January 2013

Mariners announce non-roster invites to camp

Walker Taijuan BHighly touted young prospects Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin are among 18 non-roster players invited to Major League Spring Training by the Mariners on Friday.

The 18 players extended invitations include 15 who were members of the Mariners organization last year, along with veteran first baseman Mike Jacobs, former Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman and 27-year-old reliever Jhonny Nunez, who was in the Rays organization last year.

Walker (pictured above), Paxton, Zunino and Franklin are all ranked among MLB.com’s top 100 prospects in baseball. Danny Hultzen, Seattle’s other elite pitching prospect, is automatically invited to camp as a member of the 40-man Major League roster.

Here’s a link to the full 40-man roster, which also includes young prospects like right-hander Brandon Maurer and infielder Vinnie Catricala.

Walker, Paxton and Hultzen all were at the Major League camp last year as well. Zunino, the 2012 first-round Draft choice, will be making his first Spring Training appearance.

Also getting their first Major League camp invites are young infielders Stefen Romero and Brad Miller, catcher John Hicks, right-handed starter Andrew Carraway and right-handed relievers Carson Smith and Logan Bawcom, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Brandon League trade last July.

D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, the two pitchers obtained from the Yankees in the Ichiro Suzuki deal, have also been invited, along with right-hander Jonathan Arias and lefty Brian Moran.

Catcher Jesus Sucre is returning for his second Mariners camp after re-signing as a Minor League free agent.

Mariners pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 12, with the first workout slated for Feb. 13. Position players are scheduled to report for physicals Feb. 15, followed by the first full-squad workout will be Feb. 16.

The Spring Training roster now sits at 58 players, including 30 pitchers (11 non-roster), five catchers (three non-roster), 15 infielders (four non-roster) and eight outfielders (0 non-roster).

Mariners hire Toledo to head Dominican operations

Eddy Toledo, a long-time scout and director of Dominican operations for the Mets and Rays, was hired Friday to fill the same role with the Mariners.

Toledo, who has been credited with the signing of All-Stars Jose Reyes and Nelson Cruz as well as more than 30 other Major League players, joins the staff of Tim Kissner, the Mariners new Director of International Operations.

Toledo has been in Major League Baseball for the past 32 years, working with the Mets from 1981-2006 and then the Rays from 2006-12.
 
“We are very excited to add Eddy as our Director of Dominican Operations,” said Kissner. “Eddy is a much-respected scout and his experience, record of signing Major League players and ability to represent the Mariners in a first-class manner make him the perfect individual for this job.”

In addition to Reyes and Cruz, Toledo has helped sign Octavio Dotel, Guillermo Mota, Hector Carrasco, Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Elvin Ramirez, Alex Colome and Brauilo Lara among other Major Leaguers.

“I am very excited to join the Mariners and assist with the organization’s very ambitious efforts in the Dominican Republic,” said Toledo. “The future of the Mariners internationally is very bright and I look forward to working with Tim Kissner, Jack Zduriencik and Joe McIlvaine to provide championship-caliber players to the Major League roster.”

Upton rejects Mariners trade proposal

Chicago Cubs v Arizona DiamondbacksThe Mariners search for an impact bat led them to Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton this week, but the two-time All-Star has rejected a trade proposal by Seattle, a baseball source has confirmed to MLB.com.

Upton, 25, has four clubs on a no-trade clause in his contract and one of those teams is the Mariners. He apparently declined to waive that clause after the two teams reached an agreement.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik declined to comment on the report.

“It’s been our policy all along to not comment on trade rumors,” Zduriencik said.

The Mariners were willing to part with several top prospects in exchange for Upton, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, who first broke the story on Thursday afternoon. The names of the players offered was not known.

Seattle has some of the top pitching prospects in baseball, led by left-handers Danny Hultzen and James Paxton and 20-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, and Zduriencik has been looking to add offense to a team that is building around a young core of position players.

The Mariners already acquired first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales from the Angels in exchange for pitcher Jason Vargas this winter, but clearly are still looking for more.

“We’re always looking to improve our club, whether offensively or on the mound,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve had a lot of discussions and dialogue and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll go into Spring Training still looking to make improvements if we have to. We haven’t put the brakes on anything.”

Upton has three years and $38.5 million remaining on his contract and has been the topic of considerable trade speculation over the past year and a half. The D-backs have a surplus of outfielders, as general manager Kevin Towers acquired free agent Cody Ross last month to go along with Upton, Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel and rookie Adam Eaton.

Upton is coming off a subpar 2012 season when he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs, but he hit .289 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs in 2011 when he finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Virginia native was the first overall Draft pick in 2005 and broke into the Majors two years later at 19. He’s posted a .278/.357/.475 line in his career. Over the past four seasons, from age 21-25, he’s averaged 23 home runs, 78 RBIs and 19 stolen bases with a .286 batting average.

For Sports said the Rangers and Braves have also been pursuing Upton and indicated he preferred going to one of those clubs. His brother, B.J. Upton, signed a five-year, $77.25 million contract with the Braves this offseason.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reported that the other teams on Upton’s no-trade list are the Cubs, Blue Jays and Red Sox.

Players sometimes use a no-trade clause as leverage to get a better deal, but it’s unknown if the Mariners were given a chance to work anything out with Upton or if there’s any chance of a deal still being brokered.

Crunching the numbers on Edgar’s Hall of Fame future

Rangers v MarinersSome thoughts on today’s Hall of Fame voting in regard to Edgar Martinez’s long-term chances:

I originally thought Martinez might drop a little more in this year’s balloting (he wound up at 35.9 percent after earning 36.5 percent last year) because of the influx of first-time eligibles like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio. But in hindsight, enough voters chose to keep Bonds and Clemens off their ballots this year that it didn’t dramatically affect Edgar.

Turns out, there wasn’t a lot of movement anywhere among the 13 players who returned from last year’s ballot. Dale Murphy, in his last year of eligibility, got the biggest raise of plus 4.1 percent.

Jeff Bagwell went up 3.6 percent, Tim Raines 3.5 and Jack Morris 1.0 percent. That was it. The rest of the returners dropped, with Edgar actually moving down the least of the nine on the negative side.

But what happens next? I went through the 108 ballots that have been publicly disclosed so far by the BBWAA and did some math. Of the 44 who voted for Martinez in that group, only 21 also voted for Bonds and Clemens.

So my fear now, as a Martinez supporter, is that many voters who left Bonds and Clemens off this year will switch next year, acknowledging they were indeed Hall of Fame players, yet just not worthy of first-year induction due to their PED implications.

With the additional influx of next year’s class — which includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent – it’s not hard to imagine Martinez getting bumped off a lot of ballots at that point.

He finished 10th this year and everyone ahead of him will be eligible again next year. There’ll likely be a strong push to get Morris into the Hall in his 15th and final year of eligibility next year. There’ll surely be strong support for Maddux, Glavine and Thomas. Craig Biggio, who was the closest to being elected this year in his first shot at 68.2 percent, will almost certainly get bumped over the 75 percent mark next year.

Another factor to consider: Martinez generally gained most of his support from writers who voted for a large number of players. Voters can put a maximum of 10 players on their ballots, but some feel far fewer are Hall of Fame worthy. Five voters submitted empty ballots this season. Several voted for just one player.

Among the voters who went public with the BBWAA so far, those who supported Martinez averaged 7.89 players on their ballots. Those who didn’t include him voted for 6.19 players. Why does that matter?

Because next year, when at least five more Hall-worthy candidates flood the ballot, those who included Martinez this year are going to have a tougher time squeezing him in again. And the following year, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield come aboard? Yikes.

The logjam can be relieved somewhat by players actually getting elected, of course. In the past two years, only Barry Larkin has made it in. Without question, that number will increase in the next few years.

But only once in the past 22 years have three players made it in the same class — 1999 when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount got the call. The system doesn’t allow for much more than that, given the 75-percent requirement. Now with the PED question splitting the voters on guys who normally would be sure-fire nominees, the numbers are going to get divided even more than normal.

For his part, Martinez isn’t sweating it.

“It’s a system that’s been in place for many years and it’s worked great,” he told me today. “It’s a very exclusive group, very difficult to get in, and I’m aware of that. So I just take a very realistic view of the situation.”

Here’s my full story today on Martinez’s reaction to the vote, including an update on what he’s doing these days and his thoughts on the steroid controversy.

Martinez certainly hasn’t given up on making the Hall, though he notes it’s clearly going to be a very long process if he is going to get elected. I’m starting to think his odds are growing longer, given the reasons mentioned above.

Without question, the Big Unit will get in first when his name pops up in 2015 and Griffey seems a slam-dunk candidate in 2016. Ichiro figures to be a pretty sure thing, though that one remains far off given he just signed a two-year deal with the Yankees.

But Edgar? That’s looking like a tough one, unless something changes dramatically in the minds of voters that lets him make solid gains in the upcoming years.

Edgar 10th among Hall of Fame voting at 35.9 percent

Minnesota Twins v Seattle MarinersIn a year when controversy and questions swirled around the National Baseball Hall of Fame process, former Mariners great Edgar Martinez held steady at 35.9 percent of the vote Wednesday in his fourth year on the ballot.

Martinez, who turned 50 last week, fell well short of the required 75 percent for nomination, but his support remained consistent as he was named on 204 ballots among the 569 cast by eligible Baseball Writer’s Association of America voters.

Martinez was named by 36.2 percent of the voters in 2010, 32.9 in 2011 and 36.5 last year. Players remain on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years, as long as they receive at least five percent of the vote.

“That’s kind of what I was expecting,” Martinez said when reached by phone at his home in Bellevue, Wash. “I was hoping it would jump a little higher, but it is what it is. I’m aware it’s going to be a process that’s going to take a while. There’s still a lot of great players coming on the ballot in the next few years, so it’s wait and see.”

While there was speculation that the arrival of first-year candidates Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa would dilute Martinez’s total this year, instead he essentially held serve while finishing 10th among vote getters, just behind Clemens (37.6 percent) and Bonds (36.2).

But the situation will get even tougher in the future, since no one on this year’s ballot wound up with the necessary votes for election for just the eighth time in MLB history. Thus the ballot will get even more crowded next year with the arrival of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, followed by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield in 2015 and Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman in ’16.

Regarding the steroid question and no one getting elected for the first time since 1996, Martinez said it’s all “in the writer’s hands” and he understood the dilemma.

“The writers probably need more time to digest everything,” he said. “It’s just very tough to get into the Hall of Fame. With everything that’s happened in the past, writers have to digest a little longer and be comfortable with their vote. It’s going to take a little time to process.”

Martinez, who retired at the end of the 2004 season, remains an interesting figure in Hall of Fame discussions. Without question, he was one of the game’s premier right-handed hitters in his era as he won two American League batting titles, five Silver Slugger Awards, seven All-Star berths and finished in the Top 10 in AL on-base percentage 11 times.

But despite his career .312 batting average and a .418 on-base percentage that ranks 17th all-time, some voters shy away from Martinez because his career totals of 309 home runs, 2,247 hits and 1,261 RBIs were held down by his late arrival in Major League Baseball and several injury-shortened seasons. Others are reluctant to vote for a player who spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter.

So Martinez will continue to wait patiently and see if support builds over time, as sometimes happens for players whose performance resonates with voters who are made more aware of the strength of their non-traditional numbers.

Mitchell clears waiver, outrighted to Tacoma

Baltimore Orioles v New York YankeesThe Mariners made a minor roster move on Friday, outrighting right-handed pitcher D.J. Mitchell to Triple-A Tacoma.

That means Mitchell cleared waivers and remains in the organization after being designated for assignment on Dec. 26 to make room on the 40-man roster for free-agent Raul Ibanez.

Mitchell, 25, went 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA in eight starts after being acquired from the Yankees along with reliever Danny Farquhar in the Ichiro Suzuki trade on July 23.

Mitchell appeared in four games for the Yankees last season, posting a 3.86 ERA with two runs in 4 2/3 innings of relief. He also went 6-4 with a 5.04 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees’ Triple-A club.

The 6-footer out of Clemson was a 10th-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 2008 and has been a starter throughout his four seasons in the Minors.

Farquhar, the other pitcher acquired in the Ichiro deal, also remains in the organization and went 1-0 with a 0.54 ERA and four saves in 12 relief appearances for Tacoma last season. The 25-year-old right-hander has pitched well for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League as well, going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA and three saves in 21 appearances.

Both those pitchers are potential candidates to be invited to Major League spring training next month, though the Mariners haven’t made any announcement yet on just which non-roster players will get the early call to Peoria.

Jack Zduriencik has mentioned that top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton will get invites, along with catcher Mike Zunino and infielder Nick Franklin. Two other top pitching prospects, Danny Hultzen and Brandon Maurer, will also be at camp since they’re already on the 40-man roster.

The team usually invites about 20 non-roster players, including a good number of veterans from outside the organization who are looking for their shot — guys like Kevin Millwood, Josh Kinney, Adam Kennedy in the past two years.

So far, the only outside candidates known to have signed are pitcher Jeremy Bonderman and first baseman Mike Jacobs, as well as catcher Jesus Sucre and reliever Jonathan Arias, who were with the organization last year but would have been Minor League free agents.

I’d expect that number to grow as more veteran free agents begin picking the best spots to land, once they realize they’re not likely in the market for a 40-man roster spot somewhere.

Mike Jacobs signed to Minor League deal

Colorado Rockies v Arizona DiamondbacksNo big roster news yet coming out of the holidays on the Mariners, as things still seem quiet across the MLB world with most teams stepping back to evaluate things over the Christmas break.

But I can report today that the Mariners have signed first baseman Mike Jacobs to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Jacobs, 32, is a seven-year Major League veteran who hit 32 home runs for the Marlins in 2008. He’s played just 20 games in the Majors over the last three years while spending time in the Mets, Blue Jays, Rockies and D-Backs organizations.

Last year he hit .279 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs in 101 games for Triple-A Reno and .211 with no home runs and two RBIs in 19 at-bats for the D-Backs after being called up on Sept. 19.

He spent all of 2011 in Triple-A ball with the Rockies, batting .298 with 23 home runs and 97 RBIs for Colorado Springs.

The left-hander hit 69 home runs and 224 RBIs in three seasons with the Marlins from 2006-08 and put up 19 homers and 61 RBIs in 128 games with the Royals as a first baseman/designated hitter in ’09.

For his Major League career, he’s batted .253 with a .313 on-base percentage and .473 slugging percentage in 569 games, totaling 100 home runs and 312 RBIs.

This seems mostly a move for organizational depth as the Mariners are pretty loaded with first base candidates at the moment with Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Mike Carp and even Raul Ibanez now slated into that mix.

But Jacobs is a guy with some left-handed pop and Major League experience, so they’ll give him a look this spring.

He becomes the fourth player known to have signed with the Mariners on a Minor League deal with a Major League camp invitation, joining pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Jonathan Arias and catcher Jesus Sucre. Like most clubs, the Mariners usually sign 15-20 players as non-roster invites.

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