If you listened to baseball pundits analyzing teams and making predictions before the season began, the Mariners were thought by most to contend for the American League West title.
They would say the Mariners had two aces in Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee with David Aardsma to close out wins in the 9th.
They would talk about the new acquisitions like Chone Figgins a .290 hitter with speed to hit behind Ichiro; Casey Kotchman, one of the best fielding first basemen in the game; Milton Bradley playing in a safe haven in the northwest would regain his hitting stroke and add a bit of punch.
Veteran Franklin Gutierrez, a center fielder was coming off a great 2009 season in which he hit .283 with 18 homers, 70 rbis, and 16 steals. And Jose Lopez in 2009 had 25 homers and 96 rbis while hitting .272. Then there was Ichiro who everyone knew would hit over .300 and get another 200 hit season.
It sounds good, but nearly every team in spring sounds good if you listen to the baseball folk. Every team is improved according to the analyst, hope springing eternal with boundless fervor. February and March are months of illsuion.
Every team can not improve. Maybe on paper, but paper and fervor is spring optimism without a reality check. My concern for the Mariners, despite the 25 homers by Lopez, was lack of power. The team was built for Safeco Field, a team with pitching, defense, and gap hitters.
But who could predict that every player in the starting lineup, except Ichiro, would have a bad season. Figgins who ended up at .259 came on strong after a start that looked like he would hit below the famed Mendoza line of .200 for the year. Kotchman who was never much of a hitter would finish at .217, and that Bradley, the other star newcomer, would have depression issues, play 73 games and hit .205. Griffey, the franchise icon would flounder, age finally getting him out.
During the 2010 off season Trader Jack and the Mariners will decide who let go, who to trade, who to keep, and come spring training the team will look like a contender once again. But only if they get some power.