1 Seattle Mariners They won't win 116 games again, but that's O.K.--they've got bigger things in mind

March 25, 2002

For a man once ticketed for Cooperstown, Ruben Sierra has a
baseball passport stamped with exotic locales not exactly on the
recommended path to upstate New York. He has ventured to Mexico,
Atlantic City, Joe Torre's doghouse (pop. 1) and 11 teams in
three countries in the past eight years (including the A's,
where then manager Tony La Russa pronounced him the village
idiot). At 36 Sierra has more mileage than the Maddencruiser.
So, naturally, the professional itinerant was bound to wind up
at what passes for the Shoney's truck stop of the majors:
leftfield for the Seattle Mariners.

Seattle has used six Opening Day leftfielders in the past six
years, only one of whom (Mark McLemore) remains in the
organization. Last year the Mariners tried Al Martin, who fancied
himself a former USC football star and a decent hitter. He was
neither. (He pulled an O'Leary with his bogus college claim and
pulled almost nothing at the plate, hitting .240 with seven
homers.) Now G.M. Pat Gillick is convinced that he's found
another Ichiro Suzuki or Bret Boone--your basic huge breakout
hitter.

Sierra did smash 23 homers in only 344 at bats for Texas last
year while hitting .291. He also showed a quiet industriousness
that had been missing when La Russa questioned his common sense
in 1995, and when Torre said he was the only player who did not
fit into the unselfish Yankees clubhouse in '96. (Sierra
infamously rebuked the Bronx Bombers by scoffing, "All they care
about is winning.") The man who drove in 109 runs at age 21, was
an MVP runner-up at 23 and the game's second-highest-paid player
at 26, found himself working a $3,000-a-month Atlantic City gig
in '99 (with the Atlantic League's Surf) and playing in the
Mexican League in 2000.

"He's turned his act around," Gillick says. "Before we signed
him, I called [former Texas G.M.] Doug Melvin, and he said he
was a real good influence there. It was all positive."

Sierra hasn't played 100 games in the outfield since he was 27,
but the addition of him; third baseman Jeff Cirillo, a career
.311 hitter; and catcher Ben Davis, who can supplement the light
bat of Dan Wilson, prompted manager Lou Piniella to say, "We
should have a better offense than last year," when Seattle led
the majors with 927 runs. Gillick added that Suzuki, whose 242
hits were the most in 71 years, "will be even better this year,"
now that he knows the pitchers and the league.

Starting pitching is a concern. Jamie Moyer (92-41) has been
Pedro-like since 1996 (Martinez is 97-38). Freddy Garcia's 257
2/3 innings last year, including the postseason, were by far a
career high. Seattle needs help from Paul Abbott, who had the
majors' best run support last year (7.15 per game); James
Baldwin (4.98 career ERA) and youngsters Gil Meche and Joel
Pineiro.

The Mariners won't repeat their record 116 wins, but history
suggests they'll return to the postseason. Of the nine teams
that played .700 baseball before the 2001 Mariners, the 1909-10
Pirates took the worst fall, a 22% decline, to 86 wins. Even if
Seattle took a similar tumble, it would still win 90 games.
Forty-five teams have won 90 games since the wild card was
instituted, in '95; only three missed the playoffs.

"Sooner or later you have to break the door down," says
Piniella, whose team has lost two straight ALCS's. "We know
anything short of the World Series will be a disappointment."
The World Series? Now that's exotic. The Mariners, and even that
walking Frommer's guide they're putting in leftfield, have never
been there. --T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN The Mariners are high on Sierra, though the itinerant 36-year-old hasn't played 100 games in the outfield since the 1993 season. COLOR PHOTO: TOM HAUCK/GETTY IMAGES MOYER

In FACT
Last season's Mariners were the first team since the 1993 Tigers
to lead the majors in both runs scored (927) and runners left
on base (1,257).

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mariners

"There's no way Jamie Moyer can keep winning 20 games. One pitch
is 79 mph, the next is 83 mph. You just can't fool guys
forever.... James Baldwin will not give the Mariners what
they're looking for. Last year he changed his arm angle, and he
tried to compensate for his lack of arm strength with guts. He
has a lot of guts, but it's not enough. He used to throw 94, 95
mph with a good breaking ball. I don't think he can do it
anymore.... It'll be interesting to see how clubs pitch Ichiro
[Suzuki] after watching tapes all winter. I would bust him in
where he can't do anything except pull the ball foul, then pitch
him away. He jail-breaks on his swing, so if you bust him
inside, how's he gonna handle a two-seamer away from a righty?
That said, the guy is a magician. If he hits a two- or
three-bouncer to short, the guy might as well put the ball in
his pocket.... I can't see Bret Boone having that kind of year
again, but he's still one of the best. I'd take him over Craig
Biggio in every area. He turns the DP as well as anyone except
Fernando Vina, and he's hard-nosed.... Jeff Cirillo is a nice
upgrade over David Bell at third. Cirillo's automatic: a .300
average, 80-90 RBIs and 15 homers. If he drops to .299, he'll go
home, beat his dog and swing in the backyard until his hands are
rough. He's a pro's pro.... Ben Davis is not a catcher that
pitchers enjoy throwing to. They say he's not too smart.... I
love Mike Cameron. He's a throwback. He'll never put up
Griffey-type numbers, but he's become his equal as an
outfielder, and his attitude is 1,000 times better."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

RF Ichiro Suzuki L-R 11 .350 8 69 56
3B Jeff Cirillo[1] R 149 .313 17 83 12
DH Edgar Martinez R 43 .306 23 116 4
2B Bret Boone R 31 .331 37 141 5
1B John Olerud L 84 .302 21 95 3
CF Mike Cameron R 51 .267 25 110 34
LF Ruben Sierra[1] S-R 179 .291 23 67 2
C Dan Wilson R 271 .265 10 42 3
SS Carlos Guillen S-R 240 .259 5 53 4

BENCH

OF Mark McLemore S-R 138 .286 5 57 39
C Ben Davis[1] S-R 225 .239 11 57 4

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Freddy Garcia 10 18 6 7.0 1.12 3.05
LH Jamie Moyer 19 20 6 6.4 1.10 3.43
RH James Baldwin*[1]141 10 11 6.1 1.45 4.42
RH Paul Abbott 69 17 4 6.0 1.42 4.25
RH Joel Pineiro 84 6 2 5.5 0.94 2.03

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Kazuhiro Sasaki 18 0 4 45 0.89 3.24
LH Arthur Rhodes 98 8 0 3 0.85 1.72
RH Jeff Nelson 123 4 3 4 1.13 2.76

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player Value
Ranking (explanation on page 154)

*Combined AL and NL stats

Manager
Lou Piniella
10th season with Seattle

2001 record
116-46
first in AL West

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Cameron
Suzuki
Boone
Olerud

Good Leather

McLemore
Guillen
Cirillo
Garcia
Wilson

Iron Hands

Sierra

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)