October 2011

More moves by Mariners: Jeff Gray claimed

With the World Series ending over the weekend, Major League teams can begin making offseason roster moves and the Mariners cleaned up a few things Monday.

As reported here earlier, closer David Aardsma cleared waivers and is now a free agent. You can read that story and his reaction here, including his statement that he’s not ruling out a return to Seattle.

Now the Mariners have announced that reliever Jeff Gray also was waived, but he was claimed by the Twins.

Additionally, the club moved Franklin Gutierrez and Adam Moore from the 60-day DL back to the 40-man roster. That puts the Mariners now with 37 players on their 40-man roster.

Veterans Josh Bard, Adam Kennedy, Jamey Wright and Wily Mo Pena automatically became free agents on Saturday and have exclusive negotiating rights with the Mariners until Wednesday at 9 p.m., when all clubs can begin working deals with any of the available free agents.

Here’s the full list of free agents around MLB.

Ichiro’s Gold Glove streak coming to an end

Ichiro will see his string of 10 straight Gold Glove awards end this season. (Getty Images/Brandon Wade)

Ichiro’s record-tying string of 10 American League Gold Glove awards will come to an end when the 2011 winners are announced Tuesdayat 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Ichiro, who shares the AL record of 10 straight Gold Gloves with Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline, was not among the three right-field finalists nominated for the award in this year’s new format.

The 37-year-old outfielder had by far his worst defensive season by UZR metrics, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that he won’t win a Gold Glove for the first time since coming to the Major Leagues in 2001.

The three right fielders selected as finalists are Nick Markakis of the Orioles, Torii Hunter of the Angels and Jeff Francoeur of the Royals.

No Mariners were among the three finalists at any position. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez won his first Gold Glove in 2010, but only played 92 games this past season in a season curtailed by illness and injury.

Brendan Ryan was generally recognized as the Mariners best defender,  but shortstop is a position filled with top glove men. Derek Jeter, the perennial AL winner, wasn’t nominated this season. The three shortstops on the AL ballot are Erick Aybar of the Angels, J.J. Hardy for the Orioles and Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians.

The Mariners have had at least one Gold Glove winner every season since 1987, a streak that will end Monday along with Ichiro’s.

Aardsma becomes free agent

David Aardsma saved 69 games for the Mariners in 2009-10. (Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.)

Injured closer David Aardsma cleared waivers on Monday after having his contract outrighted by the Mariners, meaning he’s now a free agent.

Aardsma, 29, would have been owed at least $3.6 million in salary arbitration by the Mariners as he comes off Tommy John surgery on his elbow that will keep him out until midseason of next year, so he understands why he was waived and didn’t rule out a potential return.

“I loved my time in Seattle,” Aardsma said Monday. “I love the fans and thank Jack Zduriencik for giving me the opportunity to have a job and become a closer. I want to thank all the fans in Seattle for their support. It’s not fun, but it’s part of the job and this is going to be next step. It doesn’t mean I won’t be back.

“This is one of those things we all knew was coming because of the situation. It doesn’t close any doors, it just opens more,” he said.

Aardsma, 29, saved 69 games for Seattle in 2009-10, but missed all of last season after undergoing hip surgery in December and then Tommy John surgery in July after injuring his elbow during his comeback. He said he expects to be fully able to pitch somewhere between June and July of next season.

Aardsma made $4.5 million last year and had one season of arbitration eligibility remaining with the Mariners, who thus would have had to tender him an offer of at least 80 percent of his contract ($3.6 million) for the coming year or could have waited until Nov. 23 to non-tender a contract. Instead, the club outrighted him and he cleared waivers on Monday.

Broadcast alert: Hultzen on MLB Network

If you’re looking for a sneak peak at top Mariners draft pick Danny Hultzen, mark next Saturday, Nov. 5, on your TV viewing calendar.

Hultzen and the Pirates’ No. 1 overall pick Gerritt Cole will be the starting pitchers in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game that will be televised by the MLB Network at 4:10 p.m. from Surprise, Ariz.

 Hultzen, the second overall pick in the draft, has started four games so far for the Peoria Javelinas with a 2.13 ERA.  He will start for the West squad in the sixth-annual Rising Stars Game.

Full rosters for the game will be announced next week.

Rosters will be announced next week and former Mariners catcher and current broadcaster Dave Valle will handle color commentary for the MLB Network alongside play-by-play man Paul Severino.

 Dustin Ackley played in the contest last year and the game has previously featured such future MLB stars as Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hunter Pence, Andrew McCutcheon, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg and Eric Hosmer.

Wedge bringing back entire coaching staff

Hitting coach Chris Chambliss will return for a second season with the Mariners, along with the rest of manager Eric Wedge's staff. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

One of the first things Eric Wedge vowed when he took over as Mariners manager last year was to stop the merry-go-round on the club’s coaching staff.

So chalk it up as no major surprise — but a most-welcome change — when Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik announced Wednesday that the entire coaching group will return intact next season.

That means Robby Thompson returns as bench coach and infield coordinator, Carl Willis is back as pitching coach, Chris Chambliss as hitting coach, Mike Brumley at first base, Jeff Datz at third base, Jaime Navarro in the bullpen and Jason Phillips as the bullpen catcher.

According to Jeff Evans of the Mariners baseball information department, it’s the first time since 2002 — the final year of Lou Piniella’s tenure — that the club didn’t make a change in its staff over the offseason.

“Having the staff return next season is another positive step as we continue to build our Major League team, and organization, to where we want it,” Zduriencik said in a statement released by the team. “It is a group of hard-working professionals.”

Wedge noted that continuity is critical for a staff working to establish a new tone with so many young players.

“I feel we made progress this season,” Wedge said, “and this group was a big part of it. They work hard, they understand the game, and they are willing and able to teach, while being unwilling to accept less than full effort. We did a good job creating a mindset here last season, and we are looking forward to improvement in 2012.”

Continuity in the hitting coach position has been particularly rare for the Mariners over the past decade, as Gerald Perry (2000-02), Lamar Johnson (2003), Paul Molitor (2004), Don Baylor (2005), Jeff Pentland (2006-08), Lee Elia (2008), Alan Cockrell (2009-10) and Alonzo Powell (2010) all filled that job prior to Chambliss’ arrival last season.

Griffey to receive Commissioner’s Award

Ken Griffey Jr. will be honored with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award on Sunday, just the 12th time the trophy has been given by Commissioner Bud Selig. (Getty Images/Otto Greule Jr.)

Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig announced Sunday morning that former Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. will be presented the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award prior to Game 4 of the World Series tonight in Arlington, Texas.

Griffey will become just the 12th recipient of the award, which was created in 1998 to recognize achievements and contributions of historical significance to the game.

Two of those previous awards also were affiliated with the Mariners. Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was given the award in 2005 after breaking George Sisler’s all-time single-season record with 262 hits in the ’04 season.

Additionally, the Mariners remain the only club ever to have their entire team given the award after the 2001 season during which they won 116 games.

Griffey, 41, will become the first recipient of the award since 2007 when Rachel Robinson was honored for continuing the legacy of her late husband, Jackie Robinson.

Other past winners have been Mark McGwire (1998), Sammy Sosa (1998), Cal Ripken Jr. (2001), Tony Gwynn (2001), Rickey Henderson (2002), Barry Bonds (2002), Roger Clemens (2004) and Roberto Clemente (2006).

In selecting Griffey as the 12th winner of the honor, Selig noted both his tremendous accomplishments on the field as well as his idea to wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson Day, a suggestion the commissioner expanded on in 2007 to allow players and coaches throughout MLB to join in what now has become an annual tradition throughout the game.

“Ken Griffey Jr. was a gifted all-around player with a perfect swing, a brilliant glove and a childlike joy for the game,” Selig said in a statement released Saturday by MLB. “From the time he was just 19, Ken represented Major League Baseball with excellence and grace, and he was one of our sport’s greatest ambassadors not only in Seattle and Cincinnati, but also around the world. I am most appreciative for all of Ken’s contributions to our national pastime.”

Griffey will speak at a press conference Sunday in Arlington after being presented the 12-inch trophy, which has a sterling silver base with a baseball mounted at the top.  The words “Commissioner’s Historic Achievement” are engraved around the base of the trophy with the Major League Baseball silhouetted batter logo above the type.

New infield turf going in at Safeco Field

Free agency doesn’t begin until after the World Series concludes and it’ll be until baseball’s Winter Meetings in Dallas in early December before things percolate too much, but the Mariners are digging up some dirt already in offseason plans.

The Safeco Field infield grass, as well as the grass in foul territory between home plate and the bases, will be removed in the coming days as a new playing surface will be installed for the first time since the park opened in 1999.

The project begins this Sunday, Oct. 23, and will take three to four days, according to the Mariners. Once the old grass is removed, the infield will be regraded and installation of the new turf is expected to begin on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The club says about 80-120 tons of grass and sand will be hauled away in the process, with about 20,000 square feet of 100-percent Kentucky bluegrass turf to be installed.

The turf is from Country Green Turf Farms of Olympia, the original supplier of the Safeco Field turf.

Fister able to pitch more aggressively with Tigers

Former Mariner Doug Fister won Game 3 of the ALCS with 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball for the Tigers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Doug Fister has been a marvelous story in Detroit and the former Mariner is soaking up his moment in the sun in an American League Championship Series that returned to rain on Wednesday.

It’s been great seeing Fister do well on the big postseason stage and he shared his thoughts post-game Tuesday night outside the clubhouse after beating the Rangers 5-2 to keep the Tigers’ hopes alive. You can read the story here that I wrote for MLB.com.

Fister is a hard-working, down-to-Earth guy who deserves all the success he can find. And while Seattle fans have to cringe a bit at the success he’s having elsewhere, Fister’s trade to the Tigers might just turn out to be one of those “good for both teams” deals that helps Detroit now and benefits Seattle for years to come with the addition of youngsters Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Francisco Martinez.

At the moment, there’s little question the Tigers are thrilled with what Fister is doing. Manager Jim Leyland acknowledges Fister has been better than anyone expected, though Texas manager Ron Washington — who has seen plenty of him in the AL West — said Wednesday he’s the same guy as before, just with a better team behind him.

“I”ll tell you, he’s the same pitcher,” Washington said. “He just didn’t get many runs. I always thought this guy commanded the baseball, he has a feel for what he’s doing and it’s the same. He’s just on a better team. I think he could have got the same results in Seattle if they’d have supported him like these guys support him. He can pitch, man.”

Fister himself insists he’s doing everything the same, but there does seem to be a subtle difference that is paying dividends. He’s always been a strike thrower, but he feels even freer now to challenge hitters and count on the fact his own club can overcome a run here or there if he avoids walking batters and setting up bigger innings.

He had an impressive 89 strikeouts to 32 walks in Seattle. But since coming to Detroit, that ratio is an even-more remarkable 70 strikeouts to just nine walks.

When pressed, Fister admits he might have a slightly different mindset now in that one regard.

“There’d be times I’d get a little picky and try to nip corners and that’s when I got hurt,” he said. “I started walking guys and that’s one thing I’ve tried to stay with, especially since I got here. I’m not going to walk a guy. There may be a situation where it’s OK to put a guy on, but I’d rather give up a little hit than walk a guy. So my focus is, OK, I’m going to attack him and let him put a swing on the ball and hopefully our defense gets it for me.”

Reliever David Pauley has watched Fister in both places, having coming to the Tigers along with him. He sees a slight change there as well, which he attributes to having Detroit’s potent offense working in his favor.

“Maybe he’s a little more aggressive, knowing he can play a little bit,” said Pauley. “He’s not so worried about giving up that one run. Now that he knows he can go out and compete and be more aggressive, then he can go to his other stuff. It’s been fun for him. I know the way he feels. He’s taking advantage of it.”

As for Pauley, he’s not on the Tigers playoff roster for the ALCS, though he’s still traveling and working out with the team and could be added back for the World Series roster if the team wanted to add another arm.

“I’m still throwing bullpens and stuff,” he said. “Obviously you never know. I’m just trying to stay ready.”

Chiang off to nice start in Arizona Fall League

Not a banner day for Mariners prospects in the Arizona Fall League opener on Tuesday as the Peoria Javelinas debuted with a 12-9 loss to Salt River, but young outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang did go 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and two runs scored to get himself off to a nice start.

Chiang is the 23-year-old acquired from Boston in the Erik Bedard trade and the Mariners would love to see him have a nice AFL run after he struggled upon joining Double-A Jackson this summer.

Adam Moore and Nick Franklin, the other two Mariners position players with Peoria, each went hitless in Tuesday’s opener. Franklin started at shortstop and led off for the Javelinas. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored while committing the team’s lone error on a throw.

Moore, on the comeback trail after tearing ligaments in his knee during the first week of the season for the Mariners, went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

The same two teams play again Wednesday night at Salt River as the 38-game schedule gets rolling. If you’re looking for more information on the Arizona Fall League and what it entails, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo filed this story on the league and what top prospects are playing this season.

Hultzen among Mariners’ Arizona Fall League entrants

While the MLB playoffs are just gearing up for the eight fortunate franchises still playing in October, the rest are looking forward to offseason improvements. And for the Mariners, a big part of that means continued development of their young prospects.

That begins Tuesday, ready or not, with the start of the Arizona Fall League.

There are seven Mariners prospects on the Peoria Javelinas, who open their 38-game AFL schedule Tuesday against Salt River.

The biggest intrigue for Seattle fans will be watching the progress of first-round draft pick Danny Hultzen, the left-hander out of Virginia. Hultzen will be invited to Major League camp in the spring and given a good look, so keep an eye on how he does in the AFL.

You might recall that Dustin Ackley was the MVP of the AFL last fall and certainly helped build his confidence with an outstanding season in that league.

Steven Hensley, Forrest Snow and Brian Moran are the other three Mariners prospects pitching for the Javelinas.

The three Mariners position players are all worth watching as well. Adam Moore, coming back from his knee injury, is one of three catchers on the squad. Certainly he can ease some concerns if he plays well and proves healthy.

Young shortstop Nick Franklin and outfielder Chi-Hsien Chiang are the other two Mariners products participating. Franklin was heating up in a hurry after a promotion to Double-A in midseason when he got hit with a bat in pregame warmups and suffered a concussion, then got sick during his return from that incident. As one of Seattle’s top young prospects, this will be a nice chance to see where he’s at after a difficult end to his promising 2011 campaign

And Chiang also is of high interest as one of two young prospects — along with Trayvon Robinson — acquired in the E.rik Bedard trade. Chiang, 23, had huge offensive numbers with the Red Sox’s Double-A squad (.340, 18 HR, 76 RBIs in 321 at-bats), but then fell off dramatically after joining the Mariners’ Double-A Jackson team (.208, 0 HR, 10 RBI in 130 at-bats).

How the Taiwan native handles the AFL action will be important coming off that Jekyl and Hyde season. Certainly the Mariners would like to see more of what they expected at the time of the trade, now that he’s had time to settle in.

I’ll keep you posted on AFL doings and everything else Mariners-related over the course of the offseason, so stay tuned!