3 Seattle Mariners Aging players are moving closer to retirement than to an elusive World Series berth

March 31, 2003

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 Piniero, 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. --T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON NOT SO FAST Even the speedy Ichiro ran out of gas at the end of last season, when Seattle fell out of the race.
COLOR PHOTO: JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES PINEIRO

IN FACT
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.

ENEMY LINES
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 Pineiro 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."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

RF Suzuki
LF Winn
DH Martinez
1B Olerud
2B Boone
CF Cameron
3B Cirillo
C Wilson
SS Guillen

ICHIRO SUZUKI

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 26 .321 8 51 31

RANDY WINN[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 65 .298 14 75 27

JOHN OLERUD

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 46 .300 22 102 0

BRET BOONE

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 42 .278 24 107 12

MIKE CAMERON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 102 .239 25 80 31

JEFF CIRILLO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 130 .249 6 54 8

DAN WILSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 261 .295 6 44 1

CARLOS GUILLEN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 179 .261 9 56 4

BENCH

JOHN MABRY*[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 253 .276 11 43 1

MARK MCLEMORE[#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 216 .270 7 41 18

DESIGNATED HITTER

EDGAR MARTINEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 72 .277 15 59 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Freddy Garcia 18 16 10 6.6 1.30 4.39
LH Jamie Moyer 39 13 8 6.8 1.08 3.32
RH Joel Pineiro 45 14 7 6.3 1.25 3.24
RH Ryan Franklin 180 7 5 5.8 1.17 4.02
RH Gil Meche[**] 114 4 4 5.7 1.34 3.78

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Kazuhiro Sasaki 42 4 5 37 1.05 2.52
LH Arthur Rhodes 109 10 4 2 0.83 2.33
RH Shigetoshi Hasegawa 156 8 3 1 1.28 3.20

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)
[**]2000 stats

2002 RECORD
93--69
third in AL West

MANAGER

Bob Melvin
first season with Seattle

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)