Cockcroft: Seattle Mariners preview

One thing can safely be said about the Mariners: When they have a need, they're not afraid to dip into the free-agent market, regardless of cost. In the years since the team lost Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, who sought bigger paydays elsewhere, the Mariners have had a hard time each season finding adequate replacements for their other aging stars. The Mariners have thus been pressed into high-dollar contracts, bringing in pricey players like Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson and Jarrod Washburn.

So what was the Mariners' most pressing need headed into 2007? Starting pitching. The team ranked 22nd with a 4.88 ERA from its rotation in 2006. Moreover, none of the six Mariners pitchers who made at least eight starts managed an ERA better than 4.20. As such, the Mariners dipped once more into the free-agent market for reinforcements. What they found, though, wasn't exactly an exciting bunch of fantasy stalwarts: Miguel Batista (three years, $24 million), 11 games under .500 for his career with a 4.46 ERA, and Jeff Weaver (one year, $8.325 million), 15 games under .500 for his career with a 4.58 ERA. Plus, Seattle added another starter, Horacio Ramirez, who has a 4.13 ERA and only 48 more strikeouts than walks for his career, and he cost them closer-of-the-future Rafael Soriano in trade.

Seattle's offseason additions to haven given it a deeper more experienced staff, however, that rotation greatly lacks upside. Felix Hernandez, who turns 21 in April, has the potential to become the team's ace -- and one for fantasy, for that matter. Closer J.J. Putz, now 30, finished second among closers on 2006's Player Rater and again should be among the best at his position. But beyond that duo, the only true appeal in Mariners pitchers is perhaps in playing the matchups, exploiting their pitching-friendly home ballpark.