October 2013

M’s fans say Lincecum not worth that price

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles DodgersWhile Mariners fans are anxious for general manager Jack Zduriencik to add new talent to the roster this offseason, 81 percent of respondents to a quick Twitter poll said they would not have wanted the club to sign Tim Lincecum for the two-year, $35 million deal he got with the Giants on Tuesday.

There had been some early speculation that Lincecum might be interested in signing with his hometown Mariners club as he hit free agency this offseason, but the Giants never let things get that far as they inked their former two-time National League Cy Young winner to a new deal before the free agency period begins following the World Series.

Lincecum, 29, grew up just east of Seattle in Bellevue and pitched for Liberty High School in Renton and the University of Washington before the Mariners passed over him in the 2006 Draft and instead took pitcher Brandon Morrow out of California. Lincecum then proceeded to go 69-41 with a 2.81 ERA and win four All-Star berths from 2008-11 in San Francisco.

But the hard-throwing right-hander lost a little off his fastball and was 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA the past two years, and the Giants are paying a steep price now for a pitcher they’d already spent $63 million on over the past four seasons when he was arbitration eligible, including $22 million last season when he was 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA in 32 starts.

The general consensus of Mariners fans responding to the informal survey on my Twitter account (@gregjohnsMLB) seemed to be that Lincecum might have been a nice addition to the staff, but not at that cost. Of the 96 respondents to the survey, 78 said they would not have wanted the Mariners to sign Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal.

Zduriencik would like to add a veteran pitcher to the Mariners’ mix, most likely a mid-rotation type to slide in behind Felix Hernandez and Hishashi Iwakuma, in order to take some pressure off up-and-coming youngsters Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and Erasmo Ramirez.

It seems doubtful the Mariners would have spent that sort of money on another starter, however, given their bigger need seems to be adding more offensive punch. But the price tag for pitching just went up, if Lincecum’s deal is any indication. Or perhaps this was just the Giants overspending to keep their own popular pitcher in San Francisco.

Either way, Lincecum is now off the market for another two years.

Mariners say they didn’t ‘full-court press’ Piniella

LouPiniellaWhile Mariners president Chuck Armstrong did talk to former manager Lou Piniella last week about the club’s managerial opening, a team official said Friday there was no “full-court press” to bring back the former skipper as has been reported.

Mariners baseball information director Tim Hevly said front-office members have been making calls to people around the game to gather their opinions and that Piniella himself brought up the question of whether he’d be interested during a chat with Armstrong, then called back several days later to say he didn’t want to manage again.

Hevly said Armstrong was talking to Piniella about a number of topics, including letting him know he was going to be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame next year.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was the first to report Thursday night that the 70-year-old Piniella had been contacted by the Mariners.

“I talked to them about the job, but that’s it,” Piniella told Rosenthal. “There was nothing else to it. It was just conversation, nothing more.”

But Rosenthal also quoted a “source with knowledge of the discussions” as saying the club put on “a full-court press” in pursuit of Piniella and Hevly said that simply wasn’t accurate, noting that Armstrong talked to Piniella before heading to Italy on vacation, but general manager Jack Zduriencik is the one doing the hiring.

“Chuck isn’t even in the country right now. Jack is leading the manager’s search,” Hevly said. “And he is still in the process of putting together a list of candidates. People here are talking to lots of people in the game about jobs and managers. As part of a larger conversation with Lou last week, the manager job came up.

“Lou expressed some interest in it, we were surprised, but listened,” Hevly said. “He then called back and said he didn’t want to pursue it. There was no full-court press or serious discussions.”

Piniella is the only manager in Mariners history with a winning record, posting an 840-711 record from 1993-2002 and leading the club to its only four post-season appearances. He then managed Tampa Bay for three seasons and the Cubs for three and a half years before stepping down in August of 2010 to care for his ailing mother.

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said last week that Zduriencik would be the one conducting the hiring process and he didn’t expect any decision until November, after the conclusion of the World Series, in order to allow the team to pursue candidates who might be working for clubs currently in the playoffs.

One of the prospective candidates, A’s bench coach Chip Hale, just saw his team eliminated Thursday night. Tim Wallach, another possible candidate, is working as third base coach for the Dodgers as they begin play in the National League Championship Series. The Mariners aren’t believed to have conducted any formal interviews yet.

Hunter throws well in Peoria’s AFL opener

Mariners prospects Stefen Romero and Patrick Kivlehan each had a hit and left-hander Kyle Hunter pitched a pair of scoreless innings on Tuesday as the Peoria Javelinas lost their Arizona Fall League opener to Surprise, 7-6, in Surprise, Ariz.

The three Mariners farmhands are among seven Seattle players on the Javelinas squad in the AFL, which features top youngsters from all 30 Major League teams in a 31-game, five-week season.

Hunter was a late replacement on the Peoria team, taking the place of left-hander Danny Hultzen, who underwent surgery to repair a tear in his rotator cuff last week. Hunter, 24, went 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 34 appearances for Double-A Jackson after an early season promotion from Class-A High Desert this past season.

Hunter allowed just one hit with no runs and three strikeouts while pitching the fourth and fifth innings in his debut for the Javelinas. He was a 31st –round Draft pick out of Kansas State in 2011.

Romero and Kivlehan are better-known prospects in the Mariners system. Romero, 24, is the Mariners’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com’s rankings, and hit .277 with 11 home runs and 74 RBIs for Tacoma this past season after getting a late start due to an oblique injury. The former Oregon State standout went 1-for-3 and scored a pair of runs on Tuesday while playing left field.

Kivlehan, 23, went 1-for-4 at designated hitter on Tuesday. The former Rutgers football player hit .303 with 16 homers and 90 RBIs while splitting last season between Class-A Clinton and High Desert. Kivelhan is Seattle’s No. 16 prospect in MLB.com’s rankings.

Four other Mariners players – pitchers Brandon Maurer, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith and shortstop Chris Taylor — didn’t participate in Tuesday’s AFL opener. Maurer is the only one of Seattle’s seven representatives who has played in the Majors as he went 5-8 with a 6.30 ERA in 22 games for the Mariners as a rookie.

Leone and Smith are hard-throwing right-handed relievers who competed for Jackson this past year, while Taylor earned the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year honors after hitting .314 while splitting the season between High Desert and Jackson.

The Peoria squad is made up of players from the Mariners, Royals, Astros, Padres and Phillies and managed by Jim Pankovits, who has led the Mariners’ Double-A Jackson team the past three years. Here is the full Peoria roster.

The Javelinas host Surprise in a rematch of the same two teams Wednesday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. Here’s the full AFL schedule for Peoria.

Mariners claim Angels outfield prospect; Blanco DFA’d

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v San Diego Padres

Travis Witherspoon, a 24-year-old center fielder in the Angels organization, was claimed off waivers on Tuesday by the Mariners and added to their 40-man roster.

To make room on the 40-man, veteran catcher Henry Blanco has been designated for assignment.

Witherspoon spent all of last season playing for Double-A Arkansas, where he hit .214 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 129 games. He has 140 steals in 173 attempts in his Minor League career, including 110 since the start of the 2011 season.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander was a 12th-round selection in the 2009 Draft out of Spartanburg Methodist College and is regarded as a strong defender and excellent athlete with good speed and power potential who needs to develop his pitch recognition and on-base percentage.

Witherspoon was the 13th-ranked prospect in the Angels’ organization in the latest MLB.com ratings. He is a native of Sumter, South Carolina.  Here’s a story former scout Bernie Pleskoff wrote in February for MLB.com outlining why he felt Witherspoon had high upside as an Angels’ prospect.

Blanco, 42, was claimed off waivers by Seattle in mid-June to help mentor rookie catcher Mike Zunino and wound up batting .125 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 35 games. The 16-year Major League veteran hit two grand slams for the Mariners, including a game-winning shot in his Seattle debut in Oakland to help Felix Hernandez to a 4-0 victory on June 15.

But Blanco finished the season in a 1-for-33 slump to finish at .142 for the year, including 15 games with the Blue Jays.

The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Blanco’s contract to the Minor Leagues.

Hultzen undergoes surgery for torn rotator cuff

HultzenGrip

Danny Hultzen, the Mariners top left-handed pitching prospect, underwent shoulder surgery in Pensacola, Fla., on Tuesday to repair a partial tear of his left rotator cuff and clean up the labrum.

No timetable was set on the return of Hultzen, currently rated No. 23 among all of baseball’s prospects by MLB.com. But shoulder surgeries are difficult for pitchers and it would seem unlikely for Hultzen to return by next season.

Hultzen, 23, was Seattle’s first-round Draft choice in 2011 out of the University of Virginia and the second overall pick behind right-hander Gerrit Cole of the Pirates.

“This is very unfortunate for Danny and his family, but we have nothing but high hopes for a good recovery and rehab,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “Danny is a tireless worker and will do everything he can to get back on the mound to start competing again.”

The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, one of the premier orthopedic specialists in the country.

Hultzen made seven Minor League starts during the past season, going 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Tacoma and also picking up a win with five innings of one-run ball in an Arizona Rookie League rehab start.

Hultzen made his last appearance Sept. 1 for Tacoma, throwing two scoreless innings after missing most of the second half of the Triple-A season, then threw a simulated game under the supervision of Mariners staff at Safeco Field in preparation for a stint in instructional ball in Arizona and then the Arizona Fall League.

But the shoulder began hurting again when Hultzen went to Arizona and he underwent surgery after tests revealed damage in the shoulder capsule.

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