By Shannon Drayer
The Mariners held their annual spring-training lunch at Safeco Field Wednesday and it was like many such gatherings in the past.
Reports were given on the health of the players, the state of the minor-league system and what the Mariners were doing internationally. Upcoming events were announced, two players took questions, and both Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge took questions as well.
There really wasn't a ton of new information. We have had plenty of opportunity to talk to both Wedge and Zduriencik throughout the offseason, but there were some things that jumped out at me and may be of interest to you, so I will share those and then list some of the highlights at the end.
• Justin Smoak will be given every opportunity to be the everyday first baseman.
"I feel strong about Justin Smoak. I have every anticipation that he is going to be our first baseman this year. If he shows up something different, then so be it. Justin is coming in as our first baseman and I expect him to take that on and run with it," Wedge said. "We ended up sending him out to Triple-A last year and he didn't have a very good year by most standards, and I get that, but he still hit 19 home runs. He's not too far away from 25 home runs if he does okay. And if he is decent he hits 30 home runs and you have to look at it that way. What you don't want to do is give up a day early. You would rather be late than early when it comes to players."
• What about Kendrys Morales, you might ask? Wedge said that he sees him more as the designated hitter but that he would be very comfortable with him at first. My impression since the day of the trade has been that they do not want to put Morales at first too much. Because of the injury it may not be best to have him in the field on a day-in, day-out basis. Wedge will have plenty of options at first as Michael Morse can play there and Raul Ibanez has been told to bring his first-base glove as well.
• The catcher position will be handled in a different manner this year. It will not be a platoon situation. They may or may not bring in a third catcher as Wedge said that it is not an absolute necessity this year. The hope is Jesus Montero will be able to catch the bulk of the games.
"I don't have any doubt in my mind that he can handle it fundamentally, but being so young, especially as we ask a great deal out of our catchers here, the mental grind and the physical grind that goes along with it, that's pretty real," Wedge said.
"He knows he is coming here to catch. We're going to ask him to catch as much as we feel he can [in order] to go out there and perform the way we feel he is capable of performing."
Montero seemed to wear down both mentally and physically last year when he caught back-to-back-to-back. He won't have the option to DH as much and, as Wedge said, he knows he is coming to catch so he will need to toughen up in that regard. That process has already begun as Montero is in town for some one-on-one work this week.
• To take a line from Zduriencik last year, "No one is on scholarship here." Next season is not just about getting experience. We will see quicker hooks if players are not performing.
"The last couple of years we have had the luxury of keep pushing those kids out there to give them that experience," Wedge said. "Let them have success, go through some failures and learn from it but as we continue to getting closer to being a championship club those opportunities will be more limited and the rope will be shorter because we are closer to where we want to be and we have other options that can fill in for them in a better fashion quite frankly if we decide to make a change."
Quick Wedge notes:
• While not committing to who will hit leadoff, he did say he felt comfortable with Dustin Ackley in that role going forward.
• Kyle Seager will get reps at shortstop this spring. He won't get starts there but could be a late-inning replacement if the shortstop is pinch hit for.
• He would like to see another starter brought in but said that the door is wide open for any of the kids. "When you come to big-league camp you are in the big-league camp to try and make the ball club," he said.
As for Zduriencik, I found it interesting that he opened his media session talking about the failed attempt to sign an unnamed but obviously Josh Hamilton. He stated that as he has previously said, ownership stepped up and allowed him to try to do something "outside of the box." He also said that he felt it was significant that, if reports are true, the offer he made was a better offer than Hamilton's previous club gave him.
"What does that tell you? We went after him. At the end every player has their decision, every player has their comfort level," Zduriencik said. "He made his decision, which he got a fantastic deal for. Next time maybe it will come our way."
• He would not commit to any kind of expectation of where the club should finish in the division this year. He did express confidence that the team continues to go in the right direction in regard to growth, however, and that significant additions from the outside are not far away.
"You've had three drafts with a chance to get guys to the big leagues. What we're going to see in the future, in '13, '14, '15, '16 and '17, these kids are all going to start to matriculate to the big-league level," he said. "I think it's going to be fun. As the excitement builds, and we're able to do another free-agent deal like we tried to do this year, it will be more successful in the future."
• He spelled out in a bit more detail why he made the John Jaso/Morse deal. While calling Jaso a "great teammate and a good player" he acknowledged that he would not have been used in the same manner this year.
"He was going to be a part-time player," Zduriencik said. "The fact we had [Mike] Zunino around the corner I think helped our thought process in trying to make that move"
• While liking what he has heard from others about Jason Bay, it would seem that he will have to earn a spot on the roster this spring.
"It will be interesting to see what happens," he said. "We'll see."
• He would not comment on negotiations on a Felix Hernandez extension other than to say, "I have every intention of keeping Felix here for the long term."
• He said he is looking to add two catchers. Ronny Paulino is not yet official so he is likely one of them. Whether or not both break camp with the big-league team remains to be seen but a veteran could be stashed at Triple-A.
News and notes from the rest of the speakers:
• According to head athletic trainer Rick Griffin, Ackley and Brendan Ryan, who are both coming off offseason surgeries, will have no limitations in spring training. Jeremy Bonderman, who had Tommy John Surgery last winter, is throwing off a mound in Peoria and is expected to be on the same schedule as the other pitchers when camp begins.
• Michael Saunders has continued with the same hitting program he was on last winter but said that this year was more about critiquing and progressing to the next level rather than focusing on a complete swing and mental overhaul.
• Saunders also commented on the players that have been brought in this winter.
"The guys that we have signed we can put in the middle of the order and take a of of pressure off our younger players," he said. "I think these are great additions and am real excited to reunite with Morse and real excited to get to know Raul better."
• Postgame fireworks are coming to Safeco Field for the first time. The Mariners have partnered with Pyro Spectacular, the same company that does the New Year's Eve at the Space Needle show, to put on a fireworks display after the June 28 game against the Cubs and the Aug. 9 game against the Brewers.
• Other promotions this year will include Beard Hat Night (and if you followed me on Twitter @shannondrayer you would know what that is) April 26.
April 27 is Bat Night, where all kids 14 and under will receive a full-size Dustin Ackley Louisville Slugger.
Felix "Perfect-Game" Bobblehead Night – and yes, he is Felixing – is May 25.
Dustin Ackley Gnome Night – and no,I am not making that up – is July 13.
Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners Hall of Fame Night and Bobblehead Aug. 10.
There will also be Tee Shirt nights, Girls and Guys nights out, a Turn Back the Clock Night and more.