Do M's Fans Deserve a Medal?

Harray Caray once said this about Chicago Cubs fans; "This has been the remarkable thing about the fans in Chicago, they keep drawing an average of a million-three a year, and, when the season's over and they've won their usual seventy-one games, you feel that those fans deserve a medal."

If one looks at the attendance and win-loss record of the Seattle Mariners over the past two years, it would be easy, and appropriate to predict a medal year for Seattle's faithful as well.

But the teams have done their traditional off-season shuffle and the 2006 M's can look forward to their first full season of Felix Hernandez. Most Mariner fans have probably already done their early calculations to predict the relative success of the 2006 team, but in case you haven't, here is a short test which may help you with your calculations. (Answer with likely or unlikely)

1. Will Felix Hernandez and Jarrod Washburn finish with a combined ERA of 3.41 or better?

2. Will Jamie Moyer keep his ERA below 4.39 for the season?

3. Will the rest of the starters who are used in the rotation combine for an ERA of 5.14 or better?

4. Will Ichiro finish with an OPS of .813 or higher, stealing at least 31 bases? Li
5. Will Richie Sexson equal or improve on his 2005 offensive performance?

6. Will the rest of the infield (Beltre, Bettancourt, and Lopez) combine for an OPS of .723 or better?

7. Will Carl Everett, Matt Lawton, Raul Ibanez, Jeremy Reed and Chris Snelling combine for an OPS of .776 or better?

8. Will Kenji Johjima and Rene Rivera combine for an OPS of .725 or better?

9. Will the defense finish with 88 errors or less?

10. Will the bullpen combine for an ERA of 3.64 or lower?

If you answered likely to all but one or two of these questions, you have a good reason to be hopeful that the Mariners CAN be in the race all the way into September. Why? These seemingly arbitrary numbers came from the performance of the 2002 Mariners who finished with 93 wins, only one win above their Pythag for the year.

In '02, Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro led the pitching staff with a combined 3.41 ERA as starters, but finished with only 27 wins between them. Pineiro pitched only 176 innings as a starter. Freddy Garcia had a 4.39 ERA in 34 starts while the rest of the starters (James Baldwin, Ryan Franklin, John Halama, Rafael Soriano, Paul Abbott and Ismael Valdez) got 40 % of the starts and finished with a combined 5.14 ERA! The bullpen fared much better with a combined ERA of 3.64 (close to the 3.60 ERA of the 2005 Mariner bullpen.)

No one on that team had an OPS above .900. Though John Olerud and Edgar Martinez approached that number, Martinez had just 326 at bats. What the 2002 team did have, however, was 11 players who finished with an OPS above .700 with at least 300 at bats. That may not sound so impressive until you realize that both the 2004 and 2005 teams had only five players who met this criteria.

Ruben Sierra, Mike Cameron, Desi Relaford, Mark Mclemore and Edgar Martinez combined for an OPS of .776 in 2002, admittedly a tough mark for the 2006 DH, left field and center field candidates. To reach that mark the 2006 M's may need another mid-season acquisition or hope Chris Snelling can heal in time to contribute significantly. If he does, one hopes that his at bats will be mostly used in the Majors. Unlike last season when he had 246 at bats in AAA and only 28 in the Majors (with a combined OPS close to 1.000!)

The ‘06 offense will also need improvements from Beltre, Lopez and Betancourt, but four seasons ago the club featured a worse-than-poor year from Jeff Cirillo, an agonizingly slow start by Bret Boone and a mediocre year from Carlos Guillen, who was again on the DL for three weeks. The primary middle infielders and 3rd baseman that year combined for a combined OPS of just .723.

Defensively, the 93-win 2002 version had one of the better teams in the majors, and this year's Mariners figure to be a similar team, with perhaps some drop off at center field and second base, but an almost certain improvement from Betancourt over Guillen plus a likely better defensive catching tandem in Johjima and Rivera could counter the deficiencies.

An avid Mariners fan might remember that the ‘02 team was, in the end, a disappointment because they started out 55-33 and played the rest of the year at a near .500 clip to miss out on the post season.

But the 2006 team, being a much younger collection of players, could perform at a more steady pace throughout the year, or even pick up steam in the second half, particularly if a good mid-season trade is consumated.

The other unknown for 2006 is which prospects could force their way into the lineup or onto pitching staff. Arms such as Clint Nageotte and Jesse Foppert could mirror what Joel Pineiro did in 2001. One of the four 21-year-old hurlers on the M's 40-man roster (Yarmon Bazardo, Emiliano Fruto, Marcos Carvajal, Cesar Jimenez) could arrive, seemingly out of nowhere, much like Julio Mateo did back in 2002. A position player like T. J. Bohn or even Adam Jones may come up some time late in the year to help out Reed in center field, if he doesn't improve against left-handed pitching.

Oh, and one more thing that would assist the ott-soix M's... Any players performing at the 2005 Willie Bloomquist level offensively, might be kept to a combined 119 at bats or less. That is the combined number of at bats Jose Offerman and Charles Gipson were given in 2002. If the regulars do their jobs, Bloomquist and company won't be the aggravation that bench players have been in the past.

Hey, it's baseball season and its still February. The 2006 Mariners are currently tied for the American League West lead. Anything can happen. But if you by chance answered ‘not likely' to all 10 questions at the beginning of this column, you might want to sign our petition to Mike Hargrove that he make some edits to his opening day speech, making sure it includes Earl Weaver's famous line that he once barked at his club:

"If you know how to cheat, start now."
Donald Reeves is knows as tenang on the message forums.

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