March 29, 1998 in Sports

M’S Must Carry Out Tall Order Seattle’s Attempt To Improve Leaves More Questions Than Answers In ‘98

Laura Vecsey Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A high fly ball sailed out to left field the other day.

Glenallen Hill, No. 53 on your scorecard, scrambled back toward the fence, trying to line up the ball to make the putout.

Instead of making the catch, though, Hill finished the play with his customary outfielding flourish: He wound up on his backside, the ball bouncing on the warning track for an extra-base hit.

Welcome to your 1998 Seattle Mariners.

Left fielders Nos. 49-52 - Lee Tinsley, Jose Cruz and Roberto Kelly - are gone. If any of those fellas from ‘97, especially Cruz or Kelly, had found their way back, you would have to believe that left field would not be the danger zone it appears now.

“We brought him in here for his hitting,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said about Hill, who hit .312 in 144 at-bats with the Giants last season.

“He’s got other people who can pick him up defensively. We knew we weren’t getting a Gold Glove left fielder. We were getting someone who is adequate out there and who can swing the bat. With Glenallen, it’s the hitting.”

Luckily, hitting is something the M’s never seem to be lacking. It’s the other stuff, like the health and welfare of the starters; and a same-old, same-old bullpen that could not possibly match its horrific 27 blown saves, could it?

With opening night looming on Tuesday, it is time to ask whether the M’s have really come closer to matching up against the Orioles (new manager, same great team even without closer Randy Myers), the improved Yankees and that World Series team from Cleveland.

Unlike last spring, when everyone from here to Timbuktu was labeling the Mariners “World Serious” contenders, there is an undecided air about the ‘98 Mariners.

Yes, the American League West appears to be theirs for the taking.

Yes, the Mariners believe it would be hard for them to run into another red-hot ace in the Division Series again, the way the Orioles’ Mike Mussina came up with two of the biggest and best games he has ever pitched last postseason.

Yes, the Mariners remain the most potent, star-studded lineup in the big leagues with an expansion-season opportunity to torch the major-league home-run record for the second year in a row.

Yet, by not signing a frontline closer; by not even making an offer to extend the contract of Randy Johnson; by not adding appreciable basepath speed, you have to wonder if the ‘98 Mariners are left with more questions than in ‘97.

With an aging roster and a sparsity of depth in the minor-league ranks in the event of injuries, will the ‘98 Mariners be defined by the moves they did not make or by the few minor and potentially dangerous deals they did make?

Unlike in ‘97, when the power, potency and allure of the Mighty M’s made them a frenzied pick as one of the major leagues’ best teams, the ‘98 Mariners have a more glaring incompleteness about them.

Granted, there are Gold Gloves in Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner, and Alex Rodriguez and new first baseman David Segui are fine fielders.

But who is there to back up Davis, who has gone through periods where errors piled up and injuries took him down? Where is a Luis Sojo when you need him? Where is the utility infielder who can do for you what Rich Amaral does in the outfield?

The M’s are extremely thin, almost across the board, and are one injury away from some serious hurt.

Then, there’s the Big Unit.

“I think the Randy situation, nobody knows what’s going to happen,” second baseman Joey Cora said.

Although the “Randy situation” has elicited concern and sympathy from teammates, it has done nothing to minimize what appears to be a very loose, eager, confident team.

“This is the best atmosphere ever, since I’ve been here,” Rodriguez said.

That might be the best news. Chemistry is important, and last spring there was an anxiousness to the M’s, who seemed extremely determined to live up to the enormous billing they were given.

This time, the hype and hysteria have died. Let’s hope it’s not for good reason.

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