December 2011

Wily Mo signs with Japanese team

Wily Mo Pena, who became a free agent after playing 22 games with the Mariners in the final two months last season, has signed a two-year deal with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League.

The powerful Pena never quite has transferred his legendary batting practice prowess into Major League success and the Mariners didn’t pursue him after a brief look at whether he could be an answer to their DH search.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder batted .209 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 67 at-bats for Seattle after being signed midseason as a Minor League free agent following his release by the D-backs.

Pena, 29, has a career .250 average with 84 home runs and .445 slugging percentage, but just a .303 on-base percentage in 599 big league games with the Reds, Reds Sox, Nationals, D-backs and Mariners.

Pena was an extremely likeable fellow who was well-respected by the young Mariners players, but he just struggled too much to make contact (20 strikeouts in 67 at-bats) to be a long-term answer.

With veteran infielder Adam Kennedy agreeing to a one-year, $800,000 deal with the Dodgers on Thursday, that leaves catcher Josh Bard and reliever Jamey Wright as the only unsigned Mariners free agents from last year.

Bard and Wright are the two of that original four that seemed most likely to be brought back by Seattle. Both were on Minor League deals last year and presumably are seeking Major League deals similar to the one Kennedy just inked, but are at the age where they might need to opt for the non-roster invite again if they can’t find someone willing to offer the 40-man roster spot and Major League deal.

With free agency heating up and the Rule 5 draft set for next Thursday in Dallas, the Mariners — like all clubs — are in the midst of sorting all that out. Seattle’s 40-man roster currently sits at 37.

Trey Griffey making a name for himself in football

Trey Griffey, the eldest son of Junior, has been selected as an Under Armour All-American high school football player.

Yep, young Trey is all grown up … check out his photo with this story on his All-America honors.

Griffey caught 72 passes for 970 yards and 11 touchdowns this season for Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., and is trying to figure out where to play college football next year. He recently visited Michigan State and says he’ll make up his mind in the next few weeks.

Here’s a good story on MaxPreps.com about Griffey’s football exploits earlier this season.

When Junior was in Seattle during the season, he talked about Trey getting interest at Washington State and Oregon. But sounds like his options are increasing and landing on the prestigious Under Armour All-America team certainly won’t hurt.

Japanese shortstop wants to team with Ichiro

Munenori Kawasaki, shown here playing for Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, has indicated he'd like to play for the Mariners. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Munenori Kawasaki, a 30-year-old Japanese shortstop, has expressed an interest in playing for the Mariners. The question now is whether the Mariners are interested in Kawasaki.

The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder became a free agent in Japan and held a news conference Thursday in which he said he wants to play in the Major Leagues, but only for Seattle. Here’s our story on that on MLB.com.

As a free agent, there is no posting fee required so the Mariners wouldn’t have to outbid the competition as with Ichiro and other top Japanese talent. Pitcher Yu Darvish is debating whether to begin the posting process and he’ll draw considerable interest if he does.

Kawasaki isn’t at that level, but he has played shortstop for the champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and is a four-time All-Star. He competed on the Japanese  National team with Ichiro in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.

Kawasaki is at least on the Mariners radar and has been scouted by the team in Japan. And Jack Zduriencik is on record as saying a backup shortstop is on his to-do list this winter, given Brendan Ryan’s neck injury that sidelined him the final few weeks of last season.

However, before everyone jumps the gun too far on Kawasaki, he is 30 years old and while he’s a career .294 hitter, that number dropped to .267 with one home run last year for Fukuoka. He had a .310 on-base percentage and .327 slugging percentage in 603 at-bats. so he’s definitely not a big bat.

He is regarded as a quality defender with good baseball instincts, speed and hustle. He stole 31 bases in 41 attempts last year, but bear in mind that teammate Yuichi Honda swiped 60 bags.

If Kawasaki is willing to come to the Mariners on a Minor League deal, he might get a shot as a non-roster invitee. Adam Kennedy, Jamey Wright, Chris Ray and Ryan Langerhans all made the Opening Day roster that way last year, so it’s not an impossible avenue.

My guess is the Mariners will wait to see how things play out in the free agent market first. But Kawasaki is at least an interesting, low-cost option, if he indeed is a legitimate Major League prospect.

No changes in Mariners radio lineup

The Mariners will again use a rotating group of seven broadcasters to work alongside veteran play-by-play man Rick Rizzs on their radio network next season, according to Randy Adamack, the team’s vice president of communications.

The club went to the seven-man rotation last year to replace Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus, who died Nov. 10, 2010 at the age of 75.

Adamack said the plan is stick with that group for one more year before likely committing to one permanent replacement.

The club’s three full-time announcers – Mike Blowers, Dave Sims and Rizzs – will all return for the 2012 season. Rizzs, in his 27th season with the Mariners, will be the primary radio voice.

Sims and Blowers both will return for their sixth seasons with the club and will handle most of the television broadcasts.

The second spot in the radio booth alongside Rizzs will then be divided between former Niehaus partners Ken Wilson, Ken Levine and Ron Fairly, as well as some appearances by former Mariners players Dave Valle, David Henderson, Dan Wilson and Jay Buhner.

All seven filled a similar role last season.

“Last year we obviously did what we did in the aftermath of Dave Niehaus’ passing,” Adamack said. “It was a special, unique circumstance and we thought that was the best way to move forward for the next year.

“Now as we look ahead, we want to evaluate everything we’re doing without it being in the aftermath of Dave’s passing. We’re moving ahead and want to look at this and continue this way one more year because it gives us an opportunity to better evaluate and make longer-term decisions after 2012.”

Mike Curto, the Tacoma Rainiers play-by-play man since 1999, worked several games with Rizzs last season on a substitute basis and could be used again in that role this coming year, Adamack said, though he’s not part of the regular rotation.

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