The Bermuda Triangle
For the Seattle Mariners, the Bermuda Triangle covers the positions behind the plate, between the first and second base bags to the defended area between second and third base.
In 2005, the Triangle was indeed a point of no return. Bats, and in some cases, gloves, seemed to disappear into thin air, never returning for the players positioned within said Triangle.
The '05 Mariners' catchers hit .215/.249/.311 as a group. This group of bats was the worst collection of any group of batters at any position for any team in all of baseball, with the narrowly escaped exception of the pitchers that get to swing the stick lazily a few times per night in National League. Out of NL pitchers with 25 at bats or more, 11 had a higher OPS then this group. It was that bad.
Formerly a position of strength, the Mariners second basemen were just a tad better than the backstops, batting .234/.284/.357 for the year.
With a .641 combined OPS, this group was second to the Kansas City Royals for the worst collection of offensive production at the position in entire American League.
In one year, Bret Boone went from a valuable player to one of the worst regulars in baseball and the second base situation got so bad that Willie Bloomquist received 100+ at bats as a regular playing Boone's departed position.
And if it weren't for Mike Morse playing far above his head for a month or so, Mariners' shortstops would have been as bad as their second base brethren.
Still, the production the team got from their shortstops was certainly nothing to brag about.
Perhaps Wilson Valdez's stat line can remind you just how bad it was at the beginning of last season.
But going into 2006 the Bermuda Triangle appears to have gotten a taste of its own medicine. It seems to have disappeared, leaving reason for optimism and projected improvement at catcher, second base, and short stop.
All the way from across the blue Pacific, Kenji Johjima steps in as the Mariners' new catcher.
What's to be so excited about with Johjima, though? Couldn't this guy be just another Kaz Matsui?
Evidence suggests no.
Not only was Matsui's OPS short of Joh's in Japan but he struck out at a rate that should have made the Mets organization wave their red flag all over the place.
In his final season in Japan, Matsui struck out 124 times in 140 games. and he's a middle infielder. Ouch.
Johjima, on the other hand, struck out only 32 times last year. Let's see, your catcher has 15+ home run power, doesn't strike out much and is relatively cheap for his skill set, not to mention that he's already in his prime years. Not a bad get.
Even if Johjima lets us down and doesn't live up to his potential, putting up a .250/.310/.380 line, he's still a very important upgrade offensively. remember that .311 slugging percentage for the club's catchers a year ago? Put those numbers in your 'runs machine and see what kind of a difference that makes on the team's overall offensive capabilities.
Shifting over to second base, either way you look at it, Lopez appears to be a huge upgrade over Bret Boone. Offensively, Lopez looks destined to better the .684 OPS he put up with Seattle.
Defensively, Boone didn't live up to his past reputation, becoming one of the worst fielding second basemen in baseball. How quickly the mighty fall.
All Lopez has to do is be an average defender to upgrade the team's infield defense.
The 22-year-old Venezuelan has the tools to become a slightly above average defender next year. He can't help but be better than Boone's pathetic output, both offensively and defensively.
His double play partner heading into the season is Yuniesky Betancourt, and if you don't already know, this guy is the second coming of Ozzie Smith, only the Cuban comes with better natural offensive skills. Whether it is the rangy, flashy, or routine play, Betancourt does it all while making it look smooth and easy covering the largest area of the infield.
With the bat, he's not someone to go crazy about - yet. Though, he does project to be at least a slight offensive upgrade then the group the Mariners fielded at short stop last year.
Of course, Betancourt could probably swing with his fielding glove and surpass the production from the shortstop position through June of 2005.
Although the upgrade at these three positions won't push the Mariners over the top and into playoff contention on their own, it still gives fans another reason to be excited - outside of Felix Hernandez.
The Triangle isn't there holding the Mariners back anymore. Now is the time we find out if these two youngsters and the Unknown One are for real.
While it may be a year or two before we see the Mariners contend again, getting rid of the massive detriment that was the Bermuda Triangle gets the organization one step closer towards the ultimate goal.
Chris Kishimoto is known as 2Quarters on the Inside The Park message forums.
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