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Seattle Mariners
Overall rank: 11 Division rank: 3
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Aging players are moving closer to retirement than to an elusive World Series berth

By Tom Verducci

Even the speedy Ichiro ran out of gas at the end of last season, when Seattle fell out of the race. Chuck Solomon
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Mariners
"Every time I see Ichiro Suzuki, he gets better. He can beat you in so many ways. You can't pitch to this guy. He's running out of the box as he's striking the ball. If he wanted to, he could hit 20 home runs and bat .340. Now that he's comfortable, he's just getting better every year. ... Ichiro, John Olerud and Edgar Martinez have turned the game into a science. They beat you with ability and also with brains. Olerud is possibly the best guess hitter in baseball. He goes to the plate looking for a particular pitch, and he'll sit there and wait for it. ... Ben Davis is too damn big. He looks like a pro wrestler. ... Carlos Guillen is the best nine-hole hitter in the game, and defensively he's nothing short of spectacular. Mike Cameron is still not hitting the ball on the outer half of the plate, where he's very susceptible. ... The 1-2-3 guys in their rotation are good enough to pitch them to October. Jamie Moyer is getting in trouble with his changeup a little more, but he can still command his pitches on both sides of the plate. What's holding back Joel Piñeiro is his mechanics. His stuff is so electric at times, but he needs to work on his curveball. Freddy Garcia is a very good starter, but he's not at elite status yet"
Bret Boone, John Olerud and Ichiro Suzuki each won a Gold Glove last season, making it 16 straight years that a Mariner has been so honored.
Never has a team won so much with so little to show for it. The Mariners are the Phil Mickelson of baseball.

• Last year they became the 16th team in major league history to win a total of 300 games over three consecutive seasons but the first to do so without getting to a World Series.

• They won 93 games in 2002 yet became one of only three teams since the wild card began in 1995 to win that many times and not make the playoffs.

• In three cracks at their first World Series between 1995 and 2001, the perennial contender was 5-12 in American League Championship Series games.

If you think Seattle's run of near greatness is getting old, you should check out the players. The Mariners are so old that their team bus may be replaced by an Airstream. Five of their nine every-day players and all four top relievers are on the other side of their 33rd birthday. The closest Seattle has to a power hitter in his prime is 30-year-old centerfielder Mike Cameron, who hit .239 and whiffed 176 times last year. Designated hitter Edgar Martinez is the archetypal ancient Mariner: He turned 40 in January, has never played in a World Series, missed two months last year with a ruptured muscle in his left leg and expects this season to be his last. "The World Series is a big motivation for me, and I feel like this team has a good chance," Martinez says. "Of course, when you have an older team there's always the chance that you'll have more injuries."

Age is a concern for rookie manager Bob Melvin, the former Diamondbacks bench coach who takes over for Lou Piniella. (At least the addition of 28-year-old leftfielder Randy Winn, who was Seattle's compensation for losing Piniella to the Devils Rays, brought the Mariners a player who could be around for a while.) Melvin said he intends to provide more rest for his regulars, a plan made easier with the additions of utilitymen Greg Colbrunn, 33, and John Mabry, 32. "My plan is to try to cut off [the fatigue factor] before it gets to be an issue," Melvin says. "Even Ichiro's going to get some rest. We've talked about it. I did get it out of him that there were times last year when he was a little bit gassed."

The slightly built Ichiro Suzuki entered August hitting .350 but batted only .266 thereafter. Seattle took a similar nosedive. The Mariners were in first place in the AL West as late as Aug. 18, with 21 of their remaining 38 games against Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City and Texas. But Seattle won just 18 of those encounters and wound up in third place, 10 games out of first.

The Mariners will rely on a bullpen that features Arthur Rhodes, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Jeff Nelson, whose respective ages read like Father Time counting out loud: 33, 34, 35, 36. That council of elders still can't match the longevity of starting pitcher Jamie Moyer, who, at 40, signed a three-year contract. "Took me until I was 40 to get my first three-year deal," says Moyer, who was 13-8 a year ago.

As old as the Mariners may be, the development of starting pitchers Joel Piñiero, who won 14 games last year, and Gil Meche, who has regained his power fastball two years after rotator-cuff surgery, is exactly the sort of youthful injection the team needs. The two righthanders were born 17 days apart in September 1978, which makes them a year younger than the franchise itself. Add 26-year-old Freddy Garcia, a 16-game winner, and Seattle has a rotation to build on.

"A lot of people said the Diamondbacks were too old in 2001," says Melvin, referring to a team that won the World Series that year. Only a year older than Martinez and Moyer, the manager kept a quiet profile in spring training, explaining, "I don't need to come in here and put my stamp on the team or feel the need to turn things around. These guys have been together for a while." Melvin has himself a contending team, a set lineup and, should subjects such as vinyl records or scheduled doubleheaders come up, a clubhouse full of players with whom he has no generation gap.

Issue date: March 31, 2003