February 2013

‘This is the beginning of everything’ — Gutierrez

The sun is out, the music is playing in the Mariners clubhouse — thanks to Michael Morse’s desire to wake things up early this morning — and the full squad is hitting the field for the first time after a team meeting with Eric Wedge.

There’s always a buzz on the first day of full-squad workouts, even for the guys who’ve been doing this a long time. It doesn’t hurt that the weather is gorgeous, with blue skies and a high of 81 degrees expected today in Peoria, Ariz.

“It’s always exciting the first day when you come to Spring Training, just seeing your friends here and everybody is excited to start practicing,” Franklin Gutierrez said. “This is the beginning of everything. It’s a long season and we’re starting today.”

Raul Ibanez, back with the Mariners for the first time since 2008, was waxing poetic as he prepared for the first day.

“The sunshine, the crisp air of Spring Training, get in the cage and guys are hovering around and guys are hitting,” Ibanez said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Today’s workout will begin at 10 a.m. MT (or 9 a.m. PT) after Wedge’s chat, but the team will hit the field at 9:30 a.m. from here on out and normally work until about noon. It’s a condensed early schedule this year — due to the World Baseball Classic — with Cactus League games beginning Friday.

Reliever Jhonny Nunez, who was with the Rays last year, arrived today after dealing with visa issues. So the only player not in camp still is catcher Ronny Paulino, who has also been delayed getting out of the Dominican Republic by visa problems.

Pictures from Peoria: The King and more

FelixPointTightEverything was pointing Felix Hernandez’s way as he returned with his new $175 million contract.

BeavanBeard

Blake Beavan, sporting his red beard, was one of 15 pitchers throwing bullpen sessions today.

Liddi

Alex Liddi does some glove work at first base.

BondermanTattoos

Jeremy Bonderman had another strong day as he returns from several tough years with injuries.

AlvinDavis

Alvin Davis, Mr. Mariner and a member of the team’s Hall of Fame, is in camp working as a coach this spring.

MaurerTongueTight

Young pitching prospect Brandon Maurer is the picture of intensity as he eyes the ball during a pitcher’s fielding drill.

Felix: ‘I just want to be here forever’

FelixPoint1Felix Hernandez returned to Mariners camp Friday for the first time since signing his $175 million mega-deal two days earlier in Seattle and “The King” was once again the center of attention on a team that obviously treasures his leadership.

Hernandez took it easy in his first day on the field, throwing long toss with teammate Hisashi Iwakuma and participating in fielding drills with the group before addressing the gathering of media covering the team in Peoria.

“I feel pretty good, now that I’m here,” Hernandez said. “I just want to spend time with my teammates. I feel great.”

Those teammates exchanged hugs and heartfelt handshakes with their now-wealthier friend, as well as a little good-natured ribbing.

“They said if you need a loan, they can give me something and things like that,” Hernandez said. “They’re just playing around. These guys are great.”

The Mariners are counting on Hernandez continuing to be great as well. His contract is the ninth-largest in total value in baseball history and No. 1 for a pitcher, which isn’t lost on the 26-year-old.

He’s always been a workhorse for the Mariners, throwing more innings since 2009 than any pitcher in the Majors. He’s also been extremely loyal and that won’t change now.

One thing he insisted on having in the contract was a no-trade clause. The Mariners can’t deal him to any other team in baseball without his permission.

“That was the only thing that went into that contract, a no-trade clause,” he said. “I just want to be here forever.”

Clearly the Mariners will expect much in return and will continue marketing Hernandez as the face of the franchise. But that’s a role he embraces.

“I’ve always been responsible with this team because of the way they’ve treated me,” he said. “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to be the same guy I was before.”

Anyone who doubted his sincerity just needed to watch Wednesday’s news conference when he shed tears and got emotional in thanking the franchise and explaining why he wanted to lock up his future in Seattle.

“It’s coming from me. It’s coming from my heart,” Hernandez said. “The city of Seattle and all the fans have been great. I love that place. I live there and I love it.

“It was hard not to cry. After coming out of the elevator and then all the people there, then to see my wife crying, it was hard for me. … It was tough. It was a tough week. But finally we got this thing done and it’s time to play baseball.”

That process began Friday. He said now he just needs a couple days to catch up and he’ll be fine. After he went through long toss with Iwakuma, he walked past pitching coach Carl Willis.

“Bueno?” asked Willis.

“Oh yeah,” responded Hernandez.

Indeed, all is good with The King.

Felix flying high as he returns to Peoria

FelixGroupFelix Hernandez is back in the house in Peoria, feeling good and sharing lots of hugs and handshakes from teammates and Mariners staffers this morning as he checks back in for the first time since signing his seven-year,$175 million deal up in Seattle.

Hernandez will take things fairly easy today, going through a light work day as he gets back into the swing of things on the field, where his fellow pitchers are a couple days ahead.

He’ll talk to the media after today’s workout, so I’ll update you then.

Michael Morse, who came up in the Mariners organization at the same time, checked in for his physical as position players report today. Morse is among those thrilled for Hernandez.

“I’m happy for him,” Morse said. “He’s a workhorse. We were in Double-A together here and I remember playing shortstop behind him in Double-A and it was the coolest thing because I didn’t get one ball hit to me. He was dominating down there.

“We played in Triple-A together a little bit, too. I remember I got called up a little before him and everybody was asking me, ‘How is that guy?’ And I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to undersell him. I just said, ‘He’ll be here. Don’t worry.’”

Now he’s here for another seven years, at least.

“The sky is the limit for him,” Morse said.

Speaking of, I teased Hernandez about the private jet he flew back and forth to Seattle and he quickly noted, “It’s not mine. I just rented it. … But yeah, it was pretty nice.”

Welcome to The King’s world. Pretty nice indeed.

Pictures from Peoria: Scenes from the first 2 days

WedgeEric Wedge talking to pitcher Jeremy Bonderman.

Walker Taijuan

Taijuan Walker takes a throw during fielding drills.

Hultzen

Danny Hultzen throws in the bullpen.

Shop-Capps

Catcher Kelly Shoppach offers some thoughts to Carter Capps while pitching coach Carl Willis listens at right.

Erasmo Ramirez1

Erasmo Ramirez, never without a smile …

 

Felix deal could go extra year if elbow issue arises

Felix Hernandez, Jack ZduriencikSome fascinating details on Felix Hernandez’s new contract emerged tonight after the Mariners ace put his signature on the deal at a Safeco Field press conference.

The most interesting item, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com and confirmed by MLB.com, is that the deal actually includes a potential eighth year (in 2020) if Hernandez runs into elbow problems earlier in the contract.

All the fuss about potential elbow problems that arose from his physical last week resulted in the inclusion of a clause that would give the Mariners a $1 million option for that eighth year, should Hernandez spend more than 130 days on the disabled list with a right-elbow problem in any 183-day stretch of Major League days, which essentially is a full season.

In other words, Hernandez would play an extra year — for $1 million — if the elbow indeed becomes a significant issue at any point during the seven-year contract.

That is indeed an interesting way to alleviate concerns and shows again the willingness of both sides to work together to make a deal that makes sense, or at least as much sense as any $175 million contract can make.

Rosenthal also has a specific breakdown of the annual payouts: $19M in base salary for 2013 plus a $6 million signing bonus; $22 million in 2014; $24 million in 2015; $25 million in 2016; $26 million in 2017; $26 million in 2018; and 27 million in 2019.

That deal replaces the final two years of his current contract, which would have paid $20 million this year and $20.5 million in 2013, and extends it another five years. Plus a potential one more year, should something go wrong with his elbow in the interim.

Wednesday report: On an emotional day for Felix, a trade with Yankees and more

Felix HernandezAnother newsy day today as the Mariners got Spring Training rolling with their first day of pitchers and catchers on the field in Peoria, Ariz.

The big story was up in Seattle, of course, where Felix Hernandez put his signature on the seven-year, $175 million contract extension and then got very emotional as he explained why he chose to stay with the Mariners.

You can watch the whole news conference by going to the MLB.com video at this link. It’s well worth the time. The above photo, by AP photographer Elaine Thompson, shows Felix as he was surprised by Mariners employees all wearing “King’s Court” T-shirts as he got off the elevator to attend the press conference.

Hernandez vowed to take the Mariners to the playoffs and said time and again, “I’m not going to disappoint anybody” as he made it clear the new deal wouldn’t change the old Felix.

“I’m doing this because I care about the people of Seattle,” he said. “I love this place. This has been my life. This has been my family.”

It was pretty powerful stuff and another reason why everyone around the Mariners loves “The King.” I talked to some of Hernandez’s teammates as well as manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis about him today in Peoria and got some great stuff about why he deserves everything he’s getting. You can read that story here.

Jack Zduriencik made it clear from the start he wasn’t going to trade Hernandez, not to the Yankees, not to anybody. Then he went ahead and did trade a pitcher to the Yankees later in the day, swapping Shawn Kelley for outfield prospect Abraham Almonte.

On the field, it was a typical first day of camp with players going through fielding drills and half the pitchers throwing their first 10-minute bullpen sessions of camp. Among those tossing today were non-roster invitees Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman, who both threw well as they return from arm problems.

Catchers took batting practice at the end of the session and young Mike Zunino immediately showed some of the pop he brings to the table. It was also evident that Kelly Shoppach has a veteran presence that will be helpful with this young group of catchers.

The other veteran catcher, Ronny Paulino, wasn’t in camp yet as both he and young reliever Jhonny Nunez have visa problems getting out of the Dominican Republic. You can read about that as well as an update on new left-hander Joe Saunders and Eric Wedge’s thoughts on the dramatic improvement in talent level at this year’s camps in my daily notebook.

Mariners sign pitchers Saunders, Garland, Loe

Los Angeles Dodgers v New York MetsThe big news out of Mariners camp today was obviously the announcement of Felix Hernandez’s contract extension, but some other interesting developments emerged today regarding other pitching candidates.

As pitchers and catchers reported to camp Tuesday, the club announced the signing of three veteran arms — Jon Garland (right) and Kameron Loe to Minor League deals with camp invites and lefty Joe Saunders to a Major League deal for 2013 with a mutual option for 2014 as well.

To make room for Saunders on the 40-man roster, first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp was designated for assignment and I’d expect him to get traded within the next 10 days.

Saunders figures to be an integral part of the rotation as the southpaw replacement for Jason Vargas, a veteran innings-eater who pitched well down the stretch for the Orioles last year. He’ll make $6.5 million this coming year.

As for the two non-roster additions, Garland’s arrival was expected, with the right-hander signing off on his deal after completing his physical as he attempts to come back from a 19-month layoff following rotator cuff surgery.

But Loe’s presence wasn’t leaked prior to Tuesday and he presents an interesting — and large — option to the Mariners bullpen. At 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, he’s a towering figure. And as a guy who threw in 70 and 72 games the past two years for the Brewers, he’s a workhorse reliever with some strong experience, including five postseason appearances in 2011.

Loe’s addition makes it clearer why the Mariners designated Shawn Kelley for assignment last week, as he joins returning right-handers Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Kinney, Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps in a bullpen competition that also includes lefties Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge and Oliver Perez.

Garland is an interesting case as well as he said he’s 100 percent recovered from shoulder surgery that sidelined him the past year and a half. And if that’s true, he could certainly help a staff that has Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Saunders as its lone veterans.

Garland, 33, owns a career record of 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA over 12 seasons in the Majors. Prior to his shoulder injury, he was a durable starter who averaged 205 innings a year from 2002-10, never threw less than 191 innings in nine straight seasons and was an American League All-Star in 2005.

“I know what I have to go out and do,” Garland said. “The No. 1 thing is stay healthy and just try to get back to what I’m capable of doing, going out and giving a big-league team an opportunity to win a ballgame. The rest is in their hands. I can’t force them to do anything.

“There were some pretty good options out there [in free agency], but when I looked at it on paper I felt I had a really good opportunity here with this team. They’re definitely making some good moves in the right direction and I’d like to be part of that.”

Felix Hernandez agrees to contract extension

Felix Hernandez has reached agreement on a contract extension with the Mariners, general manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday afternoon, and will be in Seattle for a 2 p.m. PT press conference Wednesday.

Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com reported that the deal will be the seven-year, $175 million extension that originally was leaked last Thursday.

Zduriencik said details of the contract would be announced at the press conference. Hernandez was in Peoria, Ariz., for his physical along with other Mariners pitchers and catchers on Tuesday, but planned to turn immediately back around and fly to Seattle for the official signing at Safeco Field.

“We’re headed out right now and Felix will be headed out as well and we’ll give you all the details at that time,” Zduriencik said.

“I would send along my congratulations to [Hernandez's agents] Scott Pucino and Wil Polidor. They were very profesional in working this agreement with us. I think it’s a great thing for the Seattle Mariners and it’s a great thing for Felix Hernandez. We’re looking forward to this guy being here for a long time, obviously.”

Zduriencik says Felix talks ‘real positive’

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik just stopped by the media room in Peoria to offer an update on the Felix Hernandez contract situation.

Here’s what the GM had to say:

“It’s no secret we’ve been in negotiations. We’ve had really good discussions with his two representatives Scotty Pucino and WIl Polidor and myself and Jeff Kingston and Bart Waldman and have engaged I would say significantly.

“Although I don’t have an update for you right now, I will say I think things have been very positive and there’s been a good tone to our discussions. I hope on a positive note that sooner than later we’ll be able to announce something. But anything of this  magnitude, both in terms of years and dollars, just takes time to work out. I would say at this moment it’s been real positive and sooner than later we’ll have something to say that is significant. Right now that’s all I can comment on.”

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