Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Seattle

So far, most of our Spring Training Spotlights have focused on teams that we expect to contend for the World Series--the Giants, Rangers, Yankees, and Phillies--or at least a playoff berth, like the Mets, Cardinals, and Rays. This installment, however, will focus on a team that has, for years, been making bold moves to try (in vain) to lift itself out of the American League cell: the Seattle Mariners. Last offseason, the Mariners traded for Cliff Lee and paired him with Felix Hernandez (above) atop their rotation, hoping to ride that 1-2 punch to a playoff berth. The Mariners tanked instead, and they dealt Lee to the Rangers for prospects. This offseason, Seattle decided to avoid big, splashy pickups and opted to let their current players fight it out for roster spots. As you would expect with a struggling team, this has led to quite a few position battles. Hit the jump to see which one really caught our eye:

The primary position battle for the 2011 Seattle Mariners is in left field; it pits last year's Opening Day starter Milton Bradly against youngster Michael Saunders, who ended up splitting the left field at-bats with Bradly in 2010. Neither player hit particularly well last year, though, which is why the competition has bled into the spring. Bradley had a line of .205-8-29 with 75 strikeouts in 244 at-bats. Saunders struggled in his first significant big-league action, giving the Mariners a .211 average, 10 home runs, and 33 RBIs in 289 at-bats--not much of an improvement over Bradley. As a result, new Mariners manager Eric Wedge has let the two players battle it out in Arizona for the Opening Day spot. So far this preseason, the battle has been pretty one-sided. Saunders has mostly continued his production--or lack thereof--from last season, hitting .242 with 10 strikeouts and only a .303 slugging percentage in 33 at-bats. Bradley, on the other hand, has been red-hot all March, hitting .345 while slugging .589 and only striking out 5 times in 29 at-bats. These numbers are indisputably in Bradley's favor, and he has moved into the lead to be the Mariners' starting left fielder.

While it's unlikely that Bradley will replicate his power numbers in the regular season, the fact that he is hitting for average must be encouraging for Mariners fans. Between 2003 and 2008, Bradley never hit worse than .267 for a full season. That was before he dropped down to .257 with the Cubs in 2009, and then his abysmal showing last season. These numbers, especially at Bradley's age (33) usually point to a career-ending decline in productivity; however, if Bradley can carry his high batting average into the regular season, maybe he can prolong his career for a few more years.

Despite his hot Spring Training, I would still tell Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik to play Saunders over Bradley (see left) and, if necessary, to cut the veteran. The Mariners are not going to be a playoff team this year. They do not have much offensive firepower (Jack Cust and his 197 strikeouts per season are projected to bat cleanup), and they have little-to-no pitching depth. Sure, King Felix is a superstar, but when you have perpetual-reclamation-project Erik Bedard slotted safely into your rotation, you know that you'll be playing golf, not baseball, come October. With this in mind, Seattle has to give playing time to the kid: 24-year-old Saunders. Sure, he hasn't produced yet--and maybe he never will--but the ever-problematic Bradley will never be part of a contending Mariners squad. At least give the at-bats to someone who might be a productive player for you down the road, instead of a guy who is better known for his antics than his on-field performance.


  1. Well This is a good dicussion and as much as I hate to say it I am going with Milton"Choir Boy" Bradley over the lanky Michael Saunders. Saunders does not seem to have the " Killer Instinct" and looks lost at the plate most of the time. While Milton at least is capable of producing if he can behave ,a big if I know.By the way Milton is due closer to $12 million this year than the $675,000 reported in your post. Thanks, Jeff from http://jeffsmariners.com

  2. Thanks for the correction on the salary issue, Jeff. The source I was using for reference listed his salary at $675k, but clearly they were wrong (and I was wrong for trusting them). Several sources corroborated your figure of close to $12 million, including ESPN (http://espn.go.com/mlb/team/salaries/_/name/sea/seattle-mariners).

    The change has been made in the post - thanks for giving us a heads up.

    Also, do you really think the Mariners will be turned around while Bradley is still a productive player? I doubt it, and that's my reason for choosing Saunders (or any young player really) over Bradley.