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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mariners didn’t exhibit $114 million improvement

Jim Cour Associated Press

SEATTLE – In a fitting end to their second straight miserable season, slugger Richie Sexson took a called third strike from Justin Duchscherer in the Seattle Mariners’ 8-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.

At 69-93, the Mariners’ record was slightly better than their 99-loss season in 2004, but not $114 million better.

“This year, fortunately for everyone, is over now,” said Raul Ibanez, who was one of the few bright spots for the underachieving 2005 Mariners. “It’s been tough; it’s been very tough.”

In an effort to improve their offense, the Mariners went on a December spending spree, opening their checkbook for $114 million to pay for free agents Adrian Beltre and Sexson.

Beltre got a $64 million, five-year contract after leading the majors with 48 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and Sexson, coming off a major shoulder injury, received a $50 million, four-year deal.

The results were terribly disappointing for Seattle’s offense: Only one more run at 699 than in 2004 and four fewer home runs at 130. Their .256 team batting average was the lowest in the American League, 14 points lower than last season.

“I think we all thought we would score more runs than we did,” first-year manager Mike Hargrove said.

And in a season of individual disappointments for the Mariners, Beltre, 26, didn’t come close to being the offensive player he was with the Dodgers last season, when he had a career year by hitting .334, with 48 homers and 121 RBIs.

Beltre was sensational at third base, but hit .255 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs.

“I think it was a year he was personally disappointed in,” Hargrove said.

After being limited to 23 games at Arizona when he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder last season, Sexson came back strongly at the plate, although he did lead the A.L. with 167 strikeouts. He led the Mariners with 39 homers and 121 RBIs, hitting .263.

“It surprised me that he had as big of year as he had,” Hargrove said.

The Mariners also got big seasons offensively from Ichiro Suzuki, who had his fifth consecutive 200-hit season with a career-high 15 homers and 68 RBIs, and Ibanez, who hit .280, with 20 homers and 89 RBIs.

Under second-year general manager Bill Bavasi and Hargrove, the Mariners got rid of second baseman Bret Boone and first baseman Scott Spiezio and traded outfielder Randy Winn, reliever Ron Villone and catcher Miguel Olivo.

Defensive whiz Yuniesky Betancourt, who escaped Cuba on a boat in July 2003, arrived in Seattle from Triple-A Tacoma in July and became the team’s everyday shortstop. In 60 games, he hit .256 with one home run and 15 RBIs.

Jeremy Reed became the everyday center fielder. After Boone’s departure, Lopez became the Mariners’ regular second baseman.

Seattle had an $85.9 million payroll, the ninth highest in the majors, but the Mariners didn’t get a good return for their money.

“They do spend money,” closer Eddie Guardado said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t live up to those expectations.”

Despite pitching with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the 35-year-old had 36 saves. Now, the team has the option of picking up the third and final year of his contract.

“Hopefully, it works out,” he said.

Except for 42-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer pitching at Safeco Field – 10-0 at home, 3-7 on the road – the team’s starting pitching struggled, with a 4.91 ERA and a 50-64 record. The bullpen had a 3.60 ERA and 19-29 record.

The future of the team’s pitching is 19-year-old right-hander Felix Hernandez, 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 starts after coming up from Tacoma in August.

Moyer will be a free agent, but isn’t expected to get close to the $8 million salary he earned this season in his ninth year in Seattle.

The Mariners are expected to be in the market for a left-handed hitting outfielder, one or two starting pitchers and a catcher.

The M’s drew 2,725,459 fans at home, down from 2,942,054 in 2004.

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