Anemic Offense Weighing Down Mariners

Seattle Hardball contributor Eric Yang examines the Mariners' offensive failures and how they've contributed to the team's poor start.

The Seattle Mariners have played more than a month of baseball and while the starting pitching has been great, the other facets of the game have been shaky.

Right now the team is batting just .247 and that has to change. Star players like Kenji Johjima, Richie Sexson, and Ichiro have all been hitting under their career averages.

Runs have been a premium so far this season, and while it's early, the lack of scoring is why the Mariners have a 15-24 record. The slow run production stems from poor hitting with runners in scoring position, where the M's are batting under .250.

If the Mariners had scored around the league average in runs, which is about five per game, the team would have a much better record than it currently does. The offense is the problem, so the team had to make a move, and GM Bill Bavasi pulled the trigger.

Free agent pickup Brad Wilkerson, who signed a one year deal worth $3 million in the offseason, was released. He hit .232 with 5 RBI and no home runs in 19 games. It may have not been the best move to cut Wilkerson and his salary this early, but the move was made to propel the offense, and get a little younger. The front office has already admitted that it may have been a mistake to cut him so soon. The Mariners also released Greg Norton, who was signed to be a key part of the bench. Norton only appeared in six games, though, and was traded to the Braves after being designated for assignment.

By the numbers, the M's should have kept Norton instead of Miguel Cairo because Norton brings more to the table offensively, especially in the power categories. Cairo can play all of the infield positions, but this was a bad decision by management because the team needs more offense off the bench. Cairo is here just to push Jose Lopez and that's not an excuse to keep him over someone who can be productive. In fact, Lopez has been one of the Mariners' best hitters so far and is playing well enough right now that the team could get by using Willie Bloomquist as his backup.

With the exit of Wilkerson and Norton, that created spots for Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentein to be called up from AAA Tacoma. Clement, a former first round draft pick of the Mariners, is the catcher of the future. However, Kenji Johjima has recently been signed to a new three-year deal so Clement's immediate future lies at first base or designated hitter. Indications are that manager John McLaren will use Clement mostly as a DH, along with some time at first base and catcher. Clement's bat is well suited for Safeco Field because he is a lefty with pop who can use the short porch in right field to his advantage. Clement's status means of Jose Vidro will have fewer at-bats this season which is not good for him because he has a vesting option for 2009 that's based on meeting a certain number of plate appearances. However if he does reach the minimum, he could replace Richie Sexson at first base if the M's choose not to re-sign him because Sexson's contract runs out after this season.

Balentein, one of the Mariners hot prospects, will be used as the everyday right fielder. His power numbers in the minors have been impressive and the team hopes he can produce the same type of numbers at the major league level.

Clement and Balentein will give the team an influx of youth and power in hopes of turning the season around. They will have their ups and downs this season, but without a doubt, they are better options than what was previously available.

This is a change philosophy from previous years because they would have waited longer if the team was not a contender. It shows the commitment to win this season.

If the Mariners want to compete in the division they have to flat out start hitting. In the American league it's all about scoring runs to win games. The starting pitching has been decent, but in order to win the offense has to rise to the level that the starters have been at.

If that can happen we should have some fun in Mariner nation.


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