While Jesus Montero has been the subject of considerable criticism in the past, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was effusive with his praise for the 25-year-old on Tuesday as he talked about the former top prospect’s offseason efforts.
Montero is spending the winter in Arizona, working out daily with Mariners strength and conditioning coach James Clifford, after being sidelined by the team for the final month of the 2014 season following an altercation with a Mariners scout during a Minor League game.
Montero played six games for Seattle last year, but otherwise spent the year in Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .286 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs while converting to first base. The former Yankees top catching prospect was suspended for 50 games in 2013 in the Biogenesis case and then drew Zduriencik’s further ire for showing up last spring overweight.
But Zduriencik said he’s received “very positive reports” about Montero’s efforts this offseason.
“We should tip his hat do what he’s done,” Zduriencik said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s worked a lot of days to the point of absolute exhaustion. It was designed that way, to try to get him in a position where he went above and beyond anything he’s ever done before. I think that goal has been accomplished. Everything they’ve told me about how he’s approached this has been extremely positive.”
Zduriencik said the Mariners arranged to have a nutritionist meet with Montero and his wife several times over the offseason to work with his diet and he’s been at their Peoria complex every day to work on his conditioning.
“I think mentally he’s in a good spot,” Zduriencik said. “I think he views himself differently than he probably did a year ago. The process he’s been through has been extremely painful, but I also think there are rewards at the end of this thing. I don’t think any of us would want more than for Jesus Montero to become a really good citizen and a really nice baseball player because the skills are there for him to do it.”
Zduriencik said Minor League coordinator Chris Gwynn told him Montero was the best hitter in Triple-A at times last year and the club remains intrigued by the potential of the right-handed bat of a youngster who hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 135 games as a rookie in 2012 while splitting time between catcher and designated hitter.
“But he has to maintain these things,” Zduriencik said. “He’s had other obstacles in his life that have prevented him from doing it. But he’s at a really good place in his life right now. He’s really appreciative of what he has and that’s a very important element for him to be successful going forward.”
Whether Montero has a place still with the Mariners remains to be seen. He’ll be invited to Spring Training in February and given the chance to show where he’s at both conditioning-wise and as a player.
“The message I gave him was he has to mentally view himself as a first baseman,” Zduriencik said. “He has to say to himself, ‘This is where I’m going to play.’ If he’s a DH someday, that takes care of itself. But he has to commit himself to being an adequate first baseman. He’s a big, physical guy. If he could play there, it would be a benefit to everybody.”
The Mariners just signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal to fill their DH role. Logan Morrison returns as the starting first baseman after a strong finish to 2014 in which he hit .262 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 99 games.
Former Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run in his first at-bat in the Venezuelan Winter League on Monday as he began preparing for what could be a comeback attempt in Major League Baseball.
Gutierrez, 31, spent all of 2014 on the restricted list after telling the Mariners he wanted to sit out the season to deal with ongoing issues with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis.
He is now a free agent and the Mariners have indicated some interest in his possible return on a Minor League deal, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday he’s had no recent talks with the 2010 Gold Glove center fielder.
Zduriencik said Monday at the Winter Meetings that the club had checked a day earlier and Gutierrez wasn’t playing Winter Ball yet in Venezuela, as had been expected. But Gutierrez did get in the lineup for Leones del Caracas on Monday and ripped a two-run home run in his first at-bat in the second inning of his debut against Aguilas del Zulia.
Gutierrez walked and scored in his second at-bat and wound up going 1-for-1 with two runs and two RBIs before being replaced in the seventh inning by Trayvon Robinson, another former Mariners outfielder who is also a free agent now after spending last season with the Dodgers’ Triple-A club.
Gutierrez was able to play just 81 games total in 2012-13 for Seattle due to a variety of injuries, many of which he later attributed to an illness that wasn’t diagnosed until late in his final year with the Mariners as he played out a four-year, $19 million deal.
The Mariners offered to bring him back last year for $1 million, but he wound up sitting out the season while living in Florida.
“I have not talked to him myself,” Zduriencik said. “I plan to, but I’ve not done that yet. He missed a whole year, so we’ll see. I don’t know where he is physically or mentally. The last time we talked last year he was going to see how his whole off year went and where he was at with his illness.”
Here’s a video of Gutierrez’s home run Monday in Venezuela.
The Winter Meetings focus largely on the business of baseball, the potential wheelings and dealings between teams and players and agents. But baseball has a personal side, too, and that side rose up Monday afternoon in a Stand Up To Cancer gathering at the Manchester Grand Hyatt that kicked off an MLB auction to benefit LUNGevity.
For the third consecutive year, Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, MLB Network and the 30 clubs have organized a Winter Meetings charity auction that includes unique baseball experiences and items to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. The initiative was inspired by the numerous employees, friends and fans of the game who have been directly affected by cancer.
Funds raised from this year’s auction will be donated to LUNGevity, the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit, in memory of Orioles public relations director Monica Barlow, who died of lung cancer in February.
Each MLB team has contributed items to auction off to fans. The Mariners came up with three unique offerings:
— A meet and greet with radio announcers Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith, with the chance to watch the first inning of a game (on a mutually agreeable date) from the Safeco Field radio booth and then watch the rest of the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.
— A pre-game tour of the TV truck compound and an on-field meeting with ROOT Sports broadcaster Brad Adam, then the opportunity to accompany him to his pre-game show in center field before watching the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.
— The chance to watch Mariners batting practice from on-field, then meet Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, before watching the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.
The public relations directors from all 30 teams gathered Monday to promote the auction and remember Barlow, who died at 36. Barlow’s husband, Ben Barlow, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter both said she would have balked at being the center of such attention, but welcomed the effort to fight a disease that affects 400,000 Americans every year.
Of that number, about 60 percent are non-smokers, like Barlow.
The list of auction items from around baseball includes the chance for a fan to take out the lineup to an Orioles game with Showalter, a private pitching lesson with CC Sabathia, the chance to have Tony LaRussa coach a Little League team for a game and a personal haircut from National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom.
Fans can see a full list of items from every team and place bids at MLB.com/Lungevity. The auction, which has raised $250,000 over its first two years, ends on Thursday.
As the Winter Meetings open this morning, the A’s and Indians engineered the first trade as Oakland dealt first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss to the Indians for Minor League second baseman Joe Wendle.
One of the big questions looming over this week’s gathering in San Diego is whether the trade market will be booming as many clubs seem interested in dealing. From a Mariners perspective, the main question on the national front to date has centered around whether Jack Zduriencik might be willing to part with top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker or one of his top arms.
Once Seattle signed Nelson Cruz to fill its much-needed hole for a right-handed slugger in the middle of the lineup, the pressure lessened on Seattle being forced into such a deal. Zduriencik said he likes his pitching at this point and doesn’t want to take away from that strength.
The Mariners do have trade options beyond Walker, of course. And one of the common perceptions is the club might be willing to part with one of its young shortstops, Brad Miller or Chris Taylor, who split time last year as rookies.
On the surface, that makes sense, given manager Lloyd McClendon would like to have one everyday shortstop and that would seem to make the other expendable in a trade. But here’s something to remember on that front.
Veteran Willie Bloomquist underwent microfracture knee surgery in August and isn’t a lock to be ready for the start of the season. Bloomquist was at Nelson Cruz’s press conference on Thursday and told me he’s just begun running in the pool. He’s champing at the bit to do more, but has to follow doctor’s orders and take things step by step. And that process likely will have him on a limited schedule early in Spring Training while aiming to be full go by April when the real games begin.
Bloomquist is a very motivated worker and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. But the Mariners will need to hedge their bets and make sure they have options in case his recovery doesn’t go as quickly as hoped. And Miller is an excellent candidate to be groomed for that kind of utility role.
Miller already was working that direction in the last two months last season after Bloomquist went down. He can play second, short and third and began doing some pregame work in the outfield as well, drawing rave reviews from outfield coach Andy Van Slyke for his natural athleticism and instincts there.
Miller surely would prefer to be the starting shortstop and my guess is he’ll be given every opportunity to win that job in Spring Training, but he does provide some interesting options if Taylor winds up the starter.
And should Bloomquist not be ready by the start of the year, Miller’s versatility may be a value of need for the Mariners. That doesn’t mean he’s off limits in trade talks, but it does add an element to his immediate worth for Seattle.
Zduriencik likes his team’s depth in the middle infield, mentioning young Ketel Marte as another up-and-coming talent. Marte, 21, was just added to the 40-man roster to keep him from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, but he has played only 19 games above the Double-A level to date and is more of a long-range prospect at this point.
Miller got off to a slow start last year, hitting .204 in the first half and opening the door for Taylor’s promotion. But Miller, 25, hit ..301 in the final two months. His OPS after the All-Star game was .794, second behind only Robinson Cano’s .808 among all Mariners regulars in that span.
That offensive potential is what makes Miller attractive on the trade front. But combined with his defensive versatility, it also will make the Mariners think twice about dealing him even if they feel Taylor is better suited at shortstop, particularly given the uncertainty of Bloomquist’s health.
Michael Saunders is leaving the only professional baseball club he’s ever known, but not without wanting to make one thing clear after being traded by the Mariners on Wednesday for Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ.
While there has been talk this offseason of unhappiness between Saunders and the Mariners, the 27-year-old outfielder said it won’t be easy leaving Seattle despite joining a Toronto club that plans to play him every day in left field and figures to be a strong contender in the American League East.
“They’ve got a great lineup in Toronto and I’m excited to be part of it,” he said. “But that said, I’ve grown up a Seattle Mariner and I’ve been through a lot there. You can tell Seattle is moving in the right direction and I was looking forward to being part of that.
“Seattle has a lot to be excited about with the Mariners. I’m sure Jack [Zduriencik] isn’t finished making moves and making the club better. I’ll miss being part of that. The fans there have had my back through thick and thin. They made me feel like Seattle was home and we were part of their family and I’ll never forget them for that.”
Saunders said he understands the deal and believes it fills a need for both teams. Understandably, he said he had “a lot of emotions running through me right now” after learning he’d be headed to Toronto and a new start for a club in his homeland, having grown up in Victoria, B.C.
“I’m very proud to be Canadian, not only to represent the Blue Jays, but my country,” said Saunders, who starred for Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “I’m very excited for that. And Toronto has everything in place, not only to make a push in the AL East, but for a championship.”
Saunders admitted this past season didn’t go as he’d hoped, with two stints on the disabled list due to a sprained shoulder and a torn oblique. And he clearly has chafed at postseason remarks by Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon that he needed to work harder in the offseason to avoid injuries.
“I know a lot of people are speculating and forming opinions,” he said. “My conditioning in the offseason has never been a concern for me. That was not the reason I was injured. I played the game hard and ran into a wall [in 2013] making a play. I hurt my shoulder and then hurt it again this year. And when I tore my oblique, nobody was more disappointed than I was. I felt like I let the club down. But it had nothing to do with my conditioning. To give me the injury-prone label I think was unfair.
“I’m confident in my conditioning and I work just as hard as anybody to play 162 games. That didn’t happen this year and it was disappointing. As far as the comments, we’ve had conversations since then and I have nothing but good things to say about the organization and how they’ve treated me in the past. They saw a chance to make the club better by acquiring Happ and he’s a good fit for them.
“I was frustrated this year. The Blue Jays are going to give me an opportunity to play every day and I appreciate that. But I’m definitely sad to be leaving Seattle. It’s the only organization I’ve known since I signed when I was 18. They helped me become the man and the player I am today. Seattle and its fan base and organization will be sorely missed.”
Looking to add veteran depth to one of the American League’s top pitching staffs, the Mariners acquired left-hander J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays on Wednesday in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders.
The Mariners have not announced the trade, but a source confirmed the news to MLB.com.
Happ, 32, went 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 30 games (26 starts) as the fifth starter for Toronto last season. The eight-year Major League veteran has a contract for $6.7 million for 2015 and will be a free agent next year.
Saunders, 28, has been with the Mariners his entire career since being drafted in the 11th round in 2004, including the past six years in the Majors. He put up a .273/.341/.450 line with eight home runs and 34 RBIs last year, but played only 78 games due to two trips to the disabled list with a sprained shoulder and a strained oblique.
Saunders hit .231/.301/.384 in 553 games in his time with Seattle, with his best season coming in 2012 when he hit 19 home runs with 21 stolen bases and a .247 average in 139 games.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik wanted to add a veteran to a rotation that is topped by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and also returns a trio of talented youngsters in James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, who all pitched as rookies last season.
With Chris Young departing in free agency, Happ apparently fills that role. The 6-foot-5 southpaw has a career record of 51-53 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.387 WHIP. He went 19-20 with a 4.39 ERA in three seasons in Toronto, but pitched only 10 games in 2012 due to a broken foot and 18 games in 2013 after being hit in the head with a line drive that put him on the disabled list for three months in midseason.
Happ started out last season on the disabled list with a back issue and then pitched out of the bullpen upon his return, but soon was moved into the rotation and wound up throwing 158 innings, his highest total since his rookie season with the Phillies when he was 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Happ pitched in eight playoff games with the Phillies in 2008-09, including two relief appearances in the ’09 World Series against the Yankees.
Carlos Rivero has yet to play a game for the Mariners after being claimed off waivers from the Red Sox last month, but the 26-year-old infielder was not tendered a contract prior to Tuesday night’s deadline as Seattle opened up a spot on its 40-man roster.
Rivero thus becomes a free agent and can sign with any other club or possibly return to the Mariners on a Minor League deal.
Seattle tendered contracts to all 31 of its other unsigned players prior to Tuesday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline, including six who are arbitration eligible – outfielders Austin Jackson, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley; first baseman Logan Morrison and relievers Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen.
Those six players are expected to combine for about $19.5 million in the arbitration process, according to projections by MLBTradeRumors.com. Jackson made $6 million last year, Saunders $2.3 million, Morrison $1.75 million, Ackley $1.5 million, Furbush $750,000 and Wilhelmsen $528,000.
All can expect to earn more next season in the arbitration process, with Jackson in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, Saunders and Morrison in their second years and Furbush, Wilhelmsen and Ackley beginning the process for the first time. MLBTradeRumors.com, which has been pretty accurate with its past projections, estimates Jackson will wind up at about $8 million, Saunders $2.9 million, Ackley $2.8 million, Morrison $2.6 million, Wilhelmsen $2.1 million and Furbush $1 million.
Kyle Seager also would have been eligible for his first year of arbitration, but the All-Star third baseman finalized a seven-year, $100 million deal on Tuesday that buys out all three of his arbitration years as well as his first four years of free agency. He was projected to earn $5 million this year. Instead, his new deal calls for $4 million in base salary for 2015 along with a $3.5 million signing bonus.
The other 25 players tendered contracts Tuesday are players in the pre-arbitration (0-3 years of service time) phase of their Major League careers.
Rivero wasn’t eligible for arbitration, having only played three Major League games in his career thus far for the Red Sox, but the Mariners chose to non-tender him in order to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. With the impending signing of free agent Nelson Cruz, Seattle’s 40-man would have been full.
By opening a spot, the Mariners can either add another player in the coming days, or have a spot open to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 11. Rivero is out of Minor League options, so unless he made the Opening Day 25-man roster, he would have been exposed to waivers at the end of Spring Training if he’d remained on the 40-man roster.
Rivero has limited Major League experience, but he went 4-for-7 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in his four games for the Red Sox in the final month last season. He also hit .264 with seven homers and 53 RBIs in 105 Minor League games, mostly with the Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket club.
Rivero is having a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .291 with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .935 OPS in 36 games for Cardenales de Lara. He’s played mostly shortstop and third base in nine Minor League seasons, along with some limited outfield duty.
Calling it “a great day for the Seattle Mariners,” general manager Jack Zduriencik officially announced Kyle Seager’s seven-year contract extension on Tuesday and confirmed there is a club option for an eighth season that could take the deal through 2022.
Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed, but the seven-year pact will pay Seager $100 million, as was reported when news of the agreement leaked out last week.
According to MLBtraderumors.com, Seager will earn $4 million this coming season, $7.5 million in 2016 and $10.5 million in 2017, $18.5 million in 2018, $19 million in 2019 and 2020 and $18 million in 2021. The option year would be for $15-20 million, depending on performance levels.
The contract also includes a $3.5 million signing bonus, bringing the seven-year total to $100 million, with potential of up to $120 million with the option year.
Seager had to fly to Seattle and complete a physical exam and sign off on the paperwork before Tuesday’s confirmation, which came in a statement from the club. A press conference with Seager will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT at Safeco Field and streamed live on Mariners.com and MLB.com.
Seager earned his first American League All-Star selection and Rawlings Gold Glove this past season while hitting .268 with 27 doubles, four triples and a team-leading 25 home runs and 96 RBIs in 159 games.
The 27-year-old would have been eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, but instead agreed to the seven-year deal that buys out his three years of arbitration as well as the first four years of free agency.
“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity that the Seattle Mariners have given me,” Seager said in the statement. “This is an amazing honor for me and my family to remain with such a great organization for the foreseeable future.”
Seager joins Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman and Buster Posey as the only players to sign a $100 million deal in their first season of arbitration eligibility. The Mariners view him as a cornerstone of the young nucleus of players that helped Seattle to a 16-win improvement in 2014 and just miss an AL Wild Card berth with an 87-75 record.
“This is a great day for the Seattle Mariners, our fans and the Seager family. As one of our homegrown players it is nice to know that he will remain with us for at least seven more seasons,” said Zduriencik. “Kyle has taken a step forward each season since joining the organization in 2009, and has turned into one of the premier third baseman in the game.
“He has exhibited class both on and off the field and is someone we are all extremely proud of. We are very pleased to announce this joint commitment by the Seattle Mariners and Kyle Seager as we strive toward our goal of winning a World Championship.”
Seager became the first Mariners player since Raul Ibañez in 2005-2008 to record 20 or more home runs in at least three consecutive seasons. The North Carolina native hit 20 homers in 2012, 22 in 2013 and 25 last season. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Presley as the only Mariners with 20 or more homers in three of the first four seasons of a career.
In his three full Major League seasons, Seager has averaged 31 doubles, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs and hit .262 in 474 games. His 168 extra-base hits and 251 RBIs rank second among AL third basemen and his 67 home runs are tied for fourth-most over the last three years.
Seager has proven durable as well, appearing in 520 of the Mariners last 540 games since Aug 2, 2011. He rose quickly through the Mariners system after being drafted in the third round in 2009 out of the University of North Carolina, making his Major League debut on July 7, 2011 and quickly establishing himself as a key part of the club’s future.
That future now extends at least through 2021, when Seager will be 33.
General manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear from Day One this offseason that the Mariners top priority was a big right-handed bat to put behind Robinson Cano in Seattle’s lineup and the club appears to have filled that need with a reported agreement with free agent slugger Nelson Cruz.
Multiple news sources have confirmed an initial report by Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes that the 34-year-old Cruz has agreed to a four-year, $57 million contract. The Mariners have not confirmed the deal, which would need to be finalized with a physical exam and official signing.
The Mariners have been interested in Cruz for the past two years, engaging in talks last offseason that never came to fruition before the Dominican native signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles late in Spring Training. Cruz went on to lead the American League with 40 home runs while putting up a .271/.333/.525 slash line with 108 RBIs.
The Mariners sorely need some right-handed balance to their lineup and Cruz would slot in between left-handers Cano and Kyle Seager, who is expected to finalize a seven-year, $100 million extension of his own this week.
Cruz played 89 games at designated hitter and 70 in the outfield last season for the Orioles. Seattle’s designated hitters had the worst production in the AL last season with Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales getting most of the at-bats.
Cruz has spent eight of his 10 Major League seasons in the AL West with the Rangers and is a career .268 hitter who has averaged 29 home runs a season over the past six years.
Cruz also had a strong postseason for the Orioles last year, hitting .357 with two home runs and eight RBIs in seven games. The Orioles wanted to retain the player who was voted the “Most Valuable Oriole” by the Baltimore chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, but apparently wereunwilling to go beyond a three-year offer.
The Orioles extended a qualifying offer to Cruz, so Seattle will lose its first-round Draft pick, which currently is the 21st selection.
The Mariners finished 87-75 in 2014, coming one win shy of tying for a Wild Card berth, with a club that led the AL in ERA, but was tied for 11th in runs and last in the league in OPS.
The Mariners have yet to sign a free agent this offseason, but they are on the verge of wrapping up another one of their own stars for the next seven years as third baseman Kyle Seager is close to agreement on a seven-year, $100 million deal that would keep him in Seattle through 2021.
Seager, 27, earned his first American League All-Star and Rawlings Gold Glove awards last season while hitting .268/.334/.454 with a team-leading 25 home runs and 96 RBIs in 159 games.
Seager is just entering his first arbitration season and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018, so the deal will buy out his three arbitration years as well as the first four years of free agency, with an additional eighth-year club option that could go as high as $20 million with incentive clauses.
The agreement was first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by MLB.com. The Mariners have not confirmed the agreement and had no comment on Monday. Club policy is to not comment on pending deals until after a physical exam is completed and a contract is officially signed, which likely won’t be until next week at the earliest.
The Mariners have been working on extending Seager’s contract over the past few months, wanting to wrap up a player who has emerged as one of their cornerstones since his arrival in 2011.
Seager, who made $540,000 last year, would become the third-highest paid Mariner behind second baseman Robinson Cano and ace Felix Hernandez. Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal in free agency last year, while Hernandez has five years remaining on a seven-year, $175 million extension he agreed to in 2013.
Seager was a third round Draft pick by the Mariners in 2009 out of North Carolina and moved up quickly through Seattle’s Minor League system. He joined the Major League club midway through the 2011 season and has put up a .262/.328/.429 slash line in 3 ½ seasons.
Seager has proven durable as well as dependable, sitting out just 12 games over the past three years while averaging 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. He took a big step forward defensively as well this past season, setting a club record .981 fielding percentage and winning his first Gold Glove.
Once the deal is culminated, Seager will be the fourth Major Leaguer to sign a $100 million deal in their first season of arbitration eligibility, joining Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Freddie Freeman.