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Filling Out The 2012 Roster

Another long season is about to conclude. It's been time to look forward to 2012 for a while now. Coming off the successful Filling Out The 2011 Roster post, here is my attempt at the same thing for 2012:

POSITION PLAYERS

Locks - C Miguel Olivo, 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Dustin Ackley, SS Brendan Ryan, CF Franklin Gutierrez, RF Ichiro

For better or worse (let's be honest...probably worse), the Mariners are fielding lineups right now that more or less look like what we will see in 2012 as well. For what it's worth, August was the team's best offensive month, but this is still a team with major holes and flaws.

There are reasons for hope though. Improvement from Guti is reasonable to expect. Justin Smoak's tried to fight through a bum wrist during his mid-season swoon, and also had a to deal with a fluky broken nose, and I also don't think the death of his father early in the season should be ignored. He likely won't face the trials and tribulations he did this season, and with that will hopefully come more production.

Three spots are also up for grabs:

Third Base - Even though Chone Figgins is under contract, I think he is gone, one way or another. Kyle Seager is the front-runner internally, though I don't think he is untouchable.

Left Field/Designated Hitter - I put these two positions together because I think the same group of internal options will compete for both spots. Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, and especially Mike Carp have all flashed some potential to be solutions next year. As the roster stands right now, all three have a good chance to make the ballclub, and play in a platoon of sorts. Wily Mo Pena might also get some consideration at DH, but I think he would be playing more right now if he were a strong option to play regularly.

One thing I'd have to think the Mariners are quietly discussing behind closed doors is what to do with Ichiro. He has aged. His production, frankly, is tough to swallow at the top of the order, and his defense slipped this season too. Casper Wells is probably the best defensive right fielder on the roster now, and might even be a more productive hitter at this point too. Ichiro is Ichiro though. I think the answer is to DH him more often. I don't know if it's also possible to move him down in the lineup without causing some drama.

PITCHING STAFF

Locks - RHP Felix Hernandez, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Blake Beavan, LHP Charlie Furbush, RHP Shawn Kelly, RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP Chance Ruffin, RHP Brandon League

While the staff is righty heavy, it looks pretty set on paper. Wilhelmsen has come on strong since his promotion from AA. Ruffin has quietly done a solid job since being acquired in the Fister trade. It's a rather young, cheap staff with some upside.

Really, there is only one spot on the staff that will be competed for:

Fifth Starter - Mark it down, this will be the spring training competition that everyone pays attention to. It will have more sizzle than the typical fifth starter race (although maybe not for us M's fans, since we watched Michael Pineda compete for this slot last March). With all the righties already with solid grips on roster spots, it would make sense for this slot to go to a lefty. Interestingly enough, most of the candidates are lefties, particularly the odds-on favorites - Charlie Furbush, James Paxton, and perhaps even Danny Hultzen. Erasmo Ramirez and Anthony Vasquez may also get a few chances to hang in the competition as well. One way or another, it would be surprising if the Mariners brought in anyone of significance to compete. They have some interesting internal options.

I could spend some time talking about the bullpen at this point, but I will save that for the full roster prediction at the end of this post. One thing worth mentioning is that David Aardsma is still arbitration eligible, and I don't know what he would earn after missing an entire season. The bullpen also has done a decent job without him. Would the Mariners do something like designate him for assignment?

Pending Free Agents - There are only two, RHP Jamey Wright and INF Adam Kennedy. I could see the team re-signing Wright as a middle reliever, but that's not necessary with the depth the team has at this point. Kennedy got us to the Dustin Ackley era, so as far as I am concerned, his purpose in Mariners franchise history is complete.

Here is my version of the 2012 Mariners, as it stands now:

STARTING LINEUP
  1. Ichiro, RF
  2. Dustin Ackley, 2B
  3. Justin Smoak, 1B
  4. Mike Carp, DH
  5. Casper Wells, LF
  6. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
  7. Miguel Olivo, C
  8. Kyle Seager, 3B
  9. Brendan Ryan, SS
BENCH
Additional depth: C/UT Chris Gimenez, OF Greg Halman, OF Michael Saunders, OF Carlos Peguero, 3B Alex Liddi, OF/3B/1B Vinny Catricala

STARTING ROTATION
  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Michael Pineda
  3. Jason Vargas
  4. Blake Beavan
  5. Charlie Furbush
BULLPEN
Additional depth: LHP James Paxton, LHP Danny Hultzen, LHP Anthony Vasquez, RHP Dan Cortes, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, RHP Steve Delabar

The best thing about the 2012 Mariners is that they are much cheaper than any ballclub in recent memory. Even after accounting for arbitration raises, the team has roughly $65 million committed to next year. If the Mariners keep their current payroll, that gives them $25-$30 million to play with. That's enough to go out and acquire a noteworthy piece.

There's no way this is the 25-man roster that opens up in 2012. The bullpen is definitely wrong, one way or another. The last couple spots at least will be filled out based on the best arms in spring training.

With the money and marginal prospects the Mariners have to play around with, it seems logical to me to look around the league for overpriced, yet productive, players that other teams might want to move. In particular, I'd pay attention to the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. I don't think the Mariners should make a play for him, but maybe whichever team that signs him will want to clear a little payroll, and a player they are willing to get rid of is a solid fit.

2012 is still a long ways away though. We'll see what happens. At least the team shouldn't absolutely have to go out and sign or trade for someone at a position. I wouldn't go as far as saying the Mariners are in good shape yet, but Jack Z's bargaining leverage is as good as it's been yet.