I think its pretty clear that in 2011 the reason strength of the Seattle Mariners was the starting rotation, at least in the begining. For the first couple months they were downright dominant and kept the M’s in the playoff picture even when the rest of the team didn’t belong there.
The whole thing fell apart more and more as the season wore on though. The first crack in the armor was the Erik Bedard injury in June. He never returned to form and then was traded was Boston. Doug Fister was also traded away. Jason Vargus fell apart. Michael Pineda faded considerably and then his innings were drastically reduced. In the end, the trio of Anthony Vasquez, Blake Beaven and Charlie Furbush ended up logging considerable innings, and thus a team with 75-78 win talent dropped to a win total of just 67 wins.
Since the start of last season, Bedard, Fister and Pineda have all been traded. It is hard to imagine that the 2012 rotation will be the strength it was in 2011. While Felix and Vargas look to locks at the top of the rotation, the rest of the rotation appears to be up in the air.
Here’s how I see the rotation shaking out after Spring Training:
- Felix Hernandez
- Jason Vargas
- Hector Noesi
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Blake Beaven
- Erasmo Ramirez
- Charlie Furbush
- James Paxton
- Danny Hultzen
- Oliver Perez
Now, I should add that I have almost no expectations for Perez. The likelihood that he’s with the organization by the end of Spring Training seems incredibly remote. Then again, if he is finally healthy again, the M’s could do a lot worse. I just don’t think he’ll ever return to his 2005 form again.
Hultzen and Paxton have never pitched at AAA. I expect both of them to start in Tacoma and work their way up to the M’s by July. While their ETAs are both sooner rather than later, I do think that April is too soon either.
That leaves Furbush and Ramirez. Furbush seems destined for bullpen duty in my eyes, but that is by no means a universally held opinion. He has decent stuff, and could possibly beat out Beaven or Noesi for a spot in the rotation. Ramirez is another young pitcher with god stuff. He doesn’t have to the top of rotation potential that Paxton and Hultzen do, but he has a higher ceiling than Beaven and Furbush. He pitched in Tacoma for a couple months at the end of last season. If the team feels he’s ready, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t get his chance in the rotation.