After yet another 101-loss season, Mariner fans were once again feeling as if their front-office had sold them another rotten apple heading into the 2011 campaign. And why wouldn’t they feel any different? The team sold the fans on guys like Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, and Cliff Lee as key members of the 2010 squad who would return the team to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Fast-forward to February 2011 and it appeared as if the Mariners had fallen even further into the depths that has plagued the team ever since Bill Bavasi’s reign of terror began. The M’s fell out of playoff contention early in 2010 and were faced with yet another lost season. Two of the three key acquisitions (Figgins and Bradley) badly underperformed and Cliff Lee was shipped out at the trade deadline to the Texas Rangers for a package of prospects including the highly-touted, but seemingly overmatched 1st baseman, Justin Smoak.
The 2010-11 offseason came and went with relatively few transactions, mostly minor moves to pick up veterans like Adam Kennedy and Brendan Ryan. The grumblings throughout thePuget Soundwere loud and numerous about whether or not the front office was really doing their best job to put a winning product out on the field. With a roster compiled of past-their-prime veterans and unproven youngsters, many analysts saw the M’s as the punching bag of the American League.
But here we are on June 17, and the Mariners are sitting just a ½ game back of the reigning American League Champions, the Texas Rangers in the AL West. How did we get to this point? How has this team of relative unknowns managed to get this team to where they are right now? Let me count the ways:
- Just your average ho-hum season from the King. He’s only second in the American League in strikeouts and third in innings pitched. Oh, and he’s starting to get a little bit of run support.
- Michael Pineda taking the role of ace 2.0 by the horns and becoming a Cy Young candidate in his rookie season.
- Justin Smoak quieting all the doubters as he continues to mash the ball all around the park.
- Miguel Olivo reminding Mariners fans that offensive production can indeed, come from the catching position.
- Adam Kennedy hitting the ball so well that Eric Wedge is forced to find him spots in the lineup practically every game.
- Milton Bradley is gone, finally.
- Brendan Ryan has become the gritty leader this team has lacked since the days of Jay Buhner. Plus it doesn’t hurt that he’s flashed some serious leather at the premium position of shortstop.
- Brandon League has finally started to utilize his splitter.
- Ichiro playing like well, Ichiro (despite the slow start)
- Carlos Peguero, who seems to hit a line-drive home run every time he makes contact, even if that’s only twice a week.
- David Pauley and Jamey Wright showing other teams that they do in fact have stuff left in the tank.
- Luis Rodriguez, who gave me visions of Rich Amaral during his time up with the big club.
- Eric Wedge, who’s being the steady presence this team desperately needed.
- Rick Rizzs, he tried to replace a legend inDetroitand failed, He’s not trying to replace a legend inSeattleand is succeeding tremendously. I still miss Dave immensely but it doesn’t hurt to have a familiar voice coming through the airwaves.
- And last but certainly not least, Chone Figgins for giving this team terrible production from a guy set to make $24 million over the next two seasons. Ok, maybe not that last part.
But don’t think this will be as good as it gets for this ballclub. With the recent lame-duck seasons, they Mariners have been stockpiling a very impressive farm system. Three Mariner prospects were ranked in the top 60 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America before the season, 2nd baseman Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, and shortstop Nick Franklin.
The Mariners also had the second overall selection in the 2011 MLB draft and with that pick they selected Danny Hultzen, a left-handed starting pitcher from the University of Virginia. Adding Hultzen to a rotation already featuring Felix and Pineda has the potential to be one of the most dominating rotations in the league. Don’t forget about 2010 first rounder Taijuan Walker, either. He’s been dominating in A-Ball this season and could potentially be the M’s number four starter by 2013.
Yes Mariner fans, we have seen many a dark day during this club’s existence, but it appears that help is just around the corner. It may take a few more seasons before this team becomes a perennial contender but I’m excited for the future of this ballclub and I hope you are too.
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Author: Curtis Rogers