Over the last few weeks we've seen projections for the M's 2012 season released from a variety of sources. For the most part they have ranged from what is in my opinion a little overly pessimistic (Clay Davenport's 68 win projection linked in a fanshot a couple days ago here) to what I would consider realistic but still depressing (Dave Cameron's ~75 win projection from a couple weeks ago on USS Mariner here). Obviously the Pineda/Montero trade and signing Kevin Millwood change things a little but probably not by more than +/- 3 wins. Ultimately I think ~77 wins is probably a pretty realistic expectation from the roster as it currently stands. That being said, we are just over two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting and I have no interest in realism. Its cold out and I just want be excited about something. I want blind optimism damn it, at least until my dreams are crushed by the cold hard reality of Chone Figgins' OBP. It is in that spirit that I decided to try and figure out the absolute best case scenario for this team in 2012 (within reason obviously).
In order to figure this out I relied primarily on Fangraphs WAR (with numbers adjusted based on anticipated playing time based on Dave's article here). The projections I'm making here are in no way scientific and really all I tried to do was answer the question; what is the highest WAR I could see each player producing next season that wouldn't be completely shocking? The purpose for me was less trying to project the performance I think the team will have and more seeing if I could justify some level of excitement for the upcoming season for reasons beyond player development and baseline enjoyment of Mariners baseball even at its worst. I've attempted to provide some justification for each player to show what I was thinking and how I was able to justify each projection to myself.
For players entering their age 26-30 seasons, I simply looked at their Fangraphs WAR over the course of their career and assumed that in 2012 they would match the best season they had thus far unless there was a compelling reason to believe they couldn't do so (Guti). Younger players were a little more difficult and required case by case examination (For Ackley I just expanded his partial season performance from last season out over 650 PAs, while for Smoak I looked at what his full season performance would have been last year if he had played at the level of his two good months (April and September) all season). Older players were also a little tricky (by which I mean Ichiro was tricky) For Miguel Olivo and Chone Figgins I just stuck with Dave's original projections (although I took Olivo down from 1 to 0.5 WAR to take into account the fact that he will probably get fewer PAs with Montero around), and for Ichiro I took the average of his last 3 seasons to try and get something representing a realistic bounce back year while still accounting for his age (in all honesty I have no clue what to expect from Ichiro this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he was a 1 WAR player and really I wouldn't be surprised if he was a 5 WAR player). For the sake of simplicity I am just going to assume 3 WAR from the bullpen (1-1.5 from League and 1.5-2 from the rest as a group). That leaves us with the two Japanese rookies, Iwakuma and Kawasaki. Kawasaki I left as replacement level, and Iwakuma I penciled in for 2.5 WAR based on Dave's discussion of his potential upside after the move was announced here.
I'll include a player by player breakdown below in the interest of completeness but I'll save those who aren't interested some time by just putting my conclusions here. In my opinion, the best, reasonably realistic outcome for the 2012 Mariners is ~91 wins, which would probably not be enough to win the division but would have the M's in the wild card race (especially if the extra wild card is added this season). I absolutely am not suggesting that I think that is a particularly likely outcome, but it also isn't a completely ludicrous one. If a lot of things break their way, and everyone plays at the peak of their abilities, the 2012 Mariners have a chance of at least contending for an entire season. So until the Mariners crush my dreams yet again that is the potential outcome I'm going to be excited about.Catchers
John Jaso (1.5 WAR): In 2010 Jaso put up 2.7 WAR over ~400 PA. If he matches that level of production and winds up getting around 250 PA in 2012 he would put up about 1.5 WAR
Miguel Olivo (0.5 WAR): Olivo produced 0.9 WAR last season but looks to get fewer ABs this year. This is one where I could see my guess being low, but I would be too surprised if it happened to justify raising the number. Maybe he hits better with all the extra rest, who knows?
Jesus Montero (4 WAR): In Montero's brief callup last season he put up 0.6 WAR, over a full season that would have made him a 5.5 WAR player. I'm not comfortable going quite that high due to the small sample size and I think he will probably wind up being around a 3 WAR player, however I think 4 is a reasonable best case scenario.
Justin Smoak (3 WAR): I don't even know on this one. Smoak's April and September numbers from last season suggest that there is a good hitter in there, and there were injury/personal reasons that could have justified his poor performance in the months in between, but the samples are so small and there is so much information we don't have that I just don't know. I'm going with 3 WAR which is a projection I would describe as "cautiously optimistic" in that it is better than I really expect from him, but also would not surprise me much if at all.
Mike Carp (1.5 WAR): Carp posted 0.5 WAR last season and looks to get about twice as many PAs this season. I'm bumping him up an additional 0.5 WAR based on the fact that his first 40 PA callup last year was something of a disaster and he improved drastically on his second trip up (although his BABIP in August was unsustainably high he did tail off in September some when his BABIP became unsustainably low so I think the two more or less cancel each other out, and he continued to hit dingers the whole time which he failed to do in his first call up).
Dustin Ackley (4.5 WAR): Ackley's 2011 2.7 WAR expanded out over a full season's worth of PAs. I feel like this may be the least likely of any of the projections, but he showed the ability to produce at this level over 350 ABs so I'm going with it as a legitimate best case scenario.
Brendan Ryan (3 WAR): in 2009 Ryan put up 2.9 WAR over 429 ABs so I'm going with 3 WAR over 500 ABs.
Munenori Kawasaki (0.0 WAR): Who knows?
Kyle Seager (1.5 WAR): Dave projected him at 1.5 and I have nothing to justify going any higher. Maybe he has a breakout season and this winds up being low, that would probably be the real best case scenario, but I feel like that would be too unexpected even for my purposes.
Chone Figgins (0.0 WAR): Not being a liability is the absolute best case scenario for Chone Figgins.
Ichiro (3.5 WAR): Average of his last three seasons. After the disaster that was 2011 this is obviously a pretty optimistic projection, but on the other hand, Ichiro. Honestly, would anyone be surprised if Ichiro put up 4 WAR next year?
Franklin Gutierrez (4.5 WAR): Guti is probably the highest variance player on the whole club. He was a disaster the last two years at the plate, but even then his defense was still good enough to put up 1.9 and 1.1 WAR respectively despite missing considerable time. If Guti plays a full season I think his floor is about 2.0 WAR driven by his defense even if his bat continues to be horrible. That being said, his ceiling is obviously coming back healthy and strong and returning to his 6.3 WAR 2009 performance. Since he improved late last season with his SLG% jumping 150 points between July and August I'm going to err on the side of optimism (although not to the point of thinking he will return all the way to 2009 Guti).
Casper Wells (2 WAR): 1.5 WAR last season over 241 PAs, 2 WAR this season assuming he gets 350 PAs.
Felix Hernandez (6.5 WAR): 6.8 WAR in 2009 rounded down because oh my god Felix was good in 2009.
Jason Vargas (2.5 WAR): 2.6 in 2010, 2.4 in 2011, I think 2.5 in 2012 is reasonable.
Hisashi Iwakuma (2.5 WAR): Based on the article linked above. Obviously I have no clue how Dave came to that 2-3 win number but I'm pretty confident saying his reasoning was better than anything I could come up with.
Blake Beaven (1 WAR): 0.7 WAR last season in 15 starts, I don't think 1 WAR in 2012 would be shocking.
Kevin Millwood (2 WAR): 2.7 WAR in 2009, 1.3 in 2010, 0.7 WAR in 9 games with the Rockies last season, 2 WAR would definitely represent a bounce back season from Millwood but I don't think it is unreasonable.
Total: 47.5 WAR