December 2010

The perfect Christmas (w)rap … a Dave Niehaus tribute

Happy holidays to Mariners fans everywhere. While you’re enjoying the Christmas break, here’s a beautiful tribute to Dave Niehaus performed by Seattle musician Macklemore.

Give it a listen and enjoy this photo collage put to the music by a YouTube viewer who goes by megajboy11. Whether you’re a fan of rap or not, I think you’ll appreciate the passion and the message. Thanks for doing this Macklemore. Awesome stuff.

Makes me proud to be from Seattle.

Rob Johnson happy about landing in San Diego

 
JohnsonRobBat.jpgFor Rob Johnson, a new start in San Diego sounds perfect after the uncertainty of what might happen in the wake of being designated for assignment last week by the Mariners.

Johnson didn’t perform well last year and leaves Seattle on a low note, but those who worked with the 28-year-old catcher have nothing but positive hopes for a player who gave everything he could to the Mariners last year while pushing to come back as quickly as possible from a pair of offseason hip surgeries.

I spoke with Johnson shortly after his trade for a player to be named later or cash considerations was announced by the Mariners, who went looking a new direction after signing veteran Miguel Olivo.

No sour grapes from Johnson, just appreciation for getting his initial Major League shot with Seattle and a little wistfulness over not being 100-percent healthy last season when he and Adam Moore shared most of the catching duties.

“I couldn’t move the way I wanted to move,” he said. “But that’s the way it goes. I came off the surgeries, was asked to play, wanted to play and believed I could play. That’s where it ended up.”

The Butte, Mont., native is one of those throw-back guys who just sucks it up and does what he can. In this case, it wasn’t enough as he hit just .191 and struggled behind the plate with a league-high nine passed balls.

“I went out and gave everything I had at every moment,” he said. “I didn’t try to favor it. the end results were the end results. Now I get to turn the page and start new and look forward.”

In this case, that means heading to the Padres training complex — which just happens to be next door to the Mariners’ facility in Peoria, Ariz., about 15 minutes from where he lives with his wife and son.

In other words, his new start has a familiar feel.

“LIke my dad said, I just need to park in a different lot,” he said.

And take advantage of his new chance with the Padres, who are looking to replace Yorvit Torrealba, who signed with Texas last week. Nick Hundley split duties with Torrealba last year and is expected to get the bulk of work this coming year, but the Padres are definitely looking for someone to help out there and Johnson figures to get a good shot.

As for the Mariners’ return, at this point the player to be named later is unknown. But in these deals, if an agreement can’t be made within a certain time on who that PTBNL is, then it turns into a cash payment instead.

Here’s my full story on the trade and more of Johnson’s reaction on Mariners.com.

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Adding some interesting pieces to the puzzle

While outfielder Ryan Langerhans is the familiar name among four players signed by the Mariners on Tuesday to Minor League contracts with an invite to the Major League camp, there are a couple interesting prospects in the group.

GimenezChris.jpgThe signing of catcher Chris Gimenez, for instance, could go a long way toward explaining why the club decided it was safe to designate Rob Johnson for assignment on Monday.

If Johnson isn’t traded in the next nine days, he could accept a similar non-roster Minor League offer. But if not, Gimenez is a guy new manager Eric Wedge is familiar with from the Cleveland system.

At 27, he’s only had a couple cups of coffee in the big leagues at this point and hasn’t hit a lick in his minimal chances. But he was a well-regarded prospect with Cleveland and is a versatile athlete who was only converted to catcher in ’06.

He’s capable of playing the outfield — and appeared there in two games for the Indians last year — as well as the corner infield spots. At one point, he was regarded as a third baseman coming out of the University of Nevada, so the guy is fairly athletic.

Thus the Mariners essentially have swapped Gimenez for Johnson, who was destined for Tacoma already barring injuries to either Miguel Olivo or Adam Moore in camp. And Gimenez has put up some pretty decent numbers offensively in the minors, so there could be some upside there.

The Mariners also brought in a couple relievers with Major League experience in hard-throwing righty Denny Bautista and situational lefty Royce Ring.

As I wrote in my headline story on the website, Bautista is an interesting fellow as a guy who brings mid-90s heat — and a history of not always being able to harness it. He put up some intriguing numbers with San Francisco last year, holding batters to a .205 average and striking out 44 in 33 2/3 innings.

But he also walked 27 and struggled in tense situations, which is why the Giants eventually let him go in early August down the stretch.

At 30, Bautista has bounced among six franchises over the last seven seasons. Obviously he can tempt teams with his power arm and the Mariners will see if he fits in this spring. His contract allows him to request his release if he’s not on the 40-man roster by March 25, so the club might have to make a decision on him if he’s throwing well in Peoria.

Ring, 29, was a first-round pick of the White Sox in ’02, the 18th overall selection, and has spent parts of five Major League seasons with the Mets, Padres, Braves and Yankees. He’s primarily a lefty specialist, which is something the Mariners are shy on with Garrett Olson the only southpaw at this point in the ‘pen.

Then there’s Langerhans, who provides outfield insurance as a solid glove man who hasn’t hit much with Seattle but has a good approach, draws lots of walks and obviously is a known commodity to the Mariners’ brass.

Interesting group for a collection of Minor League contracts as Jack Zduriencik goes about his business of creating more competitive situations for this spring.

(Photo of Chris Gimenez taken by Jeff Gross of Getty Images)

Despite Rob Johnson’s struggles, I didn’t see this one coming

JohnsonRob.jpg

Mariners catcher Rob Johnson caught 141 games for the Mariners over the past two seasons. (Photo by Otto Van Gruele Jr./Getty Images).

When you lose 101 games, change is inevitable. So it probably should be no huge surprise the Mariners jettisoned catcher Rob Johnson on Monday, designating the 28-year-old for assignment to clear 40-man roster room for Jack Cust.

But the move still is a bit of an eyebrow raiser, given the Mariners’ lack of depth behind the plate and the fact Johnson was the team’s Opening Day catcher just last season and was a well-regarded prospect not long ago as a fourth-round Draft pick in ’04.

We’ll have to see if anything plays out in the next 10 days, when the club must either trade, release or outright him to the Minor Leagues. It’s possible Johnson could still be dealt, given many teams are looking for catching help.

But Johnson’s run in Seattle appears done, which is frustrating for a franchise that had high hopes for him and Jeff Clement and Adam Moore as the backstops of the future behiind Kenji Johjima just two years ago.

Now Moore is the only one from that group still remaining and even he now will be competing with Miguel Olivo for playing time in the coming season.

I figured the club would give Johnson a chance to rebound this season after he struggled both at the plate and defensively last year after pushing hard to come back from offseason hip surgeries.

But there seems to be one truth that is difficult for Johnson to overcome. He is one of those right-handed hitters who struggles to solve Safeco Field, where he hit .122 last year and just .161 in his four years in Seattle.

Compare that with a .250 road mark last year and .239 career road average. Even though Johnson has played only 161 career games, those are pretty significant trends.

The Mariners had other names on their 40-man roster who seemed more expendable, including several of the 10 players added last month to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. But once added, a player must be exposed to the waiver process if they are taken off again.

Johnson drew the short straw at this juncture, indicating either the team doesn’t value him quite as highly as some might have been expected or they have a deal in the works and figure they can move him in the next 10 days.

Much like Jose Lopez, who could find a nice boost in his move to Colorado’s Coors Field, here’s hoping Johnson lands in a good spot to revive his career. He’s a first-class guy, one of the most-accountable players in the Mariners’ clubhouse in recent years, and pitchers enjoyed throwing to him.

Jarrod Washburn, for example, was a guy who loved working with Johnson.

But the Mariners need upgrades. They need improvement at catcher among many positions. The veteran Olivo and 26-year-old Moore will be expected to produce this season.

And Rob Johnson will get another shot as well. It just doesn’t appear that shot will be in Seattle.

 

Mariners trade for Cardinals shortstop

RyanBrendan.jpgJack Zduriencik pulled off a trade on Sunday, dealing minor-league pitching prospect Maikel Cleto to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Brendan Ryan, one of the better defensive shortstops in the Major Leagues over the past two years.

No, it’s not a move that answers the Mariners’ offensive problems, but it does provide needed depth for the club in the infield as the Dustin Ackley situation plays out.

Ryan could fill in at second base until Ackley is promoted, then provide help at shortstop where Jack Wilson has been so injury-prone the past two years.

We had a chance to talk to both Zduriencik and Ryan on a conference call after the deal was made and you can read my full story here.

It’s worth noting that Ryan is entering just his first year of arbitration, so he won’t be a free agent until 2014. And at this point, he’s far cheaper — and presumably healthier — than Wilson, who is entering the final season of his $5 million-a-year deal.

Ryan didn’t hit much last year (.223), but was a .292 hitter in 2009 and has the ability to create some things with 25 stolen bases in two years. He and Zduriencik both indicated some of last year’s offensive struggles had to do with a wrist surgery performed just before the start of Spring Training.

Without question, he’s one of the better defensive shortstops in the game and if he can produce offensively somewhere between the high of ’09 and low of ’10, he’ll be a nice addition.

At the least, he’s an upgrade over Josh Wilson at the ultility infield slot. And on the top end of the scale, he would help out temporarily at second base until Ackley’s arrival and eventually replace Wilson at shortstop down the road.

Cleto is a hard-throwing prospect, but at 21 is long way from the big leagues and seems well worth the return on a player who’ll fill a definite need for the Mariners this season and could be part of their building effort going forward.

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat of Getty Images)

A very moving day at Safeco Field as Niehaus honored

Lots of great moments today at Safeco Field — or Dave’s House, as some like to call it these days — as Dave Niehaus’ life was celebrated.

As you’d expect, when guys like Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Edgar Martinez, Rick Rizzs and Ron Fairly get up and tell stories, people listen. And when they’re talking about Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus’ passing, people cry.

Including many of the speakers themselves. Rizzs choked up for a good minute or more before Buhner and company came to his rescue and joined him on the stage for some comfort. Buhner eventually wrapped Rizzs up in a big bearhug as Rizzs gathered himself.

The ceremony ended with team president Chuck Armstrong announcing there will be a statue of Niehaus erected outside Safeco Field, a fitting tribute for the man who has been there since Day 1.

You can read my full story on the day’s events here. And if you’d like to see the entire ceremony, MLB.com provides the full video here.

Wanted also to share this poem that was included on the program card given to the fans who showed up today:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there, I do not sleep

I am an echo in home run calls.

I am the flash of white on a well-struck ball.

I am the sunlight on the outfield grass.

I am the powerful autumn home run blast.

When you jump up to a called steeerike three

I am there, yes you know me.

I am the sound of the broom after a three-game sweep

Swung on and belted; I am the tears on your cheek.

Rye bread and mustard, salami abound

I am high above, looking down.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. ‘My Oh My’

The scene from Safeco for Niehaus memorial

NiehausMem.JPG
The crowd is gathering at Safeco Field for Dave Niehaus’ ceremony. You can watch live on mariners.com starting at 12:45 p.m.

The ceremony itself begins at 1:10 p.m,, not coincidentally the starting time of all the day games Niehaus broadcast over his 34 years as the Voice of the Mariners.

The whole program will take just over an hour, with a Niehaus tribute video at 1:12 p.m., followed by a string of speakers and videos with Rick Rizzs serving as the Master of Ceremonies.

Knowing the speakers — Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Dan Wilson, Ron Fairly — there’ll be some funny stories mixed in with wonderful memories.

Here’s a link to the live broadcast.

 

Cust talks about coming to Seattle … and leaving A’s

CustJackAs.jpgMy original story on Jack Cust coming to agreement with the Mariners on Wednesday has been deleted from the website, so I wanted to include some of what he told me that afternoon because I thought it was interesting.

Cust told me he’d wanted to come to Seattle a year ago, but things didn’t work out.

“Seattle is a team that showed some interest over the last couple years and is a place I’ve wanted  to play,” he said. “I love the city and everything about the Northwest. I’ve always been a big fan of the Mariners going back to the first Griffey days, so I’m just excited to  go up there and try to win some ballgames.”

He hit 33 home runs with 77 RBIs in 2007 and followed up with 26 home runs and 82 RBIs in ’08 before seeing his numbers drop to 13 home runs and 52 RBIs last year in just 349 at-bats after spending the first month of the season in the minor leagues after being designated for assignment by the A’s.

Cust said he still doesn’t understand exactly what happened in Oakland last year, but that is behind him now.

“You want to go where people believe in you,” he said. “You want to go where you’re wanted. In Oakland, even though I always did pretty well there and to me was kind of what the Oakland A’s are about, hitting home runs and walking a lot, I never really felt the love there.

“Being wanted and getting a fresh start is something I wanted last year, but it didn’t get done. This year it’s in place. So I’m excited to show fans in Seattle what I can do.”

He said he’s more than willing to play in the outfield and that he’s often wound up there even when teams said he wasn’t a good fielder.

” I’m not going to win any Gold Gloves, I won’t be an Ichiro in left field, for sure, but I’m there to drive in runs,” he said. “They brought me in to hit the ball. I like playing the outfield, I really do. You’re more of a baseball player playing both sides of the ball, but I’ll do whatever they ask. I’m in good shape and ready to go.”

Cust was non-tendered by Oakland last season and then assigned to the minor leagues at the start of the year until being recalled after Eric Chavez was injured.That led to some unhappiness with his situation with the A’s, who non-tendered him again on Dec. 3.

“It was just a weird circumstance,” Cust said. “I’m sure they’d say I struggled in spring and what I did the three years before wasn’t good enough to make that team, I guess. But I’m just trying to stay positive with all this.

“When I talk about Oakland last year especially, it’s definitely not a very positive experience for me. So I’m trying to block that out a little. My wife just tells me to stay positive. I don’t know what happened. But things happen for a reason and now I’m in Seattle.”

Though Safeco is a pitching-friendly park, Cust is used to that after four seasons in Oakland. Safeco is more suited to his left-handed power and he’s hit five home runs with 12 RBIs in 97 career at-bats in Seattle.

“I’ve tried to hit those windows in right field a few times, like any left-handed hitter that goes in there,” Cust said with a chuckle.

Now he’ll get a lot more opportunites to shoot for the Hit It Here Cafe. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said Friday that Cust will be the team’s regular DH going into Spring Training and figures to hit in the middle of the lineup.

(Photo by Christian Petersen of Getty Images)

Zduriencik: ‘It’s a construction process on-going’

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik added a short-term piece to the puzzle on Friday with the official signing of veteran designated hitter Jack Cust. But he went out of his way to note that the over-arching plan of the club continues to be building for the long haul.

Cust, 31, is the type of veteran the Mariners want to bring in to supplement their young crew. A year ago, Zduriencik brought back Russell Branyan in midseason to provide some protection in the middle of the order and add some leadership.

Now it’s Cust coming in on a one-year deal.

“We’re not going to deviate from the long-range plan,” Zduriencik said. “We want to be as competitive as we can be, but we are still building this organization. We’re laying the cement,we’re putting up the pillars. It’s a construction process on-going.

“But you’d like to be as competitive as competitive as you can at the big-league level and  maybe you’re fortunate and some things happen. Last year we weren’t fortunate. What we’re trying to do is stay the course and build the organization and add pieces when we think they’re appropriate.”

Mariners take Indians’ Class-A reliever in Rule 5 draft

Jose Flores, a 21-year-old relief pitcher in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system, was selected by the Mariners with the second pick in Thursday’s Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft.

Flores, who pitched in Single-A ball for the Lake County Captains in the Midwest League, now must remain with the Mariners for the entire 2011 season or be offered back to the Indians for $25,000.

The Venezuelan-born reliever was 1-1 with six saves and a 2.14 ERA in 42 innings last year for Lake County, striking out 51 while walking just seven. He held opponents to a .224 batting average.

Flores originally signed with the Indians as an undrafted free agent in 2005. He’s posted a 3.92 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 156 innings in four seasons in Cleveland’s system.
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A year ago, the Mariners picked up reliever Kanekoa Texeira from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft and he made the team out of Spring Training, but was designated for assignment after two months with Seattle and wound up getting claimed off waivers by Kansas City.
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The selection now puts the Mariners’ 40-man roster at a full 40, so someone will have to be moved to create space for the expected signing of free-agent designated hitter Jack Cust once he passes a physical and his agreement is made official.
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The Rule 5 draft is the final part of the Winter Meetings. The Mariners’ officials will return home Thursday evening.

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