December 2013

Zduriencik responds to Seattle Times story

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik issued a statement Monday addressing a story in Sunday’s Seattle Times accusing the club’s front office of being a dysnfunctional situation. The story was based largely on comments by former manager Eric Wedge and former assistant to the GM Tony Blengino.

Here is Zduriencik’s statement:

Over the years, we have chosen to take the high road in talking about former Mariners personnel. It hasn’t always been easy but we always felt it was important to do so, not just for the club but also for the individual. And in every case, it proved to be the right way to handle things. However, we believe the comments made by former members of our organization that appeared in the Sunday Seattle Times require a brief response.

Eric Wedge, our former manager, criticized our organization, accusing Howard Lincoln, chuck Armstrong and me of meddling.

Everyone in our organization, including Howard and Chuck, is focused on putting a championship team on the field. We all care very deeply about this team, just like the fans do. We all see when the team is playing well, and when it isn’t.

I’ve worked for several Major League organizations. Our upper management has suggestions and asks questions, just like CEOs and presidents in other organization do, all to be helpful and contribute to the goal of winning. We all want to win as soon as possible.

When there are areas that need improvement, it’s my job to ask questions, suggest ideas and give direction to the field staff. When our upper management has questions or suggestions, it’s my job to respond to them. I don’t believe meddling is a fair portrayal.

One good example is the issue of the Mariners doing extra work last September. That suggestion was mine. Everyone in the baseball department thought this would be a good teaching time to help us improve our fundamentals with a young team, and help set the tone for spring training.

Howard, Chuck, Eric and I met every five to six weeks the past couple of seasons to make sure we were all on the same page. Never once did Eric complain about our communications during those meetings. In fact, we all agreed that this was a good time to offer and share ideas.

Eric approached me numerous times throughout the year expressing his desire for a long-term contract. Even the day before he quit, Eric called a meeting with me and demanded a contract extension.

I can also say that our current statistical analysis group is doing excellent work. Our dedicated staff and the tools they are using are a key component in our decision making process, and are light years ahead of where we have been. I am engaged with their work on a daily basis and very excited in the improvements made.

We have never deviated from our rebuilding plan. We have stayed the course, and we now have a talented group of young players. We are hard at work looking into every option to add to this core group, as we said we would, and we are looking forward to 2014 and beyond.

It’s heating up in Orlando, at least outside

Though the Winter Meetings are now underway, there’s nothing very “wintery” about things here in Orlando, Fla.

Not complaining , for sure, as this must be the only place in the U.S. where it’s warm and humid today with temperatures already in the 80s this morning.

Now we’ll see whether things heat up on the Hot Stove as well. It should be an interesting four days, given many teams — including the Mariners — have already aggressively begun their offseason shopping.

The meetings kicked off moments ago with the announcement of Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee. One of other contenders was Ted Simmons, one of Jack Zduriencik’s special assistants in Seattle and a former standout catcher.

On the Mariners front, Seattle won’t officially announce the Robinson Cano signing until later this week, presuming he passes his physical exam. But obviously that agreement sent a message to baseball that the Mariners are willing and able to do business — big business — and Zduriencik will continue pushing to add a few key pieces to his young club in the next days and weeks.

Not all the moves will be glamerous. The Mariners need a backup catcher. They need a veteran bullpen arm or two. They need outfield depth. But they well could make another bigger splash, either in trade or free agency, given the desire to add a prominent outfield bat as well as a starting pitcher.

The premier free agent pitching market is the one area that hasn’t moved much yet, so this week will be interesting on that front.

I’m on site at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort and will update as news happens and after we sit down with Zduriencik for daily updates every afternoon. And hopefully I’ll get a chance to slide outside every now and then to see the sun, which is a warm and welcome sight after a chilly week in Seattle.

Cano reportedly agrees to $240 million deal

After several years of missing out on big free agents, the Mariners landed a whopper on Friday when five-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal, according to multiple reports.

The Mariners have not yet confirmed the report, which originally was released by Cano’s camp through ESPN Desportes reporter Enrique Rojas.

The contract terms, if accurate, would equal the deal Albert Pujols signed with the Angels two years ago. Only the two contracts Alex Rodriguez signed, one with the Rangers and the other with the Yankees, have been more lucrative.

Cano, 31, is regarded as the premier free agent in this year’s market and is coming off a season in which he hit .314 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs in 160 games for the Yankees.

Cano and his representatives flew to Seattle on Thursday and met with Mariners officials, looking for a better deal than the seven years at about $170 million offered by the Yankees.

Early Friday morning, a report by the New York Daily News said that talks between Cano and the Mariners had broken down when his agent, Jay-Z, raised the free agent’s price.

But Cano wound up agreeing later on a deal that dwarfs even the seven-year, $175-million contract the Mariners gave ace pitcher Felix Hernandez last spring, which at the time made him the highest-paid pitcher in Major League history.

Cano has been one of the most-consistent offensive performers in the Majors since 2009, averaging 28 home runs and 103 RBIs per season over those five years. He’s been an American League All-Star and finished in the top six in AL MVP voting each of the past four seasons and just completed a contract that paid him $15 million for 2013.

The Mariners have considerable payroll available this offseason, with only Hernandez ($22 million) and Hisashi Iwakuma ($6.5 million) under any sort of sizable contracts and just two players – Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak – entering the arbitration process.

General manager Jack Zduriencik has been pushing for an impact hitter the past few offseasons, but came up short in efforts to land Prince Fielder in 2011 and Josh Hamilton last year.

Hernandez is the only player under contract beyond 2014 for a Seattle club whose payroll has been in the $90 million range the last few years.

Cano reportedly meeting with Mariners in Seattle

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees

Free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano flew from New York to Seattle to meet with Mariners officials on Thursday, according to an ESPN Deportes report, as negotiating tactics for the five-time Yankees All-Star kicked up a notch.

ESPN Desportes quoted a source as saying the Mariners would be willing to go up to 10 years and $230-$240 million for Cano, who reportedly has been offered seven years at about $170 million by the Yankees.

FOXSports.com is reporting that Cano asked for $240 million, but the Mariners have not offered more than $200 million.  Only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have signed Major League contracts larger than $225 million.

MLB.com has not confirmed that the Mariners have talked any specific figures with Cano and the Mariners declined to comment on the ESPN Deportes report, as is their policy with all free-agent negotiations.

What the report doesn’t say is whether Cano and his agents are truly interested in signing with Seattle or are leaking news of his dalliance with the Mariners as negotiating leverage to drive up the Yankees’ offer.

Here’s my full story on MLB.com.

Bloomquist signs, so what next for M’s?

Arizona Diamondbacks v. San Francisco GiantsThis won’t satisfy Mariners fans hoping for a blockbuster move, but veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist returned to his roots on Thursday as Seattle officially announced his signing of a two-year deal.

Word of the agreement emerged on Monday, but Bloomquist had to complete a physical exam before finalizing a contract that will pay him $5.8 million over the next two seasons.

While Bloomquist isn’t the big-name acquisition Seattle fans are clamoring for, he figures to fill a versatile role for new manager Lloyd McClendon as one of baseball’s noted “super utility” players, having played every position except catcher during his 12 seasons in the Majors.

Here’s my full story on Bloomquist, who talks about returning to Seattle, his role and more moves to come.

As for what does happen next and any anticipated blockbusters? As I noted on my Twitter account this morning, I’m skeptical of how interested Robinson Cano really is in the Mariners and also how interested the Mariners are in Rays pitcher David Price. I know both those deals have been hot on the Hot Stove rumor mill. And I do think Jack Zduriencik is pushing to make a big acquisition and has they money to do some things this winter.

But Cano feels far more like a situation where the player and his agents are looking to create leverage by playing up a competing team for the Yankees. And Price, while a marvelous pitcher, doesn’t seem to make sense to give up the farm  for — including six years of team control of premier right-hand prospect Taijuan Walker — when he’s at the high-end of his arbitration years and then will be a free agent in two years.

Prospects for high-priced proven talent like Price is certainly a worthy trade option, but it makes more sense for the Mariners to trade for offense — given free-agent hitters are reluctant and/or costly when being lured to Safeco Field — rather than pitching, which can be signed far more easily in Seattle’s case.

If you’re going to use Walker as a trade chip, I’d expect it would be for a big-time hitter. Zduriencik pursued that last year with Justin Upton and this year’s big target could be Matt Kemp, who has six years and $128 million left on his contract with the Dodgers.

Kemp is a marvelous talent as well, though he played just 73 games in an injury-plagued season last year with three DL stints due to ankle, shoulder and hamstring issues. But that’s one of the reasons Kemp is available now and the upside is one of the game’s premier outfielders and a five-tool stud who is an MVP-caliber player with six years of team control remaining.

Whether that kind of blockbuster is actually in the works remains to be seen as well, but it at least makes more sense to me if we are going to be tossing around Hot Stove speculation.

Bloomquist rejoining Mariners, pending physical exam

Arizona Diamondbacks v. San Francisco Giants

Looking to provide some depth in their young infield and outfield, the Mariners are bringing back veteran utility man Willie Bloomquist, according to a Major League source.

The deal is still pending a physical exam, with a likely mid-week announcement if everything goes as expected with the 36-year-old free agent. Bloomquist played for Seattle from 2002-08 after being drafted by the Mariners in the third round in 1999 out of Arizona State. He is a native of the Northwest, having grown up in Port Orchard, Wash.

Bloomquist isn’t the big offensive boost fans are hoping for in free agency, but his addition makes sense for a club that can use his versatility to back up several positions with a quality glove man and proven on-base threat.

Bloomquist has played every position except catcher during his 12 seasons in the Majors, including his last three years with the D-backs.

The Mariners return rookies Brad Miller at shortstop and Nick Franklin at second base and Bloomquist is capable of playing both those positions, as well as the outfield. Seattle has just three outfielders – Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Abraham Almonte – currently under contract from last year’s final roster.

Speaking on Saturday, before word of Bloomquist’s signing came out, general manager Jack Zduriencik acknowledged that he wanted to add to the middle infield mix with Miller, Franklin and Carlos Triunfel all being extremely young.

“We’ve seen glimpses and flashes of these guys having talent,” Zduriencik said. “But they’ve got to come back and be prepared and they should be challenged in Spring Training. As you continue to look at other options, either through trade or free agency, you do what’s best for your club in the long run. We like what we’ve seen, but we’re not going to give anything to them.”

Bloomquist hit .317 with a .360 on-base percentage and .367 slugging percentage last season in 139 at-bats while playing 48 games, which was his least playing time since his rookie season in Seattle in ’02. He missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury and another two months later in the year after breaking a bone in his hand when he was hit by a pitch.

He hit .302/.325/.398 in 324 at-bats in 80 games in 2012 and for his career is a .271 hitter with 17 home runs and 207 RBIs in 973 games.

He’s played 329 games in the outfield, 282 at shortstop, 132 at third base, 123 at second base and 37 at first base in his career. Bloomquist became a free agent after his two-year, $3.8 million deal with the D-backs expired after last season.

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