December 2012

Bonderman to attempt comeback with Mariners

Detroit Tigers v New York YankeesFormer Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since arm injuries sidelined him in 2010, has signed a Minor League contract with the Mariners with an invitation to Major League camp.

Bonderman, 30, posted a 67-77 record with a 4.89 ERA in eight seasons with Detroit, with arm problems plaguing his final few seasons.

But the big right-hander had Tommy John surgery in April and said he’s now getting back to full strength, already able to throw fastballs off a mound, and looking forward to competing for a job this spring with the Mariners.

“I’ve been working hard, lost some weight, doing all the little things I probably should have done a long time ago,” he said by phone from his home outside Pasco, Wash. “But live and learn.”

Bonderman has been pondering a comeback while helping raise his two kids, ages 6 and 2. Seattle seemed like the right fit, a four-hour drive across the state.

“It’s close to home,” he said. “Really it just came down to the comfort of going back to Detroit or staying close to home with my family. I haven’t been away from my kids in two years and I wanted to stay close. It’s a great opportunity to come in and make the team and help them and get my career back on track. It seemed like a good fit.”

Bonderman said he’s lost about 20 pounds from his final playing days with the Tigers, now packing about 220 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He’ll report to the Mariners camp in Peoria, Ariz., about a month early to begin working with the team’s trainers to prepare for his comeback.

“I had a lot of success in Detroit, but my arm just gave out toward the end of my career there,” he said. “It’s not the way I wanted to finish up, but I think I can come back and stay healthy and find a way to get it going and get my career back on line. I’d like to play a few more years and see what happens.”

In 2006, Bonderman was a key factor in the Tigers World Series run, going 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA in an AL-leading 34 starts. He also won 14 games in 2005.

Bonderman went 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 30 games in 2010, then was out of baseball in 2011 before getting a tryout with the Indians. It was during his physical with Cleveland that his elbow injury was revealed and he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Bonderman was originally selected by Oakland 26th overall in the 2001 June draft following his junior season at Pasco High School. He made a quick rise to the Major Leagues, making only 27 Minor League appearances before arriving in the Majors. He was traded to Detroit on Aug. 22, 2002, and made his Major League debut as a 20-year-old in the Tigers starting rotation in 2003.

The Mariners have an opening in their rotation after trading Jason Vargas to the Angels this week for Kendrys Morales and are still interested in adding another veteran either through free agency or trade.

Mariners make their move: Vargas for Morales

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle MarinersA quiet Mariners offseason just got a lot louder Tuesday as the club made its first major move, acquiring slugger Kendrys Morales from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Jason Vargas.

Both players are entering their final year of arbitration eligibility and will become free agents after the coming season.

Morales, 29, hit .273 with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs last year in 134 games in his first season back after missing all of 2011 with a broken left leg. That injury occurred when he landed awkwardly while jumping into a group of teammates at home plate after hitting a walkoff grand slam off Mariners closer Brandon League in Anaheim on May 29, 2010.

Before his injury, Morales was one of the emerging standouts in the American League after hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs for the Angels in 2009. He returned to the clean-up role for the Angels for much of last season and hit 14 of his home runs and 45 RBIs in the final three months.

The addition of Josh Hamilton last week made Morales expendable for the Angels, but he figures to give Seattle the veteran power hitter that general manager Jack Zduriencik has been pursuing all offseason.

The price wasn’t cheap, however. Vargas, 29, went 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 217 1/3 innings last season and was the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez.

“We have been focused on adding offense this off-season, and feel that Kendrys will be a middle-of-the-order bat for us,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a switch-hitter with power who has played, and hit, in the AL West. He’s familiar with the teams and parks and is a proven run-producer.

“We hate to part with Jason, and really appreciate everything he’s done for us, but we are in a situation where we had to give up talent to acquire talent.”

Morales played mostly first base with the Angels prior to his injury, but started at DH for 92 games and at first base 28 times last year. He figures to compete with Justin Smoak at first base or give Seattle a quality DH, with Jesus Montero and John Jaso splitting duties at catcher and DH as well.

Morales earned $2.97 million last year in his second season of arbitration eligibility, while Vargas made $4.85 million in the same situation. Both were tendered contracts by their teams this offseason and figure to get significant raises this year before hitting free agency in 2014.

So the move leaves Zduriencik still with some financial flexibility, while providing a proven threat in the middle of the team’s young lineup. Losing Vargas hurts, but the club still has all its prize prospects and the ability to add more pitching in free agency.

Given it seems easier to attract quality free-agent pitchers than hitters to Seattle, even with the fences coming in, it’s clear why Zduriencik made this move. He’ll be talking to reporters later this afternoon, so we’ll get more thoughts then.

Zduriencik confirms big bid was made for Hamilton

Talked this morning with Jack Zduriencik and he confirmed what I’d heard last night, that the Mariners did indeed make a strong push for Josh Hamilton and thought they were in it right until the end, when he signed instead with the Angels.

Zduriencik declined to talk specifics, but repeated several times that the Mariners efforts were “very competitive” and they “made a substantial offer in terms of years and dollars.”

It was pretty clear in talking to Zduriencik that he was very disappointed that this didn’t work out, given the impact he felt Hamilton could have had in the middle of Seattle’s lineup. While Hamilton comes with some risk, like any free agent, he felt it was a prime opportunity to add a big bat without having to give up any of the club’s premier prospects in trade and he was encouraged by ownership’s willingness to step up in that pursuit.

The only loss would have been next year’s first-round Draft pick (the 12th selection overall), which also will be true if they sign Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher. What comes next remains to be seen. He said free-agent pursuits continue, though it will obviously be for a smaller piece now “with the big fish off the board.”

He spoke of potential trades, noting that so far teams were asking for way more in return than he’s willing to part with. It was interesting stuff and if you haven’t seen it, you can read the whole story here on

Mariners indeed were pushing hard for Hamilton

For what it’s worth, I’m hearing now the Mariners indeed were in hard on the pursuit of Josh Hamilton and had strong hopes of landing the slugger before he chose the Angels today.

Though Jack Zduriencik suggested last month that Seattle wouldn’t likely be in position to pursue Hamilton at his original seven-year, $175 million target, the Mariners indeed were willing to go after him full bore on a shorter deal.

Hamilton wound up taking five years and $125 million from the Angels, without ever taking that offer back to the Rangers for a counter, much to Texas officials chagrin as my colleague T.R. Sullivan wrote about today.

I’m not sure exactly where the Mariners fell in those negotiations — and maybe its even more frustrating for fans if the team tried, but still came up short. But it is interesting that they were in the hunt to the end, which was not the case last year with Prince Fielder when the Tigers went with more years and dollars than anybody else was willing to stomach.

Whether that means the club feels any of the remaining free agents like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn or Cody Ross is worth a similar push remains to be seen. There also figure to be trade possibilities. The Rockies are looking for pitching and likely would be willing to move Dexter Fowler or Michael Cuddyer, but their real gem — Carlos Gonzalez — would come at an extremely high cost.

The Angels suddenly have a surplus of outfielders and certainly could be talked out of speedster Peter Bourjos, though the Mariners seemingly would find a thumper like Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales more useful.

The Tigers’ Brennan Boesch has been mentioned as a possiblity, though that one probably won’t excite too many folks. The D-backs might be willing to part with Jason Kubel in the right deal.

Let’s face it, when it comes to trade possibilities, it’s very difficult to predict anything and the Mariners — as with the Jesus Montero and Ichiro deals in the past year — usually come out of the dark and surprise everyone.

Sounds like they tried doing the same with Hamilton, but wound up losing out to the Angels. As they say, coming close doesn’t really matter unless you’re talking about horse shoes or hand grenades. So we move on.

Some thoughts as Angels land Josh Hamilton

Texas Rangers v Boston Red SoxSo Josh Hamilton signed somewhere besides Seattle. That shouldn’t be a big surprise. The fact he landed with the Angels? OK, knock me over with a rally monkey. Nobody saw that one coming.

I felt all along that Hamilton would wind up back with Texas, which supposedly was going to get a chance to respond to any offer their free-agent slugger got elsewhere. While many people didn’t want to believe Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners GM said from the start he didn’t think Seattle would be in on Hamilton at the end.

Zduriencik told me that after having some initial conversations with Hamilton’s agent, Mike Moye, in November. Reports that emerged late in the Winter Meetings the first week of December suggesting the Mariners were “close” to signing Hamilton seemed little more than a frustrated agent and player trying to get the market moving a little.

The Mariners were never close on Hamilton. Yeah, they talked to him at the Meetings. They talked to lots of people. They’re looking at every option. I’m guessing Hamilton talked to anybody who was interested as well. Why not? The bigger the market, the better the options … and ultimately the contract.

(Update: Since this was posted, I’ve since learned the Mariners actually were pushing hard to sign Hamilton right up til the end, so I stand corrected. Here’s my update on that front).

The real question now is what do the Mariners do now? With Hamilton off the board, the free agent market should start to move a little quicker. Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are the two best remaining outfielders and I’ve always felt they were more realistic options than Hamilton.

But are they interested in Seattle? And will they be worth the price? Those are questions that remain to be seen. Bourn isn’t the big bat the Mariners need most, but he is an excellent baseball player, an outstanding center fielder and quality leadoff hitter.

He’d help the Mariners because he’s a good player and every team needs as many good players as they can get. He’d be a great piece of the puzzle to add. I don’t buy the notion that he’d just be another version of Ichiro or could be the next Chone Figgins. Those are unfair comparisons.

Bourn is 29 and plays center field, which means he’s still in his prime — a decade younger than Ichiro — and would still allow the addition of a power hitter in right field, whether that came now or in the future.

Is Bourn interested in Seattle? Maybe we’ll find out, now that Hamilton has moved. But it is worth remembering that he’s represented by Scott Boras, so those negotiations could drag out.

As for the Figgins comparison? Don’t even start. Figgins didn’t work out. That doesn’t mean every leadoff hitter is doomed to failure. In fact, I’d feel far more certain that a quality left-handed hitting speedster would succeed in Safeco Field than a right-handed hitter like Justin Upton, who has built his power numbers largely at friendly Chase Field in Arizona.

And the D-backs don’t sound like they’re trading Upton anyway. Not to mention his no-trade clause that includes the Mariners. So put that one to rest. If Zduriencik is going to work the trade route, it’s not going to be for Upton.

As for Swisher? Sure, he’d help the Mariners. Switch hitter, consistent production (if you eliminate playoffs), has some power and personality. I’d be happy to see Swisher wind up in Seattle as well. But all these free-agent negotations are two-way streets. Players are looking for their best situation in regards to contract, a team’s ability to win, a city and stadium they like, a region they’re familiar with, etc, etc.

The Mariners are in a tough spot right now. Seattle is a beautiful city, the team has some payroll flexibility, but the club hasn’t contended recently and Safeco Field is a tough place to hit. We’ll see how much the fences coming in changes that, but right now, it remains an unknown for hitters.

Did Hamilton really consider Seattle? We may never know. Do Swisher or Bourn make for a match? Or does Zduriencik comb the trade possibilities to add offense, or just sit pat and continue building around a young nucleus that holds much of the key to Seattle’s long-term success regardless?

We shall see. We shall also see how the AL West plays out now with the Angels dropping another winter bombshell. Last year it was Albert Pujols. Now it’s Hamilton. The Angels continue spending like crazy, hiking their payroll to about $165 million for next year.

The Angels will owe Pujols $16 million in 2013, then $23M, $24M, $25M, $26M, $27M, $28M, $29M and $30M. We’ve not heard yet how Hamilton’s $125 million will be spread out over five years, but it’s pretty easy to see that the Angels are going to have significant payroll for years to come.

Is that smart business, with players already in their 30s? The Angels didn’t win the AL West last year with Pujols at age 32. Instead, the A’s won the West … with a $55 million payroll.

I’m not saying the A’s will win it again. The Angels should be a force to reckon with. But it certainly does go to show that you just never know in baseball. Some things you just never see coming. Including Josh Hamilton signing with the Halos.

Breaking down Bay’s deal, plus other contract news

BayMediaAs has been reported, Jason Bay signed with the Mariners for one year at $1 million in base salary, with $500,000 guaranteed and the other $500,000 coming if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

What hasn’t been broken down before is the potential $2 million in incentives also included in the deal. Turns out, those incentives strictly come down to playing time, or more specifically, to the number of plate appearances Bay receives in the coming season.

He’ll get an additional $250,000 if he hits 350 plate appearances, then another $250,000 if he reaches 375, 400 and 425. After that, it’s an extra $200,000 for reaching 450, 475, 500, 525 and 550 plate appearances.

As a point of reference, last year Bay totaled 215 plate appearances when he played just 70 games for the Mets. In 2011, he had 509 plate appearances in 123 games. In 2010, he had 401 PAs in 95 games after missing the final two months with a concussion.

From 2005-09, when Bay was healthy and ripping off some big-time production, he never had fewer than 531 plate appearances in a season. If he manages to get back to that level and be an every-day player for the Mariners, he could thus earn close to $3 million. And I’m sure the Mariners would be thrilled if that were the case.

For Bay, this is all on top of the nearly $21 million in deferred money he’s still owed by the Mets after they released him with one year still remaining on his four-year deal with them.

While we’re talking contracts:

— When infielder Robert Andino went right down to the non-tender deadline two weeks ago before signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, he would up signing for $1.6 million in base salary, plus a potential $200,000 more if he reaches his own plate-appearance levels from 400-575.

Andino earned $1.3 million the previous year with the Orioles in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

— Reliever Josh Kinney also signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration at the non-tender deadline. His contract is for $700,000 if he’s on the Major League club. Kinney played for the Major League minimum of $490,000 last season.

Mariners still in pursuit of offensive upgrade

Things aren’t happening as fast this offseason as Mariners fans would like and Jack Zduriencik can relate. The Mariners GM would love to have done more at the Winter Meetings than just sign outfielder Jason Bay to a one-year deal, but he’s continuing to press forward and it seems clear the club expects some progress soon.

Top hitters Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are among the dozens of free agents yet to sign. Kevin Youkilis is another prominent free agent who is believed to have Seattle on his radar.

The Mariners have also explored numerous trade options, looking for the right match.

“We have a lot of discussions going with different angles and we’ll see where it goes,” Zduriencik said Monday afternoon. “We’re trying to be fairly aggressive and try to do something to bring other opportunities here.”

Zduriencik, assistant GM Jeff Kingston and manager Eric Wedge were all at Bay’s media gathering in the Safeco Field clubhouse, taking a break from a morning of meetings and updates on the latest efforts.

“It isn’t easy to be patient, but it’s part of the process,” said Zduriencik.

The Dodgers signing of Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal could help get things moving as he and the still-unsigned Hamilton are the big dominoes that many clubs are waiting on before pursuing their next options.

“It could [get things going],” Zduriencik said. “Though I think the Dodgers are a little different than most clubs, the way they’re operating right now.”

As for the Royals-Rays trade that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for a package of premier prospects led by outfielder Wil Myers, don’t bother wondering why the Mariners didn’t get involved in the pursuit of Myers.

I’ve said all along that Kansas City wasn’t interested in obtaining top pitching prospects like the Mariners had to offer in exchange for Billy Butler or even young Myers. The Royals want to win now and were looking for established starters.

Zduriencik acknowledged as much on Monday.

“I knew all along they were looking for a top-of-the rotation guy, somebody who could be a No. 1 or 2 starter,” he said. “They made that very clear to us in all our discussions. And they were looking for more, even if they’d got that from us, that would not have satisfied them. They were looking for veteran presence as well. That was  a big factor for them. They wanted big-league ready guys and they got that. They paid a price for it, but they got what they set out to accomplish.”

As for the Mariners? Yeah, they’ve been clear what they’re trying to accomplish as well. They’re seeking a veteran, middle-of-the-order bat. They acquired Jason Bay, who could help, but they’re not planning to stop there.

“That’s something we can’t comment a great deal on, but I don’t think we’re done,” said manager Eric Wedge. “Jack has a lot of irons in the fire. He’s been a tireless worker this winter, whether on the phones or in meetings, along with Jeff and everybody else in the front office. We’ll see. We have  a lot of time left.”

Bay’s deal announced; Robles DFA’d to make room

Houston Astros v New York MetsThe Mariners made it official on Saturday, announcing the signing of free-agent outfielder Jason Bay to a one-year deal and designating left-handed pitcher Mauricio Robles for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

No, this won’t be the last move the Mariners make this offseason. It’s a low-risk deal, giving Bay a chance to see if he can revive his career in Seattle. Bay was one of the better slugging outfielders in the Majors from 2004-09 and if he can rediscover any part of that, the Mariners will have made a good move.

If they don’t see anything this spring, it’s a $500,000 guaranteed contract, with another $500,000 if he makes the club out of Spring Training and a potential $2 million in incentives if he does well. So, again, not a big risk.

The upside potential is giving a shot to a guy who averaged 29 home runs and 99 RBIs a year from 2004-09 with Pittsburgh and Boston and had a career-high 36 bombs and 119 RBis in 2009 when he was an AL Silver Slugger award winner for the Red Sox.

Bay hit 21 or more homers in six straight years, including four seasons of 30-plus home runs, 100-plus RBIs and 100-plus runs, before joining the Mets. He hit .306 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 14 playoff games with the Red Sox and also batted .467 in five World Baseball Games for Canada in 2006 and ’09.

So, yeah, at his peak he was big time. Now 34 and having dealt with a couple concussion problems and three trying years in New York, who knows? But it’s worth finding out.

The Mets still owe Bay $21 million, so he’s not in this for the money. He’s looking for a chance to show what he can still do and maybe, just maybe, he’ll relax and play ball now that he’s out from under the pressure of the $66 million deal he had with the Mets.

“I am glad we were able to put this together and  bring Jason back to the Northwest to continue his baseball career,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “This is a good opportunity for Jason as well as the Seattle Mariners. Jason has a history of being a productive Major League player and has participated in postseason play. We look forward to adding his experience to our young group of players.”

As for Robles, he’s yet to reach the Majors after being acquired in 2009 along with Luke French in a midseason trade with the Tigers for Jarrod Washburn. The Mariners will have 10 days to trade, release or assign him to the Minors. They’ve always liked his arm, but he’s struggled to stay healthy and throw strikes, so it’s not a big surprise he’s being moved off the 40-man.

I’ll have more coming on

What’s next as Mariners head home from Nashville?

WedgeIt should be no surprise that there were far more rumors and reports than actual news to come out of the Winter Meetings, which are wrapping up this morning here in Nashville.

The Mariners are flying home without any new players officially under wraps, though they’re very close to finalizing the deal for outfielder Jason Bay. Once Bay is added, they’ll need to make a move to clear a spot on their 40-man roster.

Considering that the big-market Yankees, Dodgers and Mets all depart without making a move — along with a number of other teams — it shouldn’t be alarming that Seattle didn’t make a big splash in Nashville. There were ripples here, but the big action still awaits on Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and dozens of other top free agents.

There were no blockbuster trades either, though reports arose Wednesday night that the Mariners could be partners in a potential four-team deal that would bring them pitcher Derek Holland from the Rangers while they would give up Jesus Montero or top prospects.

Interesting talk — and no doubt lots of trade ideas been bandied about in the executive suites at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel — but a whole lot of dominoes have to line up for those type of deals to happen.

Jack Zduriencik did engineer a three-team, 12-player deal in his first season with Seattle that brought Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp and others, so these things can happen. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one.

“We had a lot of engaging discussions,” Zduriencik said Thursday before heading to the airport. “I was up late last night ‘til about midnight having meetings. You never know what’s going to happen. So many times a lot of guys come in here with big hopes of things working and you try to go down every avenue. I think that’s what a lot of clubs have done. We’ve heard a lot about three- and four-player deals. They get complicated and I do think clubs are just trying to do their due diligence.

“In the end, when the dust settles and you get away from here, reality kind of takes over and you just decide, OK, this is where we’re at and if we want to make a decision, here it is. That’s why sometimes action happens when you leave here rather than when you’re here.”

Another report emerged late Wednesday  night from the Seattle Times indicating the Mariners were “very close” to signing Hamilton if the Rangers signed Greinke, taking up their available money.

But while Zduriencik declined to comment on Hamilton or any specific free agents, team president Chuck Armstrong told reporters that Seattle wasn’t close on Hamilton and while they had met with him, there’d not even been any financial figures discussed.

Bottom line, the Mariners continue to push for an impact bat and met with virtually every team and the agents for every prominent free agent hitter – from Hamilton to Nick Swisher to Michael Bourn – as well as representative for veterans like Mark Reynolds and Raul Ibanez.

There weren’t a lot of deals done by any teams at these Meetings, but things eventually will shake out, often in different circumstances than those being tossed about in the media.

If I had to guess, my money would be on Swisher eventually winding up in Seattle, with Hamilton going back to Texas and Bourn signing with the Phillies. But, hey, it’s not my money being spent at these meetings, which did see some very high salaries being handed out in the few deals that were done.

So buckle up. The music is still playing as we leave Nashville. Rest assured, every good player will end up somewhere before it’s done. And the Mariners still have all their commodities — their available payroll and promising prospects — to use as best they can.

Mariners add infielder in AAA Rule 5 Draft

The Mariners didn’t select anyone in the Major League portion of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings, but did take second baseman Eric Farris from the Brewers organization in the Triple-A portion of the proceedings.

Farris, 26, played 13 games last season for the Brewers and went 1-for-8 with a run and a walk. He spent most of his season with Triple-A Nashville, batting .286 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs in 131 games.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is familiar with the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder from his days as the Brewers scouting director.

“We drafted him in ’07 out of Loyola-Marymount in California,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a nice little middle infielder. He’s got some action and can run a little bit. We thought it was a very low-risk acquisition. We’ll give him a chance and see what happens.”

With their own 40-man roster full, the Mariners passed with their selection – the 11th pick overall – in the Major League portion of the Draft. Last year, Seattle took left-handed reliever Lucas Luetge from the Brewers and he wound up sticking with the club the entire year.

Zduriencik was pleased the Mariners didn’t lose anyone in the Draft. The club added five of its top eligible prospects to the 40-man roster last month in order to protect them.

“We’d heard rumors that a couple clubs were interested in taking our guys here or there and they didn’t, so that’s good,” he said. “We spent a lot of time managing the roster and it worked out pretty well.”
Major League officials announced that the Mariners 40-man roster was at 39 prior to the Draft, but Zduriencik said that was merely a technicality because recently acquired infielder Robert Andino has yet to take his physical to finalize the paperwork on the one-year deal he signed last week.