Mariners must wait and see in competitive AL West
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Check out the American League West, and the curiosity perks up.
Are these Seattle Mariners playing possum?
Are they sitting back, letting the established franchises take their spring bows and quietly getting ready to take a major step up in the competitive division once the season begins?
Time will only tell.
• The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reaffirmed that they are willing to spend whatever it takes to regain control of the AL West. A year after the signing of free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson couldn't help them avoid a third-place finish, the Halos shelled out the five-year, $125 million it took to lure free agent Josh Hamilton to their club.
• The Oakland A's overtook Texas down the stretch and claimed their first AL West title -- and first winning season -- since 2006, and, with a youthful rotation, figure to make a strong showing again this year.
• The Texas Rangers did lose Wilson to the Angels prior to the 2012 season as well as Hamilton this past offseason, and they struck out in their bidding for free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. But they did win AL pennants in 2010 and '11, and did advance in an AL Wild Card slot to the '12 playoffs.
• And the Houston Astros, moving over this year from the National League Central, are in a full-fledged rebuilding mode that has led to a major roster upheaval since the hiring of general manager Jeff Luhnow 14 months ago. They don't figure to be much of a factor for a couple years.
Then there are the Mariners. They haven't advanced to the postseason since making back-to-back appearances in 2000-01, the longest drought of any AL West member, including Houston. Seattle has had a winning record only twice in the last nine years. And manager Eric Wedge, headed into his third year on the job, is one of eight men who have filled out Mariners lineup cards in the last 11 years.
So what gives in 2013?
Well, what can be said for certain is the Mariners made their big-name bids to grab some headlines. However, the club wasn't able to get Justin Upton to approve a trade from Arizona, came up short in the bidding for free agents Hamilton and Torii Hunter and didn't get past kicking tires with Colorado about center fielder Carlos Gonzalez.
General manager Jack Zduriencik, however, wasn't deterred. He wound up with Plan B.
When all the juggling was complete, the Mariners had an interesting veteran mix that he feels provides a perfect roster complement to the youthful core that got its big league baptism without much of a support crew a year ago.
"It will be interesting to see happens in the next month," Zduriencik said. "We made moves that brought in  players, and all  have playoff experience. We got character guys. We got guys we feel can provide a support base for the young players we had in place."
The likelihood is Jeremy Bonderman, a member of Detroit's 2006 World Series team who is trying to rebound after being sidelined for two years, will continue his comeback effort at Triple-A.
The other nine are legitimate 25-man roster candidates -- left-handed starter Joe Saunders, right-handed starter Jon Garland, righty reliever Kameron Loe, catcher Kelly Shoppach, DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales, utility infielder Robert Andino and outfielders Jason Bay, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. They have combined to appear in 21 postseasons.
"Our young guys last year needed to play and get their feet on the ground, and now they will benefit from the veteran influence we've added," said Zduriencik. "We were able to add a veteran presence to our club, a middle-of-the-lineup guy and veteran arm for the rotation and keep our prospects."
What's more, they are all on one-year deals, meaning the Mariners will have flexibility as the season goes along in case a few of the prospects push their way to the big leagues or a chance to make an impact trade arises, or if next offseason, a free agent suddenly shows interest in signing.
And for all the problems the Mariners have add in attracting established hitters in recent years, there's reason to believe that perception of playing in Safeco Field could change by the end of 2013, because the dimensions of the park have shrunk. It is not going to suddenly become Coors Field, but it's going to be a bit fairer. Zduriencik didn't get into specifics, but there is speculation among several club officials that Justin Smoak, as an example, would have hit five more home runs last year with the reconfiguration.
What the Mariners did was lower the left field fence from 16 feet high to eight, and moved it in four feet. The center field fence also came in four feet, and the left-center field fence was brought in 17 feet.
"We went to [pitchers Felix] Hernandez and [Jason] Vargas, two opposing spectrums of pitchers, a power guy and a changeup/control guy," said Zduriencik. "They endorsed it."
There, however, is no endorsement like winning.
And time will tell if what happened this winter will translate into success this summer.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.