Veteran catcher Baker agrees to Minor League deal

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh PiratesLooking to add depth behind starting catcher Mike Zunino, the Mariners have an agreement with veteran John Baker to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp.

The Mariners have not confirmed the deal, but shortly after CBSports.com reported the news on Wednesday, Baker tweeted a photo of himself in front of the Space Needle and said, “Thanks for all the positive vibes being sent my way. Next Chapter begins. @Mariners.”

Baker is headed to Seattle for a physical exam on Thursday, so nothing will be finalized until that process is completed.

The Mariners are looking to add an experienced catcher to their backstop mix that currently includes Zunino, Jesus Sucre and John Hicks on the 40-man roster.

Zunino, 23, caught 131 games last year in his first full season as a starter. Sucre, 26, has played in 29 games over the past two seasons with Seattle in a backup role. Hicks, 25, is a well-regarded prospect, but has just 28 games of experience at the Triple-A level after a midseason promotion to Tacoma last season.

Baker, 34, has seven seasons of Major League experience with the Marlins, Padres and Cubs, with a career slash line of .247/.330/.341 in 359 games.

The left-handed hitting catcher played 68 games with the Cubs last season, batting .192 with 15 RBIs. His headline moment in 2014 came when he earned the pitching victory and scored the winning run in the 16th inning of a game against the Rockies. Baker threw a scoreless top of the 16th in the July 29 game, then walked and eventually came around to win the game and become just the fourth position player to pick up a pitching victory since 1968.

Baker is a California native who was drafted by the A’s in the fourth round in 2002 out of Cal-Berkeley. He was the Marlins’ 2010 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

Guti, Chavez sign Minor League deals with camp invite

GutiCageLooking to add some outfield depth to their organization, the Mariners officially signed veterans Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez to Minor League contracts on Monday and extended invitations to next month’s Major League camp.

Neither addition was a surprise as Gutierrez (pictured) and Chavez both have long histories with Seattle and agreed to Minor League deals that don’t require opening a spot on the 40-man roster unless they make the Major League squad at some point.

Gutierrez will be rejoining the Mariners after a year-long absence, having spent 2014 away from the game while dealing with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis. The 31-year-old Venezuelan was a 2010 American League Gold Glove center fielder for Seattle, but had trouble staying healthy the following three seasons due to problems he now attributes largely to the then-undiagnosed nerve issue.

Gutierrez returned to action for 10 games in the Venezuelan Winter League in December, hitting .222 with five doubles, two home runs and four RBIs while playing center field for Leones del Caracas.

Gutierrez signed a one-year, $1 million Major League deal with Seattle last season, but then told the club he didn’t feel healthy enough to compete shortly before the start of Spring Training and spent the year on the unpaid restricted list.

When healthy, Gutierrez was a defensive standout and he hit .283 with 18 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .764 OPS in his first season with Seattle in 2009. Injury issues limited him to 92 games in 2011 and just 40 and 41 games the following two years before sitting out 2014 completely.

In his nine-year MLB career with the Indians and Mariners, Gutierrez has hit .256/.306/.391 with 67 home runs and 279 RBIs in 762 games.

Chavez, 36, has been a productive player the past two seasons with Seattle after signing similar Minor League deals and then being promoted to the 25-man roster during the season.  Chavez posted a .276/.317/.371 line last season, with two home runs, 23 RBIs and 22 runs in 80 games, including 57 starts. He played 97 games in 2013 while hitting .267/.290/.327.

The 13-year Major League veteran has played with seven different clubs, including an earlier stint with Seattle in 2009, and owns a career line of .270/.308/.364.

Both veterans offer insurance and depth in Seattle’s outfield, but face a tough number’s situation going into spring. The Mariners traded for Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano during the offseason and have returning starters Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson, as well as youngsters James Jones and Stefen Romero returning.

Nelson Cruz, who signed a four-year, $57 million free-agent deal, will play mostly designated hitter, but he’s also capable of filling a corner-outfield spot. Cruz started 70 games in the field last year for the Orioles and has made 800 of his career starts in the outfield compared to 117 at DH.

The Mariners Spring Training roster is currently at 57 players (40 roster and 17 non-roster invitees), including 12 outfielders. Four of those outfielders are non-roster players, with Chavez and Gutierrez joining Minor Leaguers Patrick Kivlehan and Jordy Lara in that category. Here’s the current 40-man roster.

Here’s your look at the new alternate uniforms

SundayUni_2The Mariners unveiled a fresh look with some old-school trimmings on Friday as new slugger Nelson Cruz and pitchers James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Charlie Furbush served as models introducing the club’s new alternate uniforms.

The alternate jerseys will be worn on Sunday home games only. The Mariners already have their regular road whites and home gray uniforms, along with an alternate “Northwest Green” jersey that is worn only for Friday games.

The new jerseys and pants are a cream color and feature oversized numbers and no names on the back, a nod to baseball’s past. The uniform also includes striped stirrups for players who wear their pants high, a feature displayed by Furbush and Walker at the unveiling.

“I’m digging it,” said Furbush. “I’m feeling like I’m looking pretty fresh. And these are great caps. It really brings back the history of the Mariners. It’s good. I like it.”

Alt_01The lettering and logo are the same as the current uniforms, but in the original Mariners colors. The “Mariners” lettering is royal blue with gold trim outlined in royal. The button placket and sleeves are trimmed in royal, and there is a Mariners nautical “compass rose” patch in royal and gold on the left sleeve.

The caps are royal blue with gold Mariners “S” and compass rose baseball logo, matching the color of the socks.

“The royal blue and gold colors of our franchise’s inaugural uniforms are blended with the lettering and logo of our current identity in a unique design that pays homage to our club’s history,” said Kevin Martinez, Mariners vice president of marketing. “This new alternate uniform is perfect for sunny Sunday afternoons at Safeco Field.”

The Mariners are happy to have Cruz in their uniform any day of the week after signing Major League Baseball’s 2014 home run leader to a four-year, $57 million deal in December. The new designated hitter made his first public appearance at the unveiling and will be at FanFest both Saturday and Sunday at Safeco Field as well.

“I think the uniforms are great,” Cruz said. “I’m excited for every Sunday to wear these. I like everything about these uniforms.”

Walker, the club’s prize 22-year-old pitching prospect, was equally impressed.

“I love fashion,” said the young right-hander. “So anything new is good for me.”

Alt_12

In addition to the new alternate Sunday uniforms, the Mariners also announced minor changes to the lettering of their home and road jerseys. The words “Mariners” for home whites and “Seattle” for road grays in navy letters will be trimmed in silver outlined in Northwest green.

“We’ve simply reversed the order of the silver and green,” said Martinez, “The change is subtle, but the modified color arrangement presents a much stronger and crisper on-field look.”

The new hats and jerseys are available now online at Mariners.com, at Mariners Team Stores and will also be sold at this weekend’s FanFest, which runs Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT at Safeco Field.

Cano to test broken toe in Dominican League games

CanoFestRobinson Cano has been granted permission by the Mariners to play a handful of games in the Dominican Winter League starting next week as he returns from a broken toe that was injured during the MLB All-Star Series in Japan in November.

Cano is expected to be used primarily as a designated hitter for Estrellas de Oriente starting on Tuesday. At that point, the club has five remaining round-robin playoff games and a chance to advance to the final round after Jan. 17.

Cano, 32, broke the little toe on his right foot when he was hit by a pitch in an exhibition game against Samurai Japan on Nov. 15. He was held out of baseball activities for about a month while the foot healed, but is now fully recovered.

The six-time American League All-Star second baseman hasn’t played in the Dominican League since 2008-09, but asked Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik this week if it would be okay to perform in a few games in his homeland this winter.

“Robinson approached us about playing games in the Dominican Winter League and we have granted him permission to play in a limited amount of games,” Zduriencik said. “Robinson has reported to us his broken right pinkie toe is fully healed and he wants to get on a baseball field to test it before reporting for Spring Training. We look forward to Robinson reporting to Peoria in a little over a month ready to go for the 2015 season.”

Cano will be in the second season of a 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle. He’s scheduled to report to the Mariners camp on Feb. 24 with the rest of the Mariners position players, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 25.

Mariners pitchers and catchers are due to report on Feb. 20 and be on the field for the first time on Feb. 21.

Big Unit becomes first significant Mariners player elected into Baseball Hall of Fame

Randy Johnson #51Randy Johnson’s towering presence helped put the Mariners on the map in the mid-1990s and now the Big Unit is carrying his former Seattle club into the Hall of Fame with him in 2015.

The flame-throwing southpaw with the flowing locks and fierce demeanor earned first-ballot induction to Cooperstown on Tuesday, garnering 97.3 percent of the vote (534 of 549) of Baseball Writers’ Association of America members, the eighth-highest voting percentage for any player in Hall of Fame history.

Johnson becomes the first player with significant Mariners ties selected to the Hall of Fame. Outfielder Rickey Henderson (elected in 2009), reliever Rich Gossage (‘08) and starting pitcher Gaylord Perry (’91) all played briefly for Seattle at the end of their careers.

Former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick (2011) and former skipper Dick Williams (’08) were elected to the Hall of Fame by the veteran’s committee and one-time batting coach Paul Molitor (’04) was elected the same year he worked in Seattle. Broadcaster Dave Niehaus was the Ford C. Frick Award winner in 2008 and thus has a plaque in Cooperstown, though Frick Award winners aren’t technically members of the Hall of Fame.

Johnson thus becomes the first Hall of Fame player who spent a major part of his career wearing a Mariners uniform, though he’ll undoubtedly receive company next year when Ken Griffey Jr. becomes eligible for the first time.

The Big Unit played 10 of his 22 seasons in Seattle and earned five of his 10 All-Star bids, the first of his five Cy Young Awards and one of his two no-hitters while with the Mariners from 1989-98. Johnson went on to add five more All-Star berths and four Cy Young honors in eight years in Arizona, but accrued more wins (130), games (274), starts (266), complete games (51), shutouts (19) and strikeouts (2,162) in his Seattle tenure than with the D-backs.

The 6-foot-10 lefty also made brief stops with the Expos, Yankees, Giants and Astros in a career that also included eight postseason runs and a World Series title and MVP award with the D-backs in 2001.

There was no doubt Johnson deserved Hall of Fame nomination as he ranks second in MLB history with 4,875 strikeouts, first in strikeouts per nine innings (10.61) and 22nd in wins (303). He’ll head to Cooperstown as the top vote-getter in a 2015 induction class that also includes Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio, the first time four have been selected since 1955.

Former Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez finished 12th in the voting in his sixth year of eligibility and now has four remaining years on the ballot to climb to the the necessary 75 percent for induction. Martinez was named on 27.0 percent of the ballots, a slight hike from last year’s 25.2 percent.

Tom Seaver got 98.9 percent of the vote in 1992, the highest Hall of Fame voting percentage in history. The only other players ever receiving a higher percent than Johnson were Nolan Ryan (98.7), Cal Ripken Jr. (98.5), Ty Cobb (98.2), George Brett (98.2), Hank Aaron (97.8) and Tony Gwynn (97.6).

Mariners acquire Seth Smith for Brandon Mauer

New York Mets v San Diego PadresJack Zduriencik made a late addition to his holiday shopping cart on Tuesday as the Mariners general manager completed a trade for Padres outfielder Seth Smith that gives Seattle a strong platoon option in right field for 2015.

The Mariners sent right-handed pitcher Brandon Maurer to the Padres in the deal, using their bullpen depth to add another offensive piece to a club looking to challenge in the American League West next season.

Smith, 32, is a left-handed hitter who has performed very well against right-handed pitching in his eight-year Major League career and figures to team with recently-acquired Justin Ruggiano in a platoon situation in right field.

Smith hit .266/.367/.440 with 31 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 443 at-bats for the Padres last season. He had a park-adjusted OPS+ of 135, ranking ninth in the National League.

Smith has two years and $12.75 million remaining on a contract extension he signed last July with the Padres, with a club option for 2017 for $7 million with a $250,000 buyout.

Smith has a career line of .277/.358/.481 for an .839 OPS against right-handed pitchers, compared to .205/.291/.314 for a .605 OPS against southpaws. That would seem to make him a nice match with the right-handed hitting Ruggiano, who was acquired from the Cubs two weeks ago and has a career OPS of .836 vs. lefties compared to .704 against righties.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also has performed well at pitcher-friendly Petco Park and Safeco Field in his career. He has a .276/.361/.473 slash line in 102 games at Petco and .291/.361/.436 in 16 games at Safeco.

The Mariners pitching staff posted the American League’s lowest ERA last season, but Zduriencik is looking to upgrade an offense that finished 11th among the league’s 15 teams in scoring and last in OPS. The club traded Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays in early December to open up the right field spot. The left-handed Saunders has a career OPS of .709 against right-handers and .636 vs. left-handers.

Smith was one of the Padres most-consistent hitters last year, but became expendable after San Diego acquired outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers in a roster makeover by new general manager A.J. Preller.

Smith brings another veteran presence to a Seattle club that improved by 16 wins in 2014, but came up one victory shy of the final AL Wild Card berth at 87-75. The Mississippi native has played in four postseasons – two with the Rockies early in his career and twice with the A’s in 2012 and ’13 – and was on Colorado’s World Series club in 2007.

Maurer, 24, struggled in his first year as a starter for Seattle in 2013 when he was 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA, but found success at midseason last year when he moved to the bullpen. He was 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA in seven starts last season, but posted a 2.17 ERA in 31 relief appearances after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma in late June.

The Mariners still have numerous options for their expected seven-man bullpen from a group that led the Majors with a 2.59 ERA. Seattle is returning right-handers Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith, as well as southpaws Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge and new Rule 5 pickup David Rollins.

Seattle’s outfield now has Dustin Ackley returning in left field and Austin Jackson in center, with Smith and Ruggiano likely to share time in right. That leaves James Jones and Stefen Romero, who both played last year as rookies, fighting for backup roles or looking to break through with big springs to challenge for more playing time.

Nelson Cruz, Seattle’s biggest offseason acquisition, figures to primarily fill the designated hitter role. But Cruz played 70 games in the outfield for the Orioles last year and can also be used in one of the corner spots if needed.

Mark Lowe among 3 Minor League signings

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland IndiansRight-handed reliever Mark Lowe, who began his career with five seasons in Seattle, is returning to the Mariners on a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp.

Lowe is one of three players with Major League experience who have signed Minor League deals with camp invites, the club announced Wednesday. The other two are right-handed pitcher Justin Germano and infielder Carlos Rivero.

Lowe, a nine-year MLB veteran, posted a 3.95 ERA in 162 games for Seattle from 2006-10 before being sent to Texas as part of the Cliff Lee deal that brought Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson in return.

The 31-year-old spent most of last year with the Indians’ Triple-A Columbus club and was 4-3 with 17 saves and a 5.62 ERA in 41 appearances, but did pitch seven games for the Indians with a 3.86 ERA (three earned runs in seven innings) with 10 hits, six walks, six strikeouts and two home runs.

Lowe was a fifth-round Draft pick of the Mariners in 2004. He pitched three seasons in Texas, one with the Angels and then last year in the Indians organization since leaving Seattle. He has a career 4.16 ERA and 1.468 WHIP in 271 games.

Germano is another right-handed veteran who spent most of the past two years in the Minors in the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Rangers organizations. He pitched 24 games (23 starts) with Round Rock and Albequerque in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last season, with a 5-14 record and 5.02 ERA in 145 1/3 innings.

The 32-year-old has a career 10-30 record and 5.40 ERA over nine seasons with seven different clubs. He pitched two games in relief for the Rangers last year, allowing seven runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. Germano’s last significant stint in the Majors was in 2012 when he pitched 13 games, including 12 starts, while going 2-10 with a 6.75 ERA for the Cubs.

Rivero, 26, made his Major League debut for the Red Sox last season and went 4-for-7 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in four games. The Mariners claimed him off waivers in November, then designated him for assignment several weeks later to open space on their 40-man roster.

But Seattle wants to keep Rivero in the organization and re-signed him to a Minor League deal. Rivero has played mostly shortstop and third base in his pro career, along with a little outfield work. He hit .264 with seven home runs and 53 RBIs in 105 games last year while splitting time between the Red Sox’s Double-A and Triple-A clubs.

Rivero currently leads the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs (14), RBIs (42), extra-base his (23) and is third in slugging percentage (.564) while hitting .282 in 48 games for Cardenales de Lara.

Ruggiano acquired in trade with Cubs

Chicago Cubs v New York MetsThe Mariners added some needed outfield depth Wednesday by acquiring Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs in a trade for Minor League reliever Matt Brazis.

The move could foreshadow a platoon scenario for the Mariners in their right-field situation. Ruggiano, 32, gives Seattle a right-handed option who can play all three outfield positions. The six-year Major League veteran hit .281 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 224 at-bats in 81 games last year for the Cubs.

He hit .323 with nine doubles, four homers and 20 RBIs in his last 44 games before missing the final month with an ankle injury.

Ruggiano has a career line of .257/.319/.431 in 398 games. He spent his first three Major League seasons with Tampa Bay, then had two years in Miami before getting traded to the Cubs last offseason.

The Texas native earned $2 million last year in his first season of arbitration eligibility and won’t be a free agent until 2017.

Ruggiano has a career OPS of .704 against right-handed pitchers and .836 vs. lefties. The Mariners have left-handed hitting James Jones and right-handed Stefen Romero as their two returning right field candidates after dealing Michael Saunders to the Blue Jays last month.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ruggiano is also capable of backing up Austin Jackson in center field or Dustin Ackley in left. He has played 166 career games in center, 118 in left and 76 in right.

General manager Jack Zduriencik indicated last week he might make two moves to fill the right-field spot. If that is the case, the Mariners could still be in the market for a left-handed hitting outfielder to team with Ruggiano. The club is known to have interest in the Padres’ Seth Smith, who is a strong platoon option with a career OPS of .839 against right-handers compared to .605 vs. lefties.

Other lefty-hitting outfielders who could be available on the trade market include Gerardo Parra of the Brewers, Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, David Murphy of the Indians, Travis Snider of the Pirates and David DeJesus of the Rays.

Remaining left-handed hitting outfielders on the free-agent market include Nori Aoki, Colby Rasmus, Ichiro Suzuki and Endy Chavez.

Brazis, 25, split last season between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, going 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA and six saves in 40 appearances. He also was one of Seattle’s representatives in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings over 10 games. The 6-foot-3 right-hander was a 28th-round Draft pick out of Boston College in 2012.

Right-handed reliever Logan Bawcom was designated for assignment by the Mariners to make room on the 40-man roster.

Here’s an updated version of my MLB.com story on the trade, complete with reaction from Ruggiano and Zduriencik’s thoughts on the deal and what comes next.

Mariners headed home without right fielder … yet

The Mariners departed the Winter Meetings on Thursday without having filled their biggest remaining goal of adding a right fielder, but it appears only a matter of time before general manager Jack Zduriencik checks off that last remaining box on his winter wish list.

Zduriencik said he had productive talks on several fronts over his four days at the Manchester Grand Hyatt and there are still free agent and trade possibilities to pursue.

A source told MLB.com the White Sox were in discussions with the Mariners about acquiring outfielder Dayan Viciedo for one of Seattle’s relievers, though a second source downplayed that report and said Viciedo was just one of just numerous options the Mariners have explored in recent days.

Viciedo, 25, hit .231 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs last season and is projected to make about $4.4 million next year in his first year of arbitration eligibility. He could provide Seattle another right-handed threat in a lineup that already added free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz this offseason, though he is regarded as a below-average defender and had just a .281 on-base percentage in 145 games last season.

Zduriencik said he wasn’t disappointed to be leaving San Diego without finalizing any deals, given the club already signed Cruz and traded for left-handed starter J.A. Happ the previous week to fill his top two offseason priorities.

“We have possibilities of something happening,” he said. “If nothing happens, you always want to improve your club. But as the dust settles with all the clubs and everybody disperses, sometimes they can go back and reflect on some things and say, ‘Now this makes sense for us now.’”

Some dominos fell in the outfield picture on Wednesday morning as the Dodgers dealt Matt Kemp to the Padres and the Red Sox swapped Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit. Zduriencik said neither move surprised him nor changed Seattle’s outlook.

“I don’t think that necessarily affects what we have a possibility of happening,” he said. “So we’ll wait and see.”

The Mariners also still have options in the free-agent market, where Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios are the top remaining outfielders. Zduriencik noted it’s still only mid-December and the club didn’t add All-Star closer Fernando Rodney until Feb. 13 last year.

Despite only adding a Rule 5 pitcher during the Winter Meetings, the Mariners offseason has already been productive.

“With extending Kyle Seager, trading for a pitcher, having Cruz on board and now we took a Rule 5 guy,  I think we’re in a really good spot,” Zduriencik said. “Everybody would like to be better all the time, but I think we’re in a good spot. I like where our club is at and we’re going to continue to dot our i’s and cross our t’s and do the best we can to make decisions if something presents itself.”

Rule 5 Draft pick will be given shot at bullpen spot

David Rollins, a left-hander in the Astros organization, was selected by Seattle in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft and general manager Jack Zduriencik said the 24-year-old will be given a shot at winning a job in the Mariners bullpen.

Rollins had been selected twice by Seattle in the June Amateur Draft – in the 23rd round in 2009 and 46th round in 2010 – but never signed until being selected by the Blue Jays in the 24th round in 2011 out of San Jacinto Junior College in Texas.

In four Minor League seasons Rollins has posted a 23-16 record with a 3.39 ERA with 343 strikeouts in 358 2/3 innings over 88 games, including 64 starts. He was 3-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 games (12 starts) with the Astros’ Double-A Corpus Christi club last season.

“He’s got a pretty good fastball, a 94-95 mph arm,” Zduriencik said. “He’s got a breaking ball, he’s got velocity, he’s a tough kid and we have history with him. We’ll give him a chance to come in and see what happens. It’s another strong arm and from the left-hand side.”

The lefty quotient is key as the Mariners are already well stocked with right-handed power arms in their bullpen. Rule 5 Draft picks must spend the entire season on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the club from which they were selected, so Rollins would have to earn a spot in a relief crew that has southpaws Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge returning.

The Mariners also claimed lefty reliever Edgar Olmos from the Marlins last month and he’s also on the 40-man roster.

“Our thought was this is a good arm and when you look at our bullpen, we’ve got a lot of good arms,” Zduriencik said. “When you think of the chances of a guy sticking as a Rule 5, your odds of a pitcher sticking are a little better than a position guy and a left-hander increases the odds a little. We’ll see. He’s coming in to a bullpen that’s pretty good, but they’ll go and compete and we’ll see what happens in Spring Training.”

Rollins was the 12th player selected in the Major League phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. The Mariners didn’t make any selections in the Minor League portion of the Draft and didn’t lose any players in either phase.

The addition of Rollins puts the Mariners’ 40-man roster at 40 players.

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