2010 Season Forecast: Pittsburgh Pirates

Last Five Years:
2009: 62 – 99 (6th, NL Central)
2008: 67 – 95
2007: 68 – 94
2006: 67 – 95
2005: 67 – 95

The Pirates won 79 games in 1997, which is the closest they have come to a winning season since 1992.

Runs Scored: 636 (Last, NL)
Runs Allowed: 768 (12th, NL)

Season Recap:

While we could hope that the Pirates would finally break the streak of losing seasons, most people figured that getting past 70 wins for the first time since 2004 would be an improvement…

Actually, the Pirates got out in front with decent April pitching.  After sweeping Florida and taking two from San Diego, Pittsburgh stood at 11 – 7.  Unfortunately, such heady days ended quickly as the Pirates went on to lose 14 of 17 as the offense stopped scoring any runs.  To their credit, the Pirates came back and had a winning June and on the 27th, the Pirates had gotten to within four games of .500

At this point, the Pirates sold out.  Nate McLouth was traded to Atlanta for a couple of prospects.  Nyjer Morgan went to Washington for Lastings Milledge (not sure why, either), Jack Wilson was sent to Seattle with a struggling Ian Snell.  Freddy Sanchez was packaged to San Francisco, and even former ace Tom Gorzelanny was shipped to Chicago with reliever John Grabow.

So, a team that actually was playing pretty well collapsed while testing a bunch of new guys, mixing in a variety of losing streaks between four and nine games long until they were fighting off the possibility of losing 100 games.  The Pirates lost 60 of their last 87 games.  Personally, I don’t know why the Pirates would want to ruin their season that way, but that’s just me.

Pitching:

Unlike Cincinnati, who had a few guys log a lot of innings but not one who was even SLIGHTLY above league average, the Pirates had a couple of decent arms.  Ross Ohlendorf got rolling down the stretch to win 11 games and save his team about seven extra runs in his 177 innings.  Zach Duke, usually a disappointment, logged 213 decent innings, walking just 49 guys, and edging nearly four runs better than the average guy.  Teams need Zach Dukes.  The Pirates wanted him to be an ace, which he is not, but Duke isn’t a problem.  Charlie Morton came over from Atlanta and was tolerable in his 18 starts.  Paul Maholm logged nearly 195 innings and wasn’t death.  Sometimes he looked pretty good.

What strikes you, however, in looking at the Pirates staff is the lack of a POWER arm.  Who on the staff strikes out a batter per inning?  Heck – who strikes out six per nine?  Nobody.  The closest thing the Pirates have to a live arm is Evan Meek, who had 42 Ks in 47 innings out of the pen, but his control keeps him from being a real stopper.  If you look at the guys who logged at least, say, 60 innings, you have nobody that blows you away.  The leader in strikeouts was Maholm with just 119.

Anyway – let’s look at what the Pirate rotation is going forward.  Maholm is back, as is Ohlendorf and Duke.  A full year of Charlie Morton – assuming he stays near league average as he did last year and doesn’t take a step back – will be better than what Ian Snell did last year (2 – 8, 5.36).  That leaves the fifth spot up for grabs.  Kevin Hart, acquired from Chicago for John Grabow, was miserable in his ten starts last year (1 – 8, 6.92) but really isn’t that bad.  Personally, I’d like to see Daniel McCutchen get a shot.  He got six decent starts down the stretch after going 13 – 6 with a 3.47 ERA and just 29 walks in 142.2 innings at Indianapolis.  He HAS to be better than what Kevin Hart did last year.

The Pirates are auditioning a ton of castoffs with Non-Roster Invites – a scary list of guys like Brian Burres, Jeff Karstens, Tyler Yates, and Jeremy Powell.  I don’t see any of these guys getting jobs other than those available in, say, Indianapolis.

The bullpen will be different.  After a rough year of Matt Capps, the Pirates signed Octavio Dotel to be the new closer.  Dotel has been a premium set up man, but as a closer he’s never really been up to the task – and that scares me.  Brendan Donnelly was signed (turns 39 on July 4th) to join Joel Hanrahan (my pick as future closer), Evan Meek, and Donnie Veal in the pen.  This is an eclectic mix of arms that I think improves if Kevin Hart is added to long relief and McCutchen is put in the rotation.

On the whole, however, I do see an improvement.  My take on it is that the starting rotation should be 20 runs better than last year.  It’s not enough.  They need a real ace to step forward – and Ohlendorf may be that guy – someone who is 20 – 30 runs above the league.  And to be really competitive, they need two.  I don’t see two of them here.  I see five guys who are within ten runs of league average over 200 innings – a bunch of third and fourth starters.

The bullpen may be better if only some of the guys logging innings (Jeff Karstens, Virgil Vasquez, and Chris Bootcheck) won’t be there.  But I don’t have strong faith that the eighth and ninth innings will be solid.  Let’s call it a wash.

Catching:

A full season of Ryan Doumit would help.  Doumit missed half the season, forcing Jason Jaramillo, not an offensive force, into the lineup.  Doumit is a middle of the order guy and could add 20 runs by hanging around for 130 games this year.  Defensively, this isn’t a strong group, being below average in team numbers (ERA, W-L PCT), fielding percentage, and being slightly mistake prone.  I’m not sure that Doumit will improve these numbers, but he’s the best Pirate against the running game and makes fewer mistakes than Robinson Diaz – who is NOT ready for the big leagues.

Infield:

Adam LaRoche is also gone – forgot to mention him in the selloff comment.  In his place might be Garrett Jones, who showed his slugging skills and wasn’t embarrassing at first base.  I don’t know that he’s going to be a huge step forward from LaRoche defensively, but you never know.  Jones hit 21 homers in 82 games – and a full season of that would be a huge step forward.  If not Jones, the Pirates may try Seattle prospect Jeff Clement there.  Clement has, at times, looked like the real deal in the minors but hasn’t put it all together in the bigs.  The Pirates would make immediate and big improvements if they would just move 2008 first round pick Pedro Alvarez here and call it good.

After Freddy Sanchez left, Delwyn Young took over and was a step back offensively and defensively.  Sanchez was creating about 5.5 runs per 27 outs; Young about 4.3.  Sanchez has slightly below average range (-3.9 plays per 800 balls in play), but Young was brutal (-10.2 per 800 balls in play).  To solve this problem, the Pirates picked up former Tampa Ray Akinora Iwamura.  Iwamura should be more like Sanchez in terms of range and batting.  Not playing Young is worth ten runs of offense.

Jack Wilson is gone and Ronny Cedeno is now the new shortstop.  Cedeno is a better fielder than Wilson these days – which could be worth ten runs over the course of a season – and was pretty much the same hitter.  Bobby Crosby arrives looking for a chance to play, but he’ll likely be a bench player for now.

Andy LaRoche finally got a shot at third base in the big leagues and proved to be a fantastic glove, but a league average hitter.  I like his chances of improving at the plate, however, now that he has a full season under his belt.

Looking forward, I see this team being about twenty runs better offensively and perhaps another twenty better defensively.  Unless, of course, Jeff Clement gets more playing time.  My fear is, in looking at the current depth chart, that Clement is going to get every chance at making the starting lineup.  If this happens, I’d go with no offensive improvement and only ten runs better defensively.

Outfield:

Wouldn’t it have been fun to see an outfield of, say, Jason Bay in left, Andrew McCutchen in center, and Nate McLouth in right?

Instead, McCutchen arrives as the full-time centerfielder.  He was a bit rough in the outfield last year, but he’ll be better – and he showed power, patience, and speed as an offensive force.  I like him a LOT.  And the other two guys are gone.

Garrett Jones will likely start in right field, which will be better than Brandon Moss offensively – but likely ten runs worse (or more) defensively.  Ryan Church is around, as is Moss.  Church used to be good until two nasty concussions clipped his 2008 season and likely affected his 2009 season.

In left, expect Lastings Milledge to get one last shot to make things work.  Milledge, to me, is the new Delmon Young.  He SHOULD be better, but is really nothing special.  Moss and Nyjer Morgan were great defenders and will be missed with this outfield.

I see the outfield being down this year – perhaps ten to twenty runs down offensively and twenty runs defensively.  If Milledge lives up to former top prospect expectations, it would help.  I just don’t buy it.

Prospects:

Well, the top pitchers in AAA (McCutchen, Morton, Vaszquez) are already in town.  Even Denny Bautista and Steven Jackson were given shots and didn’t take the world by storm.  The top AAA hitters are in Pittsburgh now, too.

Pedro Alvarez tore up AA playing for the Altoona Curve, hitting .333 with power.  He really needs to be on the Pirates now.  Gorkys Hernandez has great speed, and is 22 – but he needs to improve his OBP.  Jose Tabata, 21, is close to making it – he hit well enough at Altoona to get moved up to Indianapolis.  Not much power, better OBP than Hernandez with good contact skills, and decent speed.  Just not sure he’ll be better than a fourth outfielder at this point.  I think he can play some, though.  If Ryan Church doesn’t stay healthy, Tabata will get a shot.

The best pitchers at Altoona was probably Brad Lincoln (some power, good control) but it was the only time he looked solid since being drafted out of the University of Houston in the first round (2006).  He shares a birthday with the author, though, so he’s on my radar…  Former first round pick Daniel Moskos (2007) has control, but doesn’t blow people away – 77Ks in 149 innings.

Moving to Lynchburg, top picks Jordy Mercer (3rd Round, 2008) and Chase D’Arnaud (4th Round, 2008) started to show signs of progress.  Mercer might develop some power, while D’Arnaud seems to have a more well rounded game.  Both outhit Alvarez at A+ ball, but neither are REALLY better hitters…  You’ll see that when they get to AA.

On the whole, it’s hard to see who is going to help the Pirates, other than Alvarez, in the next year or two.

Outlook:

If the Pirates were serious about this, they’d get Jones in the outfield, move Alvarez to first base and play him now, and let both McCutchens play as often as possible.  This isn’t going to happen this spring, and as such, the Pirates have to hope for minor improvements.  I see the team scoring about 670 runs and allowing 740.  That gets them to 73 wins, which would look great compared to the last five years.  However, with the Reds and Brewers likely improving – it might not get to 73.  It might barely get to 70…

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Top NL First Basemen in 2009

Albert Pujols (STL):  Far and away the best player in baseball, as he has been since he arrived nearly a decade ago.  Nobody approached his offensive production and he remains the best fielding first baseman in the game.  As such, his overall production exceeded 225 runs – a staggering total.  I show Pujols as about 50 runs better than the next most productive player in the game.  The question going forward will not be whether Pujols belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether Pujols is the greatest player God invented.  (178.7 Runs Created, 46.8 Runs Saved = 225.52 Total Run Production)

Adrian Gonzalez (SD):  In most years, this kind of production would lead his league – much less his position.  Instead, he’s just the second most productive player in baseball.  No wonder the Red Sox (and everybody else) wants him.  Dependable and rangy at first base, hits for power and has a solid OBP.  And, he’s doing this in San Diego – the hardest place to put up decent offensive numbers.  It took a while for Gonzalez to reach his fullest potential, but you have to like the total package.  (143.3 Runs Created, 31.05 Runs Saved = 174.38 Total Run Production)

Ryan Howard (PHI):  Had a normal season for him (45 – 151 – .279), but seems to be getting more comfortable defensively.  Howard hit .207 with just 6 homers in 222 at bats – I have no idea why any team would let him face a righty (39 – 108 – .320 in 394 at bats).  By the way, his splits against lefties were WORSE than his career rate (.226 with 53 homers in 935 at bats).  So that’s not a good thing.  (127.6 Runs Created, 11.66 Runs Saved = 139.25 Total Run Production)

Prince Fielder (MIL):  The second most productive hitter in baseball, but his range at first base is now problematic.  In 2006, I showed Fielder as being slightly above average (where Ryan Howard is now).  In 2007 and 2008, he was about ten runs worse than average.  Last year, he was atrocious.  Some of this could have been his pitching staff (Corey Hart had lousy numbers in right field), but giving him 20 runs back still makes him about 10 runs worse than average.  Of course, when you create 150 runs of offense, you can live with the glove.  (157.9 Runs Created, -31.0 Runs Saved = 126.88 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  A third baseman, but probably should play first base instead.   If he played first base regularly, he’d rate here…

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  Had a surprisingly good season defensively – frankly, I’m stunned, but if you look at how few assists the rest of the infielders had and then see how many putouts he had, you realize that Cantu takes charge of the infield and makes the most of his time out there.  Additionally, he’s a reasonably productive hitter – an old school definition RBI guy, gets lots of chances and seems to drive in runs whenever called upon.  He’s NOT that productive a hitter – he’s good, but not that good.  However, if he fields like Derrek Lee used to, it’s a valuable package.  (84.9 Runs Created, 25.3 Runs Saved = 110.24 Total Run Production)

James Loney (LAD):  Looking at his stats, I can’t see a difference between Loney and Cantu.  Medium range power, RBIs when opportunities arise, solid defense.  (90.4 Runs Created, 17.58 Runs Saved = 108.03 Total Run Production)

Adam LaRoche (PIT/BOS/ATL):  Had a reasonably good year with the glove – better than any in recent years (since 2006, for sure).  Coupled with decent power and a fair eye, LaRoche was reasonably productive in 2009.  That he’s suddenly moving around more than a regional sales director makes me think his career will start moving downhill, but for now he’s still worth keeping around.  And, compared to what the Diamondbacks had last year, LaRoche is a significant step forward.  It would help him measurably if he could hit in April.  The Pittsburgh job now lands on Jeff Clement, a former Mariner prospect who hasn’t shown major league hitting ability yet.  (99.8 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 107.5 Total Run Production)

Joey Votto (CIN):  Missed time this summer dealing with ailments both mental and physical, otherwise he would have rated higher.  Votto is a surpremely talented hitter and a tolerable fielder.  Mashed lefties and righties with equal aplomb in 2009 but gets more walks and power against righties.  I’d love to have him on my team – and he’s my pick to have a crazy breakout season.  (112.6 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 107.33 Total Run Production)

Todd Helton (COL):  Still hits well – power stats like Loney but gets on base more often.  His fielding draws raves, but with a stiff back and older wheels, he’s really just a dependable ball catcher who doesn’t have much range anymore.  I wrote about how much Helton has been helped by playing in Colorado, but even at that, he’s been a good player for a lot of years.  When he comes up for the Hall of Fame ballot, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.  (99.9 Runs Created, 0.8 Runs Saved = 100.69 Total Run Production)

Derrek Lee (CHC):  His back and neck must have really been bothering him as his defensive contribution – usually in the top three or four at first base – was actually among the worst fielders at the position in 2009.  His bat returned to form, however, and he’s been a good hitter (occasionally great hitter) for a long time now.  If I were a betting man, however, I’d be picking Lee as one player who might slip in 2010.  At the end of the season, Lee turns 35 – so time and various injuries are going to start working against him.  As a Derrek Lee fan, I don’t want to see this happen – but the Cubs will have to plan for replacing Lee in the next couple of years.  (114.7 Runs Created, -16.7 Runs Saved = 97.98 Total Run Production.)

Lance Berkman (HOU):  Already appears to have lost a step as a fielder and hitter and that decline contributed to Cecil Cooper’s firing.  Even having slipped, Berkman puts runs on the board.  Now 34, Berkman is in a race against father time…  Hey, Astros fans – who has been a greater player over his career:  Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell?  (98.9 Runs Created, -4.9 Runs Saved = 94.07 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Not much of a fielder here or in left field – but I think I’d rather him be at first base.  Offensively, he’s still a force – but he’s a poor man’s Prince Fielder.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved – 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Took over when Carlos Delgado could no longer play; he’s mobile and a fair hitter.  Considering what the rest of the league has above him, Murphy is going to have to step up considerably to help the Mets long term.  I think he can get up to where Cantu or Loney are, but he’ll never be GREAT.  At this point, the Mets would settle for solid.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Travis Ishikawa (SF):  A smooth fielder with middling power, at this position it’s not going to cut it – which is why the Giants acquired Aubrey Huff.  I think Ryan Garko would have been a better option for 2010, but they didn’t ask me…  Ishikawa might hang around for years as a pinch hitter, low cost option for the position.  (41.1 Runs Created, 23.26 Runs Saved = 64.34 Total Run Production)

Casey Kotchman (ATL/BOS):  A glove man who hits like Ishikawa, too.  Has moved around a lot because he doesn’t put many runs on the board.  Now in Seattle, I bet the Mariners fans will miss Russell Branyan by mid July.  (53.0 Runs Created, 5.1 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Run Production)

Nick Johnson (WAS/FLA):  A coveted free agent, but I’m not sure why.  He gets on base, but doesn’t create a TON of runs because he has marginal power.  As a fielder, he’s abysmal.  Here’s an odd stat for you.  Nick Johnson’s defense at first base was so poor that he cost the Marlins more runs with this glove than he actually produced with his bat.

You think I’m kidding?  Let’s look at putouts per inning data.  When Jorge Cantu played first, he had 829 putouts in 850 innings.  When Johnson played first, he had 192 putouts in 260.2 innings.  In the same number of innings, that works out to 626 putouts – or 200 (!) fewer than Cantu had.  Does Johnson catch any pop ups, foul balls or line drives?  Apparently not.  Maybe he’s a ground ball repellent – when in the field, the pitchers only got fly balls to the outfield for outs.  I digress.

He’s a DH/#2 hitter – which I imagine might be his job with the Yankees in 2010.  (78.0 Runs Created, -23.3 Runs Saved = 54.7 Total Run Production)

Chad Tracy (ARI):  Got the most action there, but really only played half a season for the Diamondbacks.  He’s gone – thankfully – and Adam LaRoche will improve the output at this position immediately.  (28.4 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 23.33 Total Run Production)

Seattle a Buyer? Adds Wilson, Snell from Bucs for Clement and Four Others

Last year, many had Seattle contending for the AL West crown only to look bad as Jarrod Washburn struggled and Erik Bedard went down to injury.  This year, forecasts for Seattle were more conservative – and yet here is Seattle just 7-1/2 behind Los Angeles and an outside shot to take down a wild card spot.  So – rather than deal away talent, Seattle tried to fill a couple of holes and just might have done it.  Seattle acquired shortstop Jack Wilson, who had complained about his lot in Pittsburgh, and Ian Snell, whose struggles earned him a ticket to AAA, for a quintet of players including Jeff Clement, Ronnie Cedeno and three others.

Seattle Gets:  A solid fielder, even at 31, who is looking for a change of scenery.  Jack Wilson is 25 runs each season better than the departed Yuniesky Betancourt and the recently struggling Ronnie Cedeno (a good utility infielder, though – and a legitimately great fielder).  Wilson won’t put these guys over the top, but he’s a step up for sure and might be even better now that he’s with a team that – so far as he knows – isn’t dealing away anybody with talent for prospects. 

Ian Snell is the wild card.  He SHOULD be a solid #3 starter, but because he’s been in Pittsburgh where arms go lame and playing for a team that hasn’t had a sense of direction, he hasn’t really developed into the top flight starter he should be.  That being said, he can be fixed; he can be saved.  Seattle give him that opportunity.  And, if Bedard can come back and give the Mariners eight to ten solid starts, you almost have to like their chances to make a run in September.  It may not be enough, but if they find one more piece – preferably a hitter – the Mariners are contenders.

Pittsburgh Gets:   Well.  I’m not sure.  Jeff Clement was a first round pick out of USC – and should be what Ryan Doumit is.  But he hasn’t been that good.  Look, if you play in the PCL, just drop 50 points off the batting average – and Clement has hit about .275.  That doesn’t equal a major leaguer.  Maybe he can find something in Pittsburgh to add 40 points to his batting average and unlock his power.  However, he’ll be 26 in a month and he’s running out of time as a prospect.  He can catch – and if Doumit becomes a permanent first baseman, he’ll help out for a year or two.  After that, though, I’m not sold on Jeff Clement.

Ronny Cedeno has improved some with more time in the majors – as a hitter.  He’s a gold glove candidate if he plays 1000 innings in the field.  So, the Pirates got Jack Wilson without the bad attitude and a little less punch.  I’ll try not to get too excited, though.  If Pittsburgh is to win at all on this deal, the three minor leaguers had better be prospects.

Nathan Adcock is a high school draft pick from 2006 who isn’t making great progress in the minors.  He has some stuff, but no command and remains – three years later – with A+ High Desert Mavericks.  If he makes a big step up in his control, he’s got a shot at being a mop up reliever.  At this point, though, he’s losing ground on being a ranked prospect.

Brett Lorin is a young arm pitching for Clinton (A) right now – and pitching really well.  A starter with good command – a great K/W ratio, too – Lorin has a chance to make this work for Pittsburgh.  The problem is (a) he’s still three years away, and (b) Pittsburgh has wasted the arms of so many prospects.  Otherwise, I like this kid and think that the 2012 rotation may feature Lorin in the #4 or #5 spot.  If he gets further than that, the Pirates will have overhauled their development program.

Aaron Pribanic is pitching with Lorin at Clinton.  Drafted out of the University of Nebraska, he’s got decent numbers but at a glance his stuff isn’t quite as nasty as Lorin’s.  Given a few years to mature, though, he might turn into Matt Herges – and that wouldn’t be a bad career.  We’ll get a few baseball cards, anyway.  I don’t see him making a huge difference in the Pirates fortunes in 2012, but he could be on the roster.

In summary, I think Seattle wins this one – getting two guys who can help now and might have an immediate impact just by being freed from the Bucs dungeon.  Pittsburgh, however, only removed two talents who were no longer friends of management to acquire the next Andy Marte, Rey Ordonez, and three guys to fill out the AA roster.  I’ll root for Lorin to wear the black and yellow, though.

In a related trade…  Disappointing prospect Wladimir Balentien was shuttled to Cincinnati for reliever Robert Manuel.  I’m okay with this – Balentien might help the Reds in a utility outfielder role and he certainly needs a change of scenery, having failed in Seattle and being designated for assignment.  However, Manuel isn’t bad – good control in the minors, strikes out a lot of guys.  If this translates to big league success, you’re talking about getting a seventh inning guy or long reliever you aren’t embarrassed to shove out there if needed.  I like both of these moves for Seattle.  I DON’T think they’re going to catch teams and surprise someone in the playoffs, but they definitely improved the roster for very little cost.

2009 Season Forecast: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners
61 – 101 (Last, AL West 39 games back)
Runs Scored: 671
Runs Allowed: 811

2008 in Review:

Many, many teams saw the acquisition of Erik Bedard and thought the Mariners would be really, really good – a contender for the AL West crown.  Instead, they had a hard time scoring runs, a harder time preventing them, and even won fewer games than they should have considering that they had the largest gap in runs allowed to runs scored (opponents outscored the Mariners by 140 runs) than anyone in the AL.

In short, they were a team with odd splits, some bad decisions, and the worst record in the American League.

Actually, the Mariners should have been around .500 in April and June, but they underperformed.  An 8 – 20 May put them well out of the race in a hurry, and by the All-Star break, they were working to acquire some warm bodies.

Decisions that didn’t work out?  Erik Bedard was a good acquisition, but he missed more than half the season.  But someone should be held responsible for racing out and giving millions to Miguel Batista (4 – 14, 6.26).  Ouch.  And who’s idea was it to sign Carlos Silva?  (4 – 15, 6.46).  Yes – Silva doesn’t walk anybody, but he’s VERY hittable.  And, some prospects aren’t panning out…  Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement combined to hit about .212 in more than 440 at bats – a lot of outs.  Throw in two or three more off seasons, and you can see where this is headed.

The odd splits?  The Mariners won just one road game in both May and September, and just one home game in June.  Those three splits combined for a 3 – 38 record.  Oh, and lefties couldn’t get left handed hitters out.  In that situation, opponents hit .300, with a .371 on base percentage.

Tell Me About the Offense…

Lousy – and in need of a serious facelift.

The infield featured Richie Sexton, who was released after hitting .218 with 11 homers in half a season.  His replacement, Jeff Clement, hit .227 with only 5 homers.  Bryan LeHair didn’t hit much, either.  Mike Sweeney would have been an improvement if he could stay off the DL – but he can’t.  He’s usually only asked to DH – and his back won’t let him do that much any more.  Jose Lopez was surprisingly productive at second, with 41 doubles and 17 homers.  However Yuniesky Betancourt needed an amazing September to close with production that remains below league average.  At least Adrian Beltre hit well, 25 – 77 – .266, but has never hit anything like that 40+ homer season that got his big contract.  Miguel Cairo played a lot of positions and didn’t help the offense too much.

Ichiro Suzuki continues to slap hits all over the field, generating more than 100 runs of offense by getting on base, but he’s not one of the great offensive dynamos in right field.  He has no power at all, with a .386 slugging percentage.  And his OBA is .363, not .400.  Raul Ibanez is their best hitter – driving in 110 runs without missing a game (you’d never know he was closer to 40 than 30).  He’s in Philadelphia now, and will be very, very difficult to replace.  The third outfielder was a disappointment – Brad Wilkerson, Balentien, Jeremy Reed.  Willie Bloomquist got on base a little, but after that does little to help an offense score runs.

The catchers, led by Kenji Johjima and his power-free .227 batting average didn’t put any runs on the board.  And, the DHs – the retired Jose Vidro – were hopeless.  (Except the rare Mike Sweeney days.)

Defense:

Johjima and Jamie Burke weren’t horrible.  For all the baserunners allowed, few stole second.  Clement didn’t stop anybody from stealing, but his best shot is to find his swing and play first base.  Overall, they score poorly because the team record and ERA were awful, and they don’t score well in terms of mobility (assists per game that aren’t stolen bases).  Maybe teams didn’t need to bunt off of these guys (and they didn’t).

The infield wasn’t too bad, but they had holes.  Sexton is an awful fielder and the infield got better the minute he moved out of town.  Lopez has a bit of range, but is error prone.  Beltre appears to have lost a step, and Betancourt’s range is slightly below average – and his reputation for not hustling isn’t going to help his range.  He makes a lot of errors, too.

The outfield is okay – Suzuki’s range in center was pretty good, but his range in right (despite his speed) was actually below average.  Ibanez is league average – impressive for his age.  Balentien is okay in right, but neither he nor Jeremy Reed are really any good in center.  Bloomquist covers a lot of ground in center, but didn’t get too many innings there.

Now Pitching:

The rotation should have been better.  Felix Hernandez made 30 starts and was solid.  Bedard was okay for 15 starts, but missed the rest of the year with a bum shoulder.  Jarrod Washburn was disappointing and either needs to learn another pitch or accept that he’s fifth starter material.  His record was poor (5 – 14), but some of that was offense, too.  However, Batista was 27.5 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Silva was even worse – 32 runs below average.  Ryan Feierabend would have been in that league, but he only made eight scary starts.  R.A. Dickey looks like a young Miguel Batista, and that’s not going to help any.

The bullpen lost closer J.J. Putz, but Brandon Morrow was solid in his place.  Roy Corcoran had a solid season in middle relief, though his lack of strikeouts makes me think it was a fluke.  Mark Lowe isn’t long for the majors if he pitches like this, but Ryan Rowland-Smith was very good pitching as a starter or reliever.  I’d put him in the rotation.  Sean Green pitched a lot – but won’t be here as he was signed by the Mets.

Forecasting 2009:

We’re talking about a team that has to close the gap between runs scored and allowed by 140 runs to get to .500.  Let’s see what we got.

A full season of Erik Bedard would help, and Rowland-Smith instead of Silva means the potential for 30 or 40 runs of savings.  Clement instead of Sexton could be 10 runs of improvement in the defense.  Franklin Gutierrez is a great outfielder, he might be worth 10 runs, too.  I just don’t see any other defensive option – unless whomever takes over in left field (likely Balentien) is going to that much better than Ibanez.  Besides, with Putz gone, is Brandon Morrow a closer or starter?  Batista could become a closer (I wouldn’t, though he did it a few years ago for Toronto), or you could try Mark Lowe or somebody.  But I don’t know how it’s going to be better than last year’s bullpen – I don’t see the depth.

Offensively, Balentien is no Ibanez – that could be 30 runs less in offense.  Franklin Gutierrez arrives to play the outfield from Cleveland – I like what brings.  He’ll help out some – he’s 15 runs better than Bloomquist and Reed combined, it not more, and plays better in the field.  I know Ken Griffey, Jr. is back – and that’s great for ticket sales, but he’s not an offensive force anymore.  Still, as badly as Jose Vidro was, he’s probably worth 20 runs of improvement.  The one BIG improvement might be giving Russell Branyan, a free agent signing, a shot to play DH.  He might be so happy to have a full-time job, he’d improve the offense 50 or 60 runs by himself by playing first or DH.  Clement or Johjima might do better at the plate – 10 more runs from the catcher’s spot.

Let’s add it up.  Instead of giving up 811 runs, they might get it to 751.  Instead of scoring 671 runs, they might score 735.  That means a record of about 79 – 83, which would still be a pretty solid improvement.  The lineup is better than what they had last year, and the rotation could be better, while the bullpen is a question mark.  I’ll buy 79 wins.

The real question is this:  If they are any good in July, are they going to make a run at winning the division, or sell off Washburn and Lopez and Beltre?  I sure hope not.  One more starter and a legitimate extra hitter might make this team the division winner.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Tacoma has a few players who, on the surface, look like they might help – but remember to discount stats in the PCL…  The best prospect was Jeff Clement, who was hitting .335 with power, but hasn’t yet panned out in the majors.  That means the 23-year-old Wladimir Balentien (.266 with serious power) shouldn’t be expected to hit .280, but more like .220.  Matt Tuiasosopo, son of Manu, may have a future as a third baseman, but he’s not ready yet.  If he raises his numbers from 13 – 73 – .281 to, say, 20 – 90 – .320, I’d say he’s ready.  He’s a kid though – just 23.  Infielder Luis Valbuena might be okay – just 22, gets on base, can run – but not a really high batting average.  If he gets on base, though, he’s a potential upgrade over Betancourt.

In terms of pitchers, the Mariners gave a shot to anyone with good control already (R.A. Dickey, Feierabend, Chris Jakubauskas).  None are legitimate prospects.

AA West Tennessee (the Diamond Jaxx) have one pitcher I like – reliever Shawn Kelley, who has control, power, and a little record of success.  He’s a future bullpen guy.  Catcher Adam Moore hit .319 with some power; if he’s going to take Johjima’s spot, he needs a solid year in AAA in 2009.  Michael Saunders is a young speedy outfielder with a future – could be a centerfielder or left fielder if he picks it up in AAA next year. 

The guys at High Desert (A+) to look for?  I like teenaged infielder Carlos Triunfel, who has a little power and a lot of speed – and a whole lot of upside.  Gregory Halman is 20 and already has signs of being a power hitter.  In Wisconsin, Michael Pineda looks like a potential ace starter (8 – 6, 1.95 – good K/W numbers), and Nathan Adcock is a starter with a live arm – perhaps too live (13 WPs).  2007 first round pick Phillippe Aumont is roaring through the minors with killer stuff.  He’ll be in the bigs by the end of 2010 at this rate.