I had a boatload of good zingers about Kaz Sasaki saved up, but since there’s no THR for the Yokohama BayStars this season, they go to waste. With that easy target gone, I’ll focus on a team that is picked by most to be worse, but still in range of contention for another year. The moves of new GM Bill Bavasi are better covered in the pages of BP 2004 and over at U.S.S. Mariner, so I’ll stick to my forte.
This team is in trouble. Why? You might notice a load of lights there in the pitching staff. Even the pitching-friendly confines of Safeco Field might not be enough to keep runs off the board if the M’s are forced to scramble all year for healthy arms.
After a strong start to his career, the talented Freddy Garcia has failed to meet expectations the last two seasons. There’s a consistent track between his K rate and his velocity; as he fatigues, he loses effectiveness. Garcia needs to drastically increase his pitch efficiency to have the kind of year he desperately wants in his contract season. It remains to be seen if anyone can get through to him.
Jamie Moyer isn’t any more risky than anyone his age; his yellow light is based more on being 41 years old, and his comparables, than anything else. There’s no truth to the idea that he doesn’t throw hard enough to tear anything, but he’s certainly not “high effort” on the mound. The risks any old pitcher faces keeps me from taking the yellow off him.
Meche and Franklin share some traits, but Franklin should hope that he won’t turn into the human pin-cushion that Meche has become over the past three seasons. The Mariners don’t appear to have learned from their past mistakes, having pushed Franklin well above his previous inning levels, setting him up for a breakdown this year. Meche actually didn’t lose much velocity as the season went on last year, which surprised me. With his past shoulder surgeries and his second-half ’03 results, I really expected the fatigue to show up more on the radar gun. I don’t really have a medical explanation for his second half, but anyone with his medical history is a sure red light until he puts up a couple more injury-free seasons.
Despite the praise Bryan Price has received in many places, including BP, he’s the coaching equivalent of Garcia, with inconsistent results and a number of pitching injuries on his watch. Price doesn’t have effective control over the lower levels, so the losses of Meche, Ryan Anderson, Matt Thornton, and others perhaps can’t be pinned to him. While the M’s organization seems to find good pitchers, it’s struggled to keep them healthy, a troubling trend. On the plus side, the M’s have two electric arms in Rafael Soriano and Julio Mateo who could step in to handle some of the load if injuries hit the big league staff in ’04, though even Soriano carries some risk.
The outlook isn’t so dire in the lineup as it is in the rotation, but there is some risk. Most of the offensive punch is concentrated in just a few players, and a traumatic injury to Boone or Ichiro could be devastating. The Mariners have been pretty good about avoiding these types of injuries, and most of their medhead red flags are heavily skewed by the pitching injuries.
John Olerud is fast turning into Edgar Martinez. Both are professional hitters that run like they’re dragging something. Olerud probably wouldn’t mind following Martinez’s career path, and it’s easy to imagine scenarios where that could happen. Martinez is likely to miss some time with some malady like a muscle pull or last year’s toe problem. He really shouldn’t run, and he’s enough of a hitter that Bob Melvin might be best served by telling him not to run out routine grounders.
As much as I’ve always liked Rich Aurilia, he’s never been as good or as healthy as people think he is. He recovers quickly, something that couldn’t be said about the departed Carlos Guillen, so that’s a positive. Aurilia has had his own injury battles, though, so reduce his value just slightly.
Randy Winn’s yellow light is a bit tricky. He’s always been a relatively healthy player, but the shift to center changes things for him. He’ll cover a pretty large expanse and center fielders by definition tend to dive and run into walls more frequently, making their injury rate jump. Seattle’s not normal, in that Ichiro covers as much territory as any right fielder around and my prediction system doesn’t know how to deal with that yet. At 30, Winn’s attrition rate looks poor and his comps are players that started to wear down, so yellow looks right. He’s not a bad pick, but pause for a moment and be sure you’ve got Plan B around somewhere.
The Mariners will go only as far as their health and the bat of Bret Boone will carry them in 2004. Neither will likely be enough to beat out a team with an actual plan or an aggressive talent acquisition stance, but stranger things have happened in baseball. The upside of an interesting Seattle season is watching Derek Zumsteg edge closer to Hunter S. Thompson territory. Now that’s worth the price of admission.