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March 28, 2012 at 1:11 AM

Looking for Mariners to finish third in the AL West

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That time of year again, with a new season about to get underway tonight (this morning in Seattle) here in Tokyo, Japan.
It’s also when I usually give you my prediction as to how the team will finish. So, here it is: I’m picking Seattle third in the AL West.
I know, I know, that’s not exactly the cue to storm the internet looking for playoff tickets on StubHub or anything. But seriously, it would be irresopnsible to pick the Mariners to finish any higher than third, given their lack of talent relative to the rest of the division.
The talent here in Seattle might blossom someday. But right now, it’s just not there compared to what the Angels and Rangers have.
So, I’d go: 1. Angels, 2. Rangers, 3. Mariners, 4. Athletics
The good news is, I’m picking Seattle higher than Oakland. Much of that will depend on how new A’s centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes performs. If he takes the league by storm, the Mariners could easily finish last again.


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But I don’t really expect that to happen. There is a fair amount of young talent in Seattle right now, but transforming that into a championship squad is a huge next step.
Once again, as is the case every spring, there are too many factors that have to go right for the Mariners and not a huge margin for error.
You have Felix Hernandez in the rotation followed by four question marks.
There’s a bullpen where bargain free agent imports Shawn Camp and Hong-Chih Kuo didn’t make it out of spring training. Where George Sherrill has yet to really have a solid outing or show he can be counted on for the long haul. The rest of that bullpen, aside from Brandon League, is rather untested.
On the hitting side, you need Justin Smoak to rebound in a big way, Jesus Montero to deliver in his rookie season and Dustin Ackley to continue where he left off last September (OK, last August).
And that’s just to keep this offense somewhat competitive.
Believe it or not, sub-600-run seasons are really, really awful. They aren’t some sort of benchmark this team should be looking to surpass. It’s a level the Mariners should aspire never to fall through again.
Because if they do, this rebuilding plan will again be spinning its wheels. This team has to start taking legitimate steps forward while it waits for ownership to do whatever it’s planning to do financially to better itself these next few years, whether that’s a new TV deal, a sale to different owners, or whatever.
The status quo just can’t keep happening because there will come a time — and maybe it’s not right now, but down the road, as it does in every city where fans are exposed to bad sports for too long — where Mariners fans will finally say “enough”. And not just a little bit below 2 million fans per year “enough” but a serious exodus in more massive amounts.
This will be Year 4 of the Jack Zduriencik regime and it really is time for everyone, be they Mariners fans or media or bloggers (or any combination of those), to stop blaming Bill Bavasi for all that ails the franchise. Bavasi ceased being a factor in Seattle baseball decisions nearly four years ago and the current regime has done all it could to purge the organization of just about every player who was part of his final half-year in 2008.
No, the time for accountability with the current regime has to finally start in Seattle. To do otherwise is just giving that regime too wide a canvas, too blank a cheque. And that’s how teams keep on losing decade after decade.
There has to be some accountability out there when it comes to this team performing with more than mere talk. Accountability from an ownership group that keeps cutting payroll and in which the team’s controling partner isn’t going to attend the games here. And accountability from a front office that’s been given a relatively free ride from the city of Seattle, it’s media and its bloggers to date, simply for being “Not Bavasi”.
You can talk and talk about prospects until you’re blue in the face. But at some point, they have to begin to shoew something other than promises of “next year” and “three years from now”. At some point, the present-day will have to matter again. And at some point, this collection of players will have to show a sense of permanence.
This team is already eliminated from playoff contention without even having thrown a first pitch. There isn’t a sane person connected to this game suggesting the Mariners can make the playoffs and for very good reason. This isn’t a 2001 scenario where it’s all going to come together. There were some very good, playoff-seasoned players on that 2001 team and a highly-unknown factor named Ichiro who entered the fray at just the right time.
There is nobody on this team that fits the description.
So, no, there won’t be any playoffs in 2012. The question is: will we see progress?
I think the time is here to see it. For one thing, this team should not be forced to eat 90 losses again. Not if we’re to believe this talent thing is for real, rather than being an excuse to buy ownership a few years to get its financial house in order.
So, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s once again time to raise the bar in Seattle. Time to stop accepting 100-and-95-loss seasons as if there are a minimum of those to endure before you win again. That’s simply not the case in markets where an ownership is actively trying to win rather than balance its books.
Could Zduriencik do more with additional money? I’m sure he could. But he also does not have a perfect track record when it comes to spending via free agency and not all of his trades have turned to gold.
Not all of what ails the Mariners currently was caused by Bavasi. Some of it was caused by Zduriencik and wlll be out there on the field tonight.
This isn’t meant to attack Zduriencik, or suggest he be replaced. The suggestion from me is to start demanding more than mediocrity from teams. To stop being so willing to write off two, three and now, going on four, years at a time before you say it’s OK to start seriously trying to win.
There may be nothing you can ultimately do about it in the end except vote with your feet. But in the interim, it’s not a bad thing to expect more from your team. I didn’t grow up with the Mariners, but even I expect more from them.
I expect that, by the end of this year, we’ll know who the team’s shortstop, center fielder and left fielder are going to be when playoffs will finally be up for grabs in Seattle again. Until we start to know some basics about this lineup, saying it’s a year, two years, or seven years away from contention becomes a game of blind guesswork.
Right now, we just don’t know. What we do know is Chone Figgins is playing third tonight and doesn’t figure into any rebuilding plan. Neither does Ichiro, who will start in right field. Neither will Miguel Olivo, who is behind the plate.
So, this is the year we need to start getting some answers. At the end of 2009, everyone thought they had a realistic look at who the future was going to be and most of those guys are already gone.
So, time to get on it, Mariners.
A season of 95 losses from this squad should not be acceptable to anybody. They are capable of more, albeit in fits and spurts so far. This season, we find out more about who can be counted on for the long haul.
And those who can’t be counted on? Time to wave goodbye.
This is Year 4 and counting. In my book, this team is now better than the A’s squad they’ll face tonight. But there are a bunch of other teams the M’s will need to leapfrog before the playoffs will be anything we in Seattle watch other than on television.
It all starts here. The M’s can get a jump in things by upping their game from the nonsense we saw against Hanshin and Yomiuri.
The lineups:
ATHLETICS
2B Jemille Weeks
SS Cliff Pennington
LF Coco Crisp
DH Seth Smith
C Kurt Suzuki
RF Josh Reddick
CF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Brandon Allen
3B Eric Sogard
RHP Brandon McCarthy
MARINERS
3B Chone Figgins
2B Dustin Ackley
RF Ichiro
1B Justin Smoak
DH Jesus Montero
LF Mike Carp
C Miguel Olivo
CF Michael Saunders
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Felix Hernandez

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero

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