December 2010

Wedge talks about Cust, Ichiro and other hot topics

The Mariners added some power — and likely some strikeouts — on Wednesday by coming to terms with free-agent Jack Cust.

I talked to the former Oakland A’s designated hitter Wednesday and he’s excited about the opportunity after feeling a lack of love in the Bay Area. Getting sent to the minors at the start of last year left a mark on Cust and he’s thrilled for a fresh start.

You can read that story here.

New Mariners manager Eric Wedge just spoke with the media at the Winter Meetings and said nothing is finalized yet, but he’s happy to have the added bat on the way.

“When we talk about what we’re trying to do offensively, you’ll hear me talk about quality at-bats, good at-bats, strong at-bats, making good outs,” Wedge said. “Working and making i tough on that pitcher and he does a lot of that. It takes time to establish that discipline and put up a good at-bat, stick your nose in their with two strikes and do some of these things.

“If we can get a few other people to help us do that and our young people can watch that, it’s going to help us.”

Wedge also said Ichiro would definitely be his leadoff hitter and he’s also expecting big things from Chone Figgins in a more comfortable situation in his second go-round. He said Figgins remains the second baseman at this point and that Dustin Ackley won’t necessarily be ready to start the season in the big leagues.

And even with Cust on the way,he sounds like there’s a place for Milton Bradley.

“I’m not going to speak on Jack right now, but with Milton Bradley, he’s a guy who can do some DHing for us, but also bounce in the outfield for us. Milton can play left field, right field. Being a switch hitter he gives us great options from both sides of the plate. The health issues for Milton are the biggest question.”

Actually the biggest question might be how Bradley works with Wedge after a dust-up between the two back in ’04 led to Bradley’s release from the Indians.

“I had a good conversation with Milton,” Wedge said. “I think he and I both have a great advantage this time around because he knows what I’m all about and I’m very familiar with him. Obviously we have some history, but we’re goign to work that to our advantage this time around.

“I know that’s what I want and what he wants. That was many moons ago when we were together.”

 

A scout’s view on Mariners’ latest Dominican signing

It’s hard to know what to make of international signings, given these guys are usually in their teens with a long way between now and the big leagues. But thanks to MLB.com’s minor-league expert Jonathan Mayo for this view of 17-year-old Esteilon Peguero, the Dominican youngster signed by the Mariners on Monday for a $2.9 million bonus.

Mayo talked to a Latin American scout about Peguero and got this opinion:

“Peguero is an average runner and a fair defender. His best tool is his bat and he profiles as an above-average hitter. He may not be a shortstop when all is said and done, but he could be an offensive second baseman. He won’t have a ton of home-run power, but should hit plenty of doubles along the way.”

 

Mariners sign top Dominican prospect

While there wasn’t an abundance of news coming from the Mariners out of the Winter Meetings on Monday, the club did make an interesting move for the future by signing 17-year-old Dominican Republic shortstop Esteilon Peguero.

Peguero is regarded as the premier young position prospect in the Dominican and a big-time international signing.

The Mariners have landed a few interesting players in the international market. Felix Hernandez and Jose Lopez were signed that way. So were current up-and-comers Greg Halman and Carlos Triuenfel.

There’s no guarantee that Peguero will be a future star, but the Mariners like his potential enough to outbid the Rangers, among others, to make him the highest-paid international signee in baseball this year with a $2.9 million bonus, according to Baseball America.

What does it mean? Not much for fans wanting immediate results. But the Mariners keep preaching patience and building through the long-term approach and have been among MLB’s most-aggressive teams in the international market in the last few years under international scouting director Bob Engle.

“We are happy to add a multi-tools player at a premium position to our organization,” said Zduriencik. “Congratulations to Bob Engle, Patrick Guerrero and our Latin America scouting staff as we continue to build this organization and assemble talent.”

 

Zduriencik praised newly elected Hall of Famer Pat Gillick earlier in the day for the way he built up the Toronto Blue Jays as an expansion franchise with a patient approach that included extensive signings in Latin America, so clearly the Mariners GM sees that as a way to improve the talent level as part of a long-term plan.

 

 

Zduriencik: ‘Everybody in baseball should be happy for Pat Gillick’

GillickPat.jpgJack Zduriencik knows a little about what Pat Gillick has accomplished, walking now in his shoes as the general manager of the Mariners. Like Gillick, Zduriencik’s background is in scouting and player development and he appreciates the path his predecessor took that ended with a Hall of Fame election Monday.

“I think everybody in the industry is really happy that Pat collected today,” Zduriencik said. “If you talk to any scout that’s ever been in the game, they’ve always viewed Pat as a general manager who kind of paid his dues. When he had opportunities, he did a tremendous job.”

You sense Zduriencik is taking some clues from how Gillick molded his original team in Toronto, where the Blue Jays mined every avenue and built for the long run.

“I heard some of his press conference today and it brought back a lot of memories of how Toronto did that thing, how they were going to get players to go to Canada, how the dollars were different,” Zduriencik said. “They invested heavily in Latin America and did just a great job.

“When he was there those years how terrific that organization was viewed and how they took care of their people. And then winning two World Series. I think everybody in baseball should be happy for Pat Gillick.

“I remember years and years ago, back in the early ’80s and Pat would come in with the area scouts and see Seminole Junior College or Oklahoma State or something like that, where he’d come in traveling with the scouts and watching games. We’ve seen that over the years with him. Anybody who has ever worked with Pat Gillick, all I’ve heard is nice things”

If you missed it, here’s my story from earlier in the day on Gillick’s memories of Seattle’s 116-win season in 2001 and Chuck Armstrong’s thoughts on the former GM.

Armstrong says Mariners won’t be big spenders

Mariners president Chuck Armstrong called some of Major League Baseball’s initial free-agent spending this offseason “astounding” while noting Seattle isn’t in position to throw that kind of cash around at this week’s Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

That should come as no big surprise, given the well-documented fact that the Mariners have close to $60 million already designated for six players on a 2011 payroll that Armstrong confirmed won’t go below last year’s figure of $94 million.

Armstrong said the club will be better positioned next year in free agency, given expiring contracts to several players. Milton Bradley’s $12 million this year is the last of his contract and Jack Wilson’s $5 million-a-year deal ends as well.

But Armstrong admitted he was taken off guard by some of the early free-agent signings. He didn’t name names, but certainly the Washington Nationals’ seven-year, $126-million deal with Jayson Werth has raised eyebrows in the current economy.

“I’m trying to figure it out,” Armstrong said. “I think it’s kind of astounding. Hindsight will prove whether they’re good [contracts] or not. They usually prove not to be. But all it takes is one team and teams have their own needs.

“I really don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone else. We all have our own budgets and know what we can work with. You have to feel comfortable with what you’re obligating your franchise to take on.”

As for the Mariners, Armstrong said Seattle’s budget won’t be affected by the early escalation and appreciates that ownership has allowed the team to keep its payroll steady despite projections of a “pretty big loss” in 2011 based on declining ticket revenues coming off a 101-loss season.

Armstrong said the Mariners are hardly skimping, given the size of the team’s payroll, a large signing bonus that will be owed with the No. 2 pick in next June’s Draft and some international signings as well.

“We’ll be spending a lot of money this year,” he said. “It usually takes 5 to 7 years to matriculate through the system.”

So, no, the Mariners won’t jump into the Carl Crawford sweepstakes. As as been stated all along, Jack Zduriencik will attempt to add a few veterans in the right places through free agency and trades.

There’ll be no Monopoly money contracts handed out by the Mariners this year, but ownership has agreed to absorb whatever losses emerge this season.

“We don’t have much flexibility now,” Armstrong said. “If we had to reduce it, we might have had to do some things that might have been damaging in the long run. We’re not involved in any kind of salary dump. I’m grateful for us having the ownership to do that.”

A little fan-friendly information

It kind of got lost in the avalanche of Mariners news that broke Thursday night, so wanted to draw attention to a story I wrote earlier Thursday afternoon about the latest on the Dave Niehaus “Celebration of Life” memorial.

The Mariners announced that Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Chuck Armstrong and Ron Fairly will be speaking at that Dec. 11 event at Safeco Field, along with video presentations from a number of broadcast peers around the country as well as Ken Griffey Jr.

The 1:10 p.m. program is free to the public and you can get all the details here.

While we’re in the fan update mode, the Mariners are also promoting the fact that Buhner will be at the Southcenter Mariners Team Store on Sunday, Dec. 12 from 1-2 p.m. to pose for photos and sign autographs.

Additionally, the Santa Moose will be at Mariners Team Stores at Alderwood Mall (Sunday, Dec. 12 from 3-4 p.m.), Bellevue Square (Friday, Dec. 17 from 7-8 p.m.), Westlake Mall (Saturday, Dec. 18 from 2-3 p.m.) and Southcenter (Saturday, Dec. 18 from 4:30-5:30 p.m.).

And Buhner and Mike Blowers will be at the Bellevue Team Store on Friday, Dec. 17 from 6-8 p.m. as special guests on the Hot Stove League show which will be broadcasting live with Shannon Drayer and Mike Salk.

Drayer and Salk are hosting their next Hot Stove League Show from Orlando at the Winter Meetings next Tuesday from 6-8 p.m.

So much for the quiet off-season …

While the Mariners have been pretty low-key in the initial weeks of the Hot Stove League, GM Jack Zduriencik certainly got a few burners lit Thursday in a busy day that included the trading of Jose Lopez, the surprising return of Erik Bedard, the departure of Ryan Rowland-Smith and four moves to retain arbitration-eligible players.

Pitchers David Aardsma, Brandon League and Jason Vargas were all tendered offers as expected, which means they’ll either head into arbitration or come to agreements prior to that process. Utility infielder Josh Wilson agreed to a one-year deal Thursday night to avoid the whole tender/arbitration issue.

ZduriencikJackMug.jpgNow Zduriencik and his staff can head to next week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando with a better grasp of their roster situation.

Moving Lopez and cutting ties with Rowland-Smith opens up a little payroll and roster space, with Zduriencik saying he’ll pursue veterans in a couple positions to help solidify a roster that is rebuilding around some promising young prospects like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, Adam Moore and Michael Saunders.

“They’re young and talented,” Zduriencik said of that group. “But it would be nice to land a few pieces that would bring us a degree of veteran leadership and fill some of the needs we still have.”

Zduriencik didn’t rule out the continued pursuit of starting pitching despite the return of Bedard, who he expects to be ready to challenge for a rotation spot. That re-signing will raise a lot of eyebrows from frustrated Mariners’ fans, but it’s a low-risk, potentially high-reward gamble given Bedard’s willingness to agree to a non-guaranteed contract.

If he goes to Spring Training and throws like the Bedard who went 28-16 with an ERA around 3.50 for Baltimore in 2006-07, the Mariners will have a quality No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez. If not, well, that’s why both parties agreed to a non-guaranteed contract, something of a rarity in Major League baseball.

The departures of Lopez and Rowland-Smith fall into the not-surprising category for a team trying to put a 101-loss season behind them. Both had their moments, but both struggled horribly last season.

Zduriencik didn’t want to risk going to arbitration with Rowland-Smith and worked on signing him to a deal — as the club did with Josh Wilson — right up to the 9 p.m. tender deadline. But the two sides couldn’t agree on what RRS was worth and he opted for free agency.

More power to him as the 27-year-old Australian truly is one of the best people you’ll find in baseball.

Lopez, too, could benefit from a fresh start, not to mention a chance to hit in Coors Field. If he returns to the guy who smacked 25 home runs and 96 RBIs a year ago, the Rockies will be thrilled. And Mariners’ fans will gnash their teeth. But that wasn’t happening for him in Seattle and the Mariners now will see what they got from 24-year-old pitcher Chaz Roe, a former first-round pick of the Rockies who struggled last year in Triple-A Colorado Springs, which isn’t an easy place to pitch.

Whether Roe ever helps the Mariners remains to be seen, but it’s a far better return than most expected from a situation where Lopez was going to be non-tendered and become a free agent if a deal couldn’t be worked out by 9 p.m. Thursday.

So that’s that. A busy day, a little roster reconstruction and the start of what figures to be more moves to come as Zduriencik goes about his business beginning Monday in Orlando.

 

Josh Wilson agrees to one-year deal

Utility infielder Josh Wilson has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Mariners for 2011, the club announced as a busy Thursday night continues.

The Mariners were facing a decision on whether to tender a contract with Wilson that would have made him eligible for arbitration, but instead came to terms on a new deal just before the 9 p.m. PT tender deadline.

Wilson, 29, started a career-high 102 games last season for Seattle, primarily at shortstop after Jack Wilson was injured.

He hit .227 with 25 RBis and 22 runs scored while also starting games at first, second and third base.

Mariners pull off a trade for Jose Lopez

The Mariners have pulled a second surprise on an active Thursday, trading infielder Jose Lopez to the Colorado Rockies for Triple-A pitcher Chaz Roe.

LopezJoseSwing.jpgThough Roe isn’t Major League ready, the move gets general manager Jack Zduriencik some return on the veteran who was expected to be non-tendered at Thursday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline.

The Mariners earlier announced the re-signing of pitcher Erik Bedard to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal.

Roe, 24, was a first-round sandwich pick of the Rockies in ’05 who struggled last year in his first year at Colorado Springs (9-13, 5.98 ERA). But Roe is a prospect of interest and that’s something for the Mariners, who faced the option of going to arbitration for Lopez or let him go for nothing at the contract tender deadline.

It’s no shocker that Lopez is heading to new pastures — and the right-handed pull hitter could enjoy his new opportunity in Colorado — but a published report emerged Wednesday quoting an anonymous source saying the Mariners were going to non-tender Lopez.

Instead, the club continued working the phones and pulled off a deal that will keep the long-time Mariner off the free-agent market.

While Lopez bore the brunt of criticism last year during a difficult ’09 season when his power and batting average dropped considerably, he provided the Mariners some power and run production from a middle-infield position his first four years as a starter.

Lopez was an All-Star in ’06, hit .297 in ’08 and led the team with 96 RBIs while hitting 25 home runs with a .272 average in ’09.

But Lopez never adjusted to numerous efforts to make him a more-patient hitter and his career on-base percentage of .297 didn’t fit well with what the Mariners are trying to do.

While Ichiro is famous for not taking walks, the Mariners’ leadoff hitter usually walks 45-50 times per season. Lopez’s career-high is 27 walks in one season and even after last year’s increased emphasis, he walked just 23 times.

Now he’ll walk into a new situation in Colorado, where his free-swinging approach might suit him well.

 

Mariners re-sign Bedard to non-guaranteed deal

The Mariners made a surprising move Thursday evening, signing pitcher Erik Bedard to a non-guaranteed contract for next season.

The signing brings the club’s 40-man roster up to its full number.

While most Major league contracts are fully guaranteed, the deal with Bedard is structured different due to his history of arm troubles.

Seattle thus gets a potential quality starter at low risk and will see if Bedard can return to health after sitting out the entire ’10 season. The 31-year old was 11-7 with a 3.24 ERA for Seattle in 2008-09, but managed only 30 starts in that span.

The left-hander has had season-ending shoulder surgery in each of the last two seasons, most recently Aug. 6, 2010 to have a bone spur shaved down.

 

Bedard made three rehab starts last year with the Arizona League Mariners and Tacoma Rainiers, before being shut down for the rest of the season.

 

The club is still working on the situation with its arbitration-eligible players heading into the 9 p.m. PT deadline to tender contracts. That means no decision yet on Jose Lopez, but stay tuned.

 

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