After last week's events, Mariners fans have a clearer picture of what their team will look like in 2012.
Without Prince Fielder, the Mariners need to find another way to drastically improve their offensive output from last season in order to contend. Another issue is Michael Pineda's vacated role in the rotation.
The biggest question facing the Mariners this season, however, deals with the AL West. Will they be able to improve enough to compete against two reloaded teams in the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels? Regardless, the Mariners have to put a product on the field based on what they have, not what they could have had.
Check out my 25-man roster projection for 2012 after the jump!
1. Dustin Ackley 2B
2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
3. Franklin Gutierrez CF
4. Mike Carp LF
5. Justin Smoak 1B
6. Jesus Montero DH
7. Miguel Olivo C
8. Kyle Seager 3B
9. Brendan Ryan SS
The first notable change is the leadoff spot: Ichiro isn't leading off. In last Thursday's press conference, Eric Wedge clearly stated Ichiro will be tried at other spots in the order if it will benefit the team. It will benefit the team; Ichiro didn't earn that spot back last year and Ackley is a young star who could work wonders leading off.
Another thing to note is Guti in the three hole. Eric Wedge vehemently contended that Guti is in the best shape of his life and looks the best he's ever seen him. Wedge said that while he had thought about Guti as potential lead-off man, his new physique dictates more to the middle of the order. Voila, three hole. Don't make me regret this, Guti. I almost voted you off the island last year.
The most difficult decision was deciding where to play Jesus Montero because his position dictates the dynamic of the lineup. I went with DH, because he still has a long way to go to be an MLB catcher. Montero at DH would push Mike Carp to left field.
If Montero catches, Carp and Justin Smoak would fill DH and first base (probably Carp DH, Smoak first), and Casper Wells would start in left field.
The lineup is unimpressive at first glance but full of young players with potential. If Ichiro can return to form and Olivo can repeat his 2011 output, the lineup will be improved.
1. His Highness, King Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. Jason Vargas, LHP
3. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
4. Blake Beavan, RHP
5. Kevin Millwood, RHP
Felix Hernandez is the man. No one denies this. Moving on.
Much like his autograph on a Red Mill napkin that hangs on my wall at home, Jason Vargas as a No. 2 seems kind of flimsy. That being said, Vargas showed flashes of brilliance with the M's last season and has a chance to seize the spotlight in 2012. I'm confident that given the competition, he will be the No. 2 starter.
After those two, it gets pretty muddled. The competition for the last spot includes Iwakuma, Beavan, Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Danny Hultzen, and the newly acquired Hector Noesi. Iwakuma won 20 games and the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young in 2008. I realize that Japanese baseball is a completely different universe than the big leagues, but if the he can stay healthy, then he should be a solid option at No. 3.
Beavan has the most Mariners experience of any of these guys on the list, and last year he morphed into a solid back-end starter. He opened his career with six straight quality starts--setting a Mariners record--and continued the rest of 2011 at a decent pace.
Millwood will be in the rotation if he is competent and healthy. His intangibles as a great clubhouse guy and veteran leader, plus Eric Wedge's vote of confidence, make the final rotation spot his for the taking. Hopefully, the friendly confines of Safeco Field will provide him with a boost, and help him keep his ERA under 4.00.
Overall, this rotation has only one guarantee, and that's Felix. Outside of him, the M's are going to need a lot of other things to go right for them to have an elite rotation this year.
Closer: Brandon League RHP
Lefty: George Sherill LHP
Middle Relief: Chance Ruffin RHP
Middle Relief: Shawn Kelley RHP
Middle Relief: Tom Wilhelmsen RHP
Long Relief: Charlie Furbush LHP
Long Relief: Hector Noesi RHP
This is a great looking young group for the Mariners. League was an All-Star last year and could easily repeat this year if he avoids those two disaster weeks of 2011. George Sherill is by far the oldest of the group, but his addition brings a solid, experienced set-up man who has done great things for the M's in the past. Ruffin (the throw-in from the Fister trade) looked great last season.
Shawn Kelley returns after almost two years off — he looked good before he went down in 2010. Tom Wilhelmsen, the bartender himself, should take some strides this year. Furbush probably won't make the rotation, but could be a situational lefty and a spot-starter. Noesi is an excellent young arm with experience both as a starter and reliever. He has all offseason to condition for either role, though he could still begin in AAA.
C- John Jaso
3B- Alex Liddi
2B/3B/SS/OF/Disappointment/Giant contract/Why are you still on the team/First name starts with "C" and ends with "hone"
OF- Casper Wells
OF- Trayvon Robinson
This projection includes 26 players. Why? Because if I ran the team, Chone Figgins would not have a job. However, since Wedge was all about Figgins in his presser, I can't imagine he gets cut right away.
John Jaso brings major league catching talent that the Mariners haven't had outside of Olivo in three years. Alex Liddi showed a ton of pop in September and should make the roster to platoon with Seager and allow him to slide to shortstop to relieve Ryan from time to time. Casper Wells may start on Opening Day instead of Olivo (with Montero behind the plate); he will see significant time in left field and might DH occasionally. Trayvon Robinson might struggle a bit in 2012, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him sent down midseason to work on his swing a bit. He strikes out way too much to be a starter
Well that's all of it. 25 guys will start the season in Japan on March 28, and these are the guys who I think will make the cut. Did I miss anyone? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know in the comments. Go Mariners!
--Patrick Leary (@PTLeary21)