Let's start with the major holes still left to be filled:
Catcher - The best in-house option is Adam Moore, who has remembered how to hit in his return to AAA Tacoma. I don't think he will ever be a star, but I still like him. I think he can be a starting catcher in the majors, and I think he can be the answer for the 2011 Mariners.
First Base - The answer is Justin Smoak. I have mentioned in the last couple posts that this team needs some pop from outside the players looked at so far. Smoak is definitely a piece with the potential to provide that.
Left Field - The answer is Michael Saunders. His arrival might be worth a post all on its own, but I don't think his big hits in the Boston series are a mirage. He is a solid left fielder right now, and I think the 2011 team can count on him for a little thunder, and an overall good performance in 2011.
Starting Pitcher(s) - There are at least a couple holes, but plenty of in-house options. Doug Fister is likely a lock to get one of the slots. Michael Pineda is going to be tough to keep out of the other. Fringier folks like Luke French, Ryan Feierabend (take his numbers with a grain of salt as he recovers arm strength from last year's big arm operation), and perhaps even some guys like David Pauley and Chris Seddon, could all get looks as well. The Mariners have depth, but I worry some about the quality. I like all these guys at the back end in the upcoming season, but I think one of them will have to take on a larger role in 2011, as things stand.
Here are some glimpses at less pivotal slots, and how they might be filled:
The Bench - If the team goes with a 12-man pitching staff, there are only two more slots, after the core and arbitration eligibles are accounted for. One of those slots has to go to a catcher, and the other clearly has to go to a middle infielder. The catcher is Rob Johnson, the middle infielder Josh Wilson. There isn't much intrigue here.
The Bullpen - I have four projected openings, and only Shawn Kelley is much of a lock to take one of them. It is likely that some of the players I mentioned as rotation candidates can/will find themselves in the bullpen. Recently promoted relievers Anthony Varvaro and Edward Paredes should also get chances to earn spots. Wak loves Sean White and Jamey Wright, so both of them will get chances, if they are still around. Overall, the Mariners have internal options, and I think they are adequate for the roles.
Pending Free Agents - These guys have nothing to do with team-controlled players, but they aren't worth a separate post. The Mariners will have to make decision on Russell Branyan, Erik Bedard, Mike Sweeney, and Josh Bard. The interesting decisions are with Branyan and Bedard. I don't really see room for Branyan with a 12-man pitching staff (unless Jose Lopez is gone), but I definitely see use for him. I think there is a good chance Bedard re-signs, given how much both sides have put into his rehab at this point. Even a modest return to form by him would make the rotation much better, but that's obviously a big if.
After a fairly complete overview of the current Mariners roster, here is my version of the 2011 team, as it stands right now:
- Ichiro, RF
- Chone Figgins, 3B
- Russell Branyan, DH
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Michael Saunders, LF
- Franklin Gutierrez, CF
- Adam Moore, C
- Jack Wilson, SS
- Dustin Ackley, 2B
- Milton Bradley, DH/OF
- Jose Lopez, 2B/3B
- Ryan Langerhans, OF
- Josh Wilson, INF
- Rob Johnson, C
Additional depth: 1B Mike Carp, UT Matt Tuiasosopo, OF Greg Halman, 1B/3B Matt Mangini
- Felix Hernandez
- Jason Vargas
- Doug Fister
- Erik Bedard
- Michael Pineda
- Ryan Rowland-Smith
- Jamey Wright
- Garrett Olson
- Shawn Kelley
- Brandon League
- David Aardsma
Overall, I think the roster has some intrigue. The offense places a ton of faith in some really young players, but I will take that over guys that we know will fail. If it works, it will be really exciting, because games will be won by youngsters that are going to be around for a long time. If it doesn't, there will be cries for the veteran piece that was obviously lacking.
However, one good thing about this roster is a stronger bench than we have seen in some time. On this team, I like Milton Bradley as the top pinch-hitting option. He can't be neutralized by specialty relievers, because he is a switch-hitter. He has some power, and with some questionable hitters at the bottom of the order, there are obvious spots to use him. Bradley would also get spot starts as a DH, and probably in left field too. I think he gets enough time to be an asset, but not enough to rack up injuries like he tends to.
The starting rotation is intriguing. If Bedard is decent, Pineda continues to develop, and Vargas and Fister keep up their pleasantly surprising performances, it is a sneaky good quintet. That's a ton of ifs though, so the odds are that something doesn't pan out. However, that also means the odds are good that something does.
The bullpen scares me the most. It has multiple guys who can throw multiple innings, so I don't think they miss the extra arm. I think it could be an average bullpen, but that means blah guys will likely pitch high leverage innings, given that the team still doesn't look like it will score many runs. There will be nights where that burns this roster.
With all that said, this is only how the 2011 team looks right now. It's more odd to stand pat in the offseason than to do something, so it is safe to think that someone becomes a piece that isn't in the organization right now.
However, as ugly as this season has been, my biggest point of this whole exercise is that the Mariners don't have any obvious moves they need to make. That's not to say that this team can rest on whatever laurels they have after a season like this. No team should sit around content. However, there are good reasons to think that this team can sit around and do nothing, yet get better.
As far as reasons to watch the Mariners right now, it's all about 2011. If Smoak and Saunders are going to be in the heart of the order, it would be really nice to see them develop between now and September. It looks like Saunders is for sure, which is great. The bullpen could use a few more reliable pieces, and I am encouraged by what I have seen from Garrett Olson in his past few outings. A return to form from Figgins would be awfully nice too.
With as many things as there are that would be nice to see between now and the end of the year, some of them are bound to happen. That's not enough to make games riveting, but it's enough to make the Mariners worth watching, especially on Felix day. The last couple months may not be all that exciting, but they are on their way to being redeeming.