PEORIA, Ariz. – A year ago when the Seattle Mariners began spring training after a winter of roster changes that still didn’t cleanse the bad taste of a 101-loss season, general manager Jack Zduriencik had a bold proclamation.
“We’re not conceding anything,” Zduriencik said.
The Mariners won 85 games to become one of 13 teams in major league history to have a winning season after losing at least 100 games.
Since then, Zduriencik has made the Mariners the talk of baseball this offseason and, in some people’s minds, serious contenders to unseat the L.A. Angels in the American League West Division. He acquired former Cy Young-winning pitcher Cliff Lee, All-Star third baseman Chone Figgins, promising young relief pitcher Brandon League, controversial outfielder Milton Bradley and first baseman Casey Kotchman.
But, with the Mariners’ 2010 spring training camp beginning Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report, Zduriencik downplays all the high hopes.
“At this moment, we haven’t proven anything,” he said.
The Mariners haven’t.
But there are questions that six weeks of spring training may help answer.
Besides Felix Hernandez and Lee, who are considered baseball’s best 1-2 combination of starting pitchers, who’s behind them in the rotation that the Mariners can count on?
Left-hander Erik Bedard, who had labrum shoulder surgery in August, won’t pitch again until May at the earliest. And, while Bedard would give the Mariners a dangerous 1-2-3 grouping later in the season, there’s no guarantee because many pitchers have never recovered from labrum surgery.
That puts left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith in line for a key spot in the middle of the rotation, even though he has only 27 career starts in the big leagues.
The Mariners believe right-hander Ian Snell has a promising future. After the Mariners acquired Snell in a midseason trade with Pittsburgh last year, he went 5-2 in 12 starts that were marked with stellar pitching but also inconsistency.
“He continued to make progress in August and September and he has done a lot this offseason,” pitching coach Rick Adair said. “He’s excited. He’s prepared. One thing he has gotten better at is his preparation, the routine and structure that goes into his preparation.”
There’s also no certainty in the catching.
Rob Johnson, who started most of the games last year, is coming back from surgery to both hips. He says he feels better now than he has in years, although the Mariners will be careful with his spring training workload.
Adam Moore played six games last September and is the most impressive of the Mariners’ catching prospects, but he’ll have competition for the backup spot from veterans Josh Bard and Eliezer Alfonzo.
When position players join the workouts Feb. 23, the Mariners will start addressing another set of questions. Will Figgins’ speed and Bradley’s on-base percentage be enough to revive an offense that finished last in the A.L. in runs? Will Bradley, whose career has been marked with controversy and conflict, remain a good citizen and a productive player? Can Ken Griffey Jr., who batted .214 last year, become as important to the offense as he is to clubhouse chemistry?