The Mariners had not opened a training camp without Ken Griffey
Jr. since manager Dick Williams was wearing (thank goodness) the
uniform. So it was a bizarre moment ripe with coincidence when
the team dressed for its first full workout this spring that
Junior, courtesy of a taped cable interview, appeared on the two
clubhouse TVs in full view of everyone. That wasn't as odd as
the Mariners' reactions: No one paid attention. Players tied
their shoelaces, pounded their gloves and scratched themselves
as if Griffey wasn't there. Which is precisely the point.
"Time will tell," lefthander Jamie Moyer says about how quickly
the Mariners will get over trading their franchise player.
"Obviously we'll miss his bat and his defense. But we've
improved in other areas."
Says shortstop Alex Rodriguez, "We've got 10, 11 new guys here,
so we're still getting to know each other. If we had the same
ball club back, it would be a lot harder to get over Junior not
being here. These guys never played with him."
The Mariners' makeover began in the second half of last season.
It wasn't just that Griffey, his thoughts often drifting to his
future whereabouts, wasn't his usual dominating self. (Griffey
hit .255 after the All-Star break.) It was also that the move
from the Kingdome to airy, spacious Safeco Field made for a
different brand of baseball, like comparing Arena football to
March 27, 2000
In 42 games at Safeco compared with the previous 39 at the
Kingdome, runs, homers and doubles all dropped by more than 35%.
The Mariners still led the league in home runs for a second
straight season--with bubkes to show for it again--but learned
they can't try to pound opponents with the long ball when they
play half their games in a big park with cool, damp air. It's a
stadium that favors pitching and defense.
"One of my first games there, I gave up a hit into the gap and
thought, That's an easy double," Moyer says. "But unless you
just crush the ball, it won't go through the gap. It was a
single. I really saw the effect on our young pitchers. It's like
they got to Safeco and relaxed. It showed."
Rookies pitched 43% of Seattle's innings last season. The best
of them, righthander Freddy Garcia, won 17 games and could be
even better with a full season outdoors. He was 6-4 with a 5.54
ERA in the Kingdome and 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA at Safeco.
Seattle has Garcia and righty Aaron Sele behind Moyer in the
rotation--all have won 17 games or more at one time in the
majors--as well as lefty John Halama and righties Brett Tomko
and Gil Meche, who has all the tools, including a 97-mph heater,
to be a No. 1 starter. "I love Freddy," Rodriguez says, "but
Meche can be even better. Wow, his stuff is amazing."
In previous seasons Seattle likely would have rushed 6'10"
lefthander Ryan Anderson to the big leagues. "Now we can let him
pitch in the minors and call him when he's ready," manager Lou
Piniella says of the 20-year-old, who was the team's top draft
choice in 1997. That time could be in July.
New general manager Pat Gillick signed free agents Arthur
Rhodes, a lefty, and Kazuhiro Sasaki, a righty, to fortify the
bullpen. Righthander Jose Mesa, who is expected to lose his
closer's job to Sasaki eventually, tied the franchise record
last year with 33 saves, but in doing so he underscored the
vapidity of the save stat: Only seven times did he hold a
The Mariners figure to be in more tight ball games this season,
a result of losing Griffey and playing a full season at Safeco.
Even with the free agent addition of first baseman John Olerud,
Seattle will have to scrape so hard for runs that Piniella had
each player laying down 50 bunts a day in spring training before
taking batting practice. Outfielders Jay Buhner, Mike Cameron
and Brian Hunter, all righthanded hitters, combined for more
strikeouts (336) than hits (323) last season. No wonder Gillick
spent the spring scouring other teams for a lefthanded-hitting
"We've got a roster that's built around our new ballpark,"
Piniella says. "We're going to have to play for one run at a
time. I used to have the third base coach hold runners at third
because we didn't want to run ourselves out of a big inning. Now
I say, 'Run, take your chances.'"
Lurking behind Seattle's optimism, though, is the quandary about
what to do with Rodriguez, who has promised to test the
free-agent market after the season. The Mariners could choose to
trade him quickly and try to contend on the fly, the way the
Dodgers did with Mike Piazza in May 1998; or they could trade
him at the July 31 deadline if the team isn't playing well, as
the team did with Randy Johnson in '98; or they could take a
shot at the World Series by keeping him all year and losing him
for draft picks, the way the Indians did with Albert Belle in
'96. In any case it may not be long before Rodriguez, too, is
just another image flickering on a TV screen in the Seattle
around the HORN
by the numbers
1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)
Batting average .269 (10)
Runs scored 859 (6)
Home runs 244 (1)
1999 record: 79-83 (third in AL West)
Opponents' batting average .287 (13)
ERA 5.24 (13)
Fielding percentage .981 (8)
When agent Tony Attanasio heard 32-year-old Japanese righthander
Kazuhiro Sasaki was looking for an agent to get him to the
majors, he called Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, who once managed
against him in Japan. Said Valentine, "If Mariano Rivera was
available, would you get on the next plane? He's that good."
Attanasio jetted to Japan and got his man. Now the Mariners, by
shelling out $9.5 million over two years, have him. Sasaki, who
throws a devastating split-fingered fastball, will be used at
first as a setup man, but he has no intention of being No. 2 to
Jose Mesa in the bullpen. "I want to close," says Sasaki.
"That's what I am used to."
projected roster with 1999 statistics
Manager: Lou Piniella (eighth season with Seattle)
BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
LF Mark McLemore S-R 221 .274 6 45 16
3B Carlos Guillen(R) S-R 222 .158 1 3 0
SS Alex Rodriguez R 3 .285 42 111 21
DH Edgar Martinez R 36 .337 24 86 7
1B John Olerud L 121 .298 19 96 3
RF Jay Buhner R 140 .222 14 38 0
2B David Bell R 192 .268 21 78 7
C Dan Wilson R 238 .266 7 38 5
CF Mike Cameron R 123 .256 21 66 38
OF Brian Hunter R 170 .232 4 34 44
C Tom Lampkin L-R 301 .291 9 34 1
IF John Mabry L-R 355 .244 9 33 2
OF Raul Ibanez L-R 379 .258 9 27 5
STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
LH Jamie Moyer 28 14 8 7.1 1.24 3.87
RH Freddy Garcia 33 17 8 6.1 1.47 4.07
RH Aaron Sele 39 18 9 6.2 1.53 4.79
RH Gil Meche 102 8 4 5.6 1.52 4.73
RH Brett Tomko 120 5 7 6.1 1.37 4.92
BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Jose Mesa 79 3 6 33 1.81 4.98
RH Kazuhiro Sasaki*(R) 146 1 1 19 1.50 1.93
LH Arthur Rhodes 183 3 4 3 1.66 5.43
RH Paul Abbott 192 6 2 0 1.13 3.10
LH Steve Sinclair 313 0 1 0 1.86 6.52
LH John Halama 142 11 10 0 1.39 4.22
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Japanese Central League stats
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mariners
"I really like this team. It has good pitching, good speed and
enough offense.... I like the Mariners' starters. Aaron Sele is
solid. Freddy Garcia is a big, strong guy who knows how to win.
Jamie Moyer gives you innings and wins. I think a new
environment is going to help Brett Tomko, even though manager
Lou Piniella isn't known for his patience with pitchers.... It's
a big year for Piniella. I believe he has to win a lot of games
to keep his job.... With Ken Griffey Jr. gone, this is now Alex
Rodriguez's club. I think he's going to respond to being out
from under Griffey's shadow.... Jay Buhner, who's finally
healthy, looked terrific in the spring.... They still need an
outfielder with pop, especially from the left side, to play
leftfield. Brian Hunter hasn't gotten much better since he came
into the big leagues. He's not the answer.... Mark McLemore and
Stan Javier are good extra pieces to have around.... Kazuhiro
Sasaki has a nasty splitter and could take the closer's job from
Jose Mesa. He's been through the fire in Japan. He's used to