January 2011

The full list of Mariners’ non-roster invitees

Veteran second baseman Adam Kennedy is the 15th player signed to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training by the Mariners, who usually bring in 15-20 candidates each year that way in the hope of adding depth and competition.

Last year’s group included infielder Josh Wilson and Chris Woodward, catchers Josh Bard, Guillermo Quiroz and Eliezer Alfonzo, relievers Chad Cordero and Chris Seddon and starter David Pauley, who all wound up playing various roles with the Major League club at some point.

In 2009, the non-roster invitee list yielded DH Mike Sweeney, reliever Chris Jakubauskas and catcher Jamie Burke, among others.

Of course, there are always a number of Minor League signees who don’t make it either. But it is a good way to find a few hidden — and inexpensive — gems and here is the list of non-roster signees landed so far this offseason by Jack Zduriencik and his crew.

Pitchers:Denny Bautista, Royce Ring, Charlie Haeger, Fabio Castro, Chris Smith, Justin Miller, Chris Seddon, Yusmeiro Petit

Catchers: Josh Bard, Chris Gimenez.

Infielders: Adam Kennedy, Luis Rodriguez, Sean Kazmar

Outfielders: Ryan Langerhans, Mike Wilson.

They’ll report with the rest of the Mariners next month in Peoria and it’s likely that a couple will wind up finding some role with the club this coming season.

 

Veteran Adam Kennedy added to infield mix

KennedyAdam.jpgSecond baseman Adam Kennedy, a guy Mariners’ fans are plenty familiar with from his time with the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, became the latest non-roster signing Monday as Jack Zduriencik continued combing the free-agent list for potential depth.

Kennedy signed a Minor League contract and will be given a chance to compete in Spring Training, which opens in five weeks now in Peoria, Ariz.

Kennedy signed on his 35th birthday, which is either an interesting coincidence or a reminder that he’s not exactly in his prime any more. But Kennedy is a career .275 hitter and capable infielder who could battle Josh Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo for the utility infield role or even step up as a decent option at second base if needed.

Kennedy hit .249 for the Washington Nationals last year in 342 at-bats with identical .327 on-base and slugging percentages. A year earlier he hit .289/.348/.410 in 529 at-bats with Oakland.

He spent six seasons with the Angels from 2000-06 and was MVP of the ’02 ALCS.

So while Dustin Ackley might be the future at second base, he’ll get the chance to work with the veteran Kennedy this spring as well as Brendan Ryan, who was acquired from St. Louis by trade earlier this offseason.

(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Felix to make FanFest appearance on Jan. 29-30

Good news for Mariners faithful looking forward to FanFest later this month. Felix Hernandez, fresh off his American League Cy Young Award season, will be making an appearance both days at the Safeco Field event.

HernandezFelixYell.jpgThe Mariners’ ace promises to be part of the fun both Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 29-30. Exact times of his appearances haven’t been set, but look for information on that as well as who else will be taking part to come out in the coming days.

If you’ve never been to FanFest, it’s a pretty cool deal with great opportunities to get autographs, run the bases, throw in the bullpen, tour the clubhouse and take part in question and answer sessions with players and coaches.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids 6-14. You can purchase tickets or get more information by clicking here.

The team is also are kicking off its 2011 Mariners Caravan this Monday with a stop at Yakima’s Roosevelt Elementary and a free public autograph session at the SunDome from 4:30-6 p.m. with pitchers Luke French and Shawn Kelly, broadcaster Rick Rizzs and the Mariner Moose.

The Caravan will also hit Moses Lake, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Walla Walla and Tri-Cities next week. Over a three-week period from Jan. 10-28, the Caravan will make stops in 21 communities around the Northwest.

Pitcher Doug Fister, infielder Josh Wilson and broadcaster Dave Sims will join the Moose on the second week of stops, while outfielder Michael Saunders, infielder Dustin Ackley and broadcaster Dave Valle take the reins in Week 3 with some help from reliever Brandon League and broadcaster Mike Blowers in the final stops in Bellevue and Lacey on Jan. 28.

You can check here for a full listing of the Caravan’s stops.

Boone talks about Edgar, Alomar and Hall voting

Bret Boone didn’t get shut out in 2011 Hall of Fame voting announced Wednesday as the former Mariners second baseman got one tally … which put him ahead of six other first-time nominees on the prestigious ballot.

In typical Boone fashion, the 41-year-old shrugged that off and immediately asked who got skunked when contacted Wednesday on a golf course near his home in San Diego.

BooneBret.jpgFor Boone, the good news was that fellow second baseman Roberto Alomar was overwhelmingly elected with 90 percent of the vote after narrowly missing the necessary 75 percent a year earlier in his first try and pitcher Bert Blyleven also got the nod in his 14th year of eligibliity.

“Alomar should have got 90 percent last year,” Boone said. “The silliest thing was him not getting inducted on the first ballot. He was absolutely the best at our position to ever play the game, all around.

“And good for Bert. He’s been there a long time.”

Boone, like fellow first-time nominees Tino Martinez (seven votes for 1.0 percent) and John Olerud (four votes for 0.7 percent), didn’t receive the necessary 5 percent to be included on next year’s ballot. But he understands the situation and knows being among the 19 first-time nominees on this year’s ballot was a tremendous honor.

“You’ve got to be honest with yourself as a player and what you did,” said the man who led the AL with 141 RBIs while hitting .331 with 37 home runs in 2001. “I had some unbelievable years and some tough years. I was just inconsistent.

“You look at Robbie and what he did, he just maintained it for so long. The all-around game … defense, running the bases. It’s not just numbers, it’s how you play the game. Do you get a good read on every ball hit? Do you get a good jump on pitchers? Those are the little things that are hugely important.

“I have huge respect for guys who did it at a high level for a long time. I got a taste of it for a few years. But those guys who did it for that long, I am in awe of what they did. Robbie was a major force for a decade.”

As for Edgar Martinez, his long-time teammate who drew 32.9 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot, Boone said he understands the dilemma of a designated hitter with 2,247 career hits, 309 home runs and 1,261 RBIs

“Edgar is just a tough case for people to look at,” Boone said. “It’s tough to get around some of the numbers and can we do it for a DH. For me, playing with Edgar, he was one of my good friends in the game and just purely the best right-handed hitter I ever played with.

“Just watching him in his heyday was unbelievable. We’d sit there and say we should start him at the plate with two strikes just to make it fair. It’s unfortunate that injuries made it impossible for him to get closer to 3,000 hits or the 400 or 500 home runs people look for. But he was the consummate pro and the best right-handed hitter I was fortunate to ever play with.”

Boone made a brief stint last year as the manager of a baseball team in Victoria, B.C., but said there were too many issues with the independent league club and things didn’t work out. For now, he’s back to being a self-proclaimed “soccer dad” and looking to get back in the baseball biz soon.

“I’ve talked to a few people,” he said. “Whether it’s right now or in 6-8 months, I’d love to get back in the game in some capacity.”

Edgar draws 32.9 percent of Hall of Fame vote

MartinezEdgarFarewell.jpg 

Edgar Martinez received votes on 32.9 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots cast this year by Baseball Writers’ Association of America members, leaving the former Mariners star in contention for Cooperstown in coming years.

While it takes a 75-percent vote to earn Hall of Fame induction, Martinez put up strong numbers for a second straight year and will remain on the ballot next year.

In his initial appearance on the HOF ballot last year, Edgar drew 36.2 percent of the votes. His 32.9 percent voting put him eighth on the 2011 ballot.

Three other former Mariners drew minimal support in their first year on the ballot Wednesday, with Tino Martinez at 1.0 percent, John Olerud tallying 0.7 percent and Bret Boone 0.2 percent.

In Edgar Martinez’s case, his percentages are plenty good enough to keep him in contention — players named on five percent or more of the ballots are automatically placed on the following year’s ballot — but no guarantee that he’ll eventually climb to the required 75 percent for Hall of Fame election.

It’s worth noting, though, that it took pitcher Bert Blyleven 14 years to get elected, with the 287-game winner finally gaining his ticket to Cooperstown on Wednesday with a 79.7 percent vote. Former second baseman Roberto Alomar was also elected — in his second try — with a 90.0 vote.

Blyleven earned just 17.5 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 1998 and dipped to 14.1 percent his second year. It took Blyleven seven years to reach the 35-percent level in ’04 and he then gradually crept closer and closer until finally pushing through this year.

Pitcher Jack Morris is another example of a guy who is gradually moving up year-by-year. Morris drew 22.2 percent his first year of eligibility in 2000 and then dropped to 19.6 his second year.

But Morris has hung in there on the ballot and added support over the past decade to the point where he drew 52.3 last year and hit 53.5 on Wednesday in his 12th year on the ballot.

There’s no guarantee that Martinez will gain similar momentum in coming years, but it’s certainly possible and he has a solid core of support already from many BBWAA members.

Players are eligible to remain on the ballot for 15 years. After that, their chances of election are left to the Veteran’s Committee, which this year voted in former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick.

He’ll join Alomar and Blyleven at this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Death of friend gives Bard new perspective

Yeah, Josh Bard is excited about re-signing with the Mariners and getting a chance to compete for a roster spot this spring. But the veteran catcher will bring a different perspective to Peoria, having witnessed the death of his closest friend less than three months ago when their truck overturned on a hunting trip in Colorado.

BardMug.jpgMLB.com’s Jim Street told the initial story shortly after the accident, in which Denver pastor Pat McKendry died after being tossed from the back of a Ford F-150 truck driven by his son on a backroad in eastern Colorado.

Bard said Tuesday he recovered quickly from his own minor injuries in the crash, but the emotional scars are a different story.

“Obviously emotionally it’s been a lot harder than physically,” he said. “I got banged up a little bit, but I’m totally recovered. It’s heartbreaking to lose your best friend. But ultimately I feel I’ve been blessed to have another day on this planet.

“To go out and put a uniform on again in Spring Training will definitely be a different feeling [this year]. I’m going to try to have more fun and not take myself so seriously all the time. Sometimes this job becomes tedious and pressure-filled. But when you’re given a second chance, you can go out and have fun and encourage your teammates to do the same.

“Baseball is very important to me, but it’s not my whole life. I understand that now.”

I talked to Bard shortly after he agreed to a one-year Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training and he’s eager to reunite with Eric Wedge, who managed him in Triple-A for a season and then his first four years in Cleveland.

He said Wedge runs a tight ship and is extremely clear where he stands with players, which he thinks will be a good thing with a young team. He draws a lot of parallels with the Indians club Wedge inherited and took to the ALCS championship.

And Bard also says he has a good relationship with assistant GM Jeff Kingston from their days together in San Diego, which is why he believes the Mariners when they told him he’ll get a chance to compete with Adam Moore for the backup job behind Miguel Olivo.

Bard started last season in Tacoma and might well do so again, but his return gives the Mariners added depth at catcher and a guy at 32 who feels he’s still got a lot to offer.

“I know Miguel will be the every-day guy. I understand that,” Bard said. “With the numbers he’s put up, he deserves that. And I’ve heard from around the league he’s a good guy to play with.

“Jeff [Kingston] told me the opportunity is here to come in and win a spot. They said we’re not going to give you anything. They believe in Adam, which they should. But they need to put the best team on the field while developing these guys.

“The thing I’ve learned in this game, regarldess of whether you sign a big-league or a minor-league deal — and I’ve signed ‘em all — you’ve got to play well. If you do, you’ll get an opportunity. If not, you wait. I feel my best days are still ahead of me. I’m 32 and healthy. So I’ll try to help Olivo and Adam and make the best of my chances.”

Olivo signing official … finally

OlivoMiguel.jpgYeah, this one feels like old news. The Mariners announced the official signing of catcher Miguel Olivo on Monday, 25 days after the veteran free agent agreed to terms on the final day of the Winter Meetings.

But this one got hung up in the paperwork stages, first when Olivo didn’t come to Seattle for his physical for two weeks and then in recent days because the Major League Baseball offices pretty much shut down after the Christmas holidays.

Once business as usual resumed Monday, the Mariners put a bow on the Olivo deal and announced the two-year deal, with a club option for a third season in 2013.

While some eyebrows have been raised about bringing back a catcher who struggled to hit in Safeco Field in his first stint with the Mariners in 2004-05, I like this deal. Olivo should upgrade the catching position and provide a veteran presence behind the plate, no small factor with a club featuring a number of youthful pitching prospects.

When you’re working in guys like Michael Pineda, Dan Cortes, Josh Lueke and even Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, it doesn’t hurt to have a catcher who has more than the minimal big-league experience that Adam Moore and Rob Johnson brought last year.

Olivo also adds a little pop to a lineup that needs all that it can get. Over the last two seasons, Olivo is tied for fifth among Major League catchers with 37 home runs. Over the past five years, he’s fifth among big-league catchers with 81 home runs.

Will he produce the same numbers at Safeco? Probably not as a right-handed hitter. But I also don’t expect him to struggle nearly as much as he did as a youngster.

The Mariners are going with more youth next season, but it makes sense to sprinkle in veterans in critical places to help with the building process. Having one young catcher in Moore is great. Having two inexperienced catchers, as was attempted last year, didn’t work so well.

The Mariners designated relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. That one seemed predictable, given the 26-year-old has struggled with his control and didn’t seem destined for a bullpen spot this coming season. Varvaro likely winds up back in Tacoma, but we’ll have to wait the obligatory 10 days to see how that plays out.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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