Rough sailing for the Mariners

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Seattle Mariners.

2010 record: 61-101
Finish: Fourth place, AL West
2010 final payroll: $93.4 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $94 million

Ichiro Suzuki is one of the Mariners' few offensive weapons.
Getty Images

Offseason action

For the second time in three offseasons as general manager/savior/Lt. Theo Kojak of the Mariners, Jack Zduriencik is working off a 101-loss catastrophe, though presumably the job is eminently less satisfying when the mess is your own and not Bill Bavasi’s.

Off the promise of ’09, Zduriencik constructed a Peter Principle of a ballclub that engendered enough sympathy to turn a 13-game winner into a national Cy Young Award movement, enough despair to chase off the best player in the history of the franchise, and enough dysfunction to merit the hiring of the seventh field manager since Lou Piniella left in ’02.

After being hailed as an old-school hipster with a scouting résumé as thick as first base, Zduriencik had the ’10 season collapse around an epically bad offense that rarely saw first base, much less home plate. A .236 batting average, .298 on-base percentage and 101 home runs will get you 513 runs, worst in baseball, worst in the history of the franchise (non-work stoppage division), and nowhere to go – presumably – but up.

To that end, but without much money to work with, Zduriencik acquired Jack Cust(notes) to take up some of the designated-hitter slack, catcher Miguel Olivo(notes) and infielders Brendan Ryan(notes) and Adam Kennedy(notes). He also dumped Jose Lopez(notes) on the Colorado Rockies for Triple-A pitching depth and re-signed Erik Bedard(notes), a transaction that borders on the obsessive-compulsive.

The best part of the Mariners’ offseason might have taken place in Anaheim, where the Angels failed to add either Carl Crawford(notes) or Adrian Beltre(notes), and in Texas, where the Rangers lost out on Cliff Lee(notes). Beltre did land in Texas, but this Beltre bears so little resemblance to the one they knew, Mariners fans might not recognize him.

Reality check

Bound on one side by payroll restriction and the other by the next generation of Mariners, Zduriencik had little choice but to hold steady and hope for bounce-back seasons from Chone Figgins(notes), Franklin Gutierrez(notes), Jack Wilson(notes), Milton Bradley(notes) and, well, other than Ichiro(notes), nearly every position player who walks through the clubhouse doors in Peoria, Ariz.

The trade of Lopez means Figgins moves from second to third base, where he had his big walk-year season for the Angels, and opens up competition at second. The field there consists of Ryan, Kennedy, Josh Wilson(notes) and top prospect Dustin Ackley(notes). The position eventually will belong to the 22-year-old Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft and MVP of the Arizona Fall League. If he doesn’t win the job in spring training, he’ll likely be back to claim it by mid-summer.

The Mariners await more than Ackley. Justin Smoak(notes), the powerful first baseman acquired in the Cliff Lee trade with Texas, had a rough time over 348 at-bats with the Rangers and Mariners as a rookie, but few doubt his potential. Right-hander Michael Pineda(notes) ended 2009 in A-ball and finished 2010 in Triple-A, leading to hope he can help on the pitching end, which was not the source of the Mariners’ problems last season.

In spite of his desperation for offense, Zduriencik is reluctant to take apart his pitching staff, headlined by Felix Hernandez(notes). Bitten by the same run-support issues as Hernandez, Justin Vargas and Doug Fister(notes) pitched reasonably well. The bullpen was not so taut, and closer David Aardsma’s(notes) hip surgery is potentially damaging.

Just a year ago, the Mariners were the trendy pick to win the West. After spending all of four days with a winning record, they won’t deal with those expectations this spring. In fact, new manager Eric Wedge has a rebuild – of swings, of psyches, of culture – on his hands. At least they know the general manager has experience in these sorts of things.

Mariners in haiku

An old friend is gone
So once more with conviction
“It will fly away!”

Next: Oakland Athletics

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Jan 12, 2011