January 2012

Edgar talks about Hall voting and Larkin

Edgar Martinez is nothing if not patient. Thus the man who spent a career waiting for the right pitch is now spending his post-career calmly seeing how his Hall of Fame candidacy plays out.

It takes a 75 percent vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to reach the Hall and Martinez was named on 36.5 percent of the ballots in the 2012 voting announced Monday.

He has hovered in the 30-percent range in his first three years, going from 36.2 to 32.9 and now back up to 36.5.

“I know this is going to be a while,” Martinez told me by phone shortly after the voting results came out. “But it’s encouraging that it at least went up from last year. What I’ve seen in the past with players that get about 30 percent, it just takes awhile for the numbers to get up to close to 75.

“It helped me that I know that. I didn’t raise my expectations too high on this. Believe it or not, you don’t remember this on the day-to-day basis. You reflect when you talk about it. But other than that, it doesn’t affect me too much. I don’t have too high of expectations at this moment. But if the numbers climb close to the 75 percent, I can tell you it will be different reaction.”

As for Barry Larkin, the former Reds shortstop who was the one player elected Monday?

“I don’t know him well, but I watched him play,” Martinez said. “He was very consistent over the years, a first-class guy and what a franchise player should be, a leader on and off field. He performed and what I heard is he sacrificed for the team. He had a great career, MVP awards, he could do pretty much anything on the field. It’s well deserved.”

Edgar improves to 36.5 percent in HOF voting

Edgar Martinez in his farewell appearance at Safeco Field in 2004. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

Former Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez received 36.5 percent of the vote in Monday’s National Baseball Hall of Fame balloting, a step forward from last year but still well shy of the needed 75 percent for election.

Martinez, who turned 49 last week, earned 36.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2010 and 32.9 percent last year when he finished eighth among eligible players.

A candidate must receive votes from three-quarters of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters to gain election and can be on the ballot for 15 years, as long as they receive at least five percent of the votes.

Martinez received votes from 209 of the 573 BBWAA members who voted.

Barry Larkin was the lone inductee on Monday, receiving votes on 86 percent of the ballots. Voters can select up to 10 players. Martinez finished seventh among this year’s 27 candidates, behind Larkin (86.4 percent), Jack Morris (66.7), Jeff Bagwell (56.0), Lee Smith (50.6), Tim Raines (48.7) and Alan Trammell (36.8).

Martinez will thus be back on the ballot again next year for his fourth try, though competition figures to get increasingly difficult when a host of strong candidates become eligible for the first time. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa will be among the 2013 nominees.

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas hit the ballot for the first time in 2014, followed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield and then Ken Griffey Jr. and Andy Pettitte in 2016.

That likely means that Martinez is going to need to see his case persevere over the long haul to make any inroads, much the way Bert Blyleven finally was elected last year in his 14th time on the ballot.

That won’t be an easy task, but Martinez does have a resume that could be appreciated more as sabermetric supporters gain a larger voice in the future.

Because he didn’t become a full-time starter in the Majors until age 27, his career totals – 309 home runs, 2,247 hits and 1,261 RBIs – don’t scream out at some Hall voters. But Martinez was clearly one of the premier right-handed hitters of his time, with a .312 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage.

The OPS+ statistic, which uses OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and adjusts it for era and home ballpark factors, is one that shows Martinez’s strength. The Puerto Rican native posted a 150 or better OPS+ in eight different seasons, something only 24 players in baseball history have achieved.

Martinez played his entire 18-year career with the Mariners and made seven All-Star teams, won five Silver Slugger Awards and two American League batting championships and commissioner Bud Selig named baseball’s annual designated hitter award after him in 2004.

Martinez joins Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig as the only players in Major League history with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average higher than .300 and a career on-base percentage higher than .400. That’s exclusive company and the sort of statistical grouping that his supporters cite in his Hall of Fame candidacy.

That registered with 36.5 percent of the voters in the 2011 election. Whether that number grows enough in coming years to get Martinez to Cooperstown is a question that will only be answered with time.

Iwakuma signing strengthens Mariners rotation

Japanese star Hisashi Iwakuma signed a one-year deal with the Mariners on Thursday. (Getty Photos)

Understanding that Mariners fans are crying out for offense — and anybody not named Prince Fielder bears little interest to some at this point — the club made an intriguing move to upgrade its pitching rotation with Thursday’s signing of Hisashi Iwakuma.

Iwakuma, one of the premier pitchers in Japan over the past decade, signed a one-year deal at a low-risk $1.5 million base salary with another potential $3.4 million in performance incentives, according to figures released first by ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick.

The deal is very similar to Erik Bedard’s $1 million base contract last year that included bonus levels for the number of innings pitched and games started.

Iwakuma, 30, first tried coming to the Major Leagues last year, but couldn’t reach agreement with the A’s on a much-higher contract offer after Oakland won the right to negotiate with him with the top posting bid of $19.1 million.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder instead remained in his home country last season and then became a free agent, which occurs after nine seasons of professional ball in Japan’s system.

It appears Iwakuma’s bargaining power dropped with an injury-shortened 2011 season when he missed two months with a sore shoulder. But he came back to pitch the final 11 games last year and if he’s healthy, the Mariners just added a guy who could really help fill out their rotation.

Iwakuma was the Pacific League MVP in 2008 when he went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA. He has a career mark of 107-69 in 226 games with Kintetsu and Rakuten.

“Iwakuma has been a highly successful pitcher in Japan,” said GM Jack Zduriencik. “We look forward to his contributions to the Seattle Mariners, as he will be given the opportunity to be part of our starting rotation.”

Iwakuma will be on a conference call with Mariners media members at 6:30 p.m. PT and I’ll provide a full update on Mariners.com.

Kawasaki signing appears imminent

Munenori Kawasaki says he'll compete for a job with the Mariners this spring, though the club has not yet announced an official signing. (Getty Images)

The Mariners have not yet finalized a contract with shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, but the eight-time Japanese All-Star told reporters in his homeland Thursday that he indeed will be signing with Seattle.

Kawasaki and the team apparently have a tentative agreement on a Minor League deal with an invitation to camp, but the club has yet to make any announcement on Kawasaki’s status and is likely still formalizing the final deal.

According to an Associated Press report out of Kobe, Japan, Kawasaki said on Thursday that “I’ll be going to Arizona in February to compete for a job.”

Kawasaki, 30, told the Japanese media last month that he wanted to play in the Major Leagues, but only for the Mariners because of his friendship with Ichiro Suzuki. The two have been working out together this offseason in Kobe.

Kawasaki will have to earn his way onto a 40-man roster spot and ultimately a role with the Mariners. Brendan Ryan returns as the starting shortstop and general manager Jack Zduriencik has indicated he’s looking primarily for a backup shortstop and utility infielder.

Luis Rodriguez, who played part of last season with Seattle, also has agreed to a Minor League deal with a camp invite and will compete for the same role.

Kawasaki is regarded as an excellent defender and savvy player in Japan, though he’s mostly a slap hitter and there are questions of how well he’ll adjust offensively in the Majors.

Kawasaki hit .267 in 144 games last season while helping the Softbank Hawks to their first Japan Series championship in eight years.

Christofferson helps with Hall of Fame selections

The trophy for the first inductees into the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame.

Bob Christofferson, the head groundskeeper at Safeco Field, was a member of the Hall of Fame Committee that created the standards for consideration and nominated the first two inductees into the Major League Baseball Groundskeeper Hall of Fame.

Christofferson was one of five MLB groundskeepers on the selection committee. Their initial two choices will be inducted Sunday in Anaheim during the 14th annual meeting of MLB Groundskeepers.

The two initial nominees are Emil Bossard and George Toma. Bossard, who died in 1980 at the age of 88, spent 70 years in professional baseball with the St. Paul Saints, Cleveland Indians and later as a consultant to numerous stadiums and Spring Training facilities.

Roger Bossard, Emil’s grandson, consulted on the design and construction of the Safeco Field playing field.

Toma had a 60-year career that concluded with a long stint in Kansas City with both MLB and the NFL. He’s now semi-retired, but still works each Super Bowl and tends the Spring Training fields in Ft. Myers, Fla., for the Twins. In 2001, Toma was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

The new trophy is named for Gary Vanden Berg, the longtime Milwaukee Brewers groundskeeper who died in October. And as you can see from the picture above, it’s a pretty nice piece of hardware.

 Joining Christofferson on the nomination committee were Bill Deacon of the  Mets, Trevor Vance and Justin Scott of the Royals and Mark Razum of the Rockies.

Plans are to continue to recognize individuals who have made a significant impact on baseball, the sports turf industry and their communities by inducting new members each year.

Mariners make two scouting department moves

Two moves announced Thursday by the Mariners involving their scouting department:

Mark Lummus, previously the club’s Midwest Supervisor, has been promoted to National Cross Checker. Lummus, 39, has been in the Mariners scouting department the past 12 years.

In his new post, he’ll assist scouting director Tom McNamara in evaluations of top players leading up to the amateur draft.

The Mariners also hired Jeremy Booth, 35, to serve as Midwest Supervisor. Booth had been working as an area scout for the Brewers for the past three years. He previously spent a year in the Twins scouting department after playing professionally in the Rays and Brewers systems.

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