The 2011 Mariners should have a vastly different feel then any of the teams that have been fielded in recent years. With the majority of the Bavasi era mistakes banished from the roster GM Jack Zduriencik will be fielding a team almost completely of his own design. I doubt the Mariners will be major players in a weak free agent market and they might abstain all together. Without major changes the 2011 Mariners will have a very slim margin for era. So, what will the Mariners look like at this point next season?
1. Ichiro RF: Ichiro is the rock of the Mariner's line up. While Ichiro is loved by most there is a portion of the fan base that is still hasn't embraced the future hall of famer. There are two sure things for Mariners Ichiro will hit lead off and he will get 200 hits.
2. Chone Figgins 3B: Figgins has struggled a great deal this season and will be looking to come back strong next season. Chone needs to be on base and causing havoc for the Mariners to be successful on offense.
3. Russell Branyan/Milton Bradley DH: The combination of Branyan and Bradley might not be the most fearsome pair but they certainly are better option then the duo of Griffey and Sweeney. At the very least the team should be able to reduce their budget for arthritis cream by 10%.
4. Justin Smoak 1B: While it may be premature to put Smoak into the clean up spot he has the talent to succeed there. Smoak already has the power and on base skills to be a middle of the order hitter. Now he needs to improve against lefties and become more conisistent to be a true threat at the major league level.
5. Franklin Gutierrez CF: Gutierrez started off the season on fire and then cooled as the entire team's offense went down in flames. Franklin was a victim of the Mariner's anemic offense and should thrive if the players around him pull their own weight.
6. Michael Saunders/Milton Bradley LF: I am a bigger fan of Saunders then most and hope he plays his way into the every day left fielders job in the second half of this year. Saunders, Much like Smoak, will have to use the rest of this year honing his skills and becoming a more savvy hitter. Milton "The Consummate Serious" Bradley should get plenty of at bats splitting time between DH and left field.
7.Jack Wilson/Josh Wilson SS: While I am a fan of both of the Wilsons I am not a fan of either them as the starting short stop in 2011. With the lack of any other options in the minor leagues or via free agency the team will have to make due with what they have.
8. Catcher: The team will have to call Adam Moore up from Tacoma at some point soon to see what he can do in the majors. If Moore isn't the long term answer then the Mariners will likely seek a short term upgrade either in a trade or in free agency. There is a decent group of veteran catchers that can hit at an average above the Mendoza line.
9. Dustin Ackley 2B: While I don't expect Ackley to necessarily win the job out of spring training but I do expect he will win the job at some next year. I do expect the team to hit him ninth in the order to provide him protection from expectations and the protection of hitting in front of Ichiro.
Bench: Josh Wilson: With a limited bench Wilson's versatility will be key for the teams success.
Bench: Ryan Langerhans: Langerhans will back up all three outfield spots.
Bench: Catcher: The back up catcher will likely be Rob Johnson because of his repore with the pitching staff.
Bench: 1B/DH/LF: Depending on the match up one of Branyan, Bradley or Saunders will end up on the pine.
1. Felix Hernandez RHP: King Felix could be for the first time the most veteran pitcher of the staff.
2. ?: Will Erik Bedard finally pay dividends for the M's? Will Michael Pineda light the world on fire in spring training? Or will the team dip into free agency to over pay a thirty something starting pitcher? If none of those happen the Mariners may have to look to Ryan Rowland-Smith, Chris Seddon, David Pauley or possibly even Blake Beavan to fill out the rotation.
3. Michael Pineda RHP: Pineda has scorched the earth of every minor league stadium he has pitched at this year. Pineda has top of the rotation stuff and could be the teams best hope behind Felix.
4. Jason Vargas LHP: Vargas has put together a solid season to the surprise of many. Along Fister, Vargas will be counted on to eat innings and anchor the back of the rotation.
5. Doug Fister RHP: Much like Vargas Fister has been a pleasant surprise this year.
Closer: David Aardsma RHP
Reliever: Brandon League RHP
Reliever: Shawn Kelley RHP
Reliever: Brian Sweeney RHP
Reliever: David Pauley RHP
Reliever: Garrett Olsen LHP
Reliever: Chris Seddon LHP
This may not be the rosiest picture of next season but rest assured that GM Jack Zdreincik has a few tricks up his sleeve. Building a franchise from the bottom up requires a great deal of patience. While things are certainly getting better many of the moves the new regime has made will not begin to benefit the team until 2012(Not referring to the acquisition of John Cusack). The first draft of the new front office looks very strong led by Dustin Ackley, Rich Poythress and Nick Franklin. Add to strong draft the team has signed several promising international players and theshrewd acquisitions of players like Mauricio Robles and Dan Cortes. Light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps.