First it was Randy Johnson jumping ship in 1998. Then Griffey in 2000. Then A-Rod in 2001. And now, six years later, the Mariners have to deal with the deathblow of losing Gil Meche. It must be rough to be a Mariners fan. They're probably all crying into their Starbucks' lattes right now, asking over and over again, "Why, oh why couldn't we have just offered Gil Meche $60 million over 5 years and kept him around? How foolish and cavalier of you, Bill Bavasi."
In all seriousness though, the Mariners should mostly be worried about squandering Ichiro's prime years, and pissing him off with their lackluster play in the process. It probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the 33-year-old Ichiro did jump ship after this season. Even though he'll probably keep hitting into old age like Tony Gwynn, he is on the wrong side of 30 and will probably want a ton of money over a lot of years (this should perk up the ears of pretty much only Red Sox and Yankees fans). But I don't really know where that leaves the Mariners. They seem like a team without a plan. Or maybe just a team without a very good plan.
What makes me say such negative things about the Mariners, you ask? Well, partly because I have negative things to say about a lot of teams, my own White Sox included. But also because the Mariners threw a ton of money at Adrian Beltre coming off a career year a couple years ago and have followed that up this off-season by signing veteran projects like Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro.
Vidro, as you might recall, is the guy who forced Soriano into Washington's outfield last year. And now he's slated to DH for the Mariners. Maybe it's just me, but a second baseman whose career offensive year was way back in 2000 when he hit all of 24 homers and drove in 97 (he hit 7 homers each in injury-shortened 2005 and 2006 seasons) doesn't strike me as the greatest use of the DH in the world. Guillen, when he's not injured or making trouble, is a 25 homer 90 RBI guy, which isn't bad, but it's a big gamble.
As suspect as those gambles are, I still think the lineup is pretty decent in a mediocre AL West. I could be making this up, but I don't think either the Angels or the A's--the two horses in the West the past few years--did much to get better in the offseason (I could make fun of Anaheim's--yes, Anaheim, not LA--signing of Gary Matthews, but I'll hold that in abeyance for a bit). Ichiro's gonna get on base all the time, Richie Sexson will hit his 35 homers and strike out 150 times, Raul Ibanez will quietly continue to overachieve (in a career year last year, he hit 33 homers and drove in 123--who knew???), and Kenji Johjima can build on an impressive rookie season. It's a lineup that'll be passable whether or not Vidro and Guillen perform, and a little above average if they do.
Where the Mariners' season will live or die is, I think, in the rotation. How serviceable will Jarrod Washburn be? Will King Felix live up to the hype after a disappointing rookie campaign? (If his fantasy draft ranking is any indication, Yahoo! and ESPN sure think he will). Will Jeff Weaver be the sucky glove-eating Jeff Weaver we all know and love, or will he continue his playoff impersonation of a decent pitcher? What the hell can anyone expect from Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez?
Chances aren't that great, but I think if the Mariners want to sniff the playoffs, this year is the year--2008 and '09 don't look all that promising. So with that, I'm picking the M's to win the AL West and promptly lose in the Divisional playoffs. Go ahead an laugh. They're a dark horse to be sure, but anything can happen out West.