Most of the pitchers got today off from throwing bullpen sessions, but three guys did get in their first mound sessions of the spring on the fifth day of the pitchers and catchers portion of camp. And two of those guys — fellas named Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker — happen to be pretty important to the Mariners plans.
You can catch my story on how things went for the Dynamic Duo here. I also have a notebook with news of the day, including Fernando Rodney and Robinson Cano talking about how excited they are to be joining forces. And for good measure, I recommend my Q&A with new Mariners president Kevin Mather, which you can read here.
But if it’s photos you’re looking for, here’s some shots I got today, focusing on the Taijuan and Felix show.
Walker threw 25 pitches, all fastballs, as he works himself in slowly after arriving at camp with a sore arm. But he looked very strong today and is full speed ahead.
Felix was Felix, throwing his full assortment of pitches and pronouncing himself right on schedule.
Pitching coach Rick Waits and trainer Rick Griffin huddled with Walker immediately after his session and both were pleased with his initial outing.
While Lloyd McClendon keeps hearing that his club needs to add more players, the new Mariners skipper believes there’s plenty of talent already lined up on his club and the key will be getting the core group of youngsters to perform up to expectations to compete in the American League West.
“I always get a chuckle,” McClendon said Monday. “People say, ‘Well, the Seattle Mariners signed [Robinson] Cano. They can’t stop there. What else are they going to do? Well, last time I looked, we have a pretty talented club.
“We have a third baseman that is one of the top 10 in baseball. We’ve got kids at shortstop that can play, kids that are going to battle. [Nick] Franklin and [Brad] Miller are going to compete. Those are talented kids. One hit eight home runs and the other hit 14. [Justin] Smoak is starting to come into his own. He hit 20 home runs last year. We’ve got some arms that everybody in baseball would do back flips to get.
“So I just find it amusing when people say what else are they going to do? It’s not like we’ve got chopped liver in that locker room. There’s a certain maturation process that takes place with any player. The one thing I know, Miguel Cabrera had to have his first at-bat at one point before he got good. It’s the same things with guys in that locker room. They’ve got to get their first at-bat or throw their first pitch.”
The Mariners finished last season playing four rookie starters in Miller, Franklin, Mike Zunino and Abraham Almonte and had eight position players on the field much of the time who were age 26 or younger, as well as rookie starters in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, a rookie closer in Danny Farquhar and several other youngsters in the bullpen as well.
The club has added some experience in key players over the offseason with Cano, Corey Hart, Fernando Rodney and others, but McClendon has said from the time he was hired that he’s not worried about the team being inexperienced.
“Part of the message we’re sending here is just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t be good,” he said. “That’s not an excuse. We develop in the Minor Leagues, we win at the Major League level.”
McClendon reiterated that Franklin and Miller will compete at shortstop this spring, with no thought of moving either into the outfield.
“We’ve got a pretty crowded outfield,” he said. “There’s a lot of talented outfielders as it is. And that’s a good problem to have. At the end of the day if we’re sitting here in late March and we have real, real tough decisions to make, that’s good for the Seattle Mariners. I hope the decisions are not easy. I hope they’re real tough. I’ll take that.”
Mariners pitchers and catchers worked out for their fourth day on Sunday and you can read my notebook with the news of the day here, including an update on Taijuan Walker as he prepares for his first bullpen session after behind held back by a sore arm.
I’ve also got a feature story on Mike Zunino as he makes some batting adjustments, at the suggestion of Lloyd McClendon, that he hopes will pay off.
And in the photo category, I got some more shots today that hopefully provide some flavor of the early camp.
We’re three days into the pitchers and catchers portion of Mariners camp and you can keep up with all the news and goings on from my stories on Mariners.com. But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll try to supplement those stories with frequent photo galleries on the blog over the coming weeks.
Here are some fun shots I got today while enjoying the 80-plus degree weather in Peoria:
Newly acquired closer Fernando Rodney and his tilted cap are going to be a visible presence at camp.
New skipper Lloyd McClendon talks with veteran pitcher Scott Baker, who looked good in his bullpen session today.
Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak agreed to terms on a one-year contract with a club option for a second year on Saturday, thus avoiding an upcoming arbitration hearing that would have determined his 2014 salary.
Smoak was the last of the Mariners’ arbitration-eligible players to come to terms. His arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday, but the two sides came to their agreement four days before that deadline.
No Mariners player has gone all the way to an arbitration hearing since pitcher Freddy Garcia in 2003.
According to USA Today, Smoak’s deal will pay $2.63 million for 2014. If he accumulates 525 plate appearances this season, the 2015 option kicks in at $3.65 million, with a $150,000 buyout clause.
Smoak had asked for $3.25 million for 2014 when each side filed numbers in the case last month, while the Mariners countered with an offer of $2.025 million.
Smoak, 27, hit .238 with 50 RBIs and a career-high 20 home runs last season, despite being placed on the 15-day disabled list in June with a right oblique strain. He hit 17 of those homers in his final 85 games after coming off the DL on June 18.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder played in 131 games last year and led the team with 30 two-out RBIs, while also ranking fifth among AL first baseman with a .995 fielding percentage.
His .334 on-base percentage and .412 slugging percentage were both the best of his career.
Smoak is in his first year of arbitration eligibility. If the Mariners exercise the 2015 option, he’ll then have one more season of arbitration before becoming a free agent in 2017.
Sorry about the lack of blog posts as Mariners camp opened the last two days, but I was in the Dominican Republic to write about the opening of the club’s new baseball academy there. I’ll file regular camp news and updates on the blog from now through the rest of spring, but I just got back Thursday night from the Dominican and wanted to post some photos from my trek.
You can catch all the camp news from Thursday on Mariners.com, with my MLB.com colleague Barry Bloom capably filling in on the busy day. I also have my report on the Dominican academy posted here. It really is an impressive facility and should be a huge boost to the Mariners’ profile in that baseball hotbed.
Here are some pics I shot:
No baseball here, I just liked this shot I got on the beach at Santo Domingo, which is where we spent the night in a hotel on the water front. Would have loved to have more time to spend enjoying the sites, but was a quick down-and-back venture and now it’s time to focus on Spring Training!
You can see more (and better) picture of the academy on this photo gallery by Ben Van Houten, who is a real photographer that works for the Mariners. It’s worth checking out.
While much of the recent speculation has centered around the Mariners pursuing outfielder Nelson Cruz, word broke today that the club has agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with free-agent closer Fernando Rodney.
While that report — originally from Grantland’s Jonah Kehri — has been repeated by multiple outlets, the Mariners hadn’t confirmed the news as of Thursday afternoon. But Rodney presumably needs only to pass a physical exam now, which likely would come next week as the team’s pitchers and catchers report to Peoria on Tuesday.
Rodney’s addition would significantly bolster the back end of the Mariners’ bullpen. Rodney, 36, saved 85 games with a 1.91 ERA over the past two seasons with the Rays.
Seattle has two returning relievers – right-handers Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen – who combined to save 40 games last season, though both had ERAs over 4.00 for the season. I think both those relievers could still hold significant roles, but Rodney’s arrival adds depth and an experienced closer to a young bullpen.
Wilhelmsen, 30, began last year as the Mariners’ closer after saving 29 games with a 2.50 ERA in 73 appearances in 2012 after taking over from Brandon League in midseason. He got off to an outstanding start again last year, racking up 12 saves and a 0.75 ERA in the first two months before running into control issues and eventually being sent to Triple-A Tacoma. Wilhelmsen finished last year with a 4.12 ERA and 45 strikeouts with 33 walks in 59 innings, after posting 87 strikeouts and 29 walks in 79 1/3 frames in 2012.
Farquhar, 26, replaced Wilhelmsen in the closing role for the final two months and finished with 16 saves, tied for the third most in the Majors behind only Greg Holland of the Royals (19) and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves (18) while in that role from Aug. 3 to the end of the season. While Farquhar’s overall numbers were 0-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 46 appearances, his ERA was 1.69 over his final 29 outings and for the season, his 12.77 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth among all AL relievers.
Rodney’s addition would seemingly allow Wilhelmsen and Farquhar to compete for right-handed setup roles along with returnee Yoervis Medina, which would solidify that situation after the trade of Carter Capps to the Marlins for Logan Morrison. Stephen Pryor, another hard-throwing right-hander, isn’t expected back until midseason as he comes off shoulder surgery.
The Mariners have Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge returning as left-handed relievers.
After nine years with the Tigers and Angels, Rodney had a huge breakout year in 2012 with the Rays when he racked up 48 saves with a 0.60 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings while earning his first American League All-Star berth, was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year and finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting.
He was less overpowering last year, but still put up 37 saves and a 3.38 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 66 2/3 frames. <p> For his career, the Dominican native has a 3.70 ERA and 172 saves with 551 strikeouts in 571 1/3 innings. Rodney earned $2.5 million last year with the Rays and was regarded as one of the premier relievers on this year’s free-agent market.
Veteran right-hander Scott Baker has agreed to a one-year Minor League contract with the Mariners with an invitation to Major League camp, according to a club source, as Seattle looks to add to its starting rotation competition.
Additionally, the club announced Wednesday it has traded outfielder Carlos Peguero to the Royals for cash or a player to be named. Peguero was designated for assignment last week to open a roster spot for catcher John Buck.
Baker, 32, pitched just three games for the Cubs last September after returning from Tommy John surgery, but is now nearly two years removed from the elbow injury that plagued him in 2012 while with the Twins.
Baker passed a physical exam with the club and the deal is expected to be formally announced Wednesday.
The deal is for $1 million, if he makes the Major League roster, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, with a potential $3.25 million in additional incentives.
If Baker proves healthy this spring, he figures to get a good shot from the Mariners, who are seeking a veteran starter to add to a rotation that has Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top and a host of youngsters – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi – competing for the other spots.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder was a solid starter for Minnesota from 2005-11, posting a 63-48 record with a 4.15 ERA in 163 games (159 starts). He had the eighth-best ERA in the American League in 2008 at 3.45, won 15 games in ‘09 and was the Twins’ Opening Day starter in ’10.
But after going 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 2011, Baker missed the final two months of that season with elbow problems and then had Tommy John surgery the following year. The Cubs signed him to a $5.5 million deal last year, but he was able to make just three Major League starts, compiling a 3.60 ERA in three no-decisions while allowing just nine hits and four walks in 15 innings in the final month.
He also made eight rehab starts in Class-A ball earlier in the year.
This story will be up soon on Mariners.com, but wanted to get it out there now because I think this will be of much interest to Mariners fans who don’t know much about new president Kevin Mather. I was among several reporters who met Mather for the first time this afternoon after the team announced he’d be replacing Chuck Armstrong and his message was interesting.
So here’s a quick version for those interested:
Kevin Mather admits he isn’t a “baseball guy” and won’t be telling Jack Zduriencik how to run the Mariners baseball operations, but as the new club president, he definitely knows the importance of helping the franchise do what every fan wants to hear.
“Obviously we need to win more games,” Mather said Friday in his first meeting with reporters after being named to his new position. “Take care of your fans, take care of the community, be a good community asset. But win more games and everything else happens a lot sooner.”
Mather won’t officially replace the retiring Chuck Armstrong until Feb. 1, but he already met with Zduriencik on Friday morning and his first questions concerned what the baseball side needed to put a better team on the field.
“I think the president’s role is to provide resources,” Mather said. “Coordinate the business side and the baseball side and provide resources. Whether it’s a Dominican academy or a Draft signing or a new pitching coach in Tacoma or a free agent on the market, we have to provide the resources.”
Much of that, particularly on the Major League roster, requires money, of course. Mather has been the executive vice president of finance for the Mariners for the past 18 years, which means overseeing accounting, ticket sales, retail sales and ballpark operations. But that doesn’t mean he’s a penny-pinching tightwad, as many fans fear.
Instead, Mather talked of the ownership group being fans themselves and said it’s not hard right now to convince them to pursue talented players, as evidenced by the $240 million signing of Robinson Cano this offseason.
“There are different opinions in the room,” he said of the board of directors. “But as a group, it’s an easy sell. You just have to show them a plan. It’s an easy sell because we’ve been losing and these guys are tired of it.”
On the short term, Mather said there is still some financial flexibility for a team whose payroll currently sits at about $85 million with less than three weeks before Spring Training opens.
“I asked Jack, ‘Where are we? Where are your holes? What were your priorities this offseason? Is there still value out there?” Mather said. “The answer to that question [about still having money] is yes, but he said, ‘I just want the flexibility to have conversations.’ I told him I’m working on that and he does have that.
“Our ownership group pays for their own tickets,” he said. “They are fans. And they never say no to a capital call or budget adjustment or a move. We’ll be having those conversations over the next several years, particularly if there’s value, because we are close.”
Mather said he feels the club needs “a three-year rolling, working plan” when it comes to payroll and player acquisition.
“Historically it’s been, here’s your payroll for next year,” he said. “But free agents don’t sign one-year deals, unless they’re desperate. Free agents sign three-, four-, five-, – or in Cano’s case, 10-year – deals. We need to have a longer-term vision. That’s where I think I can add value. If we have a hole that needs filling, it’s no fun losing. Let’s fill the hole and we’ll find the resources. And our ownership group has been historically very good about that.”
Mather grew up playing hockey in the Midwest and briefly at the University of Wisconsin before realizing his future was in finance, not sports. But he found a way to satisfy both when he went to work for the Twins 25 years ago and is now well-entrenched in the baseball world.
He’ll be expanding his role now with the Mariners, but appears ready and comfortable with that and said he’ll be at FanFest both days this weekend at Safeco Field to talk with people and answer questions.
“I want to interact with the fans,” he said. “Gametime for Chuck, he kind of got reclusive. He had his suite and watched the game, kept score, banged the table, picked up the phone. And I’m sure I’ll do that. But I’ll be out. I’m going to wander. I’m going to talk to our fans. I want to respond to what they say. You can’t respond to everything, but if we win, the rest of it gets a lot easier.”
The only thing Mather feels badly about is replacing Armstrong before the long-tenured president had a chance to see things turn around on the field. He said no one will replace Armstrong’s energy and “go-go-go” spirit. And he does believe the Mariners are already close to turning the corner after missing the playoffs for 12 straight years.
“I feel bad for the timing because in 2003-04 we started losing and we tried to rebuild, but stay competitive. And that was a mistake,” Mather said. “Because we made bad personnel decisions, we traded prospects, we signed veterans.”
Mather feels Zduriencik has made important strides in building up the farm system through successful Drafts and international signings. The key, he believes, is now seeing some of the key youngsters like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Mike Zunino, Justin Smoak and others come together with key new additions like Cano.
“I’m kind of stepping into an opportunity,” he said. “We think we’re really close. If these guys are above-average Major League players — and it’s taken a year or two longer than we thought — but if they’re above-average players like we think they are, we’re going to have a long run of very good baseball teams. And we need to win more baseball games.”
Kevin Mather, the Mariners vice president of finance and ballpark administration for the past 18 years, has been named the club’s new president and chief operating officer, the team announced Thursday.
The club also promoted Bob Aylward to chairman of the board of NW Sports Net, which is the club’s new regional sports network formerly known as ROOT Sports Northwest. Aylward will also retain his previous duties as the club’s executive vice president of business operations.
Chuck Armstrong, who handled both those roles, will retire from the club on Jan. 31 after 28 years with the franchise. Mather and Aylward will begin their new jobs on Feb. 1.
Armstrong was the Mariners president and chief operating officer from 1983-1989 and 1992 to the present, and has chaired the board of directors of NW Sports Net since the Mariners acquired majority interest in the regional sports network last April.
Both Mather and Aylward will report to Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln. General manager Jack Zduriencik continues to oversee baseball operations.
“Kevin and Bob have been very valuable executives of the Mariners,” Lincoln said. “They are both extremely talented, experienced and well-qualified to lead our organization into the future. There will be a seamless transition as Chuck begins his retirement one week from today.”
Mather, 51, has been overseeing the club’s accounting and financial reporting, ticket services, concessions and day-to-day operations of Safeco Field. He was vice president of finance of the Minnesota Twins from 1989 to 1996 before being hired by the Mariners.
“Our fans, first and foremost, are our focus, and we understand what they want most – a championship team,” Mather said. “I am looking forward to supporting Jack Zduriencik, as he continues to lead the baseball operation and builds the Mariners both for 2014 and for future seasons. At the same time, our commitment to this community and this region will remain a top priority. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I’m excited about the Mariners future.”
A native of Madison, Wisc., Mather is a 1984 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he received a degree in accounting and risk/insurance prior to taking a job with an accounting firm for four years.
Mather was hired by the Mariners as vice president of finance and administration on July 31, 1996, then promoted to an executive vice president’s position in December, 1999.
“Kevin’s experience in the game of baseball has prepared him well for this position,” Lincoln said. “He is highly thought of around Major League Baseball and in this community. He will work closely with me to make sure Jack Zduriencik has the resources he needs to build winning teams. Jack remains the leader of the baseball side of our organization.”
Aylward, 60, joined the Mariners in 1997 as vice president of business and sales. After overseeing all business aspects of the transition from the Kingdome to Safeco Field, he was promoted to executive vice president of business operations in December 1999. He has been a driving force in the Mariners efforts in corporate sponsorships, advertising and ticket sales, marketing, broadcasting and communications.
We’ll have more coming on Mariners.com.