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A Case for the Mariners Keeping Cliff Lee

Whith the July 31 trade deadline looming, Cliff Lee might only wear a Mariners uniform for another 3-4 starts. That doesn't need to be the case, especially if the Mariners are looking to build a winning team into the future.

The Mariners can afford to keep Cliff Lee in the rotation for the next several years and get some help in the lineup, if they are willing to get creative. According to Cot's, opening day payroll came in at just over $91 million, some of that goes away next year and even more of it gets unloaded after 2011. Of the $71.5 million the M's are committed to (plus about $10 million for arbitration eligible players), $6.5 of it is for Carlos Silva and Yuniesky Betancourt, with another $13 million is for Milton Bradley. I can't imagine any of that salary being around in 2012.

Cliff Lee will be priced in the same range as other ace starters, like C.C. Sabathia ($24.5 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), and the M's own Felix Hernandez ($19.2 million). Let's assume he won't cost as much as Sabathia and goes for $20 million a year. At almost 32, he's not likely to get more than 4 years from anyone because he could be amazing until he's 40 or he could start having health problems by the time he's 35. So doing the math for 2011, a $20 million Cliff Lee puts known payroll plus Lee at $101.5 million.

The Mariners will need to spend some money to upgrade a few positions. First base and catcher are gaping holes. Branyan is a temporary fix at first and there's no helping the Rob Johnson situation behind the plate. Assume $6 million for a decent first baseman and another $3 million for a catcher. Trading Aardsma might help with either of those. There's good reason to think we should be looking for at least two more relievers. Cliff Lee and Felix pitching complete games is an indication that there's no confidence in the bullpen. And utlitity players look a little sparse, although Josh Wilson may be a legit choice in the infield, with no one available to backup the Saunders/Guttierez/Ichiro outfield. Assume another $5 million for a mix of utility both on the field and in the bullpen. That's an additional $14 million, putting the payroll at about $115 with Cliff Lee. Minus the dead weight from Silva, that's really a $110 payroll for 2011.

A 2011 rotation with Cliff Lee should win an easy 95 games with a batting order that looks anything close to the one going into the All Star break. What could this team look like:

Starting Rotation

RH - Felix Hernandex
LH - Cliff Lee
LH - Jason Vargas
RH - Doug Fister
LH - Ryan Roland-Smith


RF - Ichiro Suzuki
CF - Franklin Guttierez
LF - Michael Saunders
OF - ?
OF - ?


1B - ?
2B - Chone Figgins
SS - Jack Wilson
3B - Jose Lopez
IN - Dustin Ackley
IN - Josh Wilson


C - ?
C - ?

DH - Milton Bradley

Relief Pitchers

RP - David Aardsma
RP - Brandon League
RP - Shawn Kelley
RP - ?
RP - ?

The thing that makes the lineup interesting is that Figgins could shift back to third some of the time if Ackley is ready in the spring, with Lopez sharing the DH role with Bradley for some games and Bradley rotating into left field. The $115 million price tag for this team is slightly less than the 2008 Mariners and slightly more than the 2007 Mariners. If the Mariners are rebuilding this year, finding a way to keep Cliff Lee makes more sense than trading for a bat that likely won't stay long term.

Wak Ejected as the Mariners Finally Win

Wak finally gets ejected and Griffey gets to play the hero one more time. The last two games look like the M's might finally be hitting. My schedule this week prevented me from attending the whole game, but I saw the two innings that mattered. I walked into the stadium in the bottom of the 8th with Ichiro on first and Figgins at the plate.

After Ichiro gets thrown out at second to end the 8th inning, Wakamatsu argued with second base umpire Andy Fletcher and gets ejected. Wak didn't even look mad. I'm suspicious that most of the discussion revolved around Wak saying, "I know it wasn't a bad call, but I have to support my #1 guy. Show my team I care and throw me out."

Top of the 9th was 3 quick outs by Shawn Kelley. The bottom of the inning is where things got interesting. Kevin Gregg looked more like the pitcher the Cubs unloaded after last year, with his second blown save of the season, brought on by 2 hits, 2 walks, and a Griffey walk-off single. Griffey still looks like it's time for him to retire, but the team needed this one in a big way.

Josh Bard continues to look like the guy we should have called on behind the plate from the beginning of the season. It will be interesting to see how things shake out when Adam Moore ends his stint on the DL.

Game 41 and we're sitting at 15-26.

Mariners to the playoffs, but this year?

Beltre, Silva, Hannahan, Chavez, Morrow, Johjima. These are the names that are gone. The Mariners added Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Kaneokoa Texiera, Adam Moore, Brandon League, Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman. Look at those two lists and it is clear that the Mariners are a better team in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Rangers' offensive power was only marginally changed by the addition of Vladimir Guerrero, while the Texas starting rotation has no ace with an array of number-three starters. Neftali Feliz may throw 100 m.p.h., but the team's bullpen remains undistinguished.

Oakland has great pitching potential without a proven ace (who is not recovering from shoulder surgery). Ben Sheets may be the signing of the year, but his Spring Training ERA of 11.28 doesn't bode well.

Finally, the Angels remain a force to be reckoned with. Hideki Matsui is a marginal upgrade from Guerrero, now DHing in Texas. The infield is questionable with Brandon Wood learning on the job at third while Howie Kendrick remains middling at second. The rotation is, essentially, a string of number-two starters without John Lackey. Ervin Santana's no shoe-in for comeback player of the year, though he needs to be if the Angels are going to repeat their 2009 record of 97-65. 

Will the Angels give up 12 wins? Not likely. They are a 92 to 95 game winner, which will keep them at the top of the AL West. Seattle will likely pick up five wins this season, ending at 90-72, which will keep them in the Wild Card running until the end of the season. The question is whether New York, Boston or Tampa Bay, playing against one another in the toughest division in baseball, will earn more wins to take the Wild Card from Seattle. The odds say "yes."

The M's are the third-youngest team in the majors. This squad—with or without Cliff Lee—will make it to the play-offs, but probably not in 2010.

Mariners Announce Starting 5

The Mariners finally announced the five starters for the beginning of the 2010 season. There's no Cliff Lee, due to his abdominal strain. Erik Bedard likely won't see action until May either. Garrett Olson and Luke French are both headed for Tacoma, which means the team has narrowed things down to five. So who is left?

We already knew Felix Hernandez would be the number one man in the rotation. He gets the opening day start on April 5 in Oakland. Ian Snell is starting in the second spot in the rotation. Ryan Rowland-Smith is arguably the second best starter of the healthy pitchers, but he's in the third spot to give him the opening day slot in Seattle on April 12. Doug Fister and Jason Vargas fill slots four and five in the rotation. Those last two are most likely to get bumped as Lee and Bedard get healthy.  


Padres send Huffman, Poreda, and Ramos to Portland

As the Padres firm up their roster for 2010, it's becoming more clear which players will be in Portland to start the 2010 Pacific Coast League season.

Chad Huffman, who played both left field and first base for the Beavers in 2009, is officially headed back to Portland to start the 2010 season. Huffman has had a rough spring, going 1 for 23 in the Padres spring training lineup. Off season acquisitions by the Padres made the outfield a crowded place. Huffman's chance of getting any playing time from Adrian Gonzalez at first is next to none. He did hit 20 home runs for Portland last year, so he'll be back to provide some punch to the Beavers lineup.

Lefty starter Aaron Poreda is back in Portland this spring as well. He came over from the White Sox minor league system in 2009, but hasn't done well in finding the plate. Combined Triple-A stats for 2009 show an average of about 1 walk per inning pitched. In spring training, Poreda walked 7 batters in 2.1 innings. This is definitely a control issue for Poreda, because he also averages 8 strikeouts per 9 innings, so he's either on or not. 

Cesar Ramos is back in Portland, where he spent all of 2008 and most of 2009. Ramos did start a couple of games for San Diego in 2009, but his 2010 spring training showing suggests he's still not ready for the grind of pitching every 5 days in a Padres uniform.

Cliff Lee likely out of Mariners Rotation until May

Cliff Lee went from being suspended for 5 games of the regular season to starting the 2010 season on the Mariners disabled list. The Mariners announced this afternoon that Lee spent the afternoon in Seattle with Team Medical Director Dr. Ed Khalfayan receiving treatment for a lower right abdominal strain. Treatment for the injury included an ultrasound exam followed by a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection designed to speed recovery. Lee will be re-evaluated in seven days, but I wouldn't be too optimistic about seeing him in the rotation in April.

It's highly likely the Mariners will be minus Cliff Lee for several weeks of the 2010 season if past injuries are any guide. In 2003, Cliff Lee was on the 60-day disabled list for an oblique abdomen strain, with another 62 days on the DL in 2007 due to an abdominal strain that started at the beginning of March in spring training. Based on those two previous injuries, at best we can expect Cliff Lee to be in the Mariners rotation sometime between May 1 and May 15.

A Mariners starting rotation without Lee starts looking pretty bleak, considering none of the starters has shown great stuff in spring training. 

The starting five for April are starting to look like a starting three:

Felix Hernandex

Ryan Rowland-Smith

Ian Snell





Michael Saunders to Start 2010 with Tacoma Rainiers

Michael Saunders at Mariners Spring TrainingAs the Mariners gradually firm up their 2010 roster, Michael Saunders finds himself headed for the Tacoma Rainiers. This is great news for the Rainiers, who will get one of their strongest bats from the 2009 season back in the lineup. While it looked like Saunders had a shot at making the team early in the winter, the Safeco left field is a crowded corner with Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes expecting to share time and Ryan Langerhans also hopeful for some outfield playing time.

Saunders played in 10 games this spring, with 18 at bats, 1 home run, and a .222 batting average. Expect him to be back in Seattle before too long, particularly if anyone in the outfield gets injured. In the mean time, Rainiers fans should enjoy watching Michael Saunders while they can.

Dustin Ackley Heads for West Tennessee

Dustin Ackley at BP during Mariners Spring Training Dustin Ackley looked great in batting practice the day I watched him, but no one thought he'd be making the trip north to Seattle when spring training ends. That doesn't mean Ackley might not get a few at bats in September if he plays well in the Double-A season. During his spring with the Mariners, Ackley batted .158 in 19 at bats, with a triple. Playing at West Tennessee will give him time to develop as a second baseman and get used to more pro-level pitching.

Joining Ackley in Tennessee will be pitchers Ricky Orta, Danny Cortes, Anthony Varvaro, and Edward Paredes

A Fan's Guide to Mariners Spring Training Travel

Ichiro in Batting Practice

With spring break coming up around the Seattle area, it's not too late to plan your trip to Peoria for Spring Training. For some of the best opportunities to see the players in action, here are some helpful tips.

Arrive Early

If you only go for the game, you will have missed some of the best of spring training. Starting at about 9am players of all levels are on the six fields running fielding drills, taking batting practice, working on that new pitch in the bullpen, and basically getting ready for the season. There are bleachers for watching the action at most of the fields. You can get great position for some close-up photos. And if you want to get autographs, the atmosphere is laid back and the players are all very receptive.

Stay near the Stadium

The La Quinta Phoenix Inn and Suites Peoria Hotel, located directly across the street from the Peoria sports complex where the Mariners and Padres share a spring training home, is a great home base for visiting spring training. The hotel isn't fancy, but it's clean and there's no fighting morning rush hour to drive across town to the sports complex. You can easily go back to your room if you need a change of clothes. There's no need to fight the five thousand other people in the stadium parking lot, you can simply leave your car at La Quinta and stroll over.

Attend More Games

If you want to get autographs from several players or have specific players you want to see take batting practice and play in the games, you need to plan to stay for more than one game. The availablility of players varies by day, so you improve your chances of catching everyone if you're around for a few days.

Buy the Expensive Seats

At $23, the best seats in the house are cheaper than what it costs to sit in the upper deck at Safeco. If possible, sit behind the 3B dugout where the Mariners will be camped out. You are guaranteed to see your favorite Mariners players up close. You might even get a baseball. Just be sure you pay attention to when the game starts because you are right on top of the action.

Bring a CameraDon Wakamatsu Throws BP

This goes hand in hand with arriving early. There are so many photo opportunties it's amazing. In some cases, asking the players to pose for you (or with you) works, while other times you may just want to get action shots from one of the six practice fields.

Promotional Days

These are pretty consistent from year-to-year. This year you can get a Family 4 Pack for $30, which includes 4 hot dogs, 4 small sodas, 4 bags of chips, and 4 tickets on the outfield lawn every Monday. Wednesdays offer $2 hot dogs. Active and retired military get $2 off ticket prices at any game. Every Friday is $2 off lawn seats with a college ID.

Call the young dudes

TuiasosopoByJake.jpgSpring gives a glimpse of the future, letting young players show their stuff to the club and fans. Two of the young players at this camp, Matt Tuiasosopo and Adam Moore, are going to make it very difficult for the Mariners to go North without them. Both are having fantastic Spring Training. 

Here are their lines as of Sunday afternoon:

Tuiasosopo 4R 9H 1HR 4RBI 17TB 2BB 2SO 1SB .500OBP .850SLG .450AVG
Moore 0R 8H 0HR 2RBI 10TB 3BB 3SO 0SB .556OBP .625SLG .500AVG

Sure, it's Spring, but this is the second year that Tuiasosopo has had a torrid camp. Moore, meanwhile, is the likely catcher of the future, despite Rob Johnson's having handled much of the catching in '09. Moore's a better offensive option than Johnson, who is two years older and has battled injuries.

Kenji Johjima, last year's Opening Day catcher, thankfully, has returned to Japan to finish his career—his contract was an albatross around the Mariners' collective necks.

Johnson, who had multiple surgeries over the Winter, will start his second Spring game on Monday. Dan Wilson, speaking about a conversation he had with Johnson during the broadcast on Saturday, said Johnson's hips feel "looser" than they have, which will make him more agile and better able to throw. The likely outcome will be that veteran Josh Bard, who the M's signed in the off-season, will be the back-up catcher on Opening Day, if Johnson's not ready.

Otherwise, if Johnson is healthy, he and Moore will share backstop duty, with Moore getting the start for his offense versus lefties, against whom he has batted .667.

It's Tuiasosopo, however, about whom the Mariners must make a decision that will be difficult. Seattle's infield is packed solid with the signing of Chone Figgins to take over Second Base for Jose Lopez, who will man Third, Jack Wilson and Casey Kotchman. Tuiasosopo has filled in at every one of these positions over the years—he should be the team's infield utility man this year instead of Jack Hannahan, for whom the Mariners traded last July when Adrian Beltre was injured. Hannahan adds nothing offensively, having batted only .213 last year between Oakland and Seattle.

Tuiasosopo made the team last year, but fell to an elbow injury and played only 10 games with Seattle. This year, he should be with the team to fill in at any infield position. Chone Figgins, another former utility player, is proof that it's time for Tui to stay in the majors.


Northwest Diamond Notes

Seattle Mariners | Tacoma Rainiers (AAA Mariners) | Portland Beavers (AAA Padres)