the 2010 Mariners won't be just like the 2009 bunch.
First of all, the changes:
- Chone Figgins replaces Adrian Beltre - It is debatable which of these two players is actually better, but let's not forget how bad Beltre's 2009 campaign was. He missed significant time with injuries, and even when playing, they made him a shell of the hitter he can be. Figgins in 2010 will blow away Beltre's 2009 production, even if the defense isn't as good. This is one of the biggest reasons to expect the M's offense to be better this year.
- Casey Kotchman replaces Russell Branyan - Kind of an opposite argument here to the Figgins/Beltre one. With Branyan's back problems, it is pretty clear who is the superior player right now. However, there is no getting around the gaping hole Branyan's 2009 production at the plate leaves. Kotchman won't fill it, but he should at least hit for average, and he brings a much, much better glove with him to first. Casey is a very different player than Branyan, but overall I think he is a better replacement then most are giving him credit for right now.
- Jack Wilson replaces Yuniesky Betancourt/Ronny Cedeno/et al - Jack isn't a great hitter, but he's definitely better than Yuni or Ronny was in 2009. His defense is light years ahead of virtually every shortstop too (especially Yuni). It's easy to point at Jack and say he is a reason this team won't score enough runs, but don't forget who he is replacing from 2009. He is a big reason this team has a better starting nine this year - and even a reason it is reasonable to expect the M's to score some more runs.
- Milton Bradley replaces Endy Chavez/Michael Saunders - I don't care how good Bradley's legs are, the defense takes a hit with him out there. However, he is the superior hitter. Yet another reason this team will score some more runs, though not as clear-cut if this is a significant upgrade, considering the defense, and Bradley's well-documented past.
- The starting rotation has more upside - Chris Jakubauskas, Garrett Olson, and Carlos Silva combined to make 25 starts for the 2009 Mariners. That's not going to happen this year. Ian Snell is in line to eat up a lion's share of those starts. Certainly, Snell is a question mark, but I'll take him over the trio he replaces. Furthermore, Cliff Lee is in line to take Jarrod Washburn's starts, and while Wash was surprisingly fantastic, I'll take Lee too.
- Kanekoa Teixeira and Shawn Kelley are taking over middle relief - Both of these pitchers have question marks around their ability to handle this role, but would you rather have them, or the Miguel Batista/Garret Olson/Chris Jakubauskas cross-your-fingers-for-a-few-innings mix the M's had in that role in 2009? I thought so.
- Brandon League is in the bullpen too - Brandon Morrow, Roy Corcoran, and Randy Messenger combined for 44 relief appearances last year. A healthy Sean White and Shawn Kelley may take some of those appearances, but many of them will likely be handed to Brandon League. That's a good thing.
- Ichiro will be worse, but how much worse? Ichiro had one of his best years in 2009. Age and regression to the mean should catch up to him in 2010. He can't be banked on to put an equally insane year, though he should still be great. However, on a team offensively challenged, this is worth pointing out, and worrying some about.
- How good will David Aardsma be? I liked Aardsma as a breakout candidate last year, but never expected him to be as good as he was. He isn't likely to keep his home run rate as low as he did last year, and he has been beaten around pretty hard in spring training too. I wonder how long Wak will stick with Aardsma in the closer's role. I think Mark Lowe takes over as early as mid-May. I'm that worried about Aardsma.
- How good will the catchers be? I mean this in a positive way. The M's have suffered through a couple seasons where the backstops have more or less been a black hole on offense. That shouldn't be the case this year. Both Rob Johnson and Adam Moore have some offensive upside, and in this case, even being below average is a noticeable improvement. Johnson and Moore are more than capable of that. Plus, gone are the days of pitchers whining about Kenji's pitch selection.
- Will Ken Griffey Jr. be better than last year? Supposedly, Griffey's knee has been bad for a few years, but is better now. For what it's worth, Griffey's walk rate increased significantly the past few years, and his BABIP went way down. There is a correlation, but that doesn't mean causation, especially at Griffey's advanced age. If the knee has really been that big of a problem, perhaps Griffey can bounce back more than almost anyone (including myself) thinks he can.
- How good is Franklin Gutierrez? As big as Guti's 2009 campaign was, 2010 is in some ways even bigger. He established that he is a good player, but how good? It's easy to look at his breakout season, and assume he will regress down towards his career rates in 2010. That's okay if that happens, but I'm just going to throw this out there: Guti finally got a chance to play every day. He flashed some serious power at times in 2009. The M's want to see more of that, along with more patience. They've seen enough of both out of Guti in spring training to toy around with hitting him third. What if he sticks in the third spot, and hits around 25 home runs? That would put him close to 100 RBIs, if not over. Combine that with a decent batting average, improved on-base percentage, elite defense (and the newfound love for defense in the media), and a pennant run by the M's, and Franklin Gutierrez might get some MVP consideration.
For me, the questions remain unanswered. About the only thing I am sure of is that this team will score some more runs. How many more though? Will the pitching and defense stay just as good too?
I don't know how good this team is, but I think guys like Franklin Gutierrez, Casey Kotchman, Milton Bradley, Erik Bedard, Ian Snell, and David Aardsma will go a long ways toward determining this team's fate. I just listed a quarter of the roster, and that's the point. Turn anywhere on this team, and there is a looming question mark. No matter how much the roster is analyzed, those answers won't come until the season starts to unfold.
Hopefully the answers are more good than bad.