I think we can breeze through this one, considering we've been discussing this team's outlook for months...
Status: Fringe division contender
It's not an intimidating lineup. Depending on who you talk to, the best hitter of the bunch is either the 39 year old in the midst of career decline, the flashy right fielder who's never hit more than 15 home runs in a season, the third baseman with a 107 career OPS+, or the guy who hasn't come to the plate 300 times in a season since 2002. As lineup cores go, ours leaves a lot to be desired.
And yet, when I look at all the names, I still think that this is going to be a substantially better offense than the one we ran out there a year ago. Why? Team-level regression to the mean. It's not always a negative. Vidro's gone. Sexson's gone. Cairo's gone. And while Johjima's still around, he's not likely to repeat last season's .233 BABIP. This is a team that's in line to get actual Major League numbers out of its catchers, first basemen, and designated hitters, and while ordinarily that doesn't say very much, it means a lot to us. Throw in a better season from Ichiro and you're not doing too poorly.
It's not likely to be a good offense, mind you. Or even an average one. The team still isn't going to get much production out of LF, SS, C, and, to a lesser extent, CF. There are too many weakness and too few big strengths for this lineup to become a force. It just probably isn't going to roll over as often as last year's did. A run total in the low 700s sounds about right. It could exceed that figure if Gutierrez develops, Lopez sustains his gains, and Wlad shows an ability to actually be able to hit the ball, but probability works both ways, so it's not all upside. While the odds are against us being as bad as we were last year, it's far from impossible.
If Beltre gets traded and replaced with Tui I predict we won't score again for the rest of the season.
Projected Pitching Staff:
Okay, time to start breezing by. Optimistic way of viewing the rotation: Felix will take a step forward, Bedard will remain mostly healthy, Silva will regress to the mean, and RRS will be able to establish himself as Washburn v2.0. Pessimistic way of viewing the rotation: Felix will remain where he is, Bedard will again alternate between injured and average, Silva will continue to struggle, and the back lefties will allow a ton of home runs. There's good and bad to everybody, and it's difficult to say how it's going to end up. In terms of raw talent, it's hard for anyone to do better than Felix and Bedard as 1 and 2, but they both come with a lot of risk, and behind them, there's very little. Who's our depth? Olson? Jakubauskas? We could use a trade.
The longer Bedard can stay healthy, the better the chances of this being an above-average rotation. Without him, those hopes are dashed. And if Silva doesn't pull himself back up to something closer to his 2007, then we're in trouble either way. I love RRS and I'm thrilled that he's going to get stretched out in the rotation, but let's not kid ourselves. He doesn't have the stuff or command to make the leap and establish himself as anything other than a back-of-the-rotation flyballer. The front three need to pitch like a front three in order for this team to contend.
As far as the bullpen is concerned, how it looks now may have very little in common with how it looks in a month, so that makes it tough to project. On paper, it's a lot like the Rangers' bullpen - questions in the middle, stud at the end. But unlike the Rangers' bullpen, ours comes with some upside, most notably if Lowe or Aardsma are able to improve their control. Kelley also has the potential to be pitching 8th innings by June. Add in a bunch of other names like Cordero and Fields and Johnson and you've got lots of arms for the M's to sort through until they find some that work. This isn't an amazing group of relievers, but it's an interesting one, so they've got that going for them.
Beltre, Ichiro, Gutierrez, and Chavez form one of the best defensive cores in all of baseball. When Chavez is wearing a glove, this outfield is going to be something else. Unfortunately the rest isn't quite as rosy. Neither Griffey nor Wlad are particularly able or rangey, and the middle infield is probably going to be an issue, assuming Lopez continues to slip and that Yuni didn't magically re-discover his wizard hat while working out in Florida. Ronny Cedeno would make things a lot better in that regard, but I won't get my hopes up. Overall, this is a solidly above-average unit that isn't without its flaws. Nevertheless, it's going to be a big help to the pitching staff just so long as Chavez continues to get significant playing time.
Nothing here should come as a surprise to any of you. Below-average run production + average to above-average run prevention = 75-80 wins, which puts us somewhere between Texas and Oakland in terms of true talent. It also puts us within striking distance of the Angels, given a couple breaks. Thanks to the feeble current state of this division, all four teams are able to entertain reasonable hopes of making the playoffs, and the Mariners are right there dreaming the dream. Will it happen without a healthy, effective Erik Bedard? That's pretty unlikely. But it was just two years ago that Bedard was the best pitcher in baseball over 28 starts, so it's hardly impossible. And it's not like baseball teams live and die by the fate of any individual player anyway. So we've got a chance.
This is a mediocre team, but a mediocre team in a mediocre division is a mediocre team with a prayer. If you're going to dream, dream big, motherfuckers.