Wednesday, April 27, 2011

AL West Preview - Part II

Seattle Frank Terrell explains why the Mariners’ future Takes the Cake

Can you have your cake and eat it too? The Mariners seem to think so.

After challenging Anaheim for the AL West title last year, the team secured the wild card and a first round match-up with the Orioles. But after getting bounced by Baltimore in the first round, Seattle made a series of moves that left fans debating whether the team was buying the missing pieces for another run at the playoffs, or selling some of their assets because they were more than a piece or two away from truly contending.

For those fans who think the team is selling, they start by pointing to the offseason trade for 20-year-old Frank Terrell. Terrell can hit the ball a country mile, and as a prospect is one of the brightest in the Mariners’ system. But to secure him, the team moved Merv Dorsey, a corner outfielder acquired from Cleveland last year, who hit a reliable .282/.357/.489 in 79 starts while holding down the starting job in right. His loss means the duty of patrolling the corner falls to power whiffer Nipsey Greer, who struck out 80 times in 276 AB but tore the cover off the ball when he managed to make contact, or to the speedy Geoffrey Surkamp, a player who rarely saw a pitch that he didn’t take a cut and lacks the power one would expect to see in the position. Neither player is an entirely satisfactory answer to Dorsey’s departure.

Along with Dorsey, the Mariners also waved goodbye to young starting second baseman John Jung. A versatile infielder, he was traded for a starting pitching prospect.

For those fans who think the team is buying, they point to the offseason trade for starting third baseman Barry Yearwood from Pittsburgh. The 32-year-old Yearwood (.297/.377/.505) slugged 25 homers and drove in 98 for the Buccos last season. He holds his own with the expectations for power from the position, and the team hopes that power will make up for his lack of mobility. The trade allows the team to move All-Star Silver Slugging Luther Becker to second base in place of Jung. But to acquire Yearwood’s services, the team shipped reliable young reliever Andy Donnelly (1.46 WHIP, 80 IP) to the ‘burgh.

The team also sent speedy prospect Cozy Russell to the White Sox for long reliever D.T. Vining. A late call up with Chicago, Vining performed a limited amount of work last season. He throws hard, and coaches say his best pitch is his sinker, but it’s backed up by a good 4-seamer and a cut fastball. His command of the strike zone is iffy.

Over the winter, the team also signed a pair of aging utility players (Art Dobbs, Sid Wilson) and welcomed pitcher Mario Kemp from Colorado, where Seattle expects his 1.81 WHIP to decline somewhat now that he doesn’t need to visit the humidor before the mound.

The Mariners allowed the only pitcher on their staff with a losing record, Rob Ramsey (8-9, 19 GS), to depart for San Diego as well as aging Trevor Robinson who made regular appearances out of the bullpen signed with the Rangers. Robinson was 9-3 last year with a 1.22 WHIP, 2.86 ERA and struck out 54 batters in 63 IP.

So what to make of all these moves? The talented starting pitching staff returns largely intact, with all starters very durable guys ready to go on three days of rest if needed. The oldest of them is 30. Notably the team extended the contract of staff ace Jeff Carter. His 17-5 season with 3 complete games netted him a four-year, 22.4 million dollar deal. Carter throws fairly hard, has decent command and effective stuff. He struck out 206 batters last year. Collectively the staff had a 1.35 whip (below the league average) and allowed 710 runs, while holding down a spot in the top 10 in the league for keeping opponents off the base paths.

Defensively , the team is sound and committed only 59 errors last year, good for second overall in the league.

The offense will continue to be lead by All-Star Luther Becker and Donatello Ramirez. Six Mariners hit 20 or more homeruns last season, so power is well distributed through the lineup and management obviously feels the team has depth. Of note, a disgruntled Becker will likely test free agency next year after the club failed to tender an offer in time.

dwb’s take: while both buying and selling in the offseason, only a couple of losses will truly be felt by the Mariners this season. Dorsey’s departure and the loss of Robinson are not critical however, and the team has the defense, pitching and enough offense distributed throughout the line up to continue to challenge Anaheim. I think the team takes one step back this season to take two forward with the acquisition of a future star. One could say they have their cake and eat it too.

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