December 2011

Mariners may get to see Darvish … with Rangers

Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish will have 30 days to negotiate with the Texas Rangers, who won the posting bid Monday with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. (Getty Images)

Even though I never heard that the Mariners even so much as posted a bid for Yu Darvish, I’ve got to admit I was thinking right up til the last minute Monday night that maybe, just maybe, Seattle would be a surprising winner in the pursuit of the Japanese pitching star.

Yeah, the Mariners need offense more than another pitcher. And Darvish will carry a high pricetag, likely more than $100 million range by the time his bid and contract are added together.

Nobody was talking much of Seattle, with Toronto and Texas considered the front runners. Turns out that was right, with the Rangers winding up the winner … and the AL West again getting tougher if Texas manages to sign Darvish after its winning bid of a reported $51.7 million.

Should the Mariners have made a pitch for the pitcher? It’s hard to ignore that the Mariners majority owner is Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Japanese founder of Nintendo. And there is more than ample history between the Mariners and Japan, given the presence of Ichiro, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Kenji Johjima on the roster over the past 11 years.

Darvish, 25, is a two-time Pacific League MVP in Japan, where he compiled a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA over the past seven seasons.

Thus a bold bid by Seattle perhaps wouldn’t have been totally stunning. But the Mariners are relatively strong in pitching already with Felix Hernandez and 22-year-old All-Star Michael Pineda atop their rotation, while finishing last in the American League in scoring three straight seasons.

On that basis, spending mega-money on their strength would have seemed odd. Then again, Darvish would have further added to a Mariners rotation that could also soon include Danny Hultzen, a 22-year-old lefty who was the second overall pick in last June’s Draft out of Virginia.

Instead, Darvish now has the choice of pitching in the Texas heat or staying in Japan. The Rangers have 30 days to come to come to a contract agreement. If not, the posting fee will be returned by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Darvish would be unable to pursue an MLB career until another posting process next year.

Darvish won’t be a free agent able to leave Japan without going through the posting and bid process for two more seasons.

The Red Sox posted a $51 million bid for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006, then signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract.

Ichiro came at a far lower cost to the Mariners back in 2001, with Seattle giving the Orix Blue Wave a $13 million posting fee before signing him to a three-year, $14 million deal.

The A’s won a reported $19.1 million posting bid a year ago for pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, but then were unable to sign the standout right-hander during the 30-day window. Iwakuma was represented by Don Nomura, the same agent who is working with Darvish.

Dominican teen infielder signs with Mariners

The Mariners have signed Angel Yente, a 17-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic, as one of their latest international additions.

The club signs a lot of these types of players and occassionally things work out. That’s the way guys like Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Jose Lopez, Carlos Peguero, Carlos Triuenfel, Alex Liddi, Ryan Rowland-Smith and others wound up in the Mariners system.

Seattle has been one of the leaders in the international market. That said, there are lots more such players who don’t rise to the Major League ranks, so these things should be kept in perspective.

I don’t know anything about Yente, other than what is reported on this Dominican Prospect League website. You can click on that link to see a video of Yente. The DPL reports that he agreed to a $225,000 signing bonus.

The real story to me is that the Mariners continue pursuing the Dominican pipeline. Whether Yente ultimately makes it or not, the international market remains one of Seattle’s strengths under Bob Engle.

The international rules will be changing under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and it will be interesting to see how that plays out, with all signs pointing to an eventual international draft as opposed to these sorts of free-agent signings.

Autograph events and fundraiser this weekend

There are several holiday type events coming up this weekend for Mariners fans looking for an autograph opportunity or just a chance to meet former players and current broadcasters.

Jay Buhner and Rick Rizzs will be at the Mariners’ Bellevue Team Store tonight (Friday) from 5-6:30 p.m., signing autographs and talking to folks.

Dan Wilson will be  at the University Village Center Court from 1-2:30 p.m. on Saturday for a benefit an Ethiopian orphanage. The former catcher will sign autographs and accept monetary donations for Hedasie Elementary, with the money going to buy essentials and sports equipment for the 1,000 orphans at the school.

Also on Saturday, the Santa Moose will be making an appearance from 2-3 p.m. at the Mariners Team Store in Bellevue and then from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the Southcenter Team Store.

Gimenez re-signed to a Major League deal

I know, I know. Everyone wants big, stunning news from the Mariners and they want it now. But for today, the club continues working on things and making roster moves that are just part of the business.

The latest is today’s announcement that catcher Chris Gimenez has re-signed with the club on a Major League deal. Gimenez thus rejoins the 40-man roster just two days after not being tendered an offer at Monday’s contract deadline.

Though Gimenez figures to make about the same figure as a minimum salary Major Leaguer, the re-signing affects the amount the Mariners would pay him if he winds up in the Minors.

“We had every intention of re-signing Chris,” GM Jack Zduriencik said. “There was just some procedural stuff that required us to non-tender him before we negotiated a new deal for 2012.”

Gimenez, 28, played 24 games with Seattle last year and hit .203 with one home run and six RBIs in 59 at-bats. He’s primarily a catcher, but also has seen action at first base and in the outfield during his three Major League seasons, which included part-time duty with the Indians in 2009-10.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge loves the versatility that Gimenez offers as well as his clubhouse presence and leadership. Gimenez proved his grittiness in a June 28 game against the Braves last season when he played the final four innings with a strained oblique muscle after starter Miguel Olivo had already departed with a sore hamstring.

Gimenez also was serving as the club’s player rep in the final month last season, so he’s well respected by his teammates in a young clubhouse that needs more of that.

Ex-White Sox reliever latest non-roster invitee

Josh Kinney, who pitched 13 games for the White Sox last season, has signed a Minor League with a non-roster invitation to Major League camp with the Mariners. (Getty Images)

The Mariners officially released a list of 11 non-roster invitees on Tuesday and there is one new name in the batch: former Cardinals and White Sox reliever Josh Kinney.

The 32-year-old has pitched in 58 Major League games in his career, including 13 last season with the White Sox when he had a 6.62 ERA in 17 2/3 innings.

Kinney previously pitched with St. Louis from 2006-09, appearing in 45 games — including seven in the Cardinals’ postseason run in ’06 when they won the World Series.

He went 6-3 with 14 saves and a 2.77 ERA in 49 appearances with Triple-A Charlotte last season while with the White Sox organization.

The rest of the 10 names in the Mariners’ official release were familiar to those who’ve followed along over the offseason, having been leaking out from various sources. They include the likes of former Mariners infielder Luis Rodriguez, ex-Giants speedster Darren Ford, veteran catcher Guillermo Quiroz and a host of pitchers with varied experience.

Here’s the full list:

  • RHP Matt Fox
  • LHP Steve Garrison
  • RHP Jarrett Grube
  • LHP Sean Henn
  • RHP Josh Kinney
  • RHP Jeff Marquez
  • RHP Scott Patterson
  • C Guillermo Quiroz
  • INF Luis Rodriguez
  • LHP Phillippe Valiquette

That last name is interesting, as Valiquette was actually signed last Aug. 23 after being released off the Reds’ 40-man roster. He’s a flame-throwing lefty out of Montreal who had reached the Triple-A level in 2010 before getting hurt, so he might be one to keep an eye on this spring to see where he’s at in his return.

Liddi: Italian ‘ambassador’ of baseball

Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi was honored for his role as the "Italian ambassador to baseball" by Italian Federation president Riccardo Fraccari.

Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi’s celebrity in his homeland continues to grow since becoming the first Italian born-and-raised baseball player to reach the Major Leagues last year.

Liddi was honored recently by the Italania baseball federation — officially known as Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) — in an event that drew a record 800 fans to the season-ending gala at the city’s theater.

FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from his country to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever who grew up playing strictly in his homeland.

“They keep asking me if I feel like the ambassador of the game in Italy,” Liddi said in an interview after the event. “And I keep repeating it’s a great honor that people feel like this.

“Italian kids can understand now that I made it, that everybody can make it to the Big Leagues, provided they know what working hard means,” he said. “To make it to the Major Leagues, talent is not enough.”

Liddi, 23, acknowledged in the interview that the first few days with the Mariners were pretty overwhelming.

“I really overreacted, trying to do too much,” he said. “But when I understood players in the Big Leagues do have two legs, two arms and breathe like I do, things became easier.”

Liddi, who grew up in Sanremo, Italy, wound up hitting .225 with three home runs and six RBIs in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. He’ll be given a shot to compete for the third-base job this spring with the Mariners, who also have Kyle Seager and Chone Figgins returning at that position.

Hot Stove kicks off tonight in Alderwood Mall

Mariners fans can meet former catcher and current broadcaster Dan Wilson at the Alderwood Mall tonight when 710 ESPN Seattle opens its Hot Stove League shows with a live airing from 7-9 p.m.

Wilson will co-host the show from the Mariners Team Store at the North Seattle mall along with Rick Rizzs, Shannon Drayer and Matt Pitman.

Don’t be surprised if Santa Moose makes an appearance as well.

The opening show will feature telephone interviews with general manager Jack Zduriencik, second baseman Dustin Ackley and new catcher John Jaso, who was acquired from Tampa Bay in the recent trade for Josh Lueke.

The next Hot Stove League show will be Monday, Dec. 19. After a break for the holidays, weekly shows are planned through January and February.

Cortes, Gimenez not offered contracts

Right-handed reliever Dan Cortes and versatile catcher Chris Gimenez were non-tendered by the Mariners on Monday night, meaning they were not offered contract renewals at Major League Baseball’s 9 p.m. PT tender deadline.

Cortes and Gimenez thus become free agents.

The Mariners did tender offers to each of their arbitration-eligible players – closer Brandon League, reliever Shawn Kelley and left-handed starter Jason Vargas – and thus will enter the salary arbitration process with those three.

Cortes and Gimenez were not arbitration eligible yet, but the club decided let them go in order to open spots on their 40-man roster, which now stands at 36 players.

Cortes, 24, pitched 10 games for Seattle last season while posting an 0-2 record with a 5.91 ERA (seven runs in 10 2/3 innings) in 10 appearances. He missed the final two weeks of the season after fracturing his right hand in an off-field incident and then underwent shoulder surgery in October.

Gimenez, 28, signed last offseason as a non-roster invitee and began the season with Triple-A Tacoma, but wound up playing in 24 games and hitting .203 with a home run and six RBIs while playing catcher, first base and left field.

Gimenez was well-regarded in the clubhouse and missed several months with a strained oblique after playing through an injury to stay in a game after starting catcher Miguel Olivo was already hurt, so it’s quite possible the Mariners will try to bring him back as a non-roster invitee for a second straight season.

Quiroz, Patterson agree to Minor League deals

Catcher Guillermo Quiroz and right-handed reliever Scott Patterson have agreed to Minor League deals with Major League camp invitations with Seattle. Both have played previously in the Mariners’ system, though Quiroz spent last season with the Padres’ Triple-A club.

Quiroz, 30, hit .240 with five home runs and 44 RBIs in 250 at-bats for Tucson.

The Venezuelan was in the Mariners system in 2006 and 2009-10. He made brief Major League appearances each of those seasons, playing a combined seven games for Seattle while batting .261 (6 for 23) with two RBIs.

His most extensive big league experience came in ’08 with the Orioles when he played 56 games, batting .187 with two home runs and 16 RBIs. He’s also spent time with the Blue Jays and has a career .208 batting average in 101 games.

Patterson, 32, pitched four games in the Majors in 2008 with the Yankees and Padres, posting a 1.93 ERA (one run in 4 2/3 innings). He was waived by the Yankees after one game, then pitched three more with San Diego that season.

The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Pennsylvania native has been with the Mariners in their Minor League system the past two years, going 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 36 relief appearances (47 1/3 innings) last year for Triple-A Tacoma and 1-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 16 games (21 1/3 innings) with Double-A Jackson.

In 2010 he was 1-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 29 games (33 2/3 innings) with Tacoma.

A look at exactly what went down in Dallas

The Mariners left Dallas yesterday having made no moves during the four days of Winter Meetings, which made me curious as to how many clubs were in the same boat.

While the Angels and Marlins stole the national headlines with their monster free-agent splashes, it turns out the Mariners were one of 11 teams that made no moves whatsover.

And two more clubs normally at the fore of Winter Meetings manuevering — the Yankees and Red Sox — really didn’t do anything of significance either. The Yankees only news all week was winning the posting for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima with the lone offer, a $2 million bid for a player I’ve heard they don’t even really want.

The Red Sox announced that DH David Ortiz accepted their arbitration offer and thus will remain with the club at least another season. Neither of those moves really had anything to do with the Winter Meetings, but just came out during the time teams were in Dallas.

Meanwhile, the Mariners were joined on the sidelines by their AL West counterparts Texas and Oakland, neither of whom made a single transaction. The Angels — with their signings of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and reliever LaTroy Hawkins — were the only team in the division to do a thing.

Also on the inactive list at the Meetings were the Indians, Rays, Astros, Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves and Nationals.

The vast majority of action in Dallas came from four clubs. The Angels and Marlins were the big spenders, while the Dodgers and Mets were busier on smaller fronts with three or four signings or trade acquisitions each.

The Dodgers signed pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, plus infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., all to two-year deals. The Mets beefed up their bullpen with the addition of free agents Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, as well as by trading outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for reliever Ramon Ramirez and outfielder Andres Torres.

In the American League, the only team besides the Angels to make more than one deal was the Twins, who signed free-agent closer Matt Capps and traded starter Kevin Slowey to the Rockies.

Otherwise, the Royals dealt backup infielder Yamaico Navarro to the Pirates for a couple Minor Leaguers, the Tigers signed reliever Octavio Dotel, the White Sox traded closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, while the Orioles acquired left-hander Dana Eveland from the Dodgers for a pair of Minor Leaguers.

The NL was a little more active, led by the Marlins, Dodgers and Mets. Otherwise, the Padres traded for Rockies closer Huston Street, the Giants dealt for outfielder Angel Pagan, the D-backs signed first baseman Lyle Overbay, the Rockies acquired Slowey, the Cubs traded for third baseman Ian Stewart and the Pirates signed Erik Bedard and Nate McLouth.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me he expects the free agent and trade markets to loosen up a bit now that teams have spent the past four days talking in Dallas. He figures most will go home, finalize their strategies and make the phone calls that lead to results.

Seattle remains in the market for a veteran starter, a left-handed reliever, a backup shortstop or utility infielder and offensive help at some position, likely DH or the outfield. And now that all the hype of the Winter Meetings has died down, it appears there are plenty of teams and available free agents still looking to get things done.