Who's in Left?

For many M's fans throughout the first 20 years of the club's existence, Phil Bradley held a special place in our hearts. Not because he was widely considered the best left fielder in club history, but mainly because he anchored the position that was to become an annual revolving door for the better part of a decade.

In fact, if you start to count all the left fielders during that area using your fingers, than you better pull off your socks and start using your toes, because you've forgotten some.

Such memorable Mariners such as Greg "Pee Wee" Briley, Kevin Mitchell, Henry Cotto, Eric Anthony, Vince Coleman, and so on, all held the position at one time or another. Sure Mitchell was a home run champion with the Giants at one time, and Vince Coleman was one of the finest base stealers in MLB history, but neither displayed that prime ability while they were Mariners.

So why the trip down memory lane, you ask? Because it seems that the Mariners are now making up for all of their past left field misdeeds by carrying three of them on the roster this year. Three good ones, too.

The left field conundrum is one of the biggest questions looming over the Mariners heading into spring training with no clear answer as of yet.

If spring training were to start tomorrow, the Mariners would go into the season starting three left fielders, with Randy Winn getting the nod in left, super-prospect Jeremy Reed in center and dependable lefty Raul Ibanez at DH.

All are solid options and each brings with them benefits and drawbacks.

Randy Winn is the incumbent with the reasonable salary and the sturdy glove. A mediocre center fielder at best, Winn is at his best at home in left field where his lack of range is far less damaging, and if the Mariners only played the second half of the season every year he would be a perennial all-star.

Unfortunately, he is such a slow starter that his bat drags down the entire lineup the first half of the year and his lack of power is more suited to the middle infield than as a corner outfielder, which are tradionally considered power positions.

Raul Ibanez was the Mariners key off-season acquisition in 2003. A late bloomer, Ibanez blossomed with the Royals before signing with the Mariners as a free agent last winter.

Ibanez is perfectly suited for Safeco field where his dead pull power sends line-drives over the right field fence. Better described with gap power than true home run power, Ibanez is still a 25 home run threat, capable of hitting in the .300 range and driving in 80-90 runs as he hits behind power-hitting first baseman Richie Sexson. the 31-year-old is also the only lefty power threat in a predominantly right-handed line up.

Jeremy Reed is the wunderkind. Acquired from the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade, Reed was nothing short of spectacular in his season debut with the Mariners, batting close to .400 and displaying amazing instincts and discipline at the plate.

Another gap hitter light on power, Reed's plate skills can be compared to a young John Olerud, with a tremendous eye and patience. As a regular starter, Reed could eventually be a .320, 15 home run, 30 stolen base guy, with the occasional batting title waiting for him. Having excelled at every level in the minors, the Mariners have no choice but to put him in the lineup in 2005.

With the Mariners addressing their power needs via free agency, they now have options. In prior seasons where Winn's lack of power was a problem, he could now give the Mariners a solid contact hitter at the bottom of the order.

Against his wishes, Ibanez may end up the DH in '05, giving the Mariners some left-handed pop in the order, without being relied upon to be the home-run guy instead focusing on simply driving in runs. The 30-year-old also solves a huge question mark in Bucky Jacobsen, relegating Bucky to a more natural role as a pinch hitter and fill-in starter to allow manager Mike Hargrove to rest a few guys here and there.

Jeremy Reed is the ideal number two hitter. When Bob Melvin experimented with John Olerud batting second, he had a guy like Jeremy Reed in mind. A contact hitter with speed, Reed's skills allow for a table-setting duo at the top of the order, getting himself, and Ichiro, into scoring position more often. With all three left0field candidates in the lineup, Hargrove will have all sorts of weapons and the trio will benefit from Beltre and Sexson, who will be shouldering the power load that gave the Mariners' hitters so many fits in 2004.

Of course, rumors abound with Randy Winn departing via trade and giving the Mariners some salary relief. Though interest has been high, Bavasi is unwilling to simply give Winn away, and with good reason. The Mariners spent the previous decade without a reliable left fielder. How can one blame them for being a little cautious before letting a good one get away.

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