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September 20, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Seattle Mariners

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Seattle Mariners goodbye.

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The overview

The fragile equation that had served the Mariners so well in 2009—strong defense and pitching making up for the lack of consistent offense—fell apart this year, and Seattle went on a downward spiral in the standings. Cliff Lee was hurt in spring training and unable to start the season on time; free-agent signing Chone Figgins was a complete bust; Ken Griffey Jr. was brought back despite the fact rival scouts thought his days as a productive player had ended, and the problems related to Griffey Jr.'s decline eventually led to the demise of manager Don Wakamatsu; the back end of the Mariners' rotation was erratic. Even when the Mariners flipped Lee in a trade for prospects, getting more in return than what they gave up to get Lee, the acquisition of a prospect with a very dark criminal history led to late-season turmoil in the front office.

Felix Hernandez somehow seemed to improve over his Cy Young-caliber season in 2009, maturing as a pitcher—and thankfully for the Mariners, he has made no noises (yet) about wanting to escape the team's dysfunction. Ichiro Suzuki is having a typical Ichiro season, but because of a lack of power and production in the middle of the Seattle lineup, Ichiro's many hits have gone to waste.

The firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco is being taken within the organization as a sign that GM Jack Zduriencik is on shaky ground. The Mariners might require a bounce-back season to prevent another round of change, and the problem is that Seattle appears to lack the kind of talent that can affect the necessary turnaround. The best hope for the 2011 Mariners might be that Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley establish themselves quickly in the big leagues and help Seattle develop a functional offense. Short of that, the forecast for next year is not good. —Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Hernandez proved once again he is among the top five starting pitchers in the game; his American League-leading 7.4 support neutral lineup-adjusted value above replacement (SNLVAR) figure much more indicative of his season than his 12-11 record. The Mariners showed good glove work as they are fourth in the AL in defensive efficiency, turning 70.4 percent of balls in play into outs.

What went wrong: The offense was awful and the Mariners are last in the majors with an average of 3.20 runs a game. Griffey Jr.'s second season in his second stint in Seattle ended badly as he failed to homer in 108 plate appearances, was caught napping in the clubhouse during a game, then abruptly retired. Wakamatsu was fired a year after being hailed in his rookie season for changing the attitude in the clubhouse and on the field.

The key number: 35. The number of times that the Mariners have scored five or more runs this season.

What won't happen again: The Mariners won't be rocking the baseball world with a big trade this upcoming winter as they did last December when they landed Lee from the Phillies. The Mariners' 85-77 record in 2009 was a fluke, as they allowed more runs than they scored and this year's 57-92 mark is quite indicative that they are more than one star pitcher away from winning a pennant. —John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

The plan is key: With a plethora of holes, limited payroll space, and a franchise pitcher in desperate need of not only run support but quality rotation mates, the Mariners appear as if they'll be in the market for a lot of offense and at least one starting pitcher. But it all depends on which path the club decides to take. If they choose to use 2011 to further develop catcher Adam Moore, outfielder Michael Saunders, and Smoak, while awaiting the arrival of prospects Ackley and right-hander Michael Pineda, Zduriencik may seek the short-term stopgap, such as another year of slugger Russell Branyan or other similar veteran hitters. If the club chooses to stay on course—an attempt to contend while keeping an eye toward building a long-term contention window—names such as Jim Thome, Magglio Ordonez, or Lance Berkman may become options.

The starting rotation could use an experienced starter behind Hernandez, which might put Aaron Harang, who may have his option declined by the Reds, or Carl Pavano on the M's radar. It does not appear as if the club can afford to make Lee a competitive offer, however. Adding a veteran catcher such as Bengie Molina may not be out of the question, either, depending on cost and how much playing time the veteran would require.

Money, money, money: Unless the ownership group approves a significant payroll spike, Zduriencik may not have the flexibility to be active on the free-agent market, which likely means the club will be busy once again putting together trade proposals to land impact talent. If 2011 is to serve as somewhat of a developmental season, however, it will give the front office a chance to find answers at third base and designated hitter, and an opportunity to assess the futures of the rest of the roster.

Trading Figgins may be a top priority this winter, after the 32-year-old suffered a tough season at the plate and had a run-in with Wakamatsu. Shedding some of what is still owed on Figgins' contract—$26 million with a vesting option that guarantees another $9 million—could change the landscape of the franchise's offseason.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Keep up with Rumor Central year-round here.

Organizational future

Right-hander Daniel Cortes was seen as one of the better arms in the system when acquired from the Royals in the Yuniesky Betancourt deal last year, but inconsistency led to a 5.00-plus ERA as a starter. A massive, gangly power arm with complicated mechanics, Cortes' delivery would vary wildly from start to start, as would his velocity and command. A move to the bullpen late this season changed everything, as pitching from the stretch in short stints Cortes just let it fly, and the result was an unhittable fastball that got into the upper 90s. While he has his fair share of youthful indiscretions, they pale in comparison to Josh Lueke's situation, and with stuff being about equal, that alone puts him ahead on the depth charts for the Mariners' 2011 relief staff.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Seattle Mariners,  Mariners,  The Waste Land

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