The model of consistency, Olerud added another .300 season to his lengthy resume in 2002. He added 22 long balls and 102 RBI while providing the always-expected steady defensive presence at first base. The Mariners will need Johnny O to match last season's production in order to stay near the top of the AL West standings. Olerud was one of only three Mariners to hit over 20 homers a season ago, and without the acquisition of a big bat in the lineup for 2003, Melvin and company will have to rely on the veteran to produce in the quiet manner that he's known always been known for. If the past is any indication, Olerud will be up to the task.
Bret Boone, 2B:
Boone followed his MVP-worthy 2001 season with solid numbers across the board in 2002. His batting averaged dipped down to .278, but he continued to be one of the team's leading power producers. The supremely confident second baseman smacked 24 home runs, second only to Mike Cameron (25), and a team-leading 107 RBI. Boone will be one of the biggest keys to the Mariners' offense this year, needing to stay at the high-level offensively that he has over the past two seasons in order for Seattle to consistently put runs on the board. A dip in production from 2001 to 2002 was expected – duplicating that dream season would have been nearly impossible – but a similar drop this season would make for a little less mojo at Safeco Field.
Carlos Guillen, SS:
It seems that every season is referred to as a make-or-break campaign for Guillen, who was at one-time thought of as a player with potential all-star ability. Now entering his sixth season with Seattle after coming over in the well-documented Randy Johnson trade in 1998, Guillen's Mariner future increasingly appears to be that of a role player. His defense has never been questioned, and at shortstop there is no better place to have a no-nonsense glove. The worries are with his bat. Guillen hit just .261 in 134 starts in 2002, a number which everyone in the organization would like to see improve this season and beyond. He may no longer have the title as "shortstop of the future," but Guillen will nevertheless be a key part of the Mariners' infield in 2003.
Jeff Cirillo, 3B:
If Cirillo, a native of the Seattle area, thought all eyes were on him last season, he was right. Early struggles at the plate continued to haunt him for the entire season, and be September many blamed him for the team's late season plummet to third-place in the AL West. Cirillo actually had to use a late-season hot-streak to raise his average to .249, an extremely disappointing number for a guy who was supposed to be an improvement over David Bell, who was traded prior to the 2002 season. But what stood out more was the lack of power that Cirillo contributed to the lineup. His six homers at a power position like third base killed the Mariners all season long. Heading into 2003, the bulls-eye will undoubtedly be bigger than ever. Even more eyes will be fixed on Cirillo. The Mariners need him to rebound offensively and continue to provide steady defense at the hot-corner. That alone could be the difference between a first-place finish and a second or third-place finish.
Dan Wilson, C:
Quietly, for the past decade, Mr. Wilson has gone about his business as the Mariners' catcher. It's hard to believe that Wilson is entering his 10th season in Seattle, but it's true. He'll start the season on the disabled list to recover from a strained muscle, but he figures to keep a hold on the starting job over the up-and-coming Ben Davis. At the start of last season, it was questionable if Wilson would be able to hold off Davis, a former first-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres. But Danny went on to have one of his finest seasons as Mariner, batting .295 and keeping the pitching staff up to par with stellar defense behind the plate. Could this be the year that Davis makes a push for the starting job? He'll get the starting nod to open the season, but look for Wilson to regain the job once healthy and be the main man for at least one more year.
Edgar Martinez, DH:
The heart and soul of the Mariners organization, 2003 could be it for the man Seattle fans have come to know simply as "Edgar." Martinez has already established himself as one of the top two or three designated hitters in baseball history, but his health has been a primary concern in recent years. History has shown, however, that doubting Edgar is not wise. He's known for being a workout-warrior in the weight room, one of the reasons he's still playing at the age of 40. Edgar played in only 97 games in 2002, leaving many wondering just how much the future Hall of Famer has left in the tank. What he's capable of is unquestioned. Whether he's able to stay injury free is another matter. Like it or not, he'll be the X-factor on the 2003 Mariners team. Mariners manager Bob Melvin dreams of a healthy Edgar Martinez batting .320 in the middle of the lineup for an entire season. Whether it happens or not, and whether this proves to be Edgar's final season, only time will tell.
Joe Kaiser is the publisher of InsideThePark.com. He is a sucker for a drag bunt down the first base line or a head-first slide into third base for a triple. Kaiser can be reached at email@example.com.