October 2, 2006


Mariners' improvement in 2006 turns up heat for 2007 (Larry Stone, 10/02/06, Seattle Times)

[T]he Mariners solidified numerous positions that had been problem areas a year ago.

Catching went from a black hole to a solid area of strength with Kenji Johjima's excellent assimilation. Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez emerged as a solid double-play combination, and the resurrected bullpen, with J.J. Putz at the head, should be one of the best in baseball next year.

Ichiro's successful (though belated) switch to center field opens up a wealth of possibilities for a new corner outfielder with power.

The Mariners, however, must quickly resolve the Ichiro situation as he heads into the final year of his contract, or another potential distraction looms.

Ichiro is waiting to hear the Mariners' game plan for improvement before he re-ups, and he indicated this past week, without saying it directly, that his decision will depend on what he hears.

But it should be noted that unlike the Mariners' other departed icons — Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Lou Piniella, most notably — Ichiro is the only one that actually made Seattle his permanent home (except for a month or so each winter when he returns to Japan).

By all accounts, he loves it here, and he has repaired his relationship with Hargrove. Ichiro won't come cheap, but the Mariners should make an extension of his contract their first move of the winter.

Beyond that, Bavasi will have to be at his most creative in filling the obvious needs for this team — two new starting pitchers and that elusive power bat. He must be aggressive in the trade market (with no untouchables except Felix Hernandez) and shrewd in free agency, without getting swept away in the zeal to overpay for mediocre talent.

But if Bavasi can land, say, Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to team at the top of the rotation with Hernandez — who is primed next year, at age 21, to take the final step to acedom — and trade for a solid hitter, then Ibanez could be prescient. At any rate, the Mariners should finally hop back to the good side of the .500 mark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2006 12:00 AM

More like next year's RedSawx: start out strong, end up in third behind lesser teams.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 2, 2006 10:55 AM

Felix Hernandez threw a lot of innings for a twenty year old. It might help that he's 6-3 230lbs, but baseball history hasn't been kind to youngsters throwing that much.

Posted by: Tom at October 2, 2006 4:10 PM

It'll be tough for the Mariners since the AL West will only be better. The A's will probably need to replace some offense since the Big Hurt can't be counted on for another year like this, but their pitching puts them in the mix. The Angels have so much youth, and the Rangers are no longer a doormat.

The teams to watch imo for next year tho are the teams that played substantially under their Pythagorean expected win/loss this season.

In the AL that is primarily the Indians, who, at 78-84 played an astounding 12 games under their pythagorean. Yep, they should've won 90 games.

The only other AL team who finished more than a few games worse than they should have was the Rangers, who should've won 6 more games, for 86 wins. Look for substantial improvement from both teams next year.

The 2 teams in the AL that played way over their heads were the A's, who should've only won 86 games, and the Sawx, who actually scored fewer runs than they allowed and should've finished at .500 Expect regression from both those teams unless Sts. Billy and Theo make substantial moves.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 2, 2006 10:28 PM

The Angels will be very good after adding Manny.

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2006 10:50 PM