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The Mariners would seem to have nowhere to go but up after a 101-loss season, but the offense is going to have to get a whole lot better before that becomes a sure thing.

The Mariners lost their top RBI man from 2008 when Raul Ibanez left for the Philadelphia Phillies. They brought back Ken Griffey Jr., but at age 39, is he really a suitable replacement?

On the other hand, new general manager Jack Zduriencik has done a serious revision of the roster that new manager Don Wakamatsu will have at his disposal in 2009. It's a roster in which the defense, particularly in the outfield, should be better and where the starting pitching should keep the Mariners in games. As opposed to last season under then-general manager Bill Bavasi, the Mariners should get the chance to find themselves in the early going.

A year ago, the Mariners were coming off an 88-win season and there were huge expectations after the additions of starting pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. This year, after the trade of closer J.J. Putz as the key man in a 12-player, three-team trade, the Mariners are looking more and more like a team that is going to have to reinvent itself.


If there is one major upside to the Seattle picture entering 2009, it's the starting rotation. Hard-throwing righthander Felix Hernandez, still just 22, will be the No. 1 starter. He only went 9-11 last year, but his ERA dipped to 3.45, down almost half a run from the 2007 season. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA and seventh in strikeouts with 175.

Lefthander Erik Bedard might not be the most popular guy in the game, but he knows how to pitch. In between two stints on the DL (hip and shoulder), he won six games and had a 3.67 ERA. When healthy, Bedard is one of the top lefties in the league.

Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith figure to occupy the third and fourth spots in the rotation. Morrow, the team's first-round pick in 2006, started five games for the Mariners last season and came out of the bullpen 40 times. The Australian-born Rowland-Smith had a 2.56 ERA from Aug. 21 through the end of the season.

Veterans Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva will battle newly acquired Garrett Olson for the fifth spot in a rotation that is as strong top-to-bottom as it's been in half a decade.


With the departure of Putz as the closer and innings-eating Sean Green in middle relief, the bullpen will have an entirely new look. Going into the spring, Miguel Batista could be the closer, a role he handled in Toronto a few years back. He saved 31 games with the Blue Jays in 2005 but lost eight games and had more hits allowed (80) than innings pitched (74.2).

The Mariners could also move Morrow back into the bullpen for ninth-inning work. He wants to start, but the Mariners may have no better choice than the man who filled in nicely for Putz for a stretch last 2008.

Mark Lowe and Roy Corcoran, a pair of young righthanders, are going to be asked to assume bigger roles in the pen, while Jason Vargas will get a chance to be the setup lefthander. Also, Jose Lugo, a lefty, will get a long look as a Rule 5 free agent.

Middle infield

Wakamatsu says he's "looking forward" to the opportunity to work with second baseman Jose Lopez and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Lopez came into his own as a hitter in 2008, hitting a career-high .297 while slugging .443. But his defense remains suspect, particularly his range. Betancourt has slipped a notch on both offense and defense, though his bat showed signs of life in the final quarter of the 2008 season. He hit .305 in August and .343 in September and ended the season at a respectable .279 with 66 runs scored and 51 RBIs.


Third baseman Adrian Beltre enters the final year of his contract as the glue of the infield. Coming off his second Gold Glove-winning season, he's as good as any third baseman defensively, and on offense he's been a steadying force in the middle of the Seattle offense even if he hasn't reverted to the 48-homer power of his 2004 season with the Dodgers. Across the diamond, Russell Branyan's best power years came in the early part of the decade, but the Mariners believe he can increase his production with more consistent playing time. His left-handed swing is built for Safeco Field, or at least the Mariners are hoping so. On the other hand, the club spent the winter converting utilityman Mike Morse into a first baseman, and he's an offensive threat who could serve as the designated hitter or split time at first base if Branyan can't secure an everyday job.


The addition of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who was a right fielder with Cleveland, to play alongside Ichiro Suzuki gives the Mariners two of the best defensive players in the game. And Endy Chavez, acquired from the Mets in the Putz deal, can chase it down as well. The Mariners believe a better defensive outfield will make the pitching staff better. Chavez could split playing time with Wladimir Balentien in left, but Balentien will have to prove that he has caught up with major league breaking pitches before he can be sure of seeing his name in the lineup regularly. Last year, he hit .202 with the Mariners and struck out 79 times in 243 at bats.


The position will be a tricky one for Wakamatsu, a former catcher. Kenji Johjima, fresh off his worst professional season, comes in as the nominal starter, but former first-round draft pick Jeff Clement will need some playing time as well. Clement caught 38 games last year and served as the DH 21 times.


With Griffey Jr. is penciled in as the regular DH, which may cause the M's to make a decision about all the catchers on the roster. Second baseman Tug Hulett gives the Mariners some depth in the infield. Chavez is an outfielder who can start if needed, but look for one of two youngsters, Mike Wilson or Greg Halman, to make a move on to the 25-man roster before the season gets too advanced.

Difference Maker

Lefthander Erik Bedard spent the winter recovering from minor shoulder surgery, and reports are that the veteran, who was just 6-4 last year in 15 starts, should be ready to return to the form that made him one of the top starting pitchers in the American League during his final few seasons in Baltimore. Bedard had a 3.67 earned run average in his 15 starts and allowed only 70 hits in 81 innings, but he averaged only five innings per start and had two long stints on the disabled list.


CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong gave Zduriencik a free hand to hire a manager. He chose Wakamatsu, who served as the bench coach in Oakland last year. Wakamatsu spent three years managing in the Diamondbacks organization in the late 1990s and managed the Angels' Double-A team in 2000. Much of the front office has undergone a turnover, with only international scout Bob Engle and associate general manager Lee Pelekoudas retaining their positions.

Final analysis

Zduriencik refuses to use the word "rebuilding" when talking about this club. It's hard to know what else to call it. There is enough starting pitching to keep the Mariners in most games, but the re-tooled bullpen has some issues. The Angels, who have dominated the AL West in recent years, don't figure to be as good in 2008, but the Mariners don't look like a team capable of posing too big of a threat.

They'll be doing like 5 teams a week from now up untill the end of Spring.

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