September 13, 2011
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 from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Today the ship sails for the Seattle Mariners, who despite boasting 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and young fireballer Michael Pineda in their rotation, still managed to underachieve because of a paltry offense. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.
Signs of hope: The Mariners debuted two blue-chip prospects who have quickly lived up to their billing. Michael Pineda, a 22-year-old right-hander, broke camp with the big club and has been one of the better starters in the league. He's taken 27 turns and posted a 3.72 ERA while ranking second in the league in strikeout rate at 9.2 per nine. Thanks to his ability to miss bats and some outstanding defensive support (.256 BABIP), he has surrendered fewer hits per nine than any American League starter other than Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett. In mid-June, 2009 first-round pick Dustin Ackley came up and provided some immediate offensive punch; his .290/.367/.453 line—good for a .323 true average—leads Mariner regulars in all three slash categories.
Signs of disaster: The Mariners' offense is far and away the league's worst; their 3.42 runs per game is a full run lower than the rest of the league. They've gotten lousy work from youngsters (Justin Smoak is hitting .232/.318/.397), once-promising building blocks (Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .224/.261/.273 after battling more stomach woes, while Michael Saunders is at .162/.221/.239), pricey free agents (Chone Figgins has sunk to .188/.241/.243), and superstars (Ichiro Suzuki's at a career-worst .275/.313/.339). When Mike Carp (.274/.333/.465) is your second-best hitter, you need to go back to the drawing board—and burn it down.
Signs you can ignore: Unless Ichiro collects 32 hits over his final 16 games, his string of 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons will come to an end. As impressive as that streak has been—it's a key component of his Hall of Fame case—it seems clear that there's a link between the increasingly slappy 37-year-old's poor season and the fact he has played in all but one game. The team needs to rest him more often so as to deploy him more judiciously, instead of letting him chase individual milestones. —Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
Despite Ackley's emergence, the Mariners' offseason needs are clear: they need some offense. After the 2010 trade deadline deal in which they acquired Justin Smoak from the Rangers for Cliff Lee and this year's emergence of Mike Carp, most baseball people don't think the M's will be chasing an impact free-agent bat like Prince Fielder. Not so fast. Zduriencik drafted Fielder in Milwaukee and would love for him to be the Mariners' new cleanup hitter for years to come. Zduriencik also has a good relationship with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras. Realistically, Smoak is a five-hole hitter and Carp a six-hole hitter in a championship lineup. If you get a chance to get Fielder, you get him. The M's can trade Smoak in a package to the Indians for right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who originally was signed by the Mariners in 2000. The Indians are convinced Carlos Santana will end up at catcher and Matt LaPorta is no longer their answer at first. Smoak would solve first base for the Indians for the long term while reducing financial exposure. This would give the Mariners a middle-of-the-order lineup consisting of Ackley, Fielder, and Choo, which would be a huge offensive upgrade and give their top-flight young starting rotation the run support needed to compete in 2012. —Jim Bowden
Worst-case scenario: 63-99
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus.