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Relief Pitcher Lucas Luetge #44
25 years old; Experience: rookie
If you are like me and you follow the Seattle Mariners a bit more than fairly regularly, then when Lucas Luetge made his Mariner debut earlier this year you probably said, "Who in God's name is that????" and then furiously rifled through all of last year's official programs from the few Rainier games you went to and then stayed up all night and lost a lot of sleep over this mysterious Mariner and what this man was doing on your team. Where did he come from? Who sent him? What is his purpose?
Well, to answer those panicked questions that kept me up at night, Lucas Luetge came from Texas by means of Rice University. He was sent over by the Milwaukee Brewers and his purpose is to remain on the 25 man roster for as much of the season possible. Luetge was picked up by the Mariners in the off-season's Rule 5 Draft, meaning he is automatically on the 25 man roster and cannot be sent down to the minors - just flat out waived and cut if it doesn't work out.
That is the beauty of Rule 5 Draftees. Sometimes there is a diamond in the rough there, and perhaps the Brewers just didn't have space for Luetge on the roster at that moment. Luckily for him, the Mariners have plenty of space in the bullpen for pitchers who can hopefully cut it.
Luetge doesn't exactly throw the ball too hard. His fastball tops out at around 90 mph when the weather is nice and warm (like spring training) and he likes to use his slider a fair amount. He had a pretty decent strike out rate with the Brewers farm system, averaging about one per inning. The key with Luetge is that he is a southpaw, one of the few existing in the bullpen. He will be called upon in key situations and hopefully he thrives under extreme pressure of trying to keep the Mariners around .500. If he does he should do all right this year. If not, well maybe he can try his luck with another team.
Catcher John Jaso #27
28 years old; Experience: two years
Post Dan Wilson era, the catching position has been somewhat of a black hole for the Seattle Mariners, constantly filled by a rotating cast of loveable, but not good, characters who wear masks and block pitches poorly (re: Rob Johnson and Miguel Olivo). This past offseason, Jack Z pulled his magic once again, trading Josh Lueke and a player to be named later for John Jaso.
Unfortunately for Jaso, Jack Z later dealt for Jesus Montero. With Miguel Olivo on the team, it really seemed like Jaso would be left as the third string catcher - not even Rob Johnson status. Then luckily for Jaso, it became clear that Montero wasn't going to be the primary catching option and would be getting his reps at designated hitter mostly.
It should hopefully be clear to the organization's future that Olivo doesn't have much of a place in it. Even though the Mariners went out and acquired Montero, it is still unclear how much the team is going to let him catch. Jaso should be expected to catch 30 or 40 games, barring injuries to either Montero or Olivo. It is up to him to show that he belongs in the major leagues. In 2010, Jason didn't hit for a whole lot of power with the Rays, but he put up a very respectable OBP of .372, which is probably more than all Olivo years combined. Jaso is a patient hitter, so even when he isn't hitting as well (like he was in 2011), he is still able to be far from useless at the plate - and that OBP is what separates him very nicely from Olivo. The catching position is in a bit of flux for the Mariners, so it remains to be seen how much of it will have Jaso in the picture. For 2012, it will unfortunately not have as much as it should, as Olivo will still be taking the most squats behind the plate.
Outfielder Casper Wells #33
27 years old; Experience: one year
Last season, a synapse snapped in Jack Z's brain and he went on a rampage acquiring every single young outfielder he could in all of major league baseball. One specific man, a man by the name of Casper Wells, made the cut onto the juggernaut that is the Seattle Mariners outfield. Wells was acquired last year from the Detroit Tigers as part of the Doug Fister trade.
Wells is a solid outfielder with theoretically a dependable bat. He showed flashes of that last year, hitting a home run in four straight games between August 13th and August 16th until Brandon Morrow had enough of those shenanigans and hit him on the tip of the nose to end the streak. Wells' Spring Training was largely unimpressive unless you count striking out impressive, which in that case Wells had a very impressive Spring Training.
Throughout most of his career in the minors, Wells has shown a very balanced approach to the game. He doesn't hit for too much power and doesn't steal too many bases. He has always had a pretty decent OBP (except for his less than glamorous 2010 year) which helps boast his all around value on the basepaths. He is a solid fielder who doesn't make a whole lot of bad decisions.
However, with the sudden emergence of Mike Carp last year and the insistence on shoveling Chone Figgins out as much as possible to salvage the slightest bit of use out of his contract, Wells time in the outfield will be sporadic at best. The left field platoon seems that it will eventually end up Carp/Figgins when everyone is healthy, so that leaves Wells to try and impress Eric Wedge into forcing himself in there over either Carp or Figgins. It remains to be seen, but the outfield is crowded with Michael Saunders being the defacto fourth outfielder, so don't expect to rock your Casper Wells jerseys in Safeco too often this year.
Infielder Alex Liddi #16
23 years old; Experience: one year
If you have heard of Alex Liddi and know anything about him then you are one of the biggest die-hard Mariners fans ever. Most likely, the only thing you know about Liddi is that he is the first Italian actually born in the motherland to ever play major league baseball. That little piece of trivia is exactly that - a piece of trivia. In case you haven't ever been to Italy, or even heard of it, baseball is not a very commonly played sport over there. So Liddi might be blazing a trail in the future, but for now that trail is overgrown and impassable. But somewhere out there, over in Italy, some young kid is holding a baseball bat starting at an Alex Liddi rookie card while all of his friends engage in a friendly game of futbol.
Liddi had a solid spring and was actually quite surprisingly made the roster over Carlos Peguero. Peguero also had a good spring training, but Peguero is also Peguero and has no business on a major league roster. Liddi doesn't necessarily either, but after his year stint with the Rainiers last year it was clear that Liddi had nothing left to prove in his constant embarrassment of AAA pitchers. He ended his 2011 minor league career with a .259/.332/.488 line while mashing 30 home runs and driving in 104 RBIs. He had a very limited call-up time after the rosters are expanded in September and didn't do a whole lot with it, although he still hit three home runs in only 44 at bats.
The power is definitely there for Liddi, but there is a big difference between clobbering minor league pitchers and jacking home runs off of the likes of CC Sabathia. Liddi definitely hit for power in his short stint last year, but when he wasn't hitting for power he was just flat out missing the ball. He struck out at a clip of 38.6% which is a number even Mark Reynolds can laugh at. For Liddi to have any usefulness with the Mariners, he needs to cut down on the pitches he takes hacks at and clobber the pitches worth clobbering. Since he has a whole ton of minor league options left, barring some horrendous infield meltdown/catastrophe/trainwreck of injuries, Liddi will probably have another limited stay with the Mariners riding the bench and occasionally filling in the infield when necessary.
Infielder Munenori Kawasaki #61
30 years old; Experience: rookie (of the Japanese sorts)
The Seattle Mariners are like the New York Yankees of Japanese players - or at least they are for Munenori Kawasaki, who signed a minor league contract with the Mariners because he wanted to play here so bad. Or at least that is what will have to come off it. Most likely he signed with the Mariners because the only other teams who would take slap hitting speedy infielders with no power are the Oakland Athletics and soon to be AL West cellar buddies the Houston Astros.
As such, signing Kawasaki was pretty much a no brainer for the M's. He was a solid player in Japan, a lifetime .297 hitter who was best known for his glove and his speed. To the Mariners he brings someone who can spell Brendan Ryan at short when he inevitably injures himself and won't be a huge detriment at the plate - theoretically.
There isn't a whole lot else to Kawasaki's presence on the Seattle Mariners other than maybe some new Japanese fans who just hated Ichrio for no reason but love Munenori Kawasaki might buy a Seattle Mariners cap now. He isn't projected to do much else than hit decently and potentially steal a few bases if he gets on base. The one drawback that Kawasaki does have is he is a quantity over quality base stealer, and gets caught far too often for someone of his speed. Hopefully his frightening diminutive nature will take opposing pitchers by surprise and Kawasaki can provide more infield singles if Ichrio starts to let fans down with those exciting hits.
Infielder Kyle Seager #15
24 years old; Experience: one year
Just add Kyle Seager into the long list of soon to be or current Seattle Mariners who are able to provide just an inkling of hope, that after a decade of depravity this motley crew might be able to churn out just enough wins to make it into the playoffs one of these years. This playoff push of course pretty much completely relies on all of these young pieces actually producing at the major league level. Out of all the prospects or players entering their first full year of service, Seager seems best set to be a lasting contributor.
Seager was drafted in 2009 in the third round and pretty much for the get go got himself pushing through the minor league ranks at a pretty good clip. He started 2011 in AA ball, and after absolutely shredding pitchers in AA and AAA the Mariners called him up last year where Seager got a pretty good look at the life of the major leagues. Unlike the seemingly endless parade of Mariners players who can wallop all levels of minor league pitchers but struggle on a consistent basis at the major league plate. Last year, through 53 games Seager hit .258/.312/.379 with three home runs.
Those aren't exactly numbers that will knock the socks off of your grandfather while he updates his scorecard, but they aren't half bad considering Seager opened 2011 in AA. Seager didn't show flashes of extreme power throughout his minor league career. He topped out at 14 home runs in A+ call in 2010, but he has good bat control and doesn't swing at too many bad pitches.
This year, Seager pretty much played his way onto the line-up through Spring Training and although the Mariners are absolutely determined to run Chone Figgins out as much as possible to salvage some millions out of his worthless contract, Seager should still see a solid amount of playing time. With the Mariners already dealing with some outfield injuries, Seager has been able to see quite a bit of time at third base. As of now, he is the "prospect" with the best chance of maintaining his spot on the active roster longest throughout the year. Seager does have some upside, and if he can put the numbers he did throughout the minors, high batting average and on base percentage, he should have a healthy career ahead of him. Hopefully that healthiness happens while in a Mariners uniform.
Outfielder Michael Saunders #55
25 years old; Experience: three years
Michael Saunders is the kind of player that is maddening to fans, more maddening to his manager, and probably most maddening to the scouts. The fans hear of this guy who can seemingly do it all at such a young age. The manager gets a kid who has been doing it all in AAA, and the scouts are the people who are sure he can do it in the major leagues. But year in and year out, Saunders has failed his big league opportunity. On pretty much any other team, Saunders wouldn't have gotten another major league chance. But the Seattle Mariners aren't any other team. They are the Seattle Mariners, where hope springs eternal and opportunities knock on your door, and your neighbor's door, and your landlord's door until they find someone who knows how to hold a baseball mitt.
Saunders has shown he can hit for power throughout his minor league career. He is a serviceable outfielder with a good arm and he gets good reads/jumps on balls. His biggest problem has been that his hitting has never translated to a serviceable level in the major leagues. In 2010, through 100 games Saunders was able to hit 10 home runs. But he did it while batting a paltry .211 with an OBP of .295. That year was his best year with the Mariners.
The biggest problem with Michael Saunders is he has a tendency to preform well enough in Spring Training that it is clear he either belongs on the roster or is the first person to be called up. This might be Saunders last year to show he belongs consistently on a major league roster. For that to happen, Saunders needs to desperately cut down on his strikeouts and just learn how to put the ball into play better. With the injuries to Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Carp to open the season, Saunders has his best opportunity to show he belongs in the future plans of the club right now. At best, he could be a pretty decent outfielder with some solid pop and a good arm. At middle ground, he could be a pretty good fourth outfielder. At worst, he will be what he has been the past three years - which isn't very much. But is his career doesn't take off with Seattle; Saunders is young enough to probably catch a contract with another major league team. Those players then tend to find their swing and be super fantastic (hello Michael Morse anyone?) so lets hope he finds success with the Mariners.
Relief Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma #18
30 years old; Experience: rookie (in the Japanese player way)
This year there was one major player coming from Japan, and then there was Hisashi Iwakuma, giving it the old college try. In 2010, Iwakuma tried to come over to the States. The Oakland Athletics won the bidding process but weren't able to agree on a contract in the 30 day timeline, so Iwakuma went back over to Japan. This time around, the Mariners pounced and signed him to a very team friendly $1.5 million contract laden with incentives.
Iwakuma isn't exactly going to turn a lot of heads like his fellow Japanese "rookie" Yu Darvish, but he should be pretty solid. Should is the key word here because at the beginning of Spring Training it seemed a foregone conclusion that Iwakuma would open the season in the rotation. The rotation spot was his to lose and he did that as Spring Training wore on. He lost that rotation spot to the likes of Blake Beavan, and unfortunate little tidbit because Blake Beavan isn't very good.
The plus of having Iwakuma in the bullpen is that assuming he isn't a total stinker, and not in the endearing way that you call your three year old niece a stinker, he should be able to burst right out of the bullpen into the starting rotation at the first sign of immediate trouble. Considering that the Mariners bullpen is King Felix, Jason Vargas, old man Millwood, the rookie Hector Noesi, and then - ugh - Blake Beavan, there is primo opportunity for Iwakuma to find himself starting a few games and reaching those incentives for a bigger payday.
I'm starting to tire of talking about how pitchers like Iwakuma will benefit by pitching at Safeco Field because pretty much all pitchers benefit by pitching at Safeco Field (except for Blake Beavan for reasons unknown to statistics and science). Injuries have taken a toll on Iwakuma's fastball and it now sits in the high 80s for the most part. Every now and then he can put the juice on it and hit the mid 90s. His out-pitch is his splitter which he often shoves down the throats (or the bats) of the opposing batters, generally resulting in a lot of groundouts. Assuming that the infield behind Iwakuma stays relatively decent defensively, then it goes that Iwakuma should put up pretty decent numbers for the Seattle Mariners at a rather cheap rate. He is a solid addition to the team that can hopefully also provide bizarre zen-Ichiro-like comments every now and then.
Relief Pitcher George Sherrill #52
34 years old, Experience: eight years
George Sherrill is one of those interesting cases that could have been like Carlos Guillen if Carlos Guillen weren't terrified at the prospect of putting on a Mariners uniform again and retiring in sheer terror. Sherrill was plunked out of the horrors of independent baseball leagues by the Mariners in 2003 and quickly made the squad in 2004. He posted some decent-ish numbers in 2005 and 2006 before finally showing his true mettle in 2007. Unfortunately, in those dark days of the Bill Bavasi reign, when you showed your true mettle you were often packaged up and shipped off in a deal. George Sherrill's fate? The dungeon known as the cellar of the AL East - the Baltimore Orioles. Sherrill was part of the pillaging that is sometimes referred to in Seattle circles at the Adam Jones trade.
Once in Baltimore, Sherrill acted as a lefty closer with a crappy team. He picked up 31 saves in 2008 and was elected to the All Star Team. He started out 2009 closing games again with the Orioles until he was traded mid-season to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished the rest of the season putting up pretty solid numbers as a situational leftie for the Dodgers, finishing with a 0.65 ERA in 30 innings pitched. In 2010, Sherrill began to struggle, posting a way too high ERA worthy of any bullpen (possibly except for the Baltimore Orioles) to the point of refusing a minor league assignment and clearing outright waivers. Sherrill remained in the Dodgers bullpen like a huge, bloated, professional toad glued to a dying log.
In 2011 a change of scenery was required and Sherrill signed with the Braves for a one year deal. The NL East proved to be where it was at for Sherrill - he was able to find his old leftie throwing striking out self, posting a 3.00 ERA through 36 IP. This year, Sherrill signed a one year deal worth a shade over $1 million with the Seattle Mariners. As one of the two left handed pitchers in the bullpen, Sherrill will be called upon again mostly as a situational leftie. His fastball has seen a slight drop in velocity over the past couple of years, and that is to be expected with someone taking firm footing in their mid 30s.
Sherrill is mostly a two pitch pitcher: a fastball and a slider. He abandoned his change-up (which he didn't use all that often) a couple years ago. He averaged the high 80s last year with his fastball, and uses his slider about a third of the time. He is another one of those pitch-to-contact pitchers that tend to thrive in Safeco. So as long as Sherrill remains healthy, he should put up halfway decent numbers. There is a good chance that most of his numbers might be a bit inflated, as Sherrill will tend to only face the best of the best of the opposing line-up. Such is the life when you are born with the disadvantage (or advantage?) of being left-handed and playing baseball.
Relief Pitcher Steve Delabar #35
28 years old; Experience: one year
Steve Delabar is another one of the young unproven arms in the Mariners bullpen, which lends credence to worry a bit. Delabar was drafted and brought up through the San Diego Padres before a fractured elbow virtually halted his career in 2009. Delabar spent 2010 rehabbing his elbow and working as a substitute teacher in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The Seattle Mariners, already known for their wacky signings at this point, signed a minor league deal with Delabar in 2011.
Delabar quickly moved through the Mariners minor league ranks and made the big promotion in September last year. Delabar is a pretty standard hard throwing righty. He has a plus fastball which usually clocks in around 94 mph, but it is pretty much his only pitch. Because of this, is Delabar isn't able to locate it too well, hitters tend to get some pretty favorable counts. He had a pretty high walk rate last year for a reliever and this was only slightly offset by his average of about one strike out an inning.
This year Delabar is a situational reliever like he was last year. He remains with some upside as he his only 28 years old, but until he adds a few more pitches to his arsenal, Delabar will only appear sporadically for a few batters every now and then. On the plus side, players signed to minor league contracts come very cheaply, and Delabar is no different. If he can stay consistent and get out the big hitters he will be brought into punch out in later innings, Delabar can be a solid contributor to the Mariners for years to come.
Relief Pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen #54
28 years old; Experience: one year
Tom Wilhelmsen is one of those nice stories of baseball that only the sport of baseball can have. A once top pitching prospect who falls out of favor before finding his way back into a farm system of a team. The Mariners were that team and Wilhelmsen is that man. Even though the Mariners brought in some veteran relief pitchers to pad the bullpen, because Wilhelmsen still has upside, he will probably be the one that hands the ball to Brandon League every 9th inning. I guess technically the umpire is handing League that ball....but yeah, Wilhelmsen should find himself the setup man for the Mariners.
Wilhelmsen comes in with a solid fastball that dances around the low to mid 90s and he has what looks like a stellar curveball most of the time. Last year, Wilhelmsen was pretty decent in his limited stint with the Mariners. He only notched 32 innings through 25 games, but he was looking good with 8.27 strikeouts per nine innings. He still is prone to a bit of wildness but he strikes the zone pretty well and pretty hard.
The key thing with Wilhelmsen is that as long as he stays healthy, he should be in line to add a bit of value to his repertoire and close out a few games when Brandon League isn't available. Or in the case of a mid-season League trade, it should be expected that barring a meltdown that Wilhelmsen gets to choose his entrance music. Lets hope he goes with silence. Because nothing is more intimidating than a closer with no music.
Relief Pitcher Brandon League #43
29 years old; Experience: eight years
It seems that a lot of recent Seattle Mariners moves have been to wash out the bad taste that Bill Bavasi left all over the organization. No player came to represent that more than Brandon Morrow, whom the organization drafted ahead of such clowns like Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. OH WELL! I'm a firm believer that at the time Morrow probably was better than those other two. It's the only way to deal with it. Or, you can deal the way that Jack Z did and just flat out deal Morrow. The offseason before 2010, the Mariners dealt Morrow to the Toronto Blue Jays for Brandon League.
League has been a solid closer for the Mariners since thrust into the role after the injury to David Aardsma last year. Last year, he closed out 37 games while only blowing five saves. League relies on an absolutely nasty sinker to punch out his opponents, which he does at a pretty effective rate. If the sinker isn't sinking, League also tops out in the high 90s on his fastball. He doesn't walk a lot of people, and when he melts down - he melts down in typical closer fashion. After rattling off nine straight saves to open the season last year, League had a bit of a rough patch in May - blowing four straight saves, giving up 10 runs in four games in the process.
With David Aardsma out of the picture, League is the man that will be punching out games virtually night in and night out. Being on a rebuilding team, and since closers unfortunately are a dime a dozen, if League goes and has another dominant first half, it wouldn't be halfway surprising to see him dealt at the trading deadline to a team in need of elite relief help. It is a shame but that is the life of a closer. Most projections for League are painting his numbers around the same spot as last year, hovering around a 3.00 ERA and notching close to 40 saves. League is one of the few bright spots on the Mariners unless the young guys start to produce, so enjoy him while it lasts.
Starting Pitcher Blake Beavan #49
23 years old; Experience: one year
Blake Beavan was the other piece to the trade that brought Justin Smoak over here. It can only be assumed that Beavan and Smoak are best of buds or kindred spirits or something because there isn't a lot to suggest that Beavan can ever really function as a useful major league pitcher over the course of the season - at least in the starting role.
But Beavan is one of those guys Spring Training is made for. The third rotation spot was largely assumed to be going to Hisashi Iwakuma, and Beavan had a better spring and as such finds himself penciled in - for now. Most likely, this won't last forever. Beavan is a starting pitcher. He isn't a great one like Felix Hernandez or an atrocious one like Carlos Silva - he just is one. Blake Beavan pitching is like calling your girlfriend's friends nothing at all. They aren't even nice - just entities in your life. Blake Beavan is an entity in the Seattle Mariners roster.
Beavan doesn't even benefit that much from pitching in Safeco. In fact his ERA at home last year was 4.81 compared to 3.46 on the road. Beavan doesn't even know how to use the benefit of Safeco Field correctly! With that said, Beavan is a contact pitching guy who could theoretically use Safeco Field correctly if he learned how. He doesn't get a whole lot of strikeouts at all so his room for error becomes slimmer with every ball issued. He was worth 0.7 WAR last year, so that is at least something to the meat of the matter that is Blake Beavan.
He isn't someone that is expected to make much of an impact at all, or be around on the roster very long either - this assumes of course that the Mariners absolute haul of prized pitching works its way through the minors according to plan. But just like rebuilding teams have pitchers like Kevin Millwood on them, they also have pitchers like Blake Beavan on them - stopgaps at best for the next person to fill their shoes and hopefully make us forget they were even on the team in the first place. It's a harsh reality, but such is the life of professional sports for people that aren't at the top of the game.
Starting Pitcher Kevin Millwood #25
37 years old; Experience: 15 years
Kevin Millwood has been around a block quite a bit. Usually most baseball players who are 37 have been around the block quite a bit. And although the true story of old people pitching maybe Jamie Moyer making the Colorado Rockies rotation - let us not look past Kevin Millwood. He is as old as they come in baseball. That is one of the true beauties of the sport. In basketball if you are 37 years old you would be relegated to bench duty or playing for the Miami Heat for a Cuban sandwich a day. If you are 37 years old and playing football you'd have three straight neck surgeries and then sign a deal for $90 million with one dollar guaranteed. If you are 37 years old and playing soccer you'd be playing in the MLS. In baseball though, you still get to pitch, or hit, or just sit on the bench and chew tobacco.
Millwood was brought in with very low expectations on a cheap contract made especially for veterans that don't have a lot of options left. In that sense, Millwood is the perfect fit as the Mariners can obviously use all the help they can get in the rotation. I've already gone into detail the dreadful drop off between Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, but with Millwood at the tail end of the rotation usually it will be the exact opposite. We get to go from Millwood TO King Felix.
He has had some very good seasons, although most of those seasons are now behind him. Until then, Millwood will be holding the final spot in the rotation until one of the big three are promoted from the Jacksonville Generals or until someone else proves they are worth it to stand on the rubber. Or until he gets injured. The likelihood of getting injured doesn't seem to be that good as Millwood has been a workhorse if anything throughout his career. Then again, he is also 37 years old. Kevin Millwood is the heart of this team though, in the sense that only teams in rebuilding modes ever have a need for a pitcher like Millwood. He'll be in the clubhouse to provide some good attitudes, maybe play some good jams at warm ups and be around to throw shaving cream pies in the faces of players when they do things like Chone Figgins hitting for the cycle. In other words, a 37 year old playing the sport of baseball.
Starting Pitcher Hector Noesi #45
25 years old, Experience: one year
Here we go. Hector Noesi. A casual fan may ask him or herself, who is Hector Noesi? A more serious fan may ask him or herself, who is Hector Noesi? A die-hard fan may ask him or herself, who is Hector Noesi? All three of the same questions are fair questions. Hector Noesi is coming into the year as a bit of an unknown. To Yankees fans he probably isn't as much of an unknown. Noesi was the second piece that came to the Mariners in the Montero/Pineda trade. That is right! It wasn't just the Montero/Pineda trade - poor Hector Noesi was sitting on the sidelines and in the shadows.
Noesi probably wasn't going to start for the Yankees this year, so its good that he found himself on the Mariners who have a clear need for some solid starting pitching. Noesi did pretty great throughout his minor league career with the Yankees. The thing is that lots of people do great through their minor league careers but have less than stellar major league careers (Michael Saunders anyone?). But there is reason to believe that Noesi will be able to do all right in his second season, and possibly first full, in the majors.
Reason number one: Safeco! Yay! Safeco is a pitchers park in case you hadn't heard. And you probably hadn't heard otherwise since Noesi is a shadow in his own trade. Noesi is one of those pitch to contact pitchers. In other words, Noesi is one of those pitchers who pitches well because Safeco has so much space. Jason Vargas has made a name for himself doing pretty much the exact same thing; only Noesi is able to hit a few miles per hour faster with his fastball.
He won't exactly be a number one starter, but Noesi shouldn't end up being a number five starter as well. Noesi is a solid role-playing pitcher who can hopefully eat up some minutes, and if his spring numbers are any indication, then Noesi can probably put together a decent campaign that will help make that Pineda/Montero trade more worth it. Of course, being in his first season starting, assuming he lasts all season, Noesi will be on an innings cap. So don't expect to see him tearing up the AL West come September.
Starting Pitcher Jason Vargas #38
29 years old; Experience: six years
Jason Vargas is your perfect Seattle Mariner. He does some things well, but never does those things very flashy. He can be consistent through stretches, but isn't able to sustain that success over the entire season too often. By himself he isn't half bad, not something you want to depend on though. But make up a team full of Jason Vargas, and the Seattle Vargas would have the worst record in the league.
Vargas came over to the Mariners before 2009 as one of the seven players dealt with the New York Mets and the Cleveland Indians. He started with the squad in 2010 and put together a pretty respectable pitching line for a back of the rotation pitcher, an easily dismissive 9-12 record with a nice ERA of 3.78. Last year, Vargas' ERA went up a notch to 4.25. But he picked up another win in the process and strike out a few more batters as well.
This year, with Michael Pineda wearing the pinstripes, Vargas is now the number two starter in the rotation. That is a scary thought because on most other teams, Vargas would not be a number two starter. But the Mariners pitching staff has a pretty steep drop off. To give Vargas some credit, pretty much any pitcher pitching after Felix Hernandez is going to be a pretty steep drop off (minus those jerks in the rotation of the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff). It isn't all doom and gloom though, because a pitcher like Vargas is made better pitching in a park like Safeco Field. Vargas lives and dies off of contact. He isn't going to blow by many people with his fastball - he only used it 50% of the time last year and it would hardly pick up a speeding ticket on I-5. Vargas does a pretty decent job of keeping batters halfway off kilter. He has a good change-up that can produce a lot of fly balls, and luckily for Vargas fly balls sometimes have a tendency to stay on the right side of the fence in Safeco.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Vargas handles his new position of being the guy attempting to ensure the Mariners have a win streak going - because obviously every time King Felix pitches the Mariners have a better than they ever will chance of winning. If Vargas is able to reclaim some of that wily talent that made him a nice surprise of 2010, it will go a long way in helping this team survive with a halfway decent record into the summer.
Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez #34
25 years old; Experience: seven years
Felix Hernandez aka King Felix is the only reason watching a Mariners game in recent years has had any storyline, person to cheer for, or flat-out redeeming baseball quality. Which is a shame really, because the Mariners found a God in King Felix and have him signed to a great contract. But notice up there -- Felix is only 25 years old -- the man will hit the spoils fit for a king on his next contract. Will that be with Seattle? The Yankees? I care, but I know that King Felix doesn't care. King Felix is all about business when he takes the mound, and that means he is all about the Mariners business, which is attempting to ensure that they win.
I won't say that the rest of the world wasn't aware of who King Felix was, but he definitely resonated with a bunch of no nonsense New York Yankee fan buffoons when he won his first Cy Young award in 2010. The argument against King Felix - he only had 13 wins. CC Sabathia had 21. The argument for King Felix - in virtually every single pitching metric alive King Felix was better than Sabathia - and then some. So right now, that is King Felix's claim to fame, he is the Cy Young winner with the least amount of wins the year he won it. Apparently the only measurable way to determine a pitcher's success is whether he wins the game or not. If we played in the NL, I would guarantee King Felix would actually pitch a two hit shutout and then bat in his team's only run to win the game. He is that much of a competitor.
The Mariners will be relying even heavier on King Felix this year. Last year King Felix had a great year that was quality of an ace on the staff, but it wasn't Cy Young worthy. That is the problem with pitchers who win the Cy Young. King Felix is now expected to be Cy Young worthy every year. With Michael Pineda traded to the Yankees in the offseason, the Mariners will need King Felix to step up each and every start and give the Mariners a credible chance and scoring two runs to win the game. Jason Vargas steps to the mound after King Felix. Vargas is a quality pitcher who is probably a good guy to, and on any other team he would be a bit further down in the rotation. The Mariners have some really good prospects coming into town, most likely very soon, but very soon isn't now. So for now, all the Mariners have is King Felix. That is a good feeling, because by having King Felix, it means that other teams can't have King Felix, at least for another few years. The Mariners have him locked up until 2015.
Last year, King Felix relied on his fastball quite a bit less than in previous years and through his change-up into the mix more often. We know that King Felix is capable of pitching himself out of every conceivable jam (as seen in 2010), and looking at his statistics it looks like players just hit the ball against him a little bit better last year. That happens. His strikeouts per nine innings actually went up from 2010 to 2011 (8.36 to 8.55) and his strikeout percentage still hovered around 23%. The one key increase was King Felix went from 0.61 HRs per nine innings to 0.73. Hitters hit a whopping .245 off of him last year instead of .210 as they did in 2010. Most of King Felix's numbers last year were more along the lines of his career averages, but he had been working those career averages down (or up - whatever the positive may be) in setting new career stats in both 2009 and 2010. Most analysts are pegging for a return to 2010 form for King Felix - a sub 3.00 ERA, a lower WHIP while leaving most of his other numbers intact. This means at the end of the year, King Felix could very possibly be left in the conversation of the Cy Young award - and once again for him to win it, he'll need the help of the voters remembering that wins don't mean everything.
Designated Hitter Jesus Montero #63
22 years old; Experience: rookie
It is too early to call any trade what will define a general manager, but it looks like depending on how the future plays out, the trade that saw Michael Pineda don the pinstripes and Jesus Montero come to be the savior of this poor hitting squad will probably go down as either the one that kept Jack Z's job or sent him packing. Remember, this is the same Jesus Montero that the M's balked at giving up Cliff Lee for, when Cliff Lee eventually went to the Rangers and the key piece coming in Justin Smoak.
Needless to say, there are a lot of expectations on Montero to succeed. This isn't only because pretty much every scout who has watched him hit is convinced the kid can mash the ball to hell and back, but also because the Mariners gave up what was appearing to be a very good and very young pitcher in Pineda. Although Pineda only had one major league season under his belt, and it appeared that he tired as the year went on, the Mariners were giving up a proven commodity for someone who has everything to prove.
It isn't looking all doom and gloom on that front however. Montero played 18 games with the Yankees after September call-ups and hit four home runs in the process. He has shown the ability to consistently club the ball at all levels of the minor leagues (he has spent three years there, advancing a league each year). Montero also has two full seasons of AAA under his belt and appears to be as ready as you can ever be for that full season of major league baseball.
There are a few questions revolving around Montero. The first is how well he will come along in his defense, and whether or not the Mariners will really want him behind the plate. Outside of catcher being a position that absolutely wears and tears you away, Montero isn't known for having a cannon of an arm. But Jack Z has still said that Montero will catch, and Montero has said he wants to catch, so we will probably end up with a 70 DH/30 catcher split on the year. The second question is how Montero will respond to the pressures of this Mariners line-up. It is a lot easier to hit four homeruns in 18 games when you have other players around you that can actually string balls together. Montero will be batting fifth, behind Smoak, and in front of Carp (until Carp got injured yesterday, we'll see who goes behind him now). If those two players struggle at the plate, it will be interesting to see how Montero responds when pitchers don't actually have to pitch to him anymore.
Regardless, he is entering 2012 with a lot of expectations riding on him, from fans and from the national media. Quite a few sportswriters pegged Montero as their AL rookie of the year, and if he achieves what a lot of projected numbers are looking like for him - .280, 22-26 HRS - he probably will take those honors home. If Montero is able to reach that number and develop further, then the Pineda trade will be a lot easier to swallow, and he will be a crucial building block to finally assembling a respectable line-up. If Montero struggles, or is only able to put forth a season like Smoak did last year, it will be a lot tougher to rely on the strategy of this organization.
Right Fielder: Ichiro Suzuki #51
38 years old; Experience: 11 years
That should really be all that is necessary here. Because if you are a Mariners fan and you don't know who Ichiro is then you are truly hopeless. Your fandom cannot be salvaged and you might as well become a fan of the Houston Astros when they move into the AL West.
But what can be said about Ichiro and is a valid point is that 2012 is probably the most meaningful year Ichiro will personally have in his American career. 2011 was one of the worst years Ichiro has ever had by a long mile. At the age of 38, suddenly the samurai of slapping infield singles up the ying yang had his whole work ethic, abilities, and desire to win called into question. He relies so much on speed! He is done! The Mariners are screwed! No one will want to pay someone with that contract! All of these concerns have a valid point. Despite the fact he is eternally stuck in a state of "the best shape of his life", Ichiro is 38, and his playing style relies incredibly heavy on quick bat speed and legging out infield singles. Perhaps his decline has actually started.
Or you could also argue that Ichiro isn't exactly declining but just had a year of bad luck. His BABIP was the lowest it has been in a Mariners uniform and off his career mark of .351 by quite a bit. His ISO power numbers were also down quite a bit as well. This of course doesn't mean that he will necessarily rebound. It could truly mean that we are seeing the start of Ichiro's great decline. But until we have more data spread out over a couple of years, we can't really infer too much from it.
This year will also be an important year for Ichiro because for the first time since donning the Mariners uniform, Ichiro will not be leading off the line-up....for now. Eric Wedge has slotted him in the three hole which brings a whole lot of questions to the table. Ichiro claims to be able to hit for more power, and the Mariners are going to need him to be less of an infield single hitter and more of a line drive hitter. Early returns from Spring Training were favorable on the project. Last year he walloped 63 infield hits. This batting approach doesn't work too well when someone is on first. 2012 looks to be the year that Ichiro reinvents himself. If he doesn't, he will become an even larger drain on the Mariners payroll, which is an unfortunate way for a guy that has done so well to be thought of. Then again, sports players aren't known for quitting when they are on top.
Center Field: Franklin Gutierrez #21
29 years old; Experience: seven years
In 2010, the Mariners gave a four year extension to Franklin "Death to Flying Things" Gutierrez worth $20.5 million. Gutierrez had just put together an incredibly solid welcoming party to the Seattle Mariners, averaging .283 and hitting 18 homeruns while leading every single major league baseball player in virtually all defensive metrics. It seemed that not only had the Mariners acquired the center field of the future from the Indians, but they had locked him up to an incredibly friendly deal.
The year is now 2012, and the deal still seems pretty friendly, if anything because it isn't costing the team too much money in the grand scheme of things. But life hasn't been as friendly to Gutierrez. Last year Guti was sapped by a stomach ailment that left him a fragile shell of who he used to be. It took some time for Guti to come back, and although he was still able to run amok in center field, at the plate he was borderline worthless. After averaging 15 home runs in 629 plate appearances in a Mariners uniform, Guti hit one dinger last year in over 300 trips to the plate. The average was down to a paltry .224 (not the worst on the team woo hoo!!!!) and it was clear that whatever had afflicted him throughout the year had really taken a physical toll on his strength.
So all signs were pointing up when reports started trickling in that Gutierrez had put on 15 pounds of solid muscle mass. Just as everyone was getting ready to update his nickname to The Hulkster, Guti had a slight tear of a pectoral muscle and there went spring training and a bit of the beginning of the season. Luckily the injury isn't as bad as initially expected so we don't have to see Michael Saunders wallowing out in the outfield for too long, but it was still a blow. Most people remember that Guiterrez can hit. I'm sure that Guti even remembers the day when he could hit. And if Guti regains his 2009 form, his .280 average and 20 home runs will be a nice complement to a team full of players who might possibly be able to do that (Ackley, Carp, Smoak, Jesus Montero, Chone Figgins - I'm looking at you). If anything, and Guti's 2009 season was truly an aberration, then at least he is still an above average defender when he takes naps out in the field. The Mariners pitchers need all the help they can get in making sure the other team doesn't score more than two runs a game, and no player was better at ensuring that than Franklin Gutierrez.
25 years old; Experience: 3 years
Out of all the surprises last year, the fact that Mike Carp could hit the ball consistently at a major league level might have been the only Mariners surprise worth having. Mike Carp sadly put in one of the best hitting lines for the Mariners last year, and he only played in half the season. But it is a good surprise, considering that Mike Carp had always shown the ability to mash the hell out of the ball in AAA. AAA ball is littered with players that can mash the hell out of the ball there, but then struggle to even place the bat on the ball at the major league level. Mike Carp had never really gotten much of a chance in his September call-up tryouts with the Mariners in previous years until last year.
Last year, Mike Carp's numbers were pretty consistent with his career averages - hitting .276/.326/.466 (career: .273/.334/.444). He still strikes out at a pretty consistent clip, about a quarter of the time, and he did show a better ability to draw walks in AAA than he has shown in the major leagues, so maybe his OBP might increase a little bit. For now, Mike Carp is a welcome addition to the Seattle Mariners for his versatility (he can hit AND play first base). The Mariners are throwing him into left field because Mike Carp isn't exactly known for his defense, and generally speaking neither are left fielders as a whole.
This year we can plan on Mike Carp playing some left field, and then possibly spelling some off days for Justin Smoak at first base, and possibly a bit of DH as well. That much we do know, and because Mike Carp likes to wear his heart (or in this case, his batting statistics) on his sleeve, we can pretty much know what he is projected for as well. Mike Carp's yearly averages read like his career averages, so just figuring that he plays most of a season, we can hopefully expect Mike Carp to hit around .275 and possibly slug up to 20 homers out of the park. That is the Mike Carp ceiling, and although that may seem to be a bit unimpressive, in this Mariners line-up that struggles to hit anything past the infield diamond, any bit of slightly consistent power is welcomed with open arms.
Third Base: Chone Figgins #9
34 years old; Experience: 10 years
Ah. We have come to the most polarizing figure in recent Mariner's history since Richie Sexson. Actually, to be polarizing you have to have people that actually root for you, and since Chone Figgins is basically "he who shall not be named", let me correct myself and say we have come to the most hated figure in recent Mariner's since Richie Sexson. The backstory is probably something that everyone knows, but lets dive into it just because misery loves company, old wounds take the longest to heal, etc etc.
The Mariners were sitting all pretty with Adrian Beltre hitting the ball and playing beyond amazing defense before he decided to take his talents elsewhere. Three long years ago, the Mariners made an interesting decision on Figgins and signed him to a four-year contract worth $36 million. The interesting part of this decision was the Mariners still clearly had an Ichiro on the team, and this Ichiro hadn't quite begun to decline yet. And this Ichiro was also being paid somewhere in the realms of the upper teens (times millions) of dollars a year. So the Mariners locked in about a quarter of their payroll to have two leadoff hitters and the top of the rotation. It just seemed so crazy that it had to work!
So bear with me here, and stay flashbacked to 2010. Because in 2010, this idea seemed so crazy to work because Chone Figgins was one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. In three of his previous five years with the Angels Figgins had an .OBP higher than .390. Granted, he didn't slug worth anything, but when Figgins got on base - which he did a whole heckuva lot - Figgins would also steal and he did that a fair amount of the time. The idea of Ichiro and Figgins just hitting each other all over the base paths and stealing bases left and right was just enough to make the regular delusional Mariners fan salivate at the thought of winning with a team that hits less home-runs then their AAA counterpart.
But in 2010, it all went to shit - sort of. The Mariners completely turned Figgins' world upside down, or at least as much as you can without converting a leadoff man to a closer without his permission. The M's moved Figgins to second base and shoved him in the two hole. Not that these two things contributed to the downturn, but as most baseball players are intense creatures of habit, it is hard to think it didn't play a part. Figgins had his worst hitting year of his career. His walk rates were down, his strike out rates a bit higher, and his poor hitting coincided with the fans basically blaming the debacle of 2010 on poor Figgins' shoulders.
So then this albatross, which was making $9 million a year, came into 2011 looking a bit glum. And that is why in 2010 it only sort of went to shit for Figgins, because in 2011 it really truly went to shit. Figgins' BABIP plummeted to .215 (a whole .100 off of his career average) and through 81 games Figgins hit a pathetic .188 on his way to mysteriously injuring himself and getting shelved for the rest of the season.
Flash forward to 2012, where the damage has seemingly been already done. And while a whole lot of fans would wish for Figgins to take a ferry to an island in Puget Sound and never return again, the fact of the matter is the Mariners have a player who doesn't appear to be very good anymore and is still owed $18 million dollars. In other words, the skinny, small, position-playing version of Carlos Silva is going nowhere. So it is nice to see the Mariners trying to get something out of Figgins this year by placing him back at third base and inserting him in the leadoff position again.
There are reasons to think that Chone Figgins will bounce back in 2012. One reason is that I pray to all things holy that his rock bottom hit in 2011 - otherwise I'm not sure what atrocity those hitting numbers would look like. Another reason is that Figgins isolated batting numbers are well below his career average. Now at 34 years old, he could just be declining faster then a lot of baseball players, but Figgins has stayed relatively healthy over the course of his career. The main reason I like to think he can bounce back is the hope factor. Because at the moment, Kyle Seager doesn't look fully ready to wrestle a full time playing gig away. With Gutierrez going down with an injury, look who is possibly filling that void but Chone Figgins. The Mariners are trying to increase his value in hopes of a trade where instead of eating $9 million they will only eat $8 million. I wish no ill will towards Figgins. So here is to hoping being back in the cozy confines of the leadoff spot does wonders. Otherwise - ugh.
Shortstop: Brendan Ryan #26
30 years old; Experience: five years
Little known fact (unless you read the Dustin Ackley entry below) about Brendan Ryan - last year he was the second most valuable position player on the Mariners in terms of Wins Above Replacement at 2.6. Virtually all of that value comes from Ryan being an above average defender at shortstop. Ryan spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals before coming over to the Mariners last year, and the big cheeses at Safeco were well aware of what they were getting. An occasionally decent hitting shortstop that prevents more runs from scoring then he generally provides.
That is really all there is to Ryan. Which is unfortunate, as defensive players tend not to get appreciated much in the baseball realm outside of the Baseball Tonight web-gems. But Ryan as a hitter doesn't bring much to the plate at all. He is a career .256 hitter with 12 homeruns in five years. Ryan doesn't strike out as often as a lot of bad hitters do, which is good. Last year his BABIP was right about on par with his career average - in fact a lot of his stats last year were right about on par with his career average. It leaves to be said that most likely if Ryan plays a full year with the Mariners we could very well see the exact same stats he put up last year. Probably statistically impossible, but still a possibility, possibly.
For now, Ryan is a stop-gap until the Mariners find a shortstop that is a better hitter and as good of a fielder. And until then, that is a perfectly suitable plan. Ryan comes pretty cheap, he is only making around a million dollars this year. He'll remain under team control next year as an arbitration-eligible player, so even if the Mariners have no one quite ready, we can expect another year of Ryan hitting singles and occasionally stealing a base.
Second Base: Dustin Ackley #13
24 years old; Experience: one year
Dear readers - meet your savior and future star forever of the Seattle Mariners Dustin Ackley!!! Or at least that is what it feels like the pressure that has been placed on Ackley in Seattle is like. Between you and me, I would rather be viewed that way than the other way - the consolation prize to the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes (which if you remember correctly, the Mariners were all primed to win and then decided to finally win a couple of games at the end of the season, you know, when it mattered). That was a long bitter sentence in those parentheses, but it is a fair look. Even though Strasburg has had Tommy John surgery once, he was viewed as the biggest pitcher to come out of the draft in a long while. Ackley was viewed as the best college position player that year - he is the record holder for the most hits in the College World Series after all. He is a crucial part to this Seattle Mariners puzzle - as seen by the fact he has his own commercial after not even playing a full year with the team.
Ackley was fast-tracked for the majors from the start because he proved that he knew how to put the ball into play, which instantly separated him from about 12 of the position players on the Mariners roster. He joined the team after the June call-up last year and ended up the most valuable position player on the roster at a 2.7 WAR, second to Brendan Ryan at 2.6, and Franklin Gutierrez at 1.1 (eesh). Ackley held up against the major league pitchers. He hit to the tune of .273/.348/.417 with six home runs and seven triples. He struck out at quite a higher clip than he did in the minor leagues, about once in every five at bats. But that looked to be a sign of aggression, and Ackley for the most part is a patient hitter. His strikeouts weren't the dumb kind of the likes of my old favorite swinger Yuniesky Betancourt (whose strikeout hijinks have been permanently seared into my brain).
He also was a fairly competent defensive second basemen last year. He wasn't dazzling, but he showed his athleticism and a knack for the position. This is encouraging considering that Ackley played a bit of shortstop, first base, and mostly center field while playing college ball at University of North Carolina. You'll notice that second base isn't listed in those positions. But with the Mariners already having what they thought was the centerfielder of the future in Gutierrez, Ackley had to work his way into the line-up in a position the Mariners were lacking in. Ackley had a very Ackley like spring this year. He hit the ball well, he stole a base, he walked a few times, hit a home run, got a couple triples, and hit some doubles. He isn't the flashiest of players, but Ackley will very quietly put together a very solid game.
The key with Ackley that should help his batting stats a bit is that the team appears (on paper!!!!! every year the Seattle Mariners appear to have improved ON PAPER!!!!) to have added a few bats. Last year Ackley came in with a lot of expectations on him, and luckily for him, this year those unnecessary expectations have all been shifted to Jesus Montero. Ackley will start off the season hitting second, and assuming Ichiro's bat speed hasn't gone from Japanese bullet train to American Amtrak train in the past two years, pitchers will have to pitch to Ackley. I expect to see an improvement upon his stats solely because he will be playing the full year of major league ball, and Ackley didn't look too exposed last year. He is a mature baseball player, and luckily for us fans, one that helps you start to actually care about the Mariners again.
First Base: Justin Smoak #17
25 years old; Experience: two years
By now, most everyone should know the story about how Justin Smoak came to the Mariners. But what is most important is what happened to Justin Smoak before coming to the Mariners. Because what happened to him before is what allowed him to be on the team today. Smoak went to South Carolina and had a very successful college career, but his reportedly high contract demands slid him all the way down to the 11th pick in the 2008 draft. What the Texas Rangers got was a solid defensive, switch-hitting first basemen already drawing comparisons to Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones. No big deal, just a couple of schumcks to live up to.
Smoak blasted through AA and AAA ball in 2009 and was called up to the majors in 2010, where he struggled mightily at the plate. This probably helped make it a bit easier for the Rangers to pull the trigger and toss their prized prospect into the mix when acquiring Cliff Lee. With the Mariners desperately in need of some offense, Smoak still struggled and was sent back down to Tacoma, only to come back up to close out the year with the hitting form that all the scouts saw possible.
Last year, Smoak was seen as a big piece of the offense and he to start the season he fit the bill. Through April Smoak had a OPS of .940, but in May and June Smoak started to struggle until his batting stats bottomed out in July. He dealt with the death of his father, a thumb injury, and taking a hard hit ball directly to the face. Sometimes it is easy for fans to cast an air of indifference and say someone should play through all these things, but it is important to remember that Smoak was only in his first full season of ball at this point.
A lot of projections are pinning Smoak to be a .250 hitter with about 20 home runs. There was never much of a question of whether or not he could hit for power. The question with Smoak has always been how much power he can hit for. He has had a pretty decent spring in some regards. Smoak has been hitting the ball well, striking out less, and walking more to the tune of an OBP of .486. He hasn't hit any home runs over spring, but we all know that spring training doesn't mean much to anyone. After all, the Mariners were on top of the Cactus League - so please do not think they will be on top of the AL West. But what we can expect (and hope) from Smoak is that his more patient approach at the plate will translate to drawing more walks and finding better pitches to hit. Smoak claimed that he was trying to hit too many home runs last year, so perhaps a settled approach will realize the 20 HR potential with some solid batting numbers to go along with it.
Judging from Eric Wedge's batting order throughout spring training, it appears that Smoak will be hitting clean-up, and a .270 switch hitter with 20 HR wouldn't be bad at all. Each year that has passed has seemingly reduced Smoak's potential upside, and hitting in the cozy open air baseball graveyard that is Safeco Field makes it even harder to slug the ball over the fences. However, he is still young and still has a long time to go before the supposed prime of his career. Expect Smoak to be able to hit a bit better surrounded by Ichiro and Jesus Montero while playing some very solid defense.
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