Woohoo! That’s right, I’m back from sabbatical. I’ve shaken off the doldrums and melancholy from a long, harsh, and ultimately futile football season and revved up and ready for spring.
This year has been difficult to adjust. The less said about the Seahawks season the better. The Sonics are gone now, taking away a great distraction and target for my angst. Yes, David Stern is still an asshole but admitting the league is in financial trouble but looking to expand to South Africa doesn’t really make me feel an urgency to get the Sonics back after all. Still, I miss talking basketball, watching Kevin Durant mature and arguing over who should be the next Sonic legend to get his number retired. For the record, it’s Gary Payton followed by Shawn Kemp and then maybe Detlef Schrempf and Sam “Big Smooth” Perkins. Kevin Calabro should never ever have to pay for a meal or drink in Seattle again after telling Clay Bennett to shove his broadcasting job because he was staying in Seattle. For that he deserves to have his microphone retired next to the original “voice of the Sonics” Bob Blackburn.
The Olympics have been a horrible disaster to watch since NBC can’t show events in which the US aren’t favored to medal. The Sounders opened their training camp and are looking good, but nothing says spring is coming like the Mariners in Arizona.
Departures: Leaving the Emerald City over the winter were catcher Kenji Johjima, who opted out of final year in his contract to return to Japan; outfielder Russell Branyan, who turned down an offer from the Mariners to try free agency; third baseman Adrian Beltre, who also opted for free agency and signed with the Red Sox; pitcher Brandon Morrow, traded to Toronto; and pitcher Carlos Silva, traded to the Chicago Cubs.
Arrivals: The biggest signing was the first. Ken Griffey, Jr. lit up the smiles in Seattle by coming back for another year. General manager Jack Zduriencik didn’t rest on his laurels. He plundered third baseman Chone Figgins from the Angels. Shortstop Jack Wilson was retained with a two-year deal after being picked up from the Pirates at the trading deadline in 2009.
One of the big offseason trades involved the Mariners, the Phillies, the Blue Jays, and the Oakland A’s swapping nine players. After the dust settled, the Mariners picked up former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from Philadelphia to give them a left-handed ace to complement Felix Hernandez.
Seattle picked up Milton Bradley from the Cubs for Carlos Silva. In a separate trade with the Blue Jays, Seattle got reliever Brandon League for Brandon Morrow. To replace Russell Branyan at first base, the Mariners swapped Bill Hall for Casey Kotchman and then picked up outfielder Eric Byrnes after he was released from the Diamondbacks.
Zduriencik rounded out his acquisitions with another first baseman, Ryan Garko, and in a bit of a surprise, re-signed pitcher Erik Bedard for another year.
Pitching: The starting rotation looks to be Hernandez, Lee, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and some combination of Bedard (if healthy) or Ian Snell and whomever wins the spot in spring training between Doug Fister, Luke French, Garrett Olson and Jason Vargas. Long relief will be filled by the best loser from that competition.
In the bullpen David Aardsma has the closer role locked up. Brandon League, Mark Lowe, and Shawn Kelley look set based on last year’s performance. The remaining two seats will be filled with the long reliever winner and either Ricky Orta, Anthony Varvaro, Sean White, and Kanekoa Texeira.
Infield: Around the horn, the players that are set are Casey Kotchman at first, Jose Lopez at second, Jack Wilson at short, and Chone Figgins at third. Catcher is set to be a combination of Felix-favorite Rob Johnson, Adam Moore, and Josh Bard although utility man Jack Hannahan has been mentioned as a possibility as well. Hannahan looks to be on the bench when the season starts. Joining him there will be Garko and possibly Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders or a dark horse that has a blistering camp.
Outfield: The only names in stone here are centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez and right fielder Ichiro. Left field looks to be a platoon again with the designated hitter and depends on who is on the mound for the opponents. Junior will be on that list as well Milton Bradley and, if he has anything left, Eric Byrnes.
Issues: Rob Johnson is coming off surgery on his hips and wrist. Griffey had arthroscopic surgery on his knee to remove bone spurs. Lee had bone spurs removed from his foot. Griffey and Lee are both in camp and Johnson is expected to be ready for the season start.
Outlook: I, for one, am very stoked for the upcoming season and I’m not alone. There is a feeling of anticipation in the air around Seattle. Mariners fans feel that the team is on the right path. All of the moves Jack Zduriencik have made feel good.
Of course, things can (and will) go wrong but, unlike the Bill Bavasi era, there is quality everywhere. Every player that has been replaced has been replaced with someone better. Players have been chosen by how they fit the team (Figgins) and not by how big a splash they make (Richie Sexson).
Mariner fans are optimists. You have to be to have suffered through the bad baseball the team went through up to 1995. Since then the team was competitive for a while. They lost their way for a couple of years but the foundation seems solid now. Zduriencik has made solid moves so far. Don Wakamatsu has proven he can manage at this level. Solid veteran leadership in the clubhouse, led by Griffey, has set a good tone.
The AL West is going to be a tough division. The Angels are still very good. The A’s are always tough down the stretch and Texas is an offensive threat that is always dangerous. Seattle’s defense and pitching are still strong. With Ichiro and Figgins at the top of the lineup, the offense should be better too.
This team may not be a World Series team but it looks like a contender to still be playing when the weather gets cooler. Hopefully they can keep playing long enough to postpone the worrying about the Seahawks across the street.