When Baltimore Orioles right-hander Brad Bergesen brings a 7.36 ERA into a game and shuts you out into the eighth inning, you have some offensive problems. Such is the state of the Seattle Mariners, who were stymied by Bergesen on Wednesday. The M's bring a .231 batting average and a Paul Konerko-tying 13 home runs into Thursday's game.
It's becoming clear that no major league offense is contributing less for fantasy baseball owners than that of the sleepy Mariners, and that includes the Houston Astros. Sure, the Astros have scored fewer runs, but that team's middle of the order, buoyed by the return of Lance Berkman, is hitting now. With the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez are about the only players helping fantasy owners, although I have hope there is an end of their struggles in sight.
While the sleepy struggles on the field and in the clubhouse of future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. get too much attention -- "The Kid" is 40 and hit .214 last season, so expectations should have been low to begin with -- the fact is this struggling offense still has potential. Here are five Mariners hitters, or those who could soon be Mariners, that owners should keep an open mind about.
Chone Figgins, 2B/3B: Yes, a .190 batting average stinks. I can't defend it. I also can't expect it to continue. With this walk rate (second in the AL) and speed (top 10 in the AL in stolen bases), this is a player to buy low on. Figgins' career batting average is nearly 100 points higher than his current mark, and he didn't get that old this offseason. When his current .169 batting average on balls in play against right-handed pitching evens out, Figgins will add batting-average points in bunches. Remember, he hit just .244 in April 2009, then better than .300 the next four months, including .333 in May and June. The fact that he's second base-eligible affords him more rope. He'll be fine, so don't drop him.
Jose Lopez, 2B/3B: I admit to not being a big Lopez fan, and I rarely end up owning him. But nobody can dispute an average of 93 RBIs the past two seasons. Lopez has done this, in part, because of a favorable run-producing lineup position, but as soon as Figgins hits, Lopez will have more opportunities. Lopez isn't known to be as slow a starter as, say, Mark Teixeira, but note that 31 of his 71 career home runs have come in August/September. Last season Lopez was hitting .219 in late May, and he finished at .272. He actually had some good at-bats Wednesday night. Be patient.
Michael Saunders, OF: One of the things lost in the Griffey saga is that there really weren't any Mariners lurking at Triple-A Tacoma who were doing better and warranted his at-bats. Saunders, 23, hit well in the minors last season, but this year he was hitting .200 in 80 at-bats. Alas, he got promoted anyway, out of necessity, and he brings an intriguing combination of power and speed. The lefty hitter brought a pair of multi-hit games into Wednesday's contest, with three extra-base hits and just one strikeout. He might never hit near the top of the lineup, since Suzuki and Figgins are set and Saunders doesn't have the power to hit third, but even hitting last, he projects to reach double digits in steals, and possibly even home runs. Those in AL-only leagues should pay the extra buck to see what he does, because he might be the everyday left fielder for good.
Mike Carp, 1B: This is the guy I'm watching at Tacoma, because there are opportunities ahead for him. In part due to Griffey, Mariners designated hitters are hitting a woeful .180 with nary a home run and a .453 OPS. Meanwhile, the pitchers for six National League teams have a better OPS! Carp might remind some of current first baseman Casey Kotchman because of his marginal power, but he did hit .315 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in 54 at-bats with the Mariners last season, and I think he can develop 20-homer power soon. The former Mets farmhand is only 23. Carp is hitting .190 in the minors, but with four home runs and five doubles; currently no Mariners have more than three home runs in 33 games. Teixeira did that in a game last week.
Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B: He got the call from Tacoma on Wednesday when shortstop Jack Wilson was placed on the DL, and the Mariners instantly placed him in the No. 5 lineup spot that night. OK, so this is a bad offense, but that does show confidence in a guy who showed modest minor league power. Tuiasosopo could get an extended look at third base, with Lopez either replacing the ineffective Kotchman or manning the DH spot. I don't expect great things, but those in AL-only leagues should take a look at a player with gap power, as he has hit .272 over 593 minor league games. After seeing what Casey McGehee has done in the big leagues, fantasy owners can't afford to dismiss players who seem average just because they weren't minor league monsters.