A Whole New Year in 2006

The Seattle Mariners are coming off another 90-loss campaign, but as we all say - its a new year.

A new year means everything for this team. Many fans on every message board or chat room are saying that the M's are set to win less than 80 games in 2006. Memo to those who believe that: Its just not true, plain and simple.

In fact, we can contend and be competitive. Everything on the pitching side of things starts with Felix Hernandez. Scouts who have watched him have raved about his pitching abilities.

"He may have the best stuff I've ever seen," says an AL GM. "I wouldn't be surprised if he were one of the five best starters in the league this season".

Many have said he is the best pitching prospect in baseball over the last 30 years. GM Bill Bavasi and his personnel staff will play it safe with Hernandez, using him in the No. 5 spot to limit his innings. I have heard complaints countless times about this, but the fact is, it was the right decision.

At the age of 19, turning 20 less than a week after the season starts, the club needs to keep his arm safe for the long term. When you look at players like Gil Meche, Kerry Wood and several prospects in the M's farm system, are among pitchers who blew out there arms by throwing too many innings and reaching ridiculous pitch counts that has hurt their careers. Protecting The King is the right things to do.

The Mariners are going to win in 2006, and yes, you heard it here first. This offseason the signed Jarrod Washburn, and yes the same one of the high FIP, but ultimately respectable actual ERA numbers. His 8-8 record can translate to 15 wins at Safeco.

Then looking at the most consistent pitcher in Seattle over the last several years, Jamie Moyer. He might throw three changeups (83mph, 80mph, 71 mph), but he can still get hitters out and that's what matters most. Look for Moyer to have a 15-win season.

Piniero and Meche are inconsistent as they come, but they both have frontline stuff, and with new pitching coach Raul Chaves in the fold both have a chance to come back to respectable form.

The bullpen was the strength of the team in 2005, with Eddie Guardado closing games at a high success rate. Now that the Mariners have resigned Julio Mateo and Rafael Soriano has returned from injury, the young bullpen should be strong for years to come.

The youth includes Mateo and Soriano, as well as southpaw George Sherrill and right-hander J.J. Putz.

Offensively, the M's in scored the second fewest runs in theleague last season and were at or near the bottom in homers, on-base percentage and team natting average. Only Richie Sexson cracked the 30-HR and 90-RBI marks.

In 2006, The M's have a lineup that not only can score, but hit score in bunches with the long ball as well.

Consider this: Ichiro hit 15 homers last year, and could very well hit even more this season. Jeremy Reed is the strong defensive center fieder that Safeco needs, but wasn`t impressive with the bat. "Every number shows he was the best defensive center fielder in our league," says one AL official. "And he's going to hit. Just look at his history."

Reed will hit and could add 10 or more home runs to his '05 numbers. Adrian Beltre had a bad first year with the Mariners hitting just 19 home runs with 87 RBI. But as Sporting News magazine says "Beltre is capable if a 30 HRs plus and 100 RBI".

If Beltre can do that, Sexson should do even better than his 39-HR, 121-RBI season from a year ago.

The M's signed Carl Everett this off season and it was a good move - a very good move. He will motivate the clubhouse and might just make sure players don`t play cards before games. With the bat, he could add 20 homers and about 85 RBIs from the left side of the plate.

Raul Ibanez has been the Mariners' most productive hitter the past few years. Expect his numbers to improve this season with a better lineup protecting him.

The best offseason acquisition was Japanese import catcher Kenji Johjima. Expect the 29-year-old to produce 40+ runs over last year's catchers. I see Johjima at .300/.340/.450, 20 HR, 90 RBI.

The last spots in the lineup go to Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Bentacourt. They might be young but as we saw last year they can hit and are not liabilities. This is the best lineup the M's have had for some time.

Defensively we have gotten better with the acquisitions of Johjima and new comers from mid season Bentacourt. On the Bench we have Bloomquist, Lawton, Dobbs and Rivera. All can hit and fill in adequately. Lawton has power but Dobbs or the newly-acquired Roberto Petagine could be used as the main pinch hitter off the bench.

Lineup

1. Ichiro – RF
2. Johjima – C
3. Ibanez – LF
4. Sexson - 1B
5. Everett – DH
6. Beltre - 3B
7. Reed – CF
8. Lopez - 2B
9. Betancourt – SS

Rotation

1.Moyer
2.Piniero
3.Washburn
4.Meche
5.Hernandez

Bullpen

1.Guardado
2.Putz
3.Soriano
4.Sherrill
5.Mateo
6.Thornton

The American League West will be won by your Seattle Mariners with 94 victories. There is no doubt this team will win and go to the playoffs and compete at a high level.

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