The Quiet Reconstruction

What follows will not come as new information to any of you. This is intended more as a reminder than anything else as we prepare to head into next week's Winter Meetings.

Right now, it looks like the Mariners are going to have a pretty low-key offseason. Jack Zduriencik, of course, is no stranger to the sudden blockbuster, and he may end up swinging a deal that drops Chone Figgins or nabs Justin Upton. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the M's again make themselves big-time players in the market. However, the probability is that they by and large stay out of it. They'll make a few moves, and might even bring in a second- or third-tier starting pitcher, but it's unlikely that we're going to see anything eye-catching.

And that can be frustrating to think about for fans who just saw this team lose 101 games and often score less than the Sounders. For six long months, the Mariners weren't only terrible; they were terrible to watch, which put them in the worst of all quadrants:

Marinerchart_medium

After a season like 2010, fans want to see change. Big, sweeping change. We're probably not going to see big, sweeping change. But don't let the lack of big market involvement trick you into thinking that the organization isn't serious about getting better. There are internal solutions who could and should get big opportunities in 2011, barring something unforeseen. Consider that:

  • Adam Moore should begin the 2011 season as the starting catcher. He seems to be the organizational preference over Rob Johnson, and while he could end up in a job-share, and while he won't be a star, he's gotten his feet wet, and he has a chance to establish himself as a half-decent starter.
  • Justin Smoak's around and is in line to start at first base. Smoak had a rough time in Seattle after coming over, but a year ago Baseball America ranked him as the #13 prospect in baseball, and he only turns 24 in three days. He was the centerpiece in the Cliff Lee trade for a reason.
  • Dustin Ackley should be starting at second base by June, if not by April. His numbers weren't spectacular with AA West Tennessee or AAA Tacoma, but what that argument leaves out is that it was the 22 year old's first exposure to professional baseball. He made a smooth transition and is just about ready to hit near the top of a Major League lineup.
  • Michael Saunders is set to be the regular in left field. Saunders started 85 games a year ago and faded down the stretch, but one must remember that he's only freshly 24, and has all the tools to succeed in the bigs. All of his skills have shown up in Seattle. What's left to do now is to put them together.
  • Michael Pineda is slotted to become a fixture in the starting rotation - if not immediately, then soon. Pineda is one of the very best pitching prospects in baseball, and though he comes with certain risks, the same goes for every pitching prospect ever, and Pineda's one of the few with true ace potential. It'll be a surprise if he doesn't start at least 20 games in a Mariner uniform next season.
  • Dan Cortes should pick up some important late innings out of the bullpen. The pinpoint command isn't there, but the dynamite stuff most certainly is, and the 23 year old has it in him to be the best reliever of the bench.
  • Josh Lueke, Mauricio Robles, and Anthony Varvaro are around as young options who could also make an impact in the 2011 bullpen. There's no guarantee that Lueke stays with the team, that Robles shifts to relief, or that Varvaro finds the strike zone, but all have clear short-inning upside, and all are close to being Major League-ready.

The Mariners' offseason mobility is currently limited. Certainly, they're limited in part because guys like Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley, and Chone Figgins are borderline untradable. But they're also limited because they don't want to block some of the young talent they already have. Ackley, Smoak, and Pineda - these guys are potential stars. Moore, Saunders, and Cortes - these guys are potential regulars. And 2011 stands to be an important season for each and every one of them.

The Mariners were as bad in 2010 as they were in 2008. Maybe worse. But the difference between now and then is that now there's potential help coming from the system. After 2008, the front office needed to have a busy offseason to put together a respectable roster. After 2010? Not so much.

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