Third baseman Adrian Beltre (free agent – 5 years, $64 million); Shortstop Pokey Reese (free agent – 1 year, $1.2 million); First Baseman Richie Sexson (free agent – 4 years, $50 million); Right-handed Reliever Jeff Nelson (minor league deal); Right-handed Starter Aaron Sele (minor league deal); Infielder Ricky Gutierrez (minor league deal)
1: RF Ichiro Suzuki
2: LF Randy Winn
3: 3B Adrian Beltre
4: 1B Richie Sexson
5: DH Raul Ibanez
6: 2B Bret Boone
7: CF Jeremy Reed
8: C Miguel Olivo
9: SS Pokey Reese
The team used the winter to recover from one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The 99-loss weak-hitting team added Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson in an attempt to quickly upgrade the offensive attack. They were supplemented by slick-fielding Pokey Reese to round out the offensive upgrades for the winter.
With the three additions comes a completely revamped infield. Reese and Beltre are easily gold glove caliber defenders and combine for perhaps the best left side of any infield in the league. While Boone isn't the same defender he used to be, he is still very solid. Sexson is a surprisingly good defender and his size at first base is a huge help on the long throws.
In the outfield, Ichiro Suzuki will remain in right field and provide gold glove defense to go along with his rocket arm. It is expected that Jeremy Reed will be the everyday center fielder. He doesn't have outstanding speed but he has a great first step and can be an above average defender. With Reed in center, Randy Winn will shift back to left field where he is one of the best.
The Mariners failed to upgrade their pitching staff externally this winter. However, much of the staff pitched below expectations last season and with the regression to the mean along with the defensive upgrades, the pitching stands a good chance to improve.
The winter did not completely turn the M's into major contenders but with a few good breaks they could easily challenge for the AL West title. If a starter becomes available in a trade during the season the M's may make a push to acquire him. Keep an eye out for young mega-prospect Felix Hernandez. He could emerge during the season and provide a boost down the stretch.
OF Jamal Strong
1B/3B Scott Spiezio
The bench was the weakest part of a weak team last season. There weren't many situations that they were able to handle. That should change somewhat this season. With Jeremy Reed being given the chance to play ever day, it appears that Bucky Jacobsen will be pushed to the bench. There, he can provide a powerful bat and can handle a starting role when necessary.
Scott Spiezio and Dan Wilson are the only other players guaranteed roles on the team. Spiezio will be used as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter late in games. He struggled last season but should bounce back as he returns to his normal role. Wilson will be Miguel Olivo's mentor and backup. If Olivo continues to struggle, Wilson may step in and start.
The rest of the bench is up for grabs. Many of the candidates include Willie Bloomquist, Jamal Strong, Justin Leone, and Greg Dobbs. They will battle for the remaining spots in the spring. The winners of the remaining spots will be low-cost options and likely first or second year type players.
RH Joel Pineiro
LH Jamie Moyer
RH Gil Meche
Rhs Ryan Franklin/Aaron Sele
After tying a record by no starter missing a start in 2003, there were high hopes for the rotation going into 2004. That is where it all went downhill. Joel Pineiro suffered an elbow injury and had to be shut down. Jamie Moyer began to show his age. Gil Meche lost his command and eventually was demoted. Freddy Garcia was traded when the team dropped out of contention and Ryan Franklin's ERA soared.
The only saving grace for the rotation was the emergence of rookie Bobby Madritsch. "Mads" threw 88 innings over 15 games (11 starts) and was 6-3 with a 3.27 ERA. While it is unlikely that he will be able to maintain that level for 2005, he is a good bet to post an ERA around 4.00 over 180 innings.
Pineiro had to be shut down after 140 troublesome innings but worked hard over the winter and is expected to be 100% come spring. Moyer added a year to his age but last time he had a season as bad as 2004 he bounced back with one of the best years of his career. He has one year left on his contract and the M's just want one more good year out of him.
Gil Meche is the wildcard. He has some of the best stuff in the league and has been dominant at times. However, he has had difficulties with his mental approach, command, and mechanics. While he was pitching in Triple-A last season something clicked. He found a glitch in his mechanics and felt more confident once returning to Seattle. If he can maintain his focus and command, he could be the best pitcher on the staff.
The Mariners aren't expecting the rotation to be the best in the league but a vast improvement over 2004 is necessary. Whether it comes from the pitchers currently penciled into the rotation or a midseason addition (that's you, "King Felix"), the M's will need the rotation to cooperate to contend in the division.
Closer LH Eddie Guardado
Another area of disappointment in 2004 was the bullpen. Eddie Guardado was excellent when he was healthy but he developed shoulder problems and was lost for much of the year. Shigetoshi Hasegawa followed the best year of his career with the worst year of his career. Mateo regressed some from his rookie season and developed elbow tendonitis late in the year.
While those three struggled last year, three more pitchers emerged. While Guardado was on the disabled list, J.J. Putz took over as the closer and did a solid job. He has shown that he has the stomach to handle any situation and with more experience, he will likely improve. Scott Atchison surprised many by pitching as well as he did last season. The former 49th-round pick posted a 3.52 ERA and will get a chance to return to the pen this season.
George Sherrill was the best thing to happen to the bullpen last season. The former independent league pitcher has dominated everywhere he's pitched and finally got his chance in the majors. His 3.80 ERA is slightly inflated but the lefty has virtually guaranteed his spot in the 2005 pen.
With bounce back years expected from Hasegawa and Mateo, the pen is looking much stronger this year. Guardado will be one of the better closers in the league if he can stay healthy. The depth for the M's and in Tacoma can help keep the pen fresh all year.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:
Richie Sexson's repaired shoulder
The key to the offseason, and the upcoming season, is the health of the newly-signed first baseman. If Sexson can return to full strength he'll give the team the 40 homers and solid defense they so desperately need. If he can't stay on the field, Bucky Jacobsen will have to step in and that will have a domino effect through the rest of the team.
When it comes to Meche, it is all in his head. His stuff has constantly been pegged as "electric" and he has dominated teams including the Yankees in Yankee stadium. At 26-years-old, the time for a breakout year is now. If he can carry over the success he saw after returning from Triple-A, Meche could take the next step.
The team will certainly improve on the 63-win performance of last season. Whether they can contend for the AL West title is up to the starting rotation. I believe that, while they have done a lot to improve, it just won't be enough. The team will finish with a win total in the high-80s and fall a few games short. However, with the emergence of the young players, they will be back and ready to contend in 2006.