I was looking through SI's season preview and after examining the AL West a little more closely, it appears to me that the Mariners are getting shafted by a lot of analysts and fans. Most previews have them slated to repeat as cellar-dwellers and SI ranks them as the 25th best team in baseball. The only teams they beat on the list are: PIT, CIN, TB, KC, WASH. In my office pool, I think I even picked them to finish last in the division.
After taking a closer look at their team, though, I think they have as good a chance as anyone in the AL West to finish in 2nd place and above .500. In fact, with a few breaks, I wouldn't be surprised if they outperformed Oakland this year. So, I decided to compare the two teams a little closer (Notice for Flamers: This is in no way a scientific approach). I've made this exact same post at another A's board and it knowingly got mixed reviews. I figured I would post it here, since AN'ers seem to have a pretty deep respect for the Mariners still. This will probably be a little long and awkwardly worded, so read at your own risk. Here it goes:
C, Johjima vs Kendall
For as much as we love Kendall's grit and hustle, the same things that we love the overrated Mark Kotsay for, he has just as many deficiencies behind the plate. He can't throw out runners. He can't hit a HR. He can't seem to avoid hitting into DPs. Johjima, as a "rookie", played great D and hit .291 with 18 HRs. He also carries some of the intangibles that makes Kendall so adoring. Like Kendall, Johjima was one of the hardest players to strike out in the AL, whiffing in only 8.5% of his plate appearances. The scary part is that Johjima probably thought he was swinging like Vlad Guerrero in 2006. In Japan, he struck out 15 times in 604 plate appearances (2.48%).
1B, Sexson vs Johnson
Too bad the A's aren't going to have Swisher at 1B, because Sexson is Nick Swisher, except with a better glove. He might not have Swisher's eye, but neither does Dan Johnson. Sexson will net 30+ HRs, 100+ RBI, 70+BBs, and play GG defense at 1B. Dan Johnson will hopefully put to rest his double-vision excuse and put together a solid season. It won't be as good as Sexson's though.
2B, Lopez vs Ellis
Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Mark Ellis is a GG-calibur 2B who hasn't shown a consistent bat. His offensive numbers look even worse when you consider how lucky he was in 2005 with a very high BA of balls put into play. Jose Lopez, on the other hand, isn't going to turn any heads with his defense, but he's making some people do double takes with his bat. As a 22 year old, he hit .282 with 10 HRs in his first full season in the big leagues. While he has a poor OBP, he's still young and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he turns into an all-star with the bat. That probably won't happen in 2007 though.
SS, Betancourt vs Crosby
"Golden Boy" Crosby has not displayed the shine or strength that a piece of gold has. Instead, he's been as fragile as glass and as valuable as dirt. Is this going to be his year? Weren't we saying that last year? Will we be saying that next year? Meanwhile, Betancourt pretty much mirrored his DP partner. An average in the .280s, a low OBP, and some shaky defense. However, also like Lopez, he's on the younger side of things (25) and will be entering his second full season of the majors. A promising young kid who could improve, or could not. Funny, you could say the same thing about Crosby - two years ago.
3B, Beltre vs Chavez
Hey, look, more similar players. Both these guys were considered top 3B prospects and both made their MLB debuts in 1998. They both went on to have flashes of brilliance that led to two of the biggest contracts in the AL West. To carry on the similarities, neither have lived up to the possibly unfair expectations offensively, but both have been solid on defense year end year out. The only difference is that Chavez's defense has been better, netting him 6 straight GGs.
LF, Ibañez vs Stewart
When the A's first signed Stewart, I was skeptical. Why are they signing an over-the-hill guy who has no pop in his bat and apparently can't run anymore? Then Mark Kotsay and Bobby Kielty decided Spring Training was the perfect time to undergo surgery. Then Stewart started to rake it and almost every article on the A's coming out of Arizona has contained something about how impressive Stewart has looked. That being said, he hasn't been as impressive as the ever-young Raul Ibañez. Raul put up a line of .289/.353/.516 with 33 HRs and 123 RBI. The A's would be lucky if they could get those kinds of numbers from a three-headed platoon, let alone one of Stewart and Kielty. Ibañez has also ended any questions about his durabillity. In 2005, he had 690 plate apperances. In 2006, at the age of 34, he had 699.
CF, Suzuki vs Bradley
Does this even need to be discussed? While Bradley may be one of the A's most valuable players this year, no hitter is more valuable to the Mariners than Ichiro, and that was while he played RF. Now, his speed and cannon of an arm is going to get a lot more chances in CF. Scary to say, but he may have become even more valuable than before.
RF, Guillen vs Swisher
It's been a while since A's fans have been as excited about a young slugger as they are with Swisher, and for good reason. We've seen promising RFs like Piatt, Grieve, and even Dye fall apart in Oakland. Swisher is going to get you 35-40 bombs, will make it his mission to get on base, and won't kill you on defense. Speaking of RFs that didn't work out in Oakland, Jose Guillen rejoins the AL West (for a 3rd time) this time as a member of the Mariners. Guillen straggled through an injury-ridden season last year, but is just one year removed from hitting .284 with 24 HRs. The year before that he hit .294 with 27 HRs, all while playing above average defense thanks to a cannon of an arm. The gamble on Guillen could payoff for the Mariners and makes things just a tad more interesting. He still won't outproduce Swisher, though.
DH, Vidro vs Piazza
Vidro fell out of flavor in Washington, and with good reason. His overall numbers have been declining as has his defense. So, the Mariners figure by not playing him defensively, he'll be better off. Well, anything is better off than their previous option of Carl Everett at DH. That being said, it's hard to see Vidro even come close to Piazza's projected numbers.
SP1, Hernandez vs Haren
It's a shame King Felix has already been in the league a couple of years. The hype around him was so huge, and while he put together very impressive numbers, people tend to forget that the kid still won't be able to drink legally when he makes his Opening Day start. Dan Haren, meanwhile, is a savvy veteran compared to Hernandez and has worked on his cutter this offseason in hopes of varying his portfolio and not being so predictable. Hopefully that will cut down on his ridiculously high HR rate, which is the only thing preventing him from being an elite pitcher. I consider this a very close call, and Felix could very well breakout and have a better year than Haren, but potential and a longer track record beats potential alone.
SP2, Washburn vs Harden
Speaking of consistency, say hello to Jarrod Washburn. You know exactly what you're getting from this guy and that isn't necessarily the greatest thing in the world. He'll keep you in ballgames, but he's not the shutdown pitcher Seattle hoped he was when they signed him. Harden, on the other hand, is a shut down pitcher. The problem with him, though, is that you don't know what you're getting, or more precisely, how much of it you will get. 36 starts? 24? 8? Who knows. All I know is that I'd rather roll the dice on a season of Harden than having a full season of Washburn.
SP3, Batista vs Loaiza
Batista doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but he doesn't hurt you either. He throws 6 different pitches and induces a lot of ground balls. Age might be a factor, seeing as how he's 36, but he's thrown at least 193 innings in each of his last three seasons as a starter. His ERA hasn't been above 4.80 since 2000. That's more than can be said for Loaiza, who struggled with injuries last year and is experiencing a loss of velocity and shoulder stiffness this spring. We saw firsthand what happens when E-LO doesn't have his velocity.
SP4, Ramirez vs Blanton
The Mariners raised some eyebrows by trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez, but trades like that happen when SP skyrockets in market value. Speaking of injury issues, Ramirez hasn't stayed healthy the past two seasons. When healthy, his stuff isn't that great and his peripherals are even worse. High walk rates and pitch counts don't make him a great choice for a starter. Blanton, meanwhile, isn't that much better of a choice as a SP but should be better than last season. However lucky his 2005 season was, his 2006 year was as unlucky. He really needs to get more batters to swing and miss though, otherwise he's going to struggle every time his command is off. He's going to keep you in games longer than Ramirez, though.
SP5, Weaver vs Kennedy
As of right now, it looks like Kennedy is still the leading candidate to win the 5th spot. Looking at his ghastly spring training numbers, that shows you just how bad the rest of the field has looked. Regardless of who goes out there as the 5th starter, no A's fan will be comfortable giving him the ball. With rumors circulating about BY Kim and John Thomson, it doesn't sound like Billy Beane is comfortable giving those guys the ball either. Seattle, instead, hands the ball to a pitcher who was laughed right out of Anaheim (by A's fans) and ended up winning the World Series and reclaiming his stuff. Weaver's season numbers still don't look that great, but he posted a 4.18 ERA over his last 11 starts of the season and followed it with a 2.43 ERA in 5 postseason starts. He'll eat innings and keep your team in the game. As a 5th starter, what more could you ask for? It certainly doesn't look like Kennedy can provide that.
After JJ Putz, who I would take over Huston Street, the Mariners bullpen does not compare with Oakland's. Sherrill/Rhodes/Reitsma/Mateo aren't a match for Duke/Kiko/Embree/Gaudin, plain and simple. But to be honest, I don't know much about Seattle's bullpen and guys like Jonathan Huber and Mark Lowe who show a lot of potential and could be ready to shine.
Ben Broussard and Willie Bloomquist are quality guys to have off your bench. So are Marco Scutaro and Bobby Kielty. The Mariners also have Jeremy Reed and Adam Jones. While Jones probably won't make the team to start the year, the Mariners are shopping Reed to make room for one of the top prospects in the game. Meanwhile, the A's have Barton and Buck ready to step in whenever someone goes down.
So, after all that, what did we learn? Aside from learning that I write wordy and awkward sentences, I really think the Mariners could have as much potential as the A's. Both teams could use better production from their costly 3Bs, and both teams' seasons are riding on a young, power arm that could breakout at any time. The Mariners defense is just as bit as good as the A's (better/even at C, 1B, CF, LF, RF; worse at 2B, SS, 3B) and their offense can be just as good. If the Mariners get some surprise performances by Washburn and Ramirez, they could contend.
Every team has "If's", but all I know is that there is no way in hell this team should be ranked 25th out of 30. Watch out for them, but I'm sure you knew that already.