Last year was supposed to be a good year for the Seattle Mariners.
This year, not so much.
Oddly, some of the same players who were supposed to make 2010 a good year (but didn't) are still around. And while nobody's repeating their wildly optimistic predictions of last year, it's not that hard to imagine these Mariners significantly improving on last season's 61-101 record. If only because some of those guys who were supposed to good (or at least decent) last season might actually be good (or decent) this season.
Chone Figgins, for example. Coming off an All-Star season with the Angels in which he scored 114 runs and paced the American League with 101 walks, Figgins signed a four-year, $36 million contract with Seattle.
Granted, Figgins did at least two things in 2010 exactly the same as 2009. He stole 42 bases in both seasons, struck out 114 times in both seasons, and played almost every game in both seasons. But everywhere else, he was worse. A lot worse. His power dropped, his batting average dropped, his walks dropped. A lot.
Last season, Figgins was an every-day second baseman for the first time in his career. This season he's back on third base, where he'd spent most of 2009. Maybe that will help. At worst, Figgins is exceptionally likely to find some relatively happy middle ground between 2010 and 2009.
Then there's Milton Bradley, the second highest-paid player on the team (after Ichiro Suzuki). Granted, when the Mariners traded for Bradley -- with $21 million and two years left on his contract -- they had to figure they might not be getting their money's worth. They were simply trading their headache (Carlos Silva) for the Cubs' headache (Bradley). To this point, the Cubs have come out ahead because Silva pitched decently last season. But with Silva recently given his walking papers, Bradley's actually got a real shot at making the Mariners look like the smart ones this season. And it wasn't that long ago -- 2008, to be precise -- that he led the American League in on-base percentage.
And speaking of leading the American League, in 2007 Erik Bedard paced the loop with 11 strikeouts per nine innings. The M's were so impressed, they traded a passel of young players -- notably, Adam Jones and Chris Tillman -- to pry Bedard from the Orioles. The results? Eleven wins and 164 innings in three years, the last of which Bedard missed completely with all sorts of shoulder woes. This spring he's pitched brilliantly, though, and hope does spring eternal ...
Finally, there's first baseman Justin Smoak, the supposed prize when the Mariners -- already hopelessly out of contention, traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers last July. A highly regarded rookie, Smoak had struggled with Texas, and continued to struggle (if not as badly) after joining the Mariners, and wound up spending a few weeks in Triple-A Tacoma. But Smoak enters this season as the Mariners' every-day first baseman, with the club just hoping he'll show the talent that made him Baseball America's No. 13 prospect in the game just one year ago.
So that's the question, then ... Will all this talent on display, just two or three or four years ago, show up on the field for the Mariners in 2011? Yes or no, the M's aren't contenders. But if some of that talent does show up, it can only be good for the organization down the road.