The news needs to report news. Even when there is no news to report. That's how we end up with ST articles about Ryan Feierabend's kid or Bryan LaHair's laughable bid for a job. Let me help you sort through all the fluff so you can focus on the most important things to which you should pay attention over the next several weeks.
The closer race. It's been talked about at some length both here and at USSM, but as of now, the Mariners haven't yet settled on a designated closer. The list of candidates includes Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista, Roy Corcoran, and - depending on who you ask - David Aardsma, Randy Messenger, and Tyler Walker. Nobody stands out right now, as pretty much all of them have had their good games and bad ones, but Lowe, Aardsma, and Walker have the best pure stuff. This is going to be an interesting race; barring surprise, Lowe's my preferred choice, and probably the team's, as well, but in this kind of competition it doesn't take much for a guy to fall out of favor. And these guys know it, too. There's probably a lot more intensity and focus in the bullpen than there usually is this time of year.
Erik Bedard's progress. Okay, so this one won't be that easy to follow, given the pointlessness of Spring Training statistics and all, but it's important for the team to have him throwing at full strength and being able to spot his fastball and curve. It'll take a lot of work for Erik to put last season behind him, but remember, it was just a year ago that he was arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball. That talent is still in there somewhere. If he's able to build up his arm strength and stay healthy, then he'll be in line for a considerable rebound, a rebound that could conceivably put us in the blessed position of having two #1's. Whether the team's looking to run to the playoffs or acquire prospects at the deadline, Bedard's well-being will be a big deal.
Shortstop. When the Mariners traded for Ronny Cedeno and said they planned on using him to push Yuniesky Betancourt, a lot of fans rolled their eyes, having heard this kind of tune before. This time, though, it's not all talk. Granted, Yuni is the projected starter, but the Mariners have told Cedeno that he's in the running to start, and if Yuni has a rough go of it this month, then he could be shit outta luck. The new front office doesn't hold him in the highest regard. Rumor has it that Yuni shed some weight over the winter, but if that offseason dedication doesn't translate into better agility and focus on the field, then we might really see a changing of the guard. This isn't exactly a Lopez/Vina sort of thing. This is a legitimate threat. It doesn't help that Yuni already had to miss a bunch of time with a bad hamstring.
Griffey's legs. Before committing to any plan for where Griffey is going to play, the Mariners have said on multiple occasions that they want to see how his body holds up to the rigors of playing the outfield. How he fares is going to have a significant impact on the outlook of the roster. If his legs give him a little trouble, then he'll serve as the regular DH, with both Chavez and Balentien getting time in LF, which is better for the team. If his legs hold up, though, then he'll presumably get a lot more time in left, which makes the team worse at two positions. I suppose this is both a test of Griffey and a test of Wakamatsu, because even if Griffey makes his case for playing the field, it's the manager who has the ultimate say in where to fit him in. I guess what we should be hoping for is that Griffey's knees are too bad for him to play the field, but good enough to let him hit without being a cripple. That way we don't have to worry about the possibility of a rookie manager caving to a beloved veteran.
- Griffey's influence. I haven't spent that much time talking about all the alleged clubhouse issues from last year, because I didn't want to contribute to what I believe to have been an overblown story, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of players on this team really do not like Ichiro very much. And no matter what you think about the impact of clubhouse chemistry, a lot of players having a problem with your biggest star can't possibly be good. So with that in mind, it's going to be interesting to see how Griffey changes the dynamic, if at all. For one thing, we know that Ichiro's a big fan of his, so that might be one way to unify the clubhouse. And for another, while a lot of people see Ichiro as a primadonna, Griffey puts him to shame in that regard, so having another high-profile celebrity with even more grating tendencies might put things in perspective. Either by showing that you can be a primadonna and a contributing teammate at the same time, or by showing that being a star who doesn't lead isn't a quality unique to Ichiro. This is the first time a Mariner clubhouse has ever been shared by Ichiro and another international icon. Shifting some focus over to the new guy instead of heaping it all on the incumbent could work wonders.