Seattle Mariners 2002 Season Preview
by Adam J. Ulrey
The Mariners Are Still The Team To Beat!
Will the Mariners win 116 games again? Will Brett Boone hit 37 homers again? Will the Mariners win the AL Western Division by 14 games again? The answer to all the above is probably not, but the Mariners are still the best team in the division. They will get a strong challenge from Oakland, Texas and Anaheim, but in the end they will prevail. This team had a magical year and watched it come tumbling down at the hands of the Yankees. GM Pat Gillick has done a masterful job of putting Seattle in the upper echelon of teams with his brilliant moves. You lose three future Hall of Famers (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez) and still win 116 games, well, your front office is doing a terrific job. Lou Piniella finally was able to play the kind of "short ball" baseball he likes. He tries to score first and move over runners at all times to get that one run across and take advantage of his team's speed. Last year everything came together, but the burning question is will they be able to do it again or were they a one-year wonder?
Back to man first base will be the ever consistent John Olerud who has one of the most beautiful swings in the game. He put up his usual year with 21 homers, 95 RBI and hit .302 to bring his lifetime average to .300. He also possesses one of the best gloves in the game, saving the Mariners many runs over the course of the season. Coming off his career year Brett Boone who came to camp last year looking like the Incredible Hulk hopes to continue his power barrage. His numbers were off the chart, with 37 homers, a new American League record for a second baseman, beating Joe Gordon by five. He also led the AL in RBI with 141, along with hitting .331 for the year. It was seven years ago that in 331 at bats he hit .320, then never hit above .267 until last year. He also has the best second base glove in the AL now that Roberto Alomar is gone to the NL. Carlos Guillen, who is looking to rebound from an injury plagued 2001, will handle shortstop. He plays a solid shortstop, but if he can't hit don't be surprised if Pinella gives Desi Relaford an opportunity to take the job away. The newcomer to the infield will be third baseman Jeff Cirillo, who has a better glove than former Mariner David Bell and is twice the hitter. Cirillo is the perfect type of hitter for Safeco Field, with his ability to hit shots in the gap. Check out his doubles numbers over the last seven years: 46, 46, 31, 53, 35, 31 and last year his low of 26. In five of the last six years he has driven in 85 runs or better and brings a lifetime average of .311 to the club. He will make the Mariners' infield one of the best fielding ones in the game.
The catching will be handled by the steady glove of Dan Wilson who does a quality job behind the plate and handling the pitching staff. He will get some help as the Mariners traded for switch-hitting Ben Davis from San Diego, who should be the better bat of the two. The DH is where the best right-handed hitter in the world resides in Edgar Martinez. Watching this guy hit is like drinking a fine wine that gets better with age. At 39 years old he is still one of the best in the game. Last year was his seventh consecutive season hitting above .300 with his .306 average, his lowest over that time span. He drove in 116 runs and hit 23 homers to go along with his ever-present high doubles total of 40. Hes so respected in the clubhouse that even someone like Boone was in awe of how he handles the bat. Boone, Mike Cameron, Ichiro and many others say Martinez is the reason they all had their most productive years in the Majors. The outfield has two of the best ball chasers in the game with Ichiro Suzuki in right field and Mike Cameron in center. This year left field will be handled by Ruben "High Sierra" and super sub Mark McLemore.
After bouncing around the independent leagues for a couple of years, Sierra made a comeback with Texas last year, hitting 23 homers and 67 RBIs in just 94 games. At 36 the Mariners brass think they can get one more good year out of him. If Sierra hadn't gotten involved with Rickey Henderson in Oakland a few years ago, trying to be cocky like Rickey and messing too much with weights, we might be talking about a Hall of Famer. He was putting up numbers that would have led him down that path and now he'll have to settle for having a good career, but not great. McLemore fell in love with Pinella's style of play last year, stealing a career high 39 bases at the ripe old age of 37. He played six positions and was in the lineup almost everyday helping led this team to a division crown. You can't have enough McLemore type players on your team. Cameron has not only made the Seattle fans forget about Griffey Jr., he might have become even more popular. He works hard everyday, takes great pride in his defense and now has made himself into a damn good hitter. Last year he set career highs in homers with 25 and RBI with 110. He also can beat you with his legs, as he swiped 34 , only the second time in his career that he had achieved 30 or more steals. His OBP each of the last two years with the Mariners has been over .350, which shows hes learning patience at the plate. If you want to watch someone show you how to play center field just tune into a Mariners' game and watch Cameron. Ichiro, the Japanese sensation, came on the scene last year and nobody knew what to expect from this guy. All he did was go out and win the batting crown for his eighth consecutive title counting his seven in the Japanese majors with a .350 avg. He led the league in hits with 242, steals with 56 and took home the AL MVP award. Hell of a first year and one hell of an impression to make on the rest of the baseball world. He has a cannon for an arm and is one of the better right fielders in the game already. He scored 127 runs to lead the team and drove in 69 RBI, pretty impressive for a leadoff hitter. At 28 look for him to keep impressing as he now is talking about adding some power to his game.
The starting staff has the true ace a team is always looking for, Freddy Garcia who in just his third year is turning heads with his command of the strike zone. He won 18 games last year, with a league leading 3.05 ERA. He also is a horse, having led the entire league with 238 innings pitched, along with striking out 163 batters. When Freddy is on, you are powerless against him as he gets stronger as the game goes on. One of the big reasons for the Mariners' turn-around last year was the pitching of the old man, Jamie Moyer, who is probably more popular for being Digger Phelps son-in-law than a major league pitcher. After a horrible year in 2000 he bounced back to go 20-6 with a 3.43 ERA along with pitching over 200 innings. Paul Abbott will be the third man in the rotation. He enjoyed the luxury of having such a talented team hitting behind him, giving big leads to work with that gave him a gaudy record of 17-4 with a 4.25 ERA. James Baldwin will slip into the fourth spot in the rotation vacated by the departure of Aaron Sele to the Angels. Baldwin was 10-11 with a 4.42 ERA with the White Sox and the Dodgers last year. Scouts all over the league say this kid has great stuff, but just hasn't put it all together. If anybody can get it out of him it could be the Mariners' brilliant pitching coach, Brent Price. Piniella handed over the reigns to this guy last year and he made some remarkable progress with the staff. Hell try to do it again with Baldwin. The kid, Joel Pineiro, will get the fifth spot and if pitches anything like he did coming down the stretch last year it will make the M's a tough team to beat. In 11 starts last year he was 6-2 with a minuscule ERA of 2.03.
The bullpen is Piniella's pride and joy as he now has exactly what he has always wanted. How about two set-up guys to get to his closer? Piniella simply asks his starters to go at least six if not seven innings as the bullpen will carry the team the rest of the way. Sweet Lou has Arthur Rhodes' (8-0, 1.72 ERA) from the left side and Jeff Nelson (4-3, 2.76 ERA) from the right to get you to super closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. In his two short years as the M's closer, Sasaki has saved 82 games with a 3.20 ERA. He has a wicked fork ball, which, when hes on, means you are not hitting it. In 129 innings spanning the two years Sasaki has walked just 42 and last year only allowed 11 free passes.
If thats not enough the Mariners went out and got their long relief man from the Angels by signing Shigetoshi Hasegawa to a free agent contract. With both he and Ryan Franklin the Mariners might just have the best bullpen in the game.
This team is solid from top to bottom and unless there are some injuries
they will repeat as the Western Division champs.
Ten Years Ago...Our Mariners Preview from April 1992, by Bobby Plapinger:
Strengths and Weaknesses: Good offense: Griffey and Mitchell and J. Buhner, along with place-setting Edgar Martinez and Harold Reynolds. Randy Johnson is spectacular on occasion, but somewhat inconsistent. Erik Hanson has shown flashes of greatness, but is still somewhat unproven. Rest of starters are unknown or unproven. Bullpen is relying on Schooler's return to form, always an unreliable situation. Lots of pitching potential beyond that, but who knows what they'll do.
Weakness: Uncertain ownership situation; Horrible stadium, uncertain pitching situation; uncertain management situation (new manager promises to play more aggressive "little ball" but there are only a couple of speedy runners and they get thrown out half the time). Management refuses to admit Pete O'Brien signing was a big bu mistake--they keep playing him, denying at bats to truly productive hitters.
Outlook: In the ALE, the M's could contend. In the west they'll be lucky to finish 4th; couId duplicate '91 Angels: last place, .500 . Still, this is baseball, who knows?...
Perspective: Last year was the M's best. Ownership rewarded Seattle by putting them up for sale, threatening to leave town, firing the manager, and releasing Alvin Davis, their most popular player. In spite of this, the nucleus is young and talented, with talent in minors.
Things to watch: Griffey. Mitchell-70 homers or bad influence? Tino Martinez---great minor league stats, nothing in majors. Does Georgia star Dave Fleming make the staff, will he ROY? 3 interesting rookies: Pitcher Roger Salkeld, P Dave Fleming, who has overcome emotional and defensive problems and had great '91 in minors, and Bret Boone, son of Bob an grandson of Ray, who hit with great power for IF last year.
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