By Shannon Drayer
General manager Jack Zduriencik took questions from the media for over 20 minutes at the Mariners' pre-spring training media luncheon Thursday morning, and from what he had to say, it would appear we will see more moves in the days to come.
"I don't suspect we are going to make a major move but hopefully we will be able to do some things, some tweaks that will help the club this year," he said, adding that he could have a couple of announcements later in the afternoon.
Let's hope so. The team clearly is in need of more pitching, both starting and perhaps an established bullpen arm. Manager Lloyd McClendon went so far as to say in his session with the media that the team would like "a veteran No. 3 starter to close the gap a little bit."
While the Mariners like what they have in quality of young pitching, Zduriencik knows they lack experience and said he was not tremendously comfortable with where he was with his pitching at the moment.
With the Mariners still in need of pitching, general manager Jack Zduriencik said Thursday that he hopes to make "some tweaks that will help the club this year." (AP) | More photos
The Mariners, like every other club in baseball, had the opportunity to go after free agent Masahiro Tanaka, who signed with the Yankees Wednesday for seven years and $155 million plus the $20 million posting fee. According to Zduriencik, the Mariners had interest but decided against a serious pursuit.
"As we began to hear where the numbers were going to go, they were going to be substantial numbers and quite frankly it is something we sat together as a group and as an organization and decided it was something we just didn't want to get involved in," he said.
There are still options on the free-agent market to help complete the Mariners' starting rotation and a trade is always possible. Zduriencik said that he is still active on the phones with both agents and other general managers.
As for the rest of the team, even after the additions of Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, Zduriencik echoed what he said on the postgame show following the final game of last season. It is his belief that the key to taking the next step as a team will be the young core players having success.
"The biggest thing for us would be for these young group of guys that we have been counting on to take the next step. That's an unknown," he said. "Is (Dustin) Ackley the player he was after the All-Star break? Is Michael Saunders able to put pieces together like he has? Is (Justin) Smoak going to be able to do it? If those guys do that, the additions we made in the offseason will be really, really good. But the best addition would be our guys getting better. And I think that is important."
It was very interesting to hear him single out individual players. I took this as an indication that perhaps the kid gloves were coming off with the players that have been here for the better part of the last two years. At the end of the season he said he was done with the "young talk." There are young players on the club. Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Abraham Almonte and the young pitchers deserve the opportunity to get their feet under them and learn at the big-league level.
The three Zduriencik mentioned have had plenty of opportunity to do so. There is no doubt he is pulling for them, but they may for the first time get a push as well. That push will come from McClendon and his staff.
"I think they are going to challenge these guys probably a little differently than they have been challenged before," Zduriencik said. "(First-base coach) Andy Van Slyke, I can guarantee, you will be in a lot of guys' faces. You are going to have a lot of guys out there, 'I'm not taking no for an answer.' I think they will be very good for these players. How the players react, do they take them to the next level is very important for this organization."
Zduriencik was asked about expectations. Not surprisingly he wouldn't put a number on what this club might do. He knows what he would like to see, however.
"Play as a team. Let's see how that concept really really works for us and let the pieces fall where they may," he said. "To repeat what Lloyd has been saying, I don't fear anybody. We have got some good teams in our division. So what. If we play well we can play with anybody."
Zduriencik's final comment was one that has been heard quite a bit of late.
"Go Hawks!" he said as he put on a Seahawks cap and stepped off the podium.
• Zduriencik announced the Mariners had signed Endy Chavez to a minor-league deal and that they will see how he fits in given then number of question marks in the outfield. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Chavez's deal is worth $750,000 if he makes the major-league roster with $450,000 available in plate-appearance bonuses. He can ask for his release if he is not on the big club June 1.
• Zduriencik said there could be a couple of announcements Thursday; so far Chavez is the only one. The team still has not announced a deal with reliever Joe Beimel and I am hearing that there is a good chance they sign starter Scott Baker.
• Zduriencik talked quite a bit about Stefen Romero, who has shifted to the outfield but is prepared to play multiple positions. He had a great spring with the bat last year before being sidelined with an injury. He could make another push this year. It sounds like he will be given every opportunity to do so despite the roster situation. The organization (and others) really likes his bat.
• Zduriencik indicated he would like to add another arm to the bullpen and I know there have been talks to bring Oliver Perez back but no agreement has been reached as of yet.
• Trainer Rob Nodine gave the injury rundown. Reliever Stephen Pryor, who became just the third MLB player to undergo surgery to repair a lat tear, has begun a throwing program. While there has been no timetable put on his return, Nodine said he could possibly return at the end of May.
Corey Hart, who is coming off knee surgery, is doing well but will have his playing time monitored in spring training.
Jesus Montero missed most of winter ball after needing stitches on a knuckle after a car accident, but is doing well.
• Assistant general manager Jeff Kingston talked about the extensive renovations to the spring-training complex in Peoria and the Mariners' new academy in the Dominican Republic. The academy will open Feb.13 and Robinson Cano will be on hand for the ceremonies. The facility can house up to 80 players and could accommodate players from the Mariners' Venezuelan academy if the political situation there necessitated a move.
• A little closer to home the Mariners will honor former manager Lou Piniella the weekend of Aug. 8-9 as they will induct him into the team's hall of fame. The ceremony will take place Aug. 9 and the luncheon will be Aug. 8. I would expect a large number of players to return to honor Lou.
• Kevin Martinez, the Mariners' vice president of marketing, gave a preview of a number of promotions in the 2014 season. For the first time the team will hold a "Bark in the Park" game where fans will be allowed to bring their dogs and even take them for a run around the bases.
Beard-hat is making a return Friday, April 25 with the first 20,000 fans receiving a retro style (and blonde) Mariners beard-hat.
Other highlights include Kyle Seager bat night on May 10, Macklemore bobblehead night on June 12, Felix Hernandez King's Court train car night on June 14, three fireworks shows and much more. Information on promotions will be available soon on the team's website.