Tom Verducciat Sports Illustratedhas selected Nine teams that could be surprise playoff entrants this year. His top choice? 1. Seattle Mariners (71-91)
“Seattle has nearly all the preferred ingredients you look for in a turnaround team. It has a new manager (Lloyd McClendon), a record in one-run games from last year that is bound to turn around (19-29, the worst of the nine surprise candidates listed here), major additions (Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, Fernando Rodney and possibly Nelson Cruz) and young players who are approaching their prime years (Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton).
Alas, you could have identified all those ingredients in the 2013 Blue Jays — and they stumbled to a 10-21 start and essentially were toast. Starting well will be paramount for Seattle, but it faces a brutally tough early schedule. The Mariners play 23 of their first 34 games on the road, a five-week gauntlet in which they play nearly as many games in California (10: seven in Oakland and three in Anaheim) as they do in Seattle (11).”
(Lest we get too smug he made the Angels his 3rd choice.)
Jack Zduriencik isn’t closing the door on efforts to bolster the roster — far from it, actually — but he agrees the Mariners are now in the let’s-see-what-we’ve-got phase of spring camp. “I could have already done a couple of deals,” he said. “I didn’t want to do them. I wanted to figure out what we had there. I want to see our players with our own eyes. “Let’s let a whole new coaching staff put their hands on them. Get their opinions, and we’ll see. There will be opportunities if we want to do something. Not that we will, but I think they’ll exist.” Source: Bob Dutton at The News Tribune
The Mariners are likely to trade Nick Franklin or Brad Miller — most likely Franklin — before Opening Day. And that should be considered an upgrade over Ruben Tejada for the Mets. Franklin, who turns 23 on March 2, hit .225 with 12 homers, 45 RBIs and six steals in 369 at-bats as a rookie last season while appearing in 96 games at second base and three games at shortstop. He now has been dislodged from second base in Seattle with the signing of Robinson Cano.
Miller’s success last season as a rookie shortstop (.265, 8 HR, 36 RBIs in 306 at-bats) means one player is expendable.
Franklin has considerably more career minor-league appearances at shortstop (261) than second base (122). Source: Adam Rubin at ESPN New York
Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos on 2B ” I would think it’s unlikely that we add someone there but I would say that we’ll still continue to have some dialogue trade wise” From: Gregor Chisholm at MLB.com
This is no surprise, but Zduriencik strongly indicated the loser in the shortstop battle between Brad Miller and Nick Franklin is likely headed to Class AAA Tacoma. “It would be unfair to a young kid to put him in a backup role (on the big-league club),” Zduriencik said. “That would be my thought right now, but you never know what is going to happen.
“I just think with young players, it would be unfair not to let them have their at-bats, and to play in the field, every single day to have a chance to get better. We’ll let these guys battle at shortstop and see what happens. Source: Bob Dutton at The News Tribune
Early observation on McClendon’s first Mariners camp: Coaches work at a quick pace when doing drills with their position groups. And once everything is accomplished, they move on, even if ahead of the timed schedule. “Having been a player, I know that when you start getting monotonous with drills, nobody pays attention,” McClendon said. “My thought process is, let’s have a camp that is precise, quick and to the point. Guys get it, they retain it and we move on. It keeps camp interesting and happy for guys. You want to have a good, upbeat, happy type of camp.” Source: Greg Johns at MLB
AL West Commentary
Texas Rangers starter Matt Harrison’s stiff neck has turned into lower back stiffness. As a result, the Rangers’ desire to be overly cautious has now turned to genuine concern. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday morning that Harrison would have an MRI and would return to Dallas on Monday to be examined by spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett, who performed both of Harrison’s back procedures last year. He will not participate in any baseball activities until after that appointment, putting him at least a week behind the other pitchers.
If Harrison is significantly behind or misses time, it will put more pressure on an already-thin rotation. Yu Darvish and Martin Perez would be the only ones guaranteed jobs with Alexi Ogando not far behind. The Rangers would have to fill two spots from Colby Lewis (coming back from hip surgery), Tommy Hanson (coming back from a big drop in velocity), Nick Tepesch (coming back from arm issues) or relievers Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers, who are trying to convert from the bullpen. Scheppers has had his own back stiffness to start camp and has not yet thrown to hitters. He reported some improvement on Thursday, but will only play catch. He, too, seems destined to be at least a week behind the others. Source: Evan Grant at the Dallas Morning News
So they said
Hall of Famer and former Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent was a camp visitor Thursday and chatted with McClendon. “It was great,” said McClendon, who played running back in high school while growing up in Indiana. “He talked baseball, and I talked football. I told him what a heckuva football player I was, and he told me what a heckuva baseball player he was. So we told a lot of lies.” Source: Greg Johns at MLB
“Can you imagine how fast Andre Ethier would be traded if he went and killed Sandy Freakin’ Koufax during spring training drills?” From: Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk
“I like watching film of guys like Greg Maddux, who just look like they are out there painting,” [Garrett] Richards says. “I think that’s the most fun baseball to watch. That’s what you’re always chasing. A guy who can spot with a fastball in the high 90s is pretty much unhittable. You’ve seen guys like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer who can throw in the upper 90s and mix in their off-speed stuff. It becomes unfair, almost, and that’s fun to watch.” Source: Jesse Spector at the Sporting News
Mariner’s potential off-season targets
Free agent slugger Nelson Cruz is close to a deal with the Orioles, according to people familiar with the deal. The Cruz signing, once finalized, would be the second major signing within days for Baltimore, which is obviously going for it now. The Orioles will have one of the better line-ups in baseball once Cruz is in the fold. There are still a couple issues to be resolved, according to sources, though a deal looks extremely likely. Source: Jon Heyman at CBS Sports
The Pirates have inquired about free agent Kendrys Morales to fill the hole at first base. Because Morales turned down a qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners in November, the Pirates would have to forfeit their first-round draft pick (No. 25 overall) if they sign him. Without talking specifically about Morales, [Pirates owner Bob] Nutting said the Pirates could have the financial flexibility to sign another free agent. He also did not rule out giving up a draft pick. Source: Rob Biertempfel at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Draft, Prospects & Farm News
Oregon State’s Steve Clark also said, “It is our understanding the Phillies reported it” in November. From: Aaron Fitt at Baseball America
Hearing from one agent after another today about the Ben Wetzler situation. There will be repercussions for the Phillies. From: Aaron Fitt at Baseball America
One agent: “As of today, Phillies are out. Phillies are not getting into any more of our households. We’re shutting down all communications” From: Aaron Fitt at Baseball America
So, you think rather than players changing attitudes, it will be Philly ops hampered by no contact with agents? From: Dan Brooks at BrooksBaseball
Yes. Like getting signability info, questionnaires returned, psych tests, etc. From: Keith Lawat ESPN
Baseball Best Practice
McClendon said he and his staff still need to work out the best approach to baseball’s new challenge fly system on disputed calls.“ You’ve got to be smart in how you use it,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how we develop my relationship with Trent (Jewett, the bench coach), and our video guy getting that information to me right away. “Is it the right time to challenge? It’s still a work in progress.” One plus: McClendon will be armed with more than just words in pleading his case. “I just look at it as it’s going to save me a lot of money,” he said. “Bases are safe. I wish they would have had it back then.” Source: Bob Dutton at The News Tribune
“We wanted to add to the rotation depth, but again, with where some of the prices were, whether it was years or dollars, or some of the acquisition costs in some of the trades, I wouldn’t have felt good doing a scrum, sitting here saying, ‘well, we did it, we don’t believe in the acquisition costs, we just did it because we felt we had to do it, but we don’t feel good about it.’ You need to feel good about those moves if you make them.” Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos to John Lott at the National Post
“Let’s face it: free agent players are not coming to Toronto. That’s just the way it is,” professed former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. “Everything is great about Toronto, but it’s still foreign to a lot of players. It’s not so much the players; it’s their families. When players are on the free agent market, the families have a big say in what happens, so a lot of them say they’d really rather not go to another country to play.”
Ricciardi said he found he needed to do three things to bring a top free agent to Toronto: “overpay, over commit, and be creative.” For A.J. Burnett, that meant a five-year deal when many suitors stopped at four, a strong salary of $11MM a year, and an opt-out clause. Source: Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors
By The Numbers
Gaby Sanchez and Sam Fuld led the majors with 89 hitless games last season. Source: The Bill Chuck Files
Chat Review – Dave Cameron at FanGraphs
Comment From _David: I know the Mariners are just hyping Franklin’s trade value. I know. But do they think other teams don’t scout or wouldn’t do their homework over something this important. If it’s all a ruse, it’s getting pretty brazen. Said McClendon, according to Greg Johns: “I don’t have any preconceived notion of who my shortstop will be.”
Dave Cameron: That’s why you don’t put any stock in comments in spring training. They’re worthless. It will be very obvious very soon which of the two can play short and which one can’t
Comment From _David: Trying to escape years of hype…Do the Mariners, at this point, have an above average collection of “young talent” combining MLB/MILB?
Dave Cameron: Nope.
Comment From Matt Kemp: Could the Dodgers trade Andre Ethier for Mookie Betts or Nick Franklin or does his contract make it hard to obtain a decent prospect
Dave Cameron: The Dodgers can’t get anything for Andre Ethier. They can pay someone else to take him.
Comment From Guest: What are your expectations for Walker and Paxton?
Dave Cameron: Walker will throw 160 decent but not great innings, and Paxton will spend most of the year in Tacoma.
Chat Review – Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors
Comment From Pope: Who would be more likely to take a 1 or 2 year deal from the O’s? Cruz or Morales?
Steve Adams: Neither’s taking a one-year deal.
Comment From Guest: Does Morrow stay healthy and give the jays 30 starts?
Steve Adams: Don’t think anyone can bank on Morrow going 30 starts. I’ll say no.
Comment From Jimbo: Are the Pirates just waiting until the Mariners discover they have too many 1B/DH types to make their move?
Steve Adams: Have to imagine that if Seattle signs Morales or something, Hungtington’s on the phone quickly.
Comment From Jack Z: Do the Mariners trade Nick Franklin?
Steve Adams: I don’t know why they wouldn’t if they don’t feel he can be a shortstop (most scouts don’t seem to). Might want to let him build some of his stock back up though. He was pretty bad toward season’s end.