Stealing Figgins was a good start, but does he really make the Mariners a force to be reckoned with?
In case you missed the memo, apparently everyone is supposed to be scared of the Seattle Mariners now. I'm not exactly sure why, but everyone is saying it so it must be true. Right? Really, with the way everyone is falling all over themselves to congratulate Seattle on their off-season moves that the Angels might as well and go ahead and forfeit the AL West crown. Just for poops and giggles though, why don't we take an objective (and by objective I mean totally not objective) look at just how much the suddenly mighty Mariners have improved themselves this winter.
Believing that Seattle can close the gap on the Halos in the American League West doesn't seem so far fetched if you just look at what each team has done with their off-season moves. Los Angeles lost Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Darren Oliver and Vladimir Guerrero and all they got back was Hideki Matsui and Fernando Rodney whereas Seattle added Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and Cliff Lee without really losing anyone of note from their big league roster. That kind of talent shift probably won't entirely close the 12-game gap between the two clubs, but it should make things interesting. Of course, that assumes that Seattle was really as good last year as their record suggested.
I like math, it shows us all sorts of cool things. For example, let's assume there is a baseball team that was outscored by 52 runs on the season. Math tells us that in an average scenario that the team in question should probably only win 75 games on the season. Well, somehow the Mariners defied mathematical odds to win 85 wins last year despite being outscored by 52 runs. It isn't so strange for a team to defy the mathematical odds and best their Pythagorean record by a few games, much like the Angels did when they won 97 games last year rather than the expected 93, but to best it by ten full games like the Mariners did is purely a statistical anomaly, either that or the relatively lesser talented Seattle roster is somehow immune to basic mathematical principles.
Clearly the Mariners have a bigger talent gap to bridge than it first seemed, so they really better hope that their three big acquisitions really count. And big name acquisitions are exactly what Seattle did, but big names don't always translate to a big impact. The rest of the AL West pretty much soiled themselves when the Mariners were able to acquire former CY Young winner Cliff Lee to bolster their rotation along with stud starter Felix Hernandez. There is no doubt that the M's got themselves a hell of a pitcher, but his addition might not make as big a difference as you think. Lee posted a 3.22 ERA and 1.24 WHIP last year and is now stepping in as one of the Mariners' top starters, a role that was filled most of last season by Jarrod Washburn. Washburn is no Cliff Lee by any stretch of the imagination, but for 20 games last year (before being traded) Washburn actually pitched better than Lee with a 2.64 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. So when you look at it, comparing from one season to the next, the Mariners really are just making a lateral move in terms of expected production with the addition of Lee. Suddenly his arrival in the AL West doesn't seem so scary, does it?
Don't get too excited, Cliff. You aren't that big of an upgrade.
Truth be told though, pitching was never really the problem for the Mariners. After all, they led the American League in ERA by a wide margin. Their major problem is they can't score runs, finishing dead last by an equally wide margin in runs scored in the American League. Heck, Seattle was also outscored by almost the entire National League, only narrowing edging out lowly Pittsburgh and San Diego. Considering that the Mariners had the benefit of a DH, that makes them comparatively the worst offense in all of baseball making it no wonder they went hard after signing Chone Figgins and took the gamble of trading for Milton Bradley.
Those two moves definitely upgrade the line-up talent for Seattle, but it doesn't guarantee that they will be much better. Even with Figgins and Bradley in the fold, Seattle still has just one line-up regular that registered an OPS over .800 in the 2009 season. That, friends, is pathetic. Any Angel fan can tell you that Figgy is top notch table-setter, but what good is it to set the table if there is nobody behind him to clear it. For all intents and purposes, that is what Milton Bradley is supposed to do, but Bradley is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro despite playing in the inferior National League. Even if Bradley bounces back, he still only has a career .821 OPS and if that is who Seattle is counting on to be the scary monster in the middle of their order then forgive me if I am not shaking in my boots. If anyone should be scared it is Seattle who had a good thing going last year in their locker room, thriving on new found team chemistry. Adding the ever-combustible Bradley to that mix will either give the team some much-needed fierceness or cause the whole thing to implode. Seeing how this will be Bradley's eighth team in eleven big league seasons, I'd put my money on the latter.
Now that we've gone through that little exercise, let's recap. Seattle vastly overachieved last season but is supposed to overtake both the Angels and the Ranger in the AL West because they improved their offense from abysmal to well below average and made a big splash with their rotation that is probably only going to produce a small ripple's worth of an upgrade. How ever will Angel fans be able to sleep at night knowing that this sleeping giant awaits them in the regular season? Hmmm.... I think we'll be sleeping just fine, thanks.