2012 will be the last year of the AL West as we know it, with the Texas Rangers trying to fend off the Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as Texas looks to make it three AL West titles in a row. In 2013, the Houston Astros will be added to the mix, not that they'll pose much of a threat in the foreseeable future.
Anyway, the Mariners. Seattle hasn't been to the playoffs since 2001, when they lost in the ALCS to the Yankees. The Mariners haven't finished better than third since 2007, and three of the last four years, the Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West.
Rangers fans should be happy: the Mariners will once again flounder in 2012.
Jack Zduriencik did make one of the biggest moves of the offseason, sending starting pitcher Michael Pineda, along with prospect Jose Campos, to the New York Yankees in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Montero, as some Rangers fans may recall, is who the Mariners and Zduriencik coveted from the Yankees during the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, but ultimately took Texas' package, which centered around Justin Smoak.
Of course, the trade drastically helps Seattle's rather anemic lineup, as Montero is one of baseball's top young hitters. Seattle plans to have Montero catch throughout the year, but most scouts believe that Montero won't be good enough defensively to be an everyday catcher.
Still, Montero gives Seattle another legitimate bat in the lineup, to go along with Dustin Ackley. Seattle's problem is that there's simply not much beyond Montero and Ackley, as the rest of the lineup will likely be filled out with the likes of Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez (when healthy), Ichiro Suzuki and Miguel Olivo. There's still some hope left for Justin Smoak to develop into a quality big league hitter, but he's far from a sure thing right now.
Suffice to say, the Mariners lack the offensive firepower to compete for a playoff spot in 2012.
Seattle's staff is anchored by one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez. Hernandez is far and away the most exciting player on the Mariners, and is simply fun to watch -- even if you're not a Mariners fan.
After dealing Pineda, Seattle's rotation is pretty lackluster behind Felix. Some combination of Jason Vargas, Blake Beaven, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hector Noesi, Kevin Millwood and Charlie Furbush will round out Seattle's rotation, which is a good thing... if you're a Rangers fan.
The bullpen is nothing special either, though Hong-Chih Kuo could wind up being a nice asset there -- assuming he can recover from his elbow surgery and his anxiety disorder. Still, for $500,000, it's a fine gamble for the Mariners.
All in all, this is a team still a couple years away from competing. Zduriencik has done a good job stocking the minor league system with some pretty nice arms in Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton -- the latter two could reach Seattle at some point this year --, but the Mariners still need more legitimate hitters, both in the minor league system and at the major league level.
Once again, the Mariners will be fighting to stay out of the basement in the AL West.