FINALLY, the long winter has ended. On Saturday, the Mariner’s pitchers and catchers will report to Peoria, Arizona for Spring Training, thus signifying the beginning of baseball season. There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the Mariners, so I thought that I would make a list of possible events that would surprise me, going from least surprising to most surprising.
Surprise Level 1: Blake Beavan earns a starting spot.
The 6’7” 22 year old came over in the Cliff Lee transaction back in 2010 and finally got a chance to pitch with the big club last year. He threw 97 innings in 15 starts for Seattle last season and posted a respectable 4.27 ERA. More impressively, Beavan posted a 4.46 FIP, which was just two points higher than last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, Jeremy Hellickson. With the loss of three of last year’s starters, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Erik Bedard, there is an opening for Beavan, and he has shown that he is capable of putting together a nice full season.
Surprise Level 2: Kyle Seager starts at third base.
There are A LOT of different opinions concerning the third base job. As Harrison discussed in an article earlier this week, the Mariners have lots of options at third base: Seager, Figgins, Guillen, Liddi, even Luis Rodriguez, newcomer Munenori Kawasaki, or prospect Francisco Martinez. Seager has nothing left to prove in the minors after hitting .387 in triple A last year. Although he hit just .258 at the major league level, he posted a respectable .275 average in the final two months of the season once he got settled in. I know that it’s tough to pay Chone Figgins 9 million dollars to sit on the bench, but I think that it’s better than paying him 9 million to hurt your team and take away opportunities from the future of the ball club. Unless Figgins has a great Spring Training and erases all doubt in our minds (and I don’t think he will,) I think Seager should be our third baseman. Seager may have a tough time gaining the starting job on opening day, but I would be more surprised if he wasn’t a starter than if he was at the beginning of the season.
Surprise Level 3: The Mariners have three catchers on the 25 man roster.
Going into Spring Training, it is reasonable to say that Olivo and Montero are locks for the opening day roster, but will those two be enough for the position? Olivo will likely be used as the everyday catcher and Montero as a DH who gets scattered starts behind the dish. Normally two catchers are enough for a major league squad, but I’m not sure that this will be the case for Seattle this year. Olivo has been unreliable defensively, and Montero is not ready to be an everyday starter behind the dish. I think that this could be an opening for a third catcher on the 25 man roster. The two main candidates for this position are John Jaso and Adam Moore. Neither of these two are particularly good defensive options either, but I think that it is within the realm of possibility for one of these two to be used as late inning defensive subs. This will all depend on other roster moves such as the bullpen and what happens at third base, but I think that having three catchers on the roster is possible, but not probable.
Surprise Level 4: Chone Figgins gets traded or released.
The Mariners are going to have to pay Figgins 17 million over the next two years. There is no arguing that the Mariners would like to get rid of Chone Figgins, it just comes down to what they can get for him and how little money the M’s would have to pay some other team to take Chone off their hands. I don’t see a good trade in the future of the Mariners, at least not in this offseason. As I said in my surprise level 2, I think that the Mariner’s need to give Figgins a long look and if Figgins looks like he can perform worth 9 million dollars. Assuming that Figgins will not live up to this standard, I don’t think he should start. However, I do think that he will remain on the 25 man roster as a backup unless the Mariners decide that they would like to add a man to the 40 man roster and decide that Figgins is the man to release. I definitely think that a couple non-roster invitees will make the opening day roster, but there are plenty of guys that will go before Chone does. Therefore, I will be quite surprised if Chone is traded or released this Spring Training, but it is possible.
Surprise Level 5: Ichiro is not our starting right fielder on opening day.
Arguably for the first time since the 2003 offseason, Mariner fans don’t know what to expect from Ichiro. After his .272 batting average and .310 OBP last year, there have been talks of letting young players like Wells, Saunders, or Robinson take over in right field. Some have also talked about putting Ichiro at DH. I don’t think that Wedge will do either of those. Montero will usually start at DH, and I think that Ichiro still has some good seasons left in the tank. Before 2011, Ichiro had won five straight American League Batting Titles, and had never had less than 200 hits in a season. Yet after one below average season, people are saying he’s done. I could be wrong, but I think that our right fielder still has 200 hits and 40 stolen bases in store next year. His defensive prowess may decline a bit, but I still think that he is a better defensive option than any of the outfielders in the system. Unless he gets injured, which is very unlikely, Ichiro will be the right fielder for the Mariners on opening day. If someone else is patrolling right field this opening day, my face will look like this.