Tuesday, February 18, 2014 @ 7:57am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Greetings from Peoria, Ariz., where it was hardly business as usual for me Tuesday morning. Thirteen spring trainings in, and now a twist. New faces, players and coaches and a new facility had me feeling like I took a wrong turn and ended up perhaps in Mesa. Thankfully, Felix Hernandez walked in to remind me that this wasn't the Cubs' complex.
It is very different, however, and I can't help but wonder if this will have a positive effect on the team. Last week on "The Hot Stove League Show", Michael Saunders said he kept getting lost in the new clubhouse. Small wonder. The new spring clubhouse is as big or bigger than any visiting clubhouse in any park I have seen.
The renovations here were massive. Top-notch facilities and equipment. Full-sized permanent lockers and sofas in the clubhouse. A full dining facility instead of meal service consisting of the small room with three tables, a microwave, soup and cereal stations with daily lunch catering set up in the clubhouse. A beautiful indoor/outdoor weight room and a large video room with space for multiple players and coaches to do work. Hardly familiar, but shiny and new.
Of course, there are no ghosts of springs past here, which is something I miss but no doubt is good for this young group of players who will fight for their own identity. The locker that Ken Griffey Jr. once occupied is no longer there. The space where Edgar Martinez kept his bat scale is a memory. "Survivor Island" – the row of temporary lockers in the middle of the clubhouse where the the longshots to make the final 25-man roster were set up – is now gone. The prized end locker that veterans like Jamie Moyer and J.J. Putz once occupied is no longer there.
The first occupant of the new prized end-of-the-clubhouse corner locker is Robinson Cano. Hernandez occupies the two lockers nearest to the entrance while Cano – tucked away in the corner with his cousin, Burt Reynolds, lockering next to him – is a bit tougher to approach. Different.
Fernando Rodney is here and hard to miss. Occasionally he would break out in song – loudly – which seemed to be appreciated by most teammates. It was hardly a sleepy spring clubhouse Tuesday morning. Different year, different sound, different feel.
Some of the sights were familiar, however, like guys at their lockers opening boxes of new shoes for the season. Plenty of shoe discussions this morning, which is typical for early spring. There was still plenty of catching up as well as iPhones were passed around with pictures of new babies, hunting trips and in Hernandez's case a European vacation.
Now they get to work and will fall into the routine of the new business as usual. Manager Lloyd McClendon will take them on the field for the first workout but he will not gather them for a speech. That has been done already in small groups. It is now about the work and we will soon see what that looks like.
I hear there is music during workouts. Different.
Friday, February 14, 2014 @ 6:11pm
By Shannon Drayer
Just wanted to leave you with a couple of thoughts and links before the weekend. I am heading down to Peoria on Monday and will start covering my 13th spring training with the Mariners on Tuesday, the day of the first full-squad workout. This looks to be one of the more interesting camps I have covered with a new manager and staff, a new superstar, numerous position battles, possible moves and a newly renovated complex.
Hisashi Iwakuma will likely miss part of April before making his 2014 debut. (AP)
Needless to say, there will be plenty to write about starting Tuesday. For the next few days, unless there is actual news, I will be pretty quiet. These are my last few days of freedom for the next eight months and family, friends and last-minute details are my main priority this weekend.
Before I go I wanted to leave you with a thought about what we have seen so far. Yes, the news has not been good the first two days of camp with Hisashi Iwakuma shut down for four to six weeks, Franklin Gutierrez deciding to take the year off, Taijuan Walker sore and Jesus Montero large. The only news that has any sort of significant impact on the Mariners heading into the season is the news about Iwakuma, though.
The team was not counting on Gutierrez to be an everyday player. The team was not counting on Montero to be anything. Soreness with pitchers this time of the year is hardly out of the ordinary, and while it is a situation that should be watched it probably means nothing. Walker himself is not worried about it and has not been shut down. He played catch Thursday. Believe me, if there was any belief that there was a chance that this could be something out of the ordinary he would be shut down. Not time to worry about this.
Iwakuma is another matter. They need their No. 2. Manager Lloyd McClendon told the media Friday morning that Iwakuma would not be rushed and that before he could make his return he would need to be able to throw 85-95 pitches. I have seen pitchers build up to this number in four starts, but I would think the Mariners would like Iwakuma to throw more. Some of those games may be of the simulated variety and I think if all goes well we could see that happen before we leave spring training, but there is little question he will have to make rehab starts. The good news is there are four off days in April. For once the Mariners seem to have caught a small break with the schedule.
With any luck the Mariners will have Iwakuma at some point in April. Last year he was somewhat limited that month by the blister on the same finger that is holding him back this year. Because of the the blister he did not throw more than 90 pitches until his fifth start of the season yet still held the opposition to just seven earned runs and a .160 batting average in his first six starts. The Mariners no doubt would love to see a similar start regardless of when in April his season begins.
• On 710 ESPN Seattle's "Wyman, Mike and Moore" today, Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits gave an update on Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Felix Hernandez.
• The Mariners opened their new academy in the Domincan Republic this week and Greg Johns of Mariners.com was there to get a look.
• We talked quite a bit about the importance of the academy with team president Kevin Mather on "The Hot Stove League Show" a couple of weeks ago. That podcast can be found here.
• Former Seattle Times writer Greg Bishop, who spent the last six years doing fabulous work for The New York Times, is now with SI.com. One of his first pieces for his new employer involved spending a day with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic. The article gives a great glimpse into Cano's life at home.
• Add two more "Cactus League Reports" to the schedule in March. Earlier this week I said that we would be doing three shows from the Salty Senorita. That has changed. We are now doing shows on Feb. 25, March 4, 11, 19 and 26. The shows Feb. 25-March 11 will be 7-9 p.m., and the March 19 and 26 shows will be from 7-8 p.m. Please stop by and join us if you are in the area.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 @ 10:15am
By Shannon Drayer
A bit of unexpected news came out of Peoria, Ariz. Thursday morning as the Mariners announced that outfielder Franklin Gutierrez has told the club he will not play in 2014.
Gutierrez said he has suffered a relapse of many of the symptoms he struggled with last spring, and does not believe it is fair to the team to come to camp if he is unable to compete due to health reasons. Instead, he will spend the upcoming season focusing on getting fully healthy.
As a result the Mariners have placed Gutierrez on the restricted list, which clears him from the 40-man roster. That roster space has been filled by reliever Fernando Rodney, who was announced as signed Thursday morning. Gutierrez had signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Mariners in December. Players on the restricted list are not paid.
After missing just 19 games in his first two years with the Mariners, Gutierrez was out 313 of the next 486. While some of those days were missed because of injury, the majority were missed because of illness, one that has been very tough to diagnose. As frustrating as this has been for the team and fans, it has been even more so for Gutierrez.
Stomach problems first sidelined Gutierrez in the spring of 2011. After an eventual trip to the Mayo Clinic he was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Gutierrez was relieved to have answers but the problems were far from behind him. In the spring of 2013 he reported feeling unusual tightness in his legs and pelvis. After more doctor visits he told the media he had been diagnosed with ankylosing spondilitis.
From my blog post that day:
"This thing started in spring training," Gutierrez said. "I didn't know what it was. It was tough to play like this. I have been dealing with it the whole year, feeling the inflammation in the pelvis, lower back. Trying to run like that is not easy. Right now I feel like it is under control."
Interestingly enough, stomach problems can be part of A.S.
"I started dealing with this, I guess, the past two years," Gutierrez said. "It started with the stomach and some other things. I think it is all connected, they think it is all connected. I am glad that finally they found out what was going on with me."
When we met with Gutierrez after his signing in December he said he was optimistic that the medication he was taking would allow him to get out on the field enough to contribute to the team in 2014. Playing 19 games in September without any problems was encouraging, and other than a bout with the flu in Venezuela in October, he had been healthy for some time. The recurrence of symptoms strong enough to make him believe that he needed to take a year off and concentrate on his health must have been a tremendous blow for him.
The Mariners were not counting on Gutierrez to be an everyday player this year, but there is little doubt a healthy Gutierrez could have contributed to this team. The important thing now, however, is his health. It would appear his focus is in the right place.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 @ 1:23pm
By Shannon Drayer
The Mariners failed to make it out of reporting day without a significant injury. On the day where pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to Peoria, Ariz. for physicals, the team issued a press release with general manager Jack Zduriencik stating that Hisashi Iwakuma would not be allowed to throw a ball for four to six weeks.
From the release:
While working out in Southern California in preparation for spring training, right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma suffered an injury to the middle finger on his right (throwing) hand.
Iwakuma was examined by hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan in Arizona. Dr. Sheridan has diagnosed a strained tendon in his middle finger.
Iwakuma has had the finger placed in a splint, and will not throw for four to six weeks. He will be re-examined after three weeks. At this time, it is not expected that the finger will require surgery to repair.
"Luckily, this does not appear to be a serious injury," said Zduriencik. "It is a setback for Kuma, but we are confident that he will quickly overcome the missed time and be able to rejoin our rotation early in the regular season."
Iwakuma spoke in Peoria shortly after the release was issued and explained that the injury occurred when he got tangled up in the netting of a protective screen while playing catch.
"I knew it was injured but I didn't think it was a major thing," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "I rested it for about a week and then I started playing catch again – long toss as always. I thought it was good, but the pain didn't go away."
This is a blow. The Mariners' rotation, while full of potential, is thin. Best-case scenario, Iwakuma is given the green light to start throwing again in three to four weeks. It would appear there is little to no chance that he will be able to get into any spring training games. He will need to make rehab starts. I would think a mid-April return would be a bit optimistic but we shall see. The team will be cautious with him and from what I have seen with Iwakuma he will be smart about his return. He knows what he needs to be ready.
The question now is whether Zduriencik will bring in another arm.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 @ 8:55am
By Shannon Drayer
While we go about our day in the wind and rain here in Seattle, Mariners pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training under sunny skies and a forecast of 80 degrees in Peoria, Ariz. The offseason is officially over.
Additions can still be made via trade or the acquisition of a number of free agents that are still on the market – and we very well may see this happen with the news of Hisashi Iwakuma's finger injury – but the Mariners are opening camp with an interesting group of pitchers from which their starting five and bullpen will come. The question is whether they have enough.
Enough to improve on a particularly and uncharacteristically disappointing season from the arms as a whole last year? Yes, there were bright spots, huge bright spots with Felix Hernandez being Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma's emergence, Danny Farquhar stepping up into the closer role and Charlie Furbush proving that he is more than just a left-handed bullpen arm. But ultimately the group as a whole – and yes, the defense certainly had its part in this number – allowed 754 runs. That was over 125 more runs than the top two teams in the division and the sixth most allowed by any staff in baseball. In order to have any kind of success in 2014, this number must improve.
It all starts with the rotation, where the Mariners have some of the biggest question marks even with a healthy Iwakuma. Question marks, however, are not always a negative. Taking a look at the potential rotation with a glass-half-full outlook, you are looking at a group with five-award potential. Hernandez and Iwakuma can be in the conversation for the Cy Young Award at the end of the year and you could be looking at two Rookie of the Year candidates in James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. As long as the glass is half full right now, we might as well have it overflowing and say that Scott Baker could come out of the 2014 season as Comeback Player of the Year. All of this is more than possible.
Of course, things could go in the opposite direction as well. Felix and Iwakuma remain one of the top one-two punches in baseball but they can only pitch every five days. How ready are Paxton and Walker? They both passed the get-your-feet-wet test last fall, but will they pick up where they left off? Two rookies in a rotation is something many in baseball are not comfortable with, but are these two special enough to put those qualms on the back burner? I believe they are.
Paxton in particular had the look of someone who had figured things out last September. There is no question he has the stuff and to watch that stuff against big-league hitters from teams in the hunt for the postseason was one of the highlights of last year. It was also a surprise.
After tweaking his delivery, James Paxton showed better command during four encouraging September starts. (AP)
The stuff, the preparation and the experience he has had pitching in the minors and college gives him the look of readiness. He appears ready to step in and contribute for a full season, most likely with little to no restrictions.
Walker isn't as far down that path as Paxton is. He could be on Felix's path, however. There was no keeping Felix down in 2005. It was time to call him up. There was nothing else he could get in Triple-A at that point. He wasn't a finished product when he was called up, however. He was still the phenom but he was continuing to develop, which included improving his pitches, adding pitches, learning hitters and learning to control his emotions. When all of that came together we got the Felix we see today, but that took time – about three years. And the Mariners hardly suffered through his starts in those three years. Felix contributed as he learned and Walker could do the same.
I don't think it would be a stretch by any means to have these two rookies in the rotation together. Both have the potential to eclipse what we saw from the back end of the rotation last year. Both have the potential to be spectacular but you can't plan for that, and because you can't plan for that the Mariners need a solid No. 3 and that is the missing piece to this rotation.
Could Baker be the answer? Baker before Tommy John surgery certainly would have been, but you don't know what he is after. I feel a little better about him knowing that he did get into three games at the end of last year. That would indicate to me that he has had a normal offseason as opposed to one in which he rehabbed. Technically, he is not coming off surgery heading into his first spring throwing session. Hopefully those hurdles were crossed last July and August in preparation for his September starts. We shall see.
Also competing for a spot will be Erasmo Ramirez, who has had injury problems of is own. He has proven he can pitch in the major leagues, but if we see the Ramirez we saw last year that might not be enough to make this rotation. Ramirez struggled with his command coming off the injury, which is something we had never seen from him. He threw very well in Venezuela this winter, however, and I am interested to see just where he is a) health-wise and b) command-wise this spring.
I am also interested to see what the plan is for Brandon Maurer. He had a great spring last year, great enough to skip Triple-A and earn a spot on the big-league roster. Things didn't come together for him at the big league-level, however, and he didn't fare much better when he was sent to the minors.
Some scouts I have talked to have said they believe he would thrive in the bullpen. I am not sure the Mariners are ready to make that move, though, as he is only 23 and has some big advocates in this organization, including new pitching coach Rick Waits. What do you do if he is lights out again this spring? Do you believe your eyes? Do you start him in Triple-A to make sure it is real this time or do you start him in the bullpen with the big-league team? What is he best suited for? What will the team need at that point? It would be good if he is an option for either role at the end of spring.
Of course, the biggest question regarding the rotation at this point is whether we will be talking about a new name in the coming days. General manager Jack Zduriencik could still add a starter and that move could be made today, tomorrow, the last week of spring training or beyond. The picture may or may not be complete at this point but for now, 32 roster and non-roster pitchers plus three yet to be announced with deals pending physicals report to camp Wednesday and hit the field Thursday.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 @ 11:11am
By Shannon Drayer
Wednesday is the day Mariners pitchers and catchers officially report to Peoria, Ariz. for spring training. The first full-squad workout will be Feb. 18 and that is when I head down there to begin my reports. There will be plenty of new faces including two who are about to be added Tuesday, according to Bob Dutton of The News Tribune.
Dutton reports that veterans Randy Wolf and Zach Miner are expected to receive minor-league deals with invitations to spring training. Such moves are common at this time of the year with players coming off injuries or looking to restart their careers. Every now and then you get a surprise, but for now these two appear to be spring pitching depth.
We will talk more about this Tuesday on "The Hot Stove League Show" from 7-9 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle. Rick Rizzs and Mike Blowers join me in studio for a show that will include visits with Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, Rob Neyer of SB Nation, A's broadcaster Vince Cotroneo and new Mariners infield coach Chris Woodward.
A programming note: several of you who will be in spring training in March have asked about our plans for "The Cactus League Report." Once again we will be broadcasting the show from the Salty Senorita across the parking lot from the Mariners' complex. Due to scheduling challenges there will only be three broadcasts this year. There will be two Tuesday broadcasts – March 4 and 11 – and a one-hour Wednesday show on March 19. Information about the shows will be available at the Mariners' complex in Peoria.
Thursday, February 6, 2014 @ 2:57pm
By Shannon Drayer
Jonah Keri of Grantland was first to report and others have since confirmed that the Mariners have reached agreement with reliever Fernando Rodney on a two-year, $14 million contract. The team has yet to confirm and I am hearing that we most likely will not have that confirmation until early next week.
With 85 saves and a 1.91 ERA with the Rays over the past two seasons, reliever Fernando Rodney strengthens a Mariners bullpen that sorely lacked depth last season. (AP)
If true – and it appears to be a passed physical away from being official – this move most likely bumps Danny Farquhar from the closer role. There may be talk of competition in spring training but you generally don't bring in a pitcher with a $7 million price tag to be the setup guy. Regardless of how this plays out, the Mariners now have a bit of much needed depth in the bullpen, something they didn't have last year.
Instead of having Tom Wilhelmsen as the backup plan to Farquhar – who coming off his first closing experience is a bit (the tiniest bit at that) of a question mark in my book – you now have Farquhar as the backup to an established closer in Rodney. If Farquhar is what we saw in the second half of last year, the Mariners now have a nice right-left combo with Charlie Furbush joining him in a setup role. If Wilhelmsen bounces back then the Mariners are set at the back end of the bullpen with multiple options at closer if needed. At a minimum with the Rodney move, they have added to a position of need.
There is a bit of intrigue in this move as by my calculations it pushes them well over what they were budgeted to spend last year and closer to the $100 million mark for the payroll. Multiple sources have told me that over the past few weeks the Mariners have been lobbying ownership for additional dollars, and if a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today is accurate, it appears they may have received them.
"The Mariners say they are all in and yes, are cautiously optimistic they will also sign slugger Nelson Cruz," Nightengale tweeted Thursday.
Another move may be coming and perhaps in part thanks to Robinson Cano, who I have heard has been trying to recruit Cruz. He may have had a hand in getting Rodney to Seattle as all three were teammates together on the WBC team from the Dominican Republic.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 @ 9:30am
By Shannon Drayer
Hard to believe there is any fuel left for the hot stove with just eight days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Peoria, but the national media continues to feed the fire with reports Tuesday that the Mariners' talks with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz have intensified.
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Mariners could possibly go a third year – guaranteed or option – for Cruz, whose initial demands were said to be in the neighborhood of five years $75 million.
Judging from comments on this blog, this move would not be a popular one for a number of reasons including the PED suspension, poor defense and numbers away from Arlington. On the flip side just about everyone in baseball I have talked to, including scouts and former players, say this is a move the Mariners need to make with the main reason being that Robinson Cano needs protection in the lineup. I understand that protection in the lineup by the numbers is closer to myth than fact but most in baseball see things differently on this issue.
Jeff Sullivan at U.S.S. Mariner, who is not thrilled about the idea of Cruz in a Mariners uniform, wrote a great piece a few of weeks ago that looked at under what circumstances would Cruz make sense. Give it a read if you are feeling nervous about this possible signing. It might make you feel a tad bit better.
Sullivan states that Cruz would bring value to the team, just not a lot. The key for the Mariners if they do make this move is to make it at the right price: their price. Assuming that the numbers will not be ridiculous for Cruz – and they shouldn't be at this point in the game – then the thing to remember no matter how much you do not like this move it is a move that won't cripple the ballclub. The dollars are different now from what they were when the Mariners signed Chone Figgins.
I would rather see the Mariners throw this money at a starting pitcher, but if they go in this direction – and this is assuming these reports are correct and the Mariners do indeed have the dollars to sign Cruz – I somewhat understand why they would go bat over starter. They have enough starting pitching right now to start the season. Depth is the question, but that is something that can be picked up later, perhaps in trade, which is what I have been hearing their preference to be. It would be a roll of the dice that Cruz's offense added to this lineup at a further sacrifice of defense would bring more value than what any starter that is still on the market would bring to the rotation in place of what they already have.
There is plenty more to talk about with Cruz if the Mariners sign him, but for now let's wait until it actually happens.
• "The Hot Stove League Show" can be heard on 710 ESPN tonight from 7-9 p.m. Joining me and Aaron Goldsmith in studio for two hours of baseball talk will be Mike Blowers. Scheduled guests include new Mariner Corey Hart, Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel, new first-base and catching coach John Stearns and Ryan Divish from The Seattle Times.