WESTERN HOMES: Here is the thing that jumps out at me about Seattle. They're spending a very large amount of money, and you have to think that they consider themselves a contending team. Yet their offense is dreadful. Obviously the Mariners consider themselves a team that's going to win with pitching and defense -- only their pitching isn't as good as they think it is, and their defense really isn't as good as they think it is.
RESEARCH DEPARTMENT: They're paying $67 million this year for a starting lineup that could be the worst in the league. Over half of their payroll is going right down the toilet. Richie Sexson is getting $14 million; Jose Vidro, $8.5 million; Adrian Beltre, $12 million. And their defense was awful last year.
WH: The organization seems to think that Beltre, Jose Lopez, and Yuniesky Betancourt are all stellar defensively, but the metrics don't bear that out. The Sexson contract was a disaster from the first, but with the way the market has exploded I'm not sure that Adrian Beltre isn't going to be perceived as a bargain before too long. You'd have to say that the deal for Erik Bedard fills a big hole because they needed another strikeout pitcher after Felix Hernandez pretty badly -- the rest of their rotation is Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, and Migel Batista, all pitch-to-contact fellas. But the tone in Seattle is as if Bedard was the last piece they needed to give Anaheim a run for their money and that couldn't be further from the case.
RD: The rotation could be pretty good. They have at least four guys who clearly don't suck. The pitching and defense might be adequate, if the offense wasn't a giant black hole of death.
WH: Wow, strong words. No love for Raul Ibañez?
RD: He's not overpaid. But he's their second-best hitter, right? After Ichiro? They've definitely gotten their money's worth out of him (he's consistently provided walks, average, and power) but that's not a good thing in this case. You love Ibañez if he's your fifth- or sixth-best hitter, but they expect more from him and he's getting old and has to fall off eventually.
WH: Either he or Beltre. But that's not particularly good either way. What do you make of the notion that Seattle can build a run towards the wild card by beating up all season on the two teams in their division that are going to be pretty bad, Texas and Oakland?
RD: Um, there are these two other divisions, see, that just so happen to have the best four teams in the league... well, maybe the Angels sneak into the top four, but probably only in a tie.
WH: I think that people often forget just how high of a payroll the Mariners carry, since they've been uncompetitive more often than not the last few years. It's well over $100 million. They're spending a ton of money to not be super good. They need regime change.
RD: Probably around $110 million, even.
WH: Got a win total? I'm going to say 79... Bedard and Felix will have big years but they'll lose a lot of the games the rest of their rotation starts.
RD: It's going to be worse than that I think. It's going to be a three-way race for last in the AL West.
WH: Strong words, again! You're really down on the Mariner Moose this year.
RD: Well, they've got some money to spend in the future, so it's not like they're completely screwed going forward. For the young players whose arbitration periods they've bought out, they've done so cheaply. But they have to stop paying tons of money for guys who can't hit. If they had a lineup that was actually worth $67 million, they would contend.
WH: They apparently make just as much money from their local cable TV package as the Dodgers do from theirs, which came as a surprise to me. People characterize the AL West sometimes as the rich Angels and then the three other teams, but the Mariners arguably have more revenue streams than Anaheim. But what's your win total for Seattle in 2008?
RD: 74. I don't see them getting completely creamed because of the rotation.
WH: Do you think the M's will regret signing Ichiro through 2012?
RD: I doubt it. He's worth enough collaterally, and the contract is flat. $17 million five years from now won't be nearly as much. $12 million is only above-average money now, not superstar-level. Ichiro would be a steal on the Yankees. He's also only 34, so he won't be ancient at the time the contract expires.
WH: He's a unique player who seems likely to age gracefully, with his power numbers going up while his average goes down. And if he starts chasing a few milestones that gives the contract additional value too.... The Vegas over/under number for Seattle is an ambitious 85.
RD: Wow. Big-time under on that. No way they go over. Even if they do well, they'll still be under. And Beltre won't be playing for a new contract until next season.