February 2013

Here are the non-roster invitees to camp

Pitchers and catchers are reporting today in Peoria, which basically means players coming in for physicals. Real action won’t start until Wednesday when the team hits the field for the first time, but hey, it means things are getting close.

I’ve had some questions on what non-roster players have been invited to camp this year, so here’s the list at this moment. You can expect pitcher Jon Garland to be added once he passes his physical.

Pitchers: Jonathan Arias, Logan Bawcom, Jeremy Bonderman, Andrew Carraway, Danny Farquhar, D.J. Mitchell, Brian Moran, Jhonny Nunez, James Paxton, Carson Smith, Taijuan Walker.

Catchers: John Hicks, Ronny Paulino, Jesus Sucre, Mike Zunino.

Infielders: Nick Franklin, Mike Jacobs, Brad Miller, Stefen Romero.

Outfielders: None.

Most of those players are from the Mariners Minor League system and are young guys getting a shot at the Major League camp. There’s only a handful of players with MLB experience from outside the organization this year: Bonderman, Nunez, Paulino, Jacobs and eventually Garland.

Those non-roster invites are joined, of course, by everyone on the 40-man roster. You can see that list here.

Waiting on the sun — and Felix — in Peoria

Arrived in Peoria, Ariz., this afternoon and was greeted by … rain?

Yup, it looked a lot like Seattle today in the Valley of the Sun with temperatures in the mid-40s and a low tonight of 36. That’s not exactly Spring Training weather.

But the Mariners don’t actually hit the field until Wednesday, when it’s supposed to reach 64 degrees. And the rest of the week will be in the 70s, including an expected high of 77 on Saturday, so I’m sure we’ll survive.

As for actual baseball news, things were slow today as players continued trickling in for informal workouts. Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, which essentially means they’re scheduled for physicals.

Felix Hernandez is in town, but didn’t come to the complex on Tuesday. He’ll have a physical tomorrow along with all the others and hopefully will talk to the media at some point as there obviously is high interest in his contract situation.

Chances are, Hernandez won’t say a whole lot about that until it’s a done deal, but we’ll see. Indications are that progress is continuing in negotiations and I’m not sensing a great deal of panic over the reports of a possible elbow issue arising in a physical exam he took last week as part of the process.

(UPDATE 6:45 p.m. PT: Just heard that Hernandez won’t be available to the media on Tuesday, so might not be until after Wednesday’s workout that we get a chance to chat with him).

As Jack Zduriencik told me yesterday, Hernandez has been working out as normal for the past month and is expected to participate fully as camp opens. If there were a serious health issue, obviously the Mariners wouldn’t allow that.

If tests showed enough wear and tear on the elbow to raise a caution flag for the long range, that might have led to some discussions of protective language in the contract. But every pitcher has potential risk of elbow and shoulder problems, particularly when they’ve thrown as many innings as Hernandez by age 26, and it doesn’t seem like there is any reason to think a deal won’t get done as expected in the coming days.

It could be a busy opening week for the Mariners as two other veteran pitchers — Joe Saunders and Jon Garland — are both expected to finalize contracts once they pass their physicals.

Saunders has agreed to a Major League deal paying $6.5 million, with an option for a second year. Garland, coming back from shoulder surgery, has agreed to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp.

If their deals get done in time, they’ll be among the 31 pitchers on the field Wednesday morning, including 12 non-roster invitees.

Elsewhere, the Indians came to an agreement with free agent center fielder Michael Bourn for four years at $48 million, with an option for a fifth year at another $12M. Thus ends any remaining speculation of the Mariners being in the Bourn mix, though that notion really ended when they signed Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.

There’s only so many outfield spots to go around and the Mariners want Morse’s bat in the lineup and expect Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders to fill everyday roles as well. Though the Mariners were mentioned in conjunction with Bourn throughout much of the offseason, that one never really seemed to have any legs.

Part of that was the reluctance to give up a first-round draft pick in compensation, since Seattle has the No. 12 pick. That reportedly kept the Mets out of contention in the end, with the Mets unwilling to give up the 11th pick.

Cleveland only loses the 69th overall pick because the Indians’ first-round pick (No. 5) was protected as one of the Top 10 selections under the new compensation system for free agents who received qualifying offers.

And the Indians had already given up their first allowable pick (No. 42 overall in the second round) as compensation for signing Nick Swisher.

Zduriencik says Felix reporting and throwing as ‘normal’

While national reports have been saying Felix Hernandez and the Mariners had agreed on a seven-year, $175 million contract since last Thursday, the Mariners continued insisting no deal was done and those reports were inaccurate.

Now ESPN’s  Buster Olney has laid out a potential reason why, saying there could be concerns with Hernandez’s pitching elbow.

But I talked to Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik this afternoon after team officials flew to Peoria, Ariz., for the start of camp and he said Hernandez has been throwing as normal for the last month getting ready for the season and would be reporting with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers as expected on Tuesday.

“He’s coming down tonight and will be here to get his physical and we’ll get rolling,” Zduriencik said. “I’m not going to comment on any of that other stuff. It’s ridiculous. I’ve watched him at the ballpark [Safeco Field] for the last month or so throwing and he’s his normal self.”

Olney said one source told him the elbow is “an issue” in finalizing the new deal. Here’s his story on ESPN.com.

Hernandez did withdraw from the World Baseball Classic late last week, telling Venezuela head coach Luis Sojo he would not be able to participate due to the ongoing contract negotiations.

Hernandez also took to Twitter to apologize to Venezuela’s fans while asking that they respect his decision and the need to put his family first while working out his contract. He made no mention of health issues.

Hernandez has been one of the most durable pitchers in Major League Baseball since joining the Mariners at age 19. He has pitched 200-plus innings the past five seasons, including 232 or more the last four.

Since 1969, only Bert Blyleven, Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden have pitched more innings before the age of 27, with Hernandez at 1,620 1/3 in his eight seasons with Seattle.

Hernandez did struggle down the stretch last season, going 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA in his final six outings, but no arm troubles were ever mentioned and he never missed a start.

The Mariners ace was one of the American League’s premier pitchers most of the season and put together a nine-game win streak in midseason that included five shutouts and a perfect game. He finished the season 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 232 innings.

Hernandez has two years remaining on his current contract, which pays him $20 million this coming season and $20.5 million in 2014.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today was the first to report a new extension that would erase those last two years and pay Hernandez $25 million a year through 2019, though a baseball source with knowledge of the negotiations immediately said that report was inaccurate.

Wilfredo Polidor, one of Hernandez’s representatives with the Octagon agency, told ESPNdesportes.com on Saturday that no agreement had been reached but that “we are moving forward” and estimated the deal as 70 percent done.

My sense is that negotiations are ongoing and that things still need to be worked out. Maybe the Mariners want language protecting them from a long-term injury situation. Maybe they want to see Hernandez throw for a while this spring to better gauge his condition.

Maybe both sides just realize they’ve got two years still to work something out and there’s plenty of time to get it right.

No announcement on Felix contract imminent

Felix 1st BPDespite the flood of national reports on Thursday saying Felix Hernandez and the Mariners have agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract, the Mariners insisted again Friday that those reports are incorrect and no deal is pending at this moment.

“We’ve been consistent on this,” said Tim Hevly, Mariners director of baseball information. “No announcement is planned or imminent.”

There’s no question the Mariners and Hernandez have been pursuing a contract extension and could be close to a new deal, but it might be wise to back up a bit and see how things play out.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that an anonymous source who was “familiar with the contract details” indicated a deal would be finalized before Spring Training that would make Hernandez the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history with an average annual contract value of $25 million.

Mariners pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Tuesday in Peoria, Ariz., and Hernandez is expected to be there. But at this point, it appears he’ll still be operating on the final two seasons of his current contract, which pays him $40.5 million through 2014.

Stay tuned.

Joe Saunders reportedly agrees to one-year deal

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees - Game FourYup, it’s been a busy little day for the Mariners, who are making much of their offseason news in the final hours before Spring Training opens Tuesday.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the club has come to an agreement with veteran left-hander Joe Saunders on a one-year deal, pending the completion of a physical.

This news came on the heels of an earlier report that Felix Hernandez is close to finalizing a long-term contract extension, plus word from the club that catcher Kelly Shoppach had signed a one-year deal and reliever Shawn Kelley was designated for assignment.

The Mariners wouldn’t confirm the Saunders’ report on Thursday evening, but general manager Jack Zduriencik has been pursuing an proven pitcher to add to the rotation since dealing Jason Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales in December and this one makes perfect sense.

Saunders, 31, would give Seattle a third veteran to go along with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma as the Mariners also bring along a host of talented youngsters that include returners Erasmo Ramirez and Blake  Beavan and top prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and  Brandon Maurer.

Saunders went 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA last season for Arizona and Baltimore, finishing out the season with a 3-3 mark and 3.63 ERA in seven starts with the Orioles after a late-August trade.

He then pitched very well in two playoff games for the Orioles, beating the Rangers 5-1 while scattering six hits over 5 2/3 innings, then getting a no-decision in a 2-1 victory over the Yankees when he allowed just one run and three hits over another 5 2/3.

Saunders would add a left-hander to a rotation that has only right-handed returners, though Hultzen and Paxton are both southpaws coming up.

Saunders, who spent the first six years of his career with the Angels, has a 6-0 record and 2.13 ERA in 55 innings over nine starts at Safeco Field. His career record is 78-65 with a 4.15 ERA in 189 games.

The Virginia native was an All-Star in 2008 when he went 17-7 with a 3.41 ERA for the Angels. He became a free agent this year after earning $6 million in 2012.

Saunders essentially would slide into Vargas’ spot in the rotation and allow the club to take a little more time with its youngsters. Without Saunders in the picture, Hector Noesi or one of the prospects penciled in as the fifth starter, assuming Beavan and Ramirez took the other two spots.

The rotation looks a lot more solid with Saunders in the picture. Now the challenge will be finding ways to avoid confusion with outfielder Michael Saunders, but that’s a problem the Mariners will gladly deal with at least for the coming season.

Kelly Shoppach signs, while Shawn Kelley DFA’d

New York Yankees v Boston Red SoxWhile much of the Mariners buzz today centers around the report that Felix Hernandez is close to a contract extension, the club finalized some other news as free agent catcher Kelly Shoppach officially signed a one-year contract and designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

Shoppach, who played four years for manager Eric Wedge during his Cleveland days, gives the Mariners some needed depth behind the plate. The 32-year-old has been expected to sign since taking a physical last week.

The bigger surprise is Kelley’s removal from the 40-man roster as he just signed a one-year, $935,000 contract last week to avoid an arbitration hearing. Kelley, 28, was 2-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 47 appearances last season and has been with the club since being drafted in the 13th round in 2007.

The Mariners now have 10 days to trade or release Kelley, who has enough service time to refuse an option to the Minor Leagues. If a team claims Kelley, they will pay his full salary. If he is released, the Mariners would owe him one-sixth of his salary, or just under $156,000.

The right-hander has pitched in 120 games for Seattle over parts of the past four seasons.

Shoppach has played with the Red Sox, Indians, Rays, Red Sox and Mets during his eight years in the Majors, posting a .226 batting average with 67 home runs and 207 RBIs in 536 games.

The right-handed hitting backstop split last year between the Red Sox and Mets, hitting .250 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 158 at-bats with Boston before being traded in mid-August. He batted .203 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 28 games with the Mets.

Shoppach gives the Mariners an experienced presence behind the plate to go with Jesus Montero after the club traded John Jaso to the A’s last month in a three-way deal that brought slugger Michael Morse from the Nationals.

Montero was named Wednesday in a New York Daily News report as one of the players whose names were found in records at an anti-aging clinic in Miami that is being investigated for allegedly dispensing performance-enhancing substances. But the club had already been in the process of signing Shoppach, with general manager Jack Zduriencik indicating last month that he intended to add two experienced catchers to the mix before camp opened.

Ronny Paulino, another eight-year MLB veteran, signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League camp two weeks ago and will also compete for a position in Spring Training.

The Mariners have also invited youngsters Mike Zunino, John Hicks and Jesus Sucre to their Major League camp, which starts Tuesday with pitchers and catchers reporting to Peoria, Ariz.

Mariners don’t have agreement yet with Felix

There’s no question that the Mariners and Felix Hernandez have been pursuing a contract extension and are close to a new deal, but a baseball source said Thursday that a report by USA Today that the right-hander has agreed to a seven-year, $175 million contract is not accurate.

The Mariners have no announcement of a Hernandez contract extension planned at this time, according to a club spokesman.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that an anonymous source who was “familiar with the contract details” indicated a deal would be finalized before Spring Training that would make Hernandez the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history with an average annual contract value of $25 million.

Mariners pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Tuesday in Peoria, Ariz.

Hernandez is already scheduled to make $19.5 million this coming season and $20 million in 2014 in the final two years of a five-year, $78 million contract he signed in 2010.

Nightengale’s report indicated the new deal would replace the final two years of that contract and extend another five years, but it’s not certain if that information is accurate.

Clearly a new deal is in the works, but it seems like we might need to hold off a bit to get the actual numbers.

CC Sabathia of the Yankees currently has the largest overall contract for a pitcher, with a seven-year, $161 million deal he signed before the 2010 season. Zack Greinke signed the highest average annual value deal at $24.5 million with his six-year, $147 million deal in December with the Dodgers.

Mariners response to Jesus Montero story

The Mariners have responded to this morning’s New York Daily News report that catcher Jesus Montero’s name was among several MLB players listed in the records of a Miami anti-aging clinic that is being investigated for allegedly distributing peformance-enhancing drugs.

Here is their official response:

The Seattle Mariners strongly support Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and are disappointed any time we hear of any players potentially involved with banned substances.

 We are aware of the report which appeared today in the New York Daily News and have been in contact with Major League Baseball to discuss it.

 This matter is now in the hands of the Commissioner’s Office. At this time, with no additional information, we will have no further comment until that investigation has concluded, and all other questions should be directed to Major League Baseball.