March 2013

Some thoughts on Bay winning last roster spot

BayCatchThe Mariners made it official today, choosing Jason Bay for their final outfield spot while designating Casper Wells for assignment.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, given Bay was with the team on its final road trip to Salt Lake City while Wells was left behind in Peoria playing Minor League games. The Mariners waited until the last minute Sunday to make a move for two reasons: In case Bay or Franklin Gutierrez or someone else got hurt in Salt Lake, and because they would have liked to trade Wells if they could get anything in return rather than cut him loose for nothing.

They delayed that process a bit with a procedural move Sunday. Baseball rules preclude designating a player for assignment at the end of Spring Training unless the club has to make a move to open up a spot. So the Mariners added right-hander D.J. Mitchell to their 40-man roster, which allowed them to then DFA Wells, then they optioned Mitchell to Triple-A Tacoma.

Now they have 10 days to trade, release or outright Wells to the Minors. Since he’s out of Minor League options, the only way he could be outrighted is if he clears waivers and isn’t claimed by another team.

There’s a possiblity of that, since any team that claims him would need to add him to their 25-man roster and then would face the same situation, either needing to keep him on their Major League roster or DFA him and try to get him through waivers again.

It’s part of baseball, a complicated part for sure. So we’ll see what happens. There’s likely a team out there that would like Wells and chances are he’ll find a new home. But let’s be honest, if there was a big trade market for him, he’d already be dealt.

There are lots of opinions bouncing around on the wisdom of choosing Bay over Wells. I can see both sides on that one, as Wells is younger, is a better defender and has potentially four more years of team control.

But it’s hard to ignore the presence Bay brought this spring, to the offense, to the clubhouse, to a team that has a different feel to it with the addition of Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Bay.

It’s nice to see the Mariners gearing up to try to win now and clearly they feel Bay can help them do that more than Wells.

For his part, Bay downplayed the one-on-one part of the roster competition.

“All along, I think a lot of people pitted it as Casper and I or whoever it was,” he said. “But I was more worried about myself. I felt if I took care of my business, which I feel like I did, then I really couldn’t have any regrets.”

Bay is a better all-around baseball player than I expected to see when he arrived after the three-year disaster with the Mets. He has a quick bat with some pretty good pop and is a better defender than he gets credit for, even if he’s not in Wells’ class there.

Eric Wedge feels it’s important to not get stuck thinking that players will be pigeon-holed into the same roles they have at the start of the year, that things can happen and reserves might become starters at some point. Bay might not be a fifth outfielder all year. Should Michael Morse get hurt, let’s say, then Bay could quickly become an everyday guy.

Bay isn’t worried about any of that at the moment. He said he’s fine being the fifth outfielder, he just wants a role on a team that he’s enjoyed being part of this spring.

“That was a big part of me signing here,” he said. “I had chances to go elsewhere and maybe get more playing time, but I wasn’t doing this to boost value for next year. I was doing it to have fun this year, in whatever capacity that  might be, 200 at-bats or 600 at-bats, just see where the chips fall. I love the guys in there, it’s been fun and I’m a Northwest guy. There are a lot of reasons I think it’ll be good.”

Bay went through much misery with the Mets the last few years. Think Chone Figgins, with a bigger salary and expectations. So he’s felt refreshed by coming to Seattle on a $1 million, make-good deal.

“It was kind of the first time I really had to make a team, even from 10 years ago and my first couple years,” he said. “I actually kind of liked it. It was different. I never really thought otherwise. I felt comfortable with myself and what I’ve done. From the day I signed here, I was on the team in my own mind. I just had to still go out and do that and I’m glad I did.”

He said the biggest thing this spring was getting off to a quick start, showing himself and others he really could still play and compete.

“Part of it was just in the offseason working on some things and then getting off to a good start,” he said. “No matter what anybody tells you, that’s one of the most important things anywhere. It lets you relax and you’re not swimming up stream a lot of times. That was big. Just all the stuff I did in the offseason that put me in position to get off to a good start and then exhale a little bit and just play.”

Exactly how much he plays remains to be seen. But without question, his presence is a sign of one thing. The Mariners like what their new group of veterans has added this spring and they believe they’re a better team with Jason Bay in the mix.

Bay gets final OF spot as final roster set

BayBatCasper Wells was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Sunday, leaving Jason Bay as the final outfielder on Seattle’s 25-man roster as the team prepares for Monday night’s opener against the A’s.

Wells, 28, played the last season and a half for the Mariners after being acquired from the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal, but the club opted to go with Bay after the former three-time All-Star played well all spring after signing a one-year deal as a free agent.

Wells didn’t have any Minor League options remaining, so the Mariners now will have 10 days to trade, release or outright him to the Minors.

Four other players were sent down to the Minor Leagues on Sunday: right-handed reliever Danny Farquhar, catcher Jesus Sucre, infielder Brad Miller and veteran outfielder Endy Chavez.

Those moves bring the Mariners roster to the required 25-man limit. Here’s the club that will open the season on Monday at 7:07 p.m. in the Oakland Coliseum:

Starting pitchers:  Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan.

Relievers: Tom Wilhelmsen, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Kameron Loe, Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez and Lucas Luetge.

Catchers: Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach.

Infielders:  Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager and Robert Andino.

Outfielders: Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Bay.

By making the 25-man roster, Bay is now guaranteed all $1 million of the Major League contract he signed with the Mariners in December. That deal assured him only $500,000 unless he made the team.

He’ll also be eligible for up to $2 million more in bonuses if he accumulates enough playing time this season. I’ll have a full story soon on with Bay’s thoughts on making the team as well as Eric Wedge’s outlook after the team gathered for meetings and some light work today at the Oakland Coliseum.

Saturday’s Game 33 recap: Mariners 4, Rockies 3

MillerBradPlayer of the Game: I’m going to close out the spring by giving this one to young infielder Brad Miller, who is going to get sent down tomorrow when they announce final roster cuts. But the 23-year-old continued impressing right up to the end, going 2-for-2 with a double and making a great snag at third base in the game at Salt Lake City. Miller started slow this spring, but wound up hitting .255 and outlasting other top infield prospects like Nick Franklin, Carlos Triunfel and Alex Liddi. The 2011 second-round draft pick is expected to start the season in Double-A Jackson, but he caught the attention of some important people this spring. Here’s video of his eighth-inning double and some words of praise from the ROOT announcers.

Stat of the Game: Two more home runs — by Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak — as the Mariners just never stopped hitting bombs this spring. They finished with a club-record 58 in 33 games, the second-most by any Major League club in the past 20 years behind only the 62 of the 1999 Cubs (when Sammy Sosa hit 12). Here’s video of Morales’ homer and here you can see Smoak’s bomb.

Storyline: Brandon Maurer made his final start before his Major League debut on Thursday. And while he gave up his first two home runs of the spring, one was a line drive that probably doesn’t go out of most parks. He wound up allowing four hits and three runs in four innings, finishing his spring at 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

Worth noting: Jason Bay played the last few innings in right field and it’s a mere formality now before he’s given the last outfield spot when the club announces its final 25-man roster before Sunday’s noon deadline. Nobody got hurt, nothing went wrong, so expect Casper Wells to be either traded or released at the deadline. Wells was left behind in Peoria to play Minor League games while Bay accompanied the team to Salt Lake City and now on to Oakland for Monday’s regular-season opener.

Quote of the Day: “It’s  time to get things going.”–  Eric Wedge.

Next: The Mariners will work out Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum in preparation for Monday’s 7:07 p.m. opener against the A’s, with Felix Hernandez starting against lefty Brett Anderson.

Here’s is the link to today’s boxscore.

Here’s my story on Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez and his outlook on the upcoming season.

And here’s my notebook with all the day’s Mariners news, including a very cool Opening Night viewing party at Safeco Field on Monday.

Thoughts on what looks like the Opening Day lineup

WedgeLooks like Eric Wedge has finally put all his pieces in place with today’s starting lineup against the Rockies in the final game of the spring and it’s a slightly different look than we’ve seen:

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Michael Saunders RF
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse LF
Kyle Seager 3B
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Brandon Maurer P

The skipper has Gutierrez leading off, as expected against a left-hander in Jeff Francis. But he’s going with Saunders second and dropped Seager to fifth, which moves Smoak to sixth in what certainly is a much deeper order than a year ago.

Guti and Sauders batted 1-2 on Wednesday against the Dodgers, but Seager wasn’t in the lineup that day and there were a number of backups playing. This looks more like what Wedge intends to roll out on Monday night against the A’s, particularly since they’ll again face a lefty in Brett Anderson.

Wedge has indicated Gutierrez will likely leadoff against southpaws and Saunders against righthanders. So with this new setup, it could be a situation where those two just flip-flop depending on the opposing starter, while everyone else stays slotted somewhat the same.

This is a pretty balanced batting order, alternating between right, left, switch, right, left, switch, right, left, right.

Some fans will be surprised to see Ackley batting eighth as well, though that’s something that has been coming since Wedge dropped him out of the leadoff role and went with Guti and Saunders there a couple weeks ago.

The fact Ackley now slots in so much lower speaks volumes about the depth of this lineup compared to last year’s. And it’s not like Ackley has had a lousy spring. He’s been pretty hot lately and is batting .396. (Here’s a link to all the Spring Training stats).

Of course, not everyone will play every game and, in fact, Wedge has already said he’ll bring Gutierrez along slowly in the early going as he’s been having some leg tightness and he doesn’t want to push him to a point where he can’t play at all. Guti has great value, when he’s playing, and they’ll just be cautious with him.

While that’s a difficult situation, it will allow Wedge to get his other two outfielders — Raul Ibanez and presumably Jason Bay — some playing time as well. He’d also like to use Robert Andino more this year than he did with Munenori Kawasaki last year. And Montero will catch the majority of games, but Kelly Shoppach also will get a few games each week to keep Montero fresh.

Wedge gets criticized by some for not sticking with a consistent lineup, but he’d get criticized by others if he never used his bench. Every manager tries to keep players sharp and use all their weapons. Lou Piniella used to make it a point to play everyone early in order to keep them tuned up as they came out of Spring Training.

This particular Mariners team seems to have a lot of options and that’s a good thing. It’s also a far different lineup than a year ago when Ichiro Suzuki was batting third to start the season. This team has some legitimate thump with Morse and Morales, who have 15 homers between them this spring.

Today also offers a chance to see young Maurer in his final tuneup before making his Major League debut on Thursday. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV at 12:05 p.m. PT.

The Mariners then head to Oakland, where they’ll work out Sunday and then open Monday night against the A’s. So, yup, here we go …

Today’s news as Mariners head to Salt Lake

Today’s a travel day as the Mariners break camp and head to Salt Lake City, where they’ll face the Rockies in their final spring game Saturday at 12:05 p.m. PT. That one will be televised on ROOT Sports, with Brandon Maurer getting the start.

Then it’s on to Oakland for a Sunday afternoon workout in preparation for Monday night’s Opening Day.

It always feels odd leaving Arizona after a long spring. Happy to be moving on after 47 days, but will definitely miss the warm weather. It was 87 degrees as I headed off this afternoon. Wouldn’t mind bringing a little of that to Oakland and particularly Chicago on this first road trip!

Oakland has rain in the forecast for this weekend, but looks like decent weather next week during the four-game series from Monday through Thursday with temps in the 60s, though there is a chance of rain on the final day.

Chicago figures to be more of a weather wild card. It’s always dicey at this time of year in the midwest and east coast. The long-range forecast doesn’t look bad, with highs around 50 on Friday through Sunday. But there is a 40-percent chance of rain on Sunday, so that will be one to watch.

The Mariners open at home on Monday, so would be nice to get Sunday’s game in without any delay and get back home finally.

One thing with weather cancelations this season – the realigned schedule only has teams visiting non-division foes once a year now. So if a game is rained out, there’s no chance to make it up during a roadtrip to the same city later in the year. That might mean waiting out delays longer or having to fit in games on offdays on future road swings or that sort of thing.

Some big baseball contract news today, with the Tigers’ Justin Verlander getting a seven-year, $180 million extension that moves him ahead of Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175 million) as the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.

I’m sure Felix will survive. In fact, I have a story on today in which he talks about being the same guy, the same pitcher, even with his own new deal.

My other story today is on Henry Genzale, the last original Mariners employee who retired Thursday after 37 years as the clubhouse manager.

Elsewhere, a couple former Mariners landed jobs as Mike Carp won a spot with the Red Sox and Miguel Olivo signed with the Marlins.

Thursday’s Game 32 recap: Mariners 6, Cubs 4

PAndinoRobertlayer of the Game: Robert Andino showed again why he could be a very valuable addition this season as a veteran utility player with a capable bat. Andino went 3-for-4 with a double, raising his spring average to .340, and Eric Wedge noted postgame that he’s comfortable playing him at second, short or third and expects to use him a fair amount during the season.

Stat of the Game: Michael Morse hit his ninth home run, a solo shot in the second season, to set a new Mariners record for most bombs in a spring. The homer was the 55th by the club this spring, which ties for the second-most by any Major League club in the past 20 years. Only the 1999 Cubs hit more with 62. Here’s video of Morse’s opposite field blast.

Storyline: Hisashi Iwakuma pitched four innings in his final tuneup before starting the season as the No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez on Tuesday, giving up three runs on five hits. Iwakuma threw 55 pitches, but came out a little earlier than expected when a blister condition on the middle finger of his pitching hand started peeling. He said it wasn’t a concern and happens every spring, but Wedge didn’t want to push it at this point.

Worth noting: Kameron Loe pitched two innings of relief, allowing one hit and an unearned run, and Wedge said he’ll be one of the primary considerations when the Mariners need a multiple-inning reliever. The team doesn’t appear to have a true long man, so it’ll be interesting to see how they cobble things together if a starter has a short outing in the early going.

Quote of the Day: “He’s strong and he works on his craft. Everybody looks at
him like a big, strong guy, which he is. But he’s a hitter first  –  Eric Wedge on Michael Morse.

Next: The Mariners are off on Friday as they travel to Salt Lake City, where they’ll play the Rockies on Saturday in their final spring fling at 12:05 p.m. PT in a game that will be televised on ROOT Sports. Brandon Maurer will start that game in his final warmup before making his Major League debut on Thursday against the A’s.

Here’s is the link to today’s boxscore.

Here’s my preview of the upcoming season, looking at how much the new additions have altered the look of the Mariners lineup.

And here’s my notebook with all today’s news from camp, including the impending decision on Jason Bay and Casper Wells.

Zduriencik: No decision yet on Wells/Bay

General manager Jack Zduriencik says no decision has been finalized yet on the last roster move between Casper Wells and Jason Bay as the team will let that go down to the final deadline on Sunday.

Wells is being left behind in Peoria to play in a couple Minor League games this weekend, while Bay will accompany the team to Salt Lake City and presumably Oakland to open the season Monday.

Zduriencik said the idea is to let Wells play in a couple extra Minor League games and get more at-bats after not seeing much time recently, but it’s safe to assume he’s the odd man out and the team is simply waiting until the last minute to make sure nothing happens to change the picture.

Manager Eric Wedge noted that the team needs to protect itself in case of injuries in these final games.

Wells is out of Minor League options, so he’ll either need to be released or traded if the Mariners indeed opt to keep Bay.

“At this moment in time, we don’t have any information except to say we don’t have to have the roster set until Sunday. So what we’re going to do is let it play itself out,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve made a decision on keeping a couple pitchers back here to get some work in and we’ll have Casper Wells stay back as well.

“Until we really have to make a roster move, we’re not going to make a roster move.”

As for Wells staying behind in Peoria?

“We want him to get his AB’s. For the last few days he hasn’t played quite all that much,” Zdurienik said. “Our decision was to keep him here, let him play and he can certainly get three games in, 4-5 at-bats per game, so it worked good for him.”

Zdurienick also said he hasn’t heard back yet from Jeremy Bonderman on whether he’ll accept an assignment to Triple-A Tacoma, but remains hopeful the veteran right-hander will choose to continue his comeback with the club.

Bay, Wells awaiting final roster decision

It’s coming down to decision time for the last Mariners roster spot between outfielders Jason Bay and Casper Wells and apparently that decision is imminent, though both are listed on the travel roster headed to Mesa for today’s 12:05 p.m. game with the Cubs.

Of course, that roster can be changed with the mere swipe of a pencil. As of this moment, both Wells and Bay are dressing in the clubhouse and neither has met with manager Eric Wedge.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens shortly.

Neither is listed in the starting lineup for today, which is the final Cactus League game of the spring and the final game for the Cubs at HoHoKam Park in Mesa. The Cubs are getting a new spring park next year.

Here’s the lineup for today:

Michael Saunders CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Robert Andino 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Hisashi Iwakuma P

The Mariners will fly to Salt Lake City after the game today and play the Rockies on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. PT, with Brandon Maurer getting the start. Then it’s on to Oakland, with an offday workout Sunday afternoon before opening the season Monday night against the A’s at 7:07 p.m.

In other words, it’s almost time. But first, one last roster decision …


Wednesday’s Game 31 recap: Mariners 10, Dodgers 7

Morse_MichaelPlayer of the Game: Michael Morse continued making his presence felt with his eighth home run of the spring, a two-run shot off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the first inning. Morse walked in his other two at-bats and is hitting .365 in Cactus League play. His eight bombs ties the club record set by Mike Wilson in 2009.

Stat of the Game: 96 pitches. That’s what Felix Hernandez got up to in his fifth and final start of the spring, which puts him in position to throw 110 or so on Opening Day on Monday in Oakland. Hernandez wasn’t as sharp this outing, but got his work in and pronounced himself ready to move on.

Storyline: This one felt like a game that both teams just wanted to get out of the way so they could move toward Opening Day. The Dodgers rolled out a lineup with only one starting position player in Jerry Hairston, though they did throw Kershaw for three innings. The Mariners played most of their regulars and did some damage against Kershaw and Ted Lilly with another 10-run game in what has been a robust spring for the offense.

Worth noting: Manager Eric Wedge got ejected in the sixth inning for arguing with Minor League umpire Seth Buckminster, who was working home plate. Wedge came out to protect Hernandez after the Mariners ace gestured angrily following a ball call. Wedge said it was the first Spring Training ejection he’s received in 10 years as a Major League skipper.

Quote of the Day: “I felt strong today. Not as sharp, like the other ones, but it was a good workout. It’s been a long Spring Training. I just want to get out of here and go to Opening Day.”  –  Felix Hernandez.

Next: Hisashi Iwakuma gets the start in the Mariners’ final Cactus League game, a 12:05 p.m. PT start against the Cubs in Mesa. The Mariners are bringing all their regular starters except Franklin Gutierrez, who’ll be given a light day before starting Saturday’s exhibition finale in Salt Lake City.

Here’s is the link to today’s boxscore.

Here’s my story on Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan winning the final two rotation berths today as Jeremy Bonderman and Erasmo Ramirez were sent down.

And here’s my notebook with today’s other news from camp.

Elated Maurer earns rotation spot

MaurerTongueTightBrandon Maurer, a 22-year-old right-hander who has never pitched above Double-A ball, earned a spot in the Mariners starting rotation on Wednesday as the team opted to send Erasmo Ramirez and Jeremy Bonderman to the Minor Leagues.

Maurer, last year’s Southern League Pitcher of the Year for Jackson, will start the fourth game of the regular season against the A’s in Oakland on Thursday.

Blake Beavan, an 11-game winner last season, earned the other remaining starting spot and will pitch fifth in the rotation, opening against the White Sox in Chicago on Friday.

Veterans Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders had already been announced as the first three starters when the Mariners open the season Monday in Oakland.

The 6-foot-5 Maurer earned his spot with an outstanding spring, giving up just two runs in 20 innings of Cactus League play for a 0.90 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks.

“It’s been a good ride,” an elated Maurer said of his climb from a 23rd-round Draft pick in 2008. “I’ve learned so much every year, turning myself into a pitcher and not just a thrower. This year I’ve actually felt like more of a pitcher than ever, using a two-seam and throwing changeups in fastball counts and being able to throw a slider behind or ahead in the count, different types of sliders. Just going out there and learning how to pitch.”

Maurer is the first Mariners pitcher to jump from Double-A to a starting spot with the Major League club since Mike Hampton and John Cummings both made the leap in 1993.

The youngster received word from manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis in a brief meeting Wednesday, then immediately called his parents in Costa Mesa, Calif., to pass along the news.

“My mom was getting a little choked up and my dad was just rambling on about random stuff,” he said. “But it was good.”

Maurer then celebrated briefly with some of the Minor League teammates that he’s lived with and shared time with all spring, including fellow pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, all of whom were expected to get to Majors ahead of Maurer.

“We’re always rooting each other on,” Maurer said. “We have been this whole time and we still will. It’s awesome to have a good group of friends like that to just rally behind you.”

Ramirez pitched three controlled innings in a Minor League intrasquad game on Wednesday morning, but clearly isn’t ready to start again yet as he was limited to five outs with two hits, three walks and three strikeouts.

He’ll begin the season instead in Tacoma, which is where Bonderman also will likely pitch if he accepts his Minor League assignment.

Bonderman, 30, is attempting to return to the Majors for the first time since 2010 due to extensive arm and shoulder problems. He was told the news Wednesday morning and will be given a day or two now to decide whether to continue his comeback in the Minors or announce his retirement.

The moves put the Mariners roster at 30, with decisions still pending on the fifth outfielder and final bullpen spot.