Eric Wedge has picked his lineup for opening day, and while he doesn't have Franklin Gutierrez to call on the manager does have the rest of his position players available and has actually assembled a reasonable-looking squad for the series against the Oakland Athletics. Here's a quick look at what to expect from the Seattle Mariners come first pitch at the Colosseum at 7:05 PM tomorrow.
#1: Ichiro Suzuki (L), right field. Like this was going to be anyone else. Ichiro, who needs four more hits to become the franchise's all-time hit king, has been a fixture on the Mariners for the past ten years, and he'll likely start every single opening day before he retires to become a robot ninja. Although he has his detractors, Ichiro is one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game and a standout defensive outfielder to boot. The only worry? A career high in strikeouts and a career low in stolen bases last season.
#2: Chone Figgins (S), third base. The Chone Figgins second base experiment was a dismal failure last season. Not only did his defense plummet after a move away from the hot corner but Figgins endured a miserable start to his Mariners career following a big free agent move from Los Angeles. Figgins probably won't be quite as bad as last season, and if he can get anywhere close to his form with the Angels he'll be a key piece of the puzzle as the Mariners #2 hitter.
#3: Milton Bradley (S), left field. Prior to joining the Mariners, Milton Bradley had been an injury-plagued, trouble soul who could hit the living tar out of the baseball whenever he was mentally and physically fit to play. After joining the Mariners, he lost a lot of the volatility, but he also lost most of his ability to actually play as well, leading to him being a major disappointment in 2010. Now the combative Bradley is back in action, and after an exceptional spring training there's some hope that he may come good in Seattle.
#4: Jack Cust (L), designated hitter. Oakland are very familiar with Jack Cust, having used him as their primary DH for parts of the last four seasons, eventually joining Seattle on a one-year deal in December. Cust is a high strikeout, high on-base hitter whose power mysteriously evaporated after 2008. Don't expect him to be a thirty home run threat anymore, but he should be able to keep the offense ticking by working walk after walk after walk - and that's behind two other base on balls machines in Bradley and Figgins.
#5: Justin Smoak (S), first base. The major prize in the Cliff Lee trade last July, Justin Smoak endured a fairly miserable start to his Seattle career and ended up being demoted to AAA for fifteen games. He came back strongly in September, however, and carried a ten-game hitting streak into the offseason. Now he's being thrown straight back into the fire - this season Smoak is being expected to show that he can indeed help anchor the Mariners attack.
#6: Miguel Olivo (R), catcher. Swing first, ask questions later. This is Olivo's second stint in the northwest, and it would be fair to call the first a dismal failure. After leaving the Mariners in 2005 to general rejoicing, the erratic catcher has actually blossomed into a pretty good hitter, although his defending has apparently gotten even worse. The ok results won't make his at-bats any less painful to watch, but at least he carries a double-digit home run threat.
#7: Ryan Langerhans (L), center fielder. Deputizing for Franklin Gutierrez is the ever-reliable Ryan Langerhans. While he doesn't actually hit the ball that often, the fourth outfielder packs plenty of pop and can take a walk or two as well. He's also a fine defender - the Mariners shouldn't miss Gutierrez too much with Langerhans temporarily in the outfield, and as long as you don't expect heroics with the bat... well, he still won't hit that well. But that's life.
#8: Brendan Ryan (R), shortstop. Although there's some promise at the top of the order, having a career .259/.314/.344 hitter in the lineup who isn't batting ninth is somewhat indicative of the state of the Mariners offense. Ryan, 29, came over from the St. Louis Cardinals in an offseason trade, and batting isn't exactly his specialty. He's on the team for his glove, so expect top-tier defending up the middle and if he gets a hit every now and then, great.
#9: Jack Wilson (R), second base. Although nominally a shortstop (and a very good one), Wilson was moved to second base to accommodate Ryan. Massively unreliable but still a decent player when he's in the lineup, most of his value is tied to his defending. Gold-glove caliber shortstops tend to work just fine at second base, so we should be more worried about his bat, which makes Mariners fans pine for Ronny Cedeno.
All in all, the Mariners could be terrible but there's some room for upside in that lineup. When Franklin Gutierrez returns from his stomach problem he'll add another league average hitter to the fold, and the potential of top prospect Dustin Ackley replacing Wilson at second base midway through the season is fairly exciting too. The keys, though, are the switch hitters - Figgins and Bradley can bounce back to form and Justin Smoak catches fire, the Mariners will score plenty of runs. If they don't, you get last season all over again.