January 2011

Safeco’s Bullpen Market getting new look, new food

No, it won’t have anything to do with David Aardsma and Brandon League’s efforts this coming season, but fans at Safeco Field will have a new experience in the Bullpen Market in the left-center field area.

The club announced Monday that three nationally renowned chefs — Ethan Stowell, Roberto Santibanez and Bill Pustani — are partnering with foodservice leader Centerplate on a new food plan for the area that will include more of a restaurant-style approach with specialties like pizza, crepes and Mexican food.

The Bullpen Market area is undergoing a re-design as well.

“Fans are gong to recognize this immediately as something special,” said Bob Aylward, the Mariners executive vice president of business operations. “The Bullpen Market has been completely re-imagined to make it more open and inviting. It will be comfortable and casual with a distinct personality very different from the old space.”

Aylward said the new chef partnerships will make the Bullpen a dining destination spot before and during games.

Fans will get their first chance for a sneak peak at the revamped Bullpen Market area at this weekend’s FanFest, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Mariners add Gerut, Robertson as non-roster invitees

Outfielder Jody Gerut, who spent the first three years of his Major League career playing for Eric Wedge and the Cleveland Indians, signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners on Thursday.

Also added on a similar deal was left-handed pitcher Nate Robertson. Both veterans will be among 19 non-roster players invited to the Mariners’ Major League Spring Training next month.

GerutJodyMug.jpgGerut, 33, is a career .262 hitter in six Major League seasons. He’s been with the Cubs, Pirates, Padres and Brewers since his Cleveland days.

Gerut was with Milwaukee the past two seasons, but got just 71 at-bats in 32 games last season while hitting .197 with a pair of home runs before being sidelined two months with a bruised heel. He hit for the cycle on May 8 against Arizona.

The left-hander’s best seasons came in Cleveland, where he broke in with a bang as a rookie, hitting .279 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs while finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in ’03, Wedge’s first year as manager.

He tore his ACL the following season, however, and then was dealt twice in the span of two weeks right before the ’05 trade deadline, first to the Cubs and then the Pirates for Matt Lawton.

Gerut wound up missing the entire 2006-07 seasons and has been mostly a part-time player since undergoing surgeries on both knees. His best season since his rookie campaign came with the Padres in ’08 when he ht .296 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 328 at-bats.

The former Stanford product is capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, with most of his work coming in right and center field to this point.

I would expect he’ll be given a chance to show what he can do in left field, where young Michael Saunders is the returning starter and Milton Bradley also returns, as well as compete with non-roster invitee Ryan Langerhans as well as Greg Halman and other youngsters for backup duties across the board.

RobertsonNateMugTigers.jpgRobertson, 33, is a 6-foot-2 left hander with considerable American League starting experience. In nine seasons, he’s posted a 57-77 record with a 5.01 ERA in 223 games.

Robertson pitched for the Tigers from 2003-09, going 51-68 with a 4.78 ERA. He went 13-13 with a 3.84 ERA in his best season in Detroit in ’06.

Last year, earning $10 million in the final year of his contract, Robertson went 6-8 with a 5.75 ERA with the Marlins and Phillies. He’ll obviously need to prove his way back on to a Major League roster this year, but could have a chance in Seattle.

The Mariners have returning starters Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, plus rookie Michael Pineda and the oft-injured Erik Bedard, along with part-time starters David Pauley and Luke French.

Robertson gives Seattle another starting option at a low cost. It’s worth noting the left-hander has a 3-2 record and 2.75 ERA in six career starts at Safeco Field.

Baron, Beavan invited to Major League camp

Two young prospects, catcher Steven Baron and right-handed pitcher Blake Beavan, have been invited to the Mariners’ Major League Spring Training.

The two youngsters are not on the 40-man roster, but will join the 15 other non-roster invitees when camp opens next month in Peoria, Ariz.

Baron, 20, will be participating in his second Major League camp. A supplemental first-round Draft pick in ’09 (33rd overall), he split last season between Clinton and Everett, the Mariners’ Class-A and short-season A clubs.

He was named a Northwest League All-Star after hitting .253 with three home runs and 22 RBIs for the AquaSox and also hit .300 in five playoff games to help Everett to the NWL championship.

The Miami native threw out 63 of 138 attempted base stealers last year, a combined 45.6 percent with his two clubs to lead the Minors in caught-stealing percentage.

Beavan, 22, was acquired from Texas as part of the Cliff Lee trade on July 9. The 6-foot-7 Texas native combined to go 14-8 with a 3.90 ERA in 27 starts with Frisco (AA), West Tenn (AA) and Tacoma (AAA).

Beavan was a first-round Draft pick by the Rangers (17th overall) in ’07

Hargrove returns to game just as Meche checks out

Two interesting storylines in Major League Baseball on Tuesday involving comings and goings of former Mariners.

MecheGil.jpgIn Kansas City, pitcher Gil Meche pulled the stunner of retiring from the game at 32 … the surprise being he’s walking away from the final year of a contract that would have paid him $12 million for the upcoming season.

The Mariners’ first-round draft pick in ’96 had moments of brilliance in the big leagues along with considerable frustrations. He got the quick promotion to Seattle at age 20 and went 8-4 as a rookie in ’99, raising considerable hope that he was an ace-in-waiting.

A torn labrum led to Meche missing the 2001-02 seasons, but he came back to win 15 games in ’03 and posted a 55-44 record in six seasons in Seattle before signing a five-year, $55 million deal with the Royals.

Arm problems caught up with Meche again and he finished last season in the bullpen and was targeted for relief duty again this year to avoid further toll on his arm before choosing instead to walk away.

You can read the full story of his retirement here by MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel, who covers the Royals.

HargroveMike.jpgMeanwhile, former Mariners manager Mike Hargrove is returning to baseball as a special adviser to the Cleveland Indians, his first job back in the Majors since walking away from Seattle in the midst of a pennant race on July 1, 2007.

At the time, the Mariners were 45-33 and riding an eight-game win streak, but Hargrove said he’d lost his passion for the game.

He returns now to an Indians’ franchise where he played, coached and managed for 22 years.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to once again be a Cleveland Indian,” Hargrove said in a statement, “and am very much looking forward to helping any way that I can. Even when I was away and managing other teams, I always had an interest in what was happening with the Indians. All I can really say is that it is good to be home.”

Hargrove’s return to Cleveland coincides with Seattle’s hiring of former Indians skipper Eric Wedge, raising another interesting angle to the Mariners’ home-opening series against Cleveland on April 8-10. Sounds as if Hargrove could be working on the Indians’ broadcast crew at that time. If so, it would be his first return to Safeco since his oddly-timed departure.

You can read more about Hargrove’s situation in Cleveland in this story by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastain.

Aardsma, League, Vargas agree to one-year deals

There’ll be no arbitration hearing drama for the Mariners this season as the club announced the signing of pitchers David Aardsma, Brandon League and Jason Vargas to one-year contracts Tuesday.

The Mariners last three arbitration-eligible players all agreed shortly after the Tuesday deadline for teams and players to exchange arbitration numbers.

Even if they hadn’t signed, chances are compromise deals would have been struck before the binding arbitration hearings in February. Very few teams and players choose to go all the way through with that process.

Larry Stone of the Seattle Times notes the last time the Mariners went to an actual arbitration hearing was 2003 with Freddy Garcia, when he won a $6.875 million case after the club offered $5.9 million.

No terms yet on today’s three deals, but the good news is the dealing is done and the Mariners are headed toward pitchers and catchers reporting Feb. 13 with no issues on the table.

Sorting through the Miguel Olivo contract situation

It’s been widely reported — including here — that free agent catcher Miguel Olivo signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Mariners. And the presumption thus was that he’d be earning about $3.5 million for the coming season.

OlivoMiguelMug10.jpgTurns out, neither number is entirely accurate, according to information obtained by MLB.com.

Olivo will actually earn $6.25 million for the next two seasons. While he is guaranteed to make at least $7 million from the Mariners, that includes a potential $750,000 buyout from the club if it declines its option for a third season in 2013.

The veteran catcher will make $2.75 million for the coming year — a $2.25 million base contract, plus a $500,000 signing bonus.

He is due to make $3.5 million the following year in 2012. Then the Mariners have the option of either giving Olivo the $750,000 buyout in ’13 or keeping him for that third season at a $3 million base salary that could rise to as much as $3.75 million based on his amount of playing time in 2011 and ’12.

While we’re talking contracts, the Mariners will pay both infielder Adam Kennedy and catcher Josh Bard $750,000 if they make the Major League roster. Both veterans signed Minor League deals recently.

Kennedy’s contract includes further playing-time bonuses that start kicking in at $50,000 for 350 plate appearances. He could earn up to an additional $450,000 if he maxes out at 600 plate appearances.

Bard has a similar deal, though his bonuses begin at 300 plate appearances and max out at $250,000 for 500 plate appearances.

Both veterans have language in their deals that allows them to request their release if they’re not on the Major League roster when training camp breaks at the end of March.

Marilyn Niehaus raises 12th Man flag atop the Needle

Niehaus12thMan.jpgMarilyn Niehaus is flanked by daughter Greta Niehaus Dunn and son Andy Niehaus after the three raised the Seahawks’ 12th Man flag atop the Space Needle on Friday
. (Photo courtesy of Rod Mar/Seahawks).

Since her husband’s death two months ago, Marilyn Niehaus has been understandably private and behind the scenes as her family and the community went about mourning the passing of Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus.

But on Friday, Marilyn was front and center in a most interesting fashion, perched atop the Space Needle as she and her daughter Greta and son Andy raised the Seahawks’ 12th Man flag in celebration of this Sunday’s NFL playoff game against the Bears.

I spoke with Marilyn afterward and she was still buzzing about the experience.

“I feel like I’m still flying high,” she said. You can read my full story here on the website.

Marilyn said it was an honor to raise the flag above the Space Needle, a ceremony the team has done prior to playoff games in recent years. Dave raised the 12th Man flag at Qwest Field prior to a regular-season game in ’06 and his wife clearly was touched to get the chance to do the same Friday..

She did admit to a slight fear of heights, but said Dave wouldn’t have been surprised that she’d climb out on the roof of the 605-foot high landmark. Doing adventurous things is not new to the Niehaus’ family.

“If someone asked me to take a trip tomorrow, I’d be packing,” said Marilyn.

As you’d expect, Marilyn Niehaus is a gracious woman who has been moved by the community’s reaction to the death of the man she shared with millions of fans over the years. To have her standing atop the city on Friday seemed like the perfect tribute both to her and the Seahawks, who flew to Chicago later in the day.

“We’re so excited for the Seahawks,” Marilyn said. “They’ve brought this city alive again.”

Varvaro claimed off waivers by Braves

Right-handed reliever Anthony Varvaro, a September call-up by the Mariners last season, was claimed off waivers Thursday by the Atlanta Braves.

VarvaroAnthonyMug.jpgVarvaro, 26, was designated for assignment by Seattle on Jan. 3 to clear space on the 40-man roster following the signing of free-agent catcher Miguel Olivo.

Varvaro pitched four innings in four games with the Mariners in the final two weeks of 2010, going 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA.

The Staten Island native is a hard thrower who has struggled with his control, as evidenced in his brief stint with Seattle when he walked six with five strikeouts while giving up two home runs in his four late-season chances.

Varbaro posted a 5.26 ERA in 19 relief appearances with Tacoma last year, with 14 walks and 26 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings.

He was 1-3 with a 3.20 ERA at Double-A West Tenn prior to his promotion, with 21 walks and 46 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings.

Varvaro was a 12th round Draft pick of the Mariners in ’05 out of St. John’s University.

Also, while we’re talking about former Mariners, it should be noted that utility man Willie Bloomquist reportedly agreed to a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can read about that one here.

Venezuelan slugger signs Minor League deal

Luis Jimenez, a 28-year-old first baseman who is leading the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs, has signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners.

Jimenez has bounced around the Minors with six different organizations and will not be given an invitation to the Mariners’ Major League camp, so this one is definitely not a blockbuster and was not officially announced by the club, since there is no camp invitation.

But Jimenez will receive a chance in Seattle’s Minor League system to show if he can continue the work being done with Lara of the Venezuelan League.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound left hander is batting .312 with 12 home runs, 40 RBIs and a 1.024 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 186 at-bats over 59 games this winter.

Jiminez split time between Double-A and Triple-A ball in the Washington Nationals system in 2008, then played in Japan in ’09. He’s previously been with A’s, Orioles, Dodgers, Twins and Red Sox farm teams.

In other words, Jiminez is a longshot at his age to ever make the Majors, but he certainly has a little left-handed pop and he might be worth watching if you’re a Minor League buff. You just never know.

For what it’s worth, catcher Eliezer Alfonso — who played a little with the Mariners last season — is one of five players in the Venezuelan League tied for second in home runs behind Jimenez with nine.

Macklemore releases music-video tribute to Niehaus

A couple weeks ago I posted a YouTube video tribute to Dave Niehaus that was a compilation of Niehaus photos set to a song put together by Seattle artist Macklemore.

 But now Macklemore and his producer, Ryan Lewis, have finalized their own music video and it’s definitely worth watching. Macklemore grew up in Seattle and captures the raw emotion felt by the millions who listened to Niehaus and felt the connection between their city, their baseball team and their Hall of Fame announcer.