Updated Oct 14, 2012 - 11:16 pm
Seattle Mariners Blog with Shannon Drayer
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 @ 5:53pm
By Shannon Drayer
While everyone else on the baseball planet seems willing to talk about Robinson Cano and the Mariners, general manager Jack Zduriencik understandably is not.
"That's the nature of this call, to try and give you as much of an update as I can without saying anything," he said with a laugh.
Zduriencik and the Mariners' contingent will head to Orlando, Fla. this weekend to take part in the meetings. Just what will be left on the board at that point remains to be seen as a flurry of signings and movement has already taken place. Zduriencik said that he and others are not surprised by the aggressive market, saying that early on it was apparent that teams had a good idea of what their needs were and what they wanted to do.
"At the general managers' meetings we heard in a lot of discussions that they would like to get it done before they get to Orlando," he said.
As for what he would like to get done with his club, Zduriencik repeated what has been reported multiple times, that he is looking for a couple of bats, a starting pitcher and perhaps an arm for the bullpen.
Regardless of what gets done or doesn't get done on the free-agent or trade markets, Zduriencik still points to the young core of players as the key factor to any improvement with the Mariners.
"I do think there is a learning curve there and I hope we get to the point where these kids realize they're big leaguers and they are more prepared than they ever have been," he said. They all got their feet wet last year or the year before. Even though it is a real young group of kids, I hope that the fact that they have experience takes them to the next level."
The young players will need help, however, and free-agent help is becoming more and more scarce with teams preferring to lock up their big bats rather than let them reach free agency. This year's market was light. Next year's will be worse. Zduriencik has indicated in the past that when the time was right he believed the organization would support him in a quest for a big-impact player. It appears that time is now.
"When we got here it was a goal to get to where they have young, inexpensive players throughout the lineup, and I think we have accomplished that goal," he said. "I have also thought there would be a time we have to augment this club, and I think we are at that time. I think I have a lot of support. It made an interesting winter, led to a lot of interesting conversations and we will see where it ends up."
The door is also open for trades, but reluctantly.
"You would prefer not to but you never know how that is going to turn out," Zduriencik said. "You don't know how you are going to cross that bridge until you have discussions that get very specific in terms or players. We like what we have but you have to always keep the door open."
He has both currencies needed in this sport – dollars and young players. He would rather give up the former. The question now, is who will take it?
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 @ 11:18am
By Shannon Drayer
Thousands of homeless and disadvantaged children in the Puget Sound area will receive toys this Christmas thanks to Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs and Toys for Kids. The charity, founded by Rizzs and former Mariner Dave Henderson and supported by the Seattle Mariners RBI Club, has been providing Christmas presents for area children since 1995. On Wednesday morning, representatives from 18 organizations cleaned out the shelves at the Bellevue Toys"R"Us thanks to Rizzs and Toys for Kids.
The sight was impressive. Volunteers from each organization roamed the aisles with lists in hand. Each organization was given an amount to spend and all had a strategy as there were different needs and different age groups to cover. Teresa Everett from Atlantic Street Center dispatched an army of volunteers to every corner of the store with specific instructions for just what to get for the 1,500 kids they were buying for. None of this would be possible without Rizzs, according to Everett.
"It means everything," she said. "I joke with the director and say if we ever lose Rick and Toys for Kids I can't do this anymore. It is the bulk of our toys that we receive. It is the largest single donation that we get to our agency. It means everything."
Everett and Atlantic Street Center came to the attention of Rizzs six years ago when he saw their story on the evening news. The center lost its major funder of toys just a week before their holiday party. Rizzs picked up the phone and called the organization and said that he had heard that they needed help. The news was too good to be true for Everett.
"I put Rick on hold, I didn't believe it was him on the phone!" she said with a laugh. "But he came through for Atlantic Street Center and the Mariners and Toys for Kids have been friends of Atlantic Street ever since."
Everett remembered the first trip to the toy shopping event and how they arrived not knowing what to expect. They walked down the aisles, taking a toy here and there, sometimes putting them back. With less than two hours to shop before the store opened to the public, Rizzs realized they needed some help.
"Tell me one thing that you need," he told the women.
"Soccer balls," they replied.
"Great," responded Rizzs, who then emptied an entire shelf of soccer balls into their cart.
"That's how you shop," he told Everett. "Get what you need and let me worry about it."
Everett is now a veteran of the annual shopping trips. Her army of volunteers had overflowing carts lined up from one end of the store to the other. It was a sight that put a smile on Rizzs' face.
"It's like playing Santa Claus every year," he said. "This year we had our best ever dinner and auction. We raised almost a quarter of a million dollars and now we are buying toys for 18 different homeless organizations for over 7,000 homeless kids and kids in hospitals. To see all those toys in baskets? Those toys are going to be in the hands of kids that normally wouldn't get a toy at Christmas time. But we are there to help out these agencies, these moms and their kids at a special time of year."
It is clearly a special time for Rizzs, too. Throughout the year he gathers donations from organizations and ballplayers for an auction at the annual Toys for Kids dinner. On Wednesday morning, he oversaw the shopping event, greeting each representative by name and helping them check out, making sure that they had spent their full allotment. He has a special appreciation for those who are helping the kids.
"It's amazing to know what they do for their organizations," he said. "People that they help all year long and now we come along at this time of the year to help these kids. If you really take a look around you see that there is such a need in our community. People who have had a rough time, whatever their circumstances may be, can't afford not the luxuries but certain necessities in life and not being able to afford a toy for their kids? We are here to help out."
For more, visit rickstoysforkids.com.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 @ 3:38pm
By Shannon Drayer
Wednesday update: I can confirm a second meeting took place here in Seattle yesterday as reported by the New York Post. To the best of my knowledge the meeting was with Cano's representatives, and not Cano himself.
Speculation about the Mariners and Robinson Cano has heated up once again, but this time with a twist. A week ago it was the national writers opining that the Mariners could be a surprise entry in the Cano sweepstakes. On Tuesday, Wallace Mathews reported that sources tell ESPNNewYork.com that the Mariners are major players.
Representatives for free-agent slugger Robinson Cano met with the Mariners in Seattle recently. (AP)
While this may sound improbable, I can tell you that representatives for Cano -- not including Jay Z -- visited Seattle recently to give their sales pitch to the Mariners. Seattle obviously was not the only team they visited, but it was on the list.
According to Wallace's article and other reports, the Yankees and Cano are approximately $60-80 million apart in their negotiations, with the Yankees not willing to budge much if at all. While it is hard to imagine Cano leaving --or his new agent, Jay Z, allowing him to leave the spotlight of New York -- this more likely than not will come down to the money. If this is the case, and the Mariners are willing to go over $200 million, it becomes a little less far fetched.
For the first time in a long time the Mariners should be able to compete in this arena when it comes to the dollars. They have more availability in payroll than ever and should have more soon. The team's majority ownership of the regional sports network puts it on a different level, with CEO Howard Lincoln telling me last week that the new deal will make the Mariners competitive with the Rangers and Angels.
This no doubt could be another case of agents using the Mariners to drive up the price of their clients, but if New York calls Cano's bluff I would be surprised if his party caved. Coming up $60-80 million short in his first contract negotiation would not look good for Jay Z and his new agency. This negotiation isn't just about Cano.
A new role for Dan Wilson
The Mariners have hired Dan Wilson to be the team's roving minor-league catching coordinator.
Since he retired from playing, Wilson has worked with Mariners' catchers for a few days in spring training and occasionally visited the minor-league affiliates to see them. This position will require a much greater time commitment, and he is ready for the challenge.
"I am excited and thankful for this opportunity," Wilson said in the club's press release. "We have been blessed by the game of baseball and by this incredibly generous community, and I am privileged to join the Mariner family again and help pass along what I've learned with a very talented group of young catchers."
Wilson will work with Mariners catchers at all levels, beginning during spring training and continuing throughout the minor-league season. He will travel to each of the Mariners' affiliates several times during the season to work with the catchers.
Monday, December 2, 2013 @ 10:11am
By Shannon Drayer
It is not by any means the blockbuster move that Mariners fans are waiting for this offseason but an area of need is close to being filled.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com were the first to report – and I have since confirmed – that Seattle is close to signing Willie Bloomquist. Pending a physical, a Mariners-Bloomquist reunion is set to happen with Piecoro reporting it's a two-year deal worth $5-6 million.
Willie Bloomquist is a career .271 hitter during his 12 big-league seasons, the last three of which he spent with the Diamondbacks. (AP)
The pricetag is a bit eye-opening. A two-year contract at what would be a raise of at least a $500,000 per year at age 36 is what Bloomquist is looking at if the reported numbers are correct.
In addition to filling the need in the field, the Mariners are putting a premium on Bloomquist's experience, which makes sense with the young infield they could go forward with. For as much derision that I see on Twitter and in various blogs over Bloomquist's scrappiness, I will say this: He is a guy you want in your clubhouse.
Bloomquist brings an edge and a bit of a chip-on-the-shoulder-attitude that has been largely missing in that clubhouse. I have wondered at times if the learning environment that the Mariners have fostered the past two years has made things a bit too safe for the young players. They need to be allowed to make mistakes but I didn't get the sense there was a lot of looking over the shoulders for the next guy if they didn't get the job done. Bloomquist will help out with the young guys and share his 12 years of experience, but he will also give them a push.
So the Mariners are close to making their first move. It is a move that they can get done relatively quickly and move on. In years past they might have waited until much closer to spring training before signing a backup player, but in those years they didn't have the payroll flexibility they have now. They don't have to settle for whatever is left and they don't have to wait to see if they have dollars remaining to sign the player they want rather than go with what is available.
This is a move they can make that shouldn't impact anything else they want to do this offseason.
• Monday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, and for the Mariners those are first baseman Justin Smoak and outfielder Michael Saunders.
• A winter-ball update: Soon-to-be new News Tribune Mariners beat writer (and soon-to-be former Kansas City Star writer) Bob Dutton reported this Monday morning:
Health issues continues for ex-Mariners OF Franklin Gutierrez; sidelined by virus infection in winter ball in Venezuela.â€" Bob Dutton (@Royals_Report) December 2, 2013
• The news was better for Erasmo Ramirez, who is picking up innings he missed while on the disabled list last season with the Lara Cardenales. Ramirez has made three starts and allowed just one earned run in 14 innings.
• Finally, Jesus Montero has still not played in a game after requiring two stitches in his hand following a minor car accident in Venezuela. His last game played was Nov. 10.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 @ 6:28pm
By Shannon Drayer
The Mariners' search for a new president now takes a front burner on the hot stove.
Chuck Armstrong will remain on the job through Jan. 31, and after that someone else will take the reins. That someone will be chosen by chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln, who will consult with the ownership board in making the decision.
The process has only just begun. According to Lincoln, Armstrong's retirement had not been in the works for some time; the decision was made recently.
"This was a decision that I think he has been thinking about for some time," Lincoln told me in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "And it is a tough decision. No one wants to go out after a losing season. He feels that way just as much I do. It's just the way things go sometimes."
Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, right, says he is unsure if the team will redefine the role of its president once Chuck Armstrong, left, retires at the end of January. (AP)
Currently, the president of the Mariners has four executive vice presidents reporting to him. Kevin Mather (finance and ballpark operations), Bart Waldman (legal and governmental affairs), Bob Aylward (business operations) and general manager Jack Zduriencik (baseball operations) all report directly to Armstrong, who reports to Lincoln.
"That is fairly typical of a business organization or a business organization of baseball," Lincoln said. "You have exceptions where, for example, the baseball ops is separated from the business ops but most club presidents cover all four. It is a very large job and requires not only business skills that would be necessary in operations in any business – sales, marketing, accounting – but also a knowledge of baseball."
When Lincoln refers to "knowledge of baseball" he is referring to the knowledge of the entire scope of baseball. This, he believes, will be the hardest thing to replace.
"Replacing the business side will be easier than replacing the baseball side. He is very knowledgeable of baseball, of all of the arcane rules of baseball regarding trades, free agency," Lincoln said of Armstrong. "He's very well acquainted with virtually all of the key player agents across the country, including Scott Boras, and also a great knowledge of just the game itself. In Chuck's case he also has been very, very involved in the operation of MLB itself, on the International Committee, on the Commissioner's On-Field Committee."
This is the first opportunity since 1992 that the Mariners will have to redefine the position if they so choose. In hiring a replacement for Armstrong, Lincoln could go in one of two directions. Does he prefer to hire for continuance or change? It is a decision he has yet to make.
"I want to duck the question because I haven't reached that point," he answered. "I know that there are various alternatives. I could look outside, we could look within, we could rearrange deck chairs, there's a variety of options available. Right now I am just considering all of them and not trying to exclude any. I have an open mind about every possible iteration or every possible way [we could go about this]."
Lincoln clearly values the connections Armstrong has established in his 28 years in baseball. As he pointed out, finding a business person with the baseball experience may be a tough task to accomplish. It is not seen much in baseball, but is there a chance he could split the position? Would he consider going with a president of baseball operations and a president of business operations?
"I really don't want to make a comment. I am open to anything because I haven't even gotten to that stage," he said. "But certainly, let's put it this way: I am very cognizant of the fact there are various ways to [go about it]."
Whoever takes over the job(s) should be set up nicely in regard to finances. While we have yet to see the impact, the new television deal is a game changer, one that I see as perhaps being on par with the building of Safeco Field. Lincoln agreed with that thinking.
"The majority ownership of this regional sports network is a very, very significant development in the history of the Mariners," he said. "It will ... make the Mariners competitive if you combine the cash flow and the rights fees. It will be competitive with the Rangers and the Angels, and that is a huge thing we were able to put together. It certainly is comparable to putting up Safeco Field."
It's something that should make the job in Seattle very attractive provided there is no question about an ownership change. On that matter, Lincoln echoed what he said shortly after the death of Hiroshi Yamauchi.
"I have indicated there are no present plans to sell the Mariners," he said. "I can't speak for the future."
As for his own future, I asked if he had any plans to retire.
"Well, I am not getting any younger," he said with a laugh and then a pause. "Let's put it this way: I don't have any plans."
In truth, should an ownership change take place, there is a good chance it would be sold to a minority owner – someone who is already sitting on the board of directors, someone who will have input in hiring the new president. That process will start soon.
"I plan to talk to the directors one-on-one, take some time to reflect on what the various alternatives are, both in terms of personnel and in terms of structure, and I want to take the necessary time that that entails and then make some decisions," Lincoln said. "I don't anticipate that we are going to have anything before the holidays."
Armstrong will remain on the job and the plan is for him to attend the winter meetings in two weeks in Orlando, Fla. as Lincoln searches for his replacement. After that, there is much work to be done.
"I'm going to miss Chuck's friendship," he said. "He's a great partner. We've had a great run. We've had some tough years but we have also had some great years. I just wish that we could get this baseball side of this business turned around, and that is what we are all focused on."
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 @ 7:00am
By Shannon Drayer
In his blog on ESPN.com, (subscription required) Buster Olney wrote there were a number of baseball executives "outside the Mariners organization looking in, and they are wistful, wishing they could grab the Mariners' steering wheel."
The reason why? According to Olney they see the Mariners as "the great sleeping giant in baseball" because of the "monstrous growth potential" or "potential to become a baseball monster."
That claim is about to be put to a test as the Mariners will soon be hiring a president.
Olney cited the financial state of the team – something outgoing president Chuck Armstrong is largely responsible for – as one of the reasons why this team is attractive to other executives. He likened the Mariners to a start-up company with loads of cash and talent and no debt.
The press release that announced Armstrong's retirement, which becomes effective Jan. 31, noted that the Mariners would now begin the process of finding a successor and determining a transition plan. If this move was unanticipated, there is a lot of work to be done, and done quickly.
Before selecting the new manager, both general manager Jack Zduriencik and CEO Howard Lincoln were clear in their vision that they wanted a teacher in that role. What is the vision for what is wanted in a team president? What is the vision for this club moving forward? When Armstrong took over, the vision was about growing a young franchise, surviving and establishing itself both in MLB and Seattle. They made their mark, they got their stadium and they secured their future in Seattle no doubt for a long time to come. More recently they got their television network. Huge accomplishments that set things up nicely for the future. So the question is, what's next?
In the coming weeks we will get more into the role of the president, what the vision for the Mariners could be, who could be stepping into the position in the coming weeks and the vital transition at such an important time for the franchise.
Monday, November 25, 2013 @ 3:41pm
By Shannon Drayer
After serving as president of the Mariners for 28 of the past 30 years, Chuck Armstrong announced Monday afternoon that he has decided to retire.
"Thirty years ago my family and I were given a wonderful opportunity to move to the Seattle area and become associated with the Seattle Mariners," Armstrong said in a release issued by the club. "We quickly grew to love this community and this team. Through all the good times and the not-so-good times on the field since 1984, the goal always has been to win the World Series. My only regret is that the entire region wasn't able to enjoy a parade through the City to celebrate a World Championship together.
"After much thought and reflection, it is now time for me to retire and enjoy as much time as possible with my wife Susan and our family. The recent deaths of several good friends have really had an impact on me and helped crystallize my decision. This was a very difficult, very personal decision, but I know in my heart that it's time to turn the page and move to the next chapter of my life."
Former owner George Argyros first brought Armstrong on board with the Mariners when he hired him as the president and chief operating officer in 1983. Armstrong held that position until 1990 when the club was sold to Jeff Smulyan. When Smulyan put the club up for sale, Armstrong was asked by Sen. Slade Gorton to help put together a group of investors to buy the club and keep it in Seattle. The Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the club in 1992 and brought back Armstrong, who has served as president and chief operating officer ever since.
"When the Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the franchise in 1992, it was clear that Chuck Armstrong was uniquely qualified to lead the organization," Mariners chairman and CEO said Howard Lincoln said in the press release. "Since Day One, he has given his heart and soul to Mariners baseball. He sincerely cares about the game of baseball, this organization, this city and this region. On behalf of ownership and everyone who has worked here for the past 30 years, I thank Chuck for his tremendous contributions. We wish him all the best in retirement with Susan and his family."
During Armstrong's tenure, the Mariners made four playoff appearances and tied the Major League record for wins in a season with 116 in 2001. Armstrong was also instrumental in the Mariners signing Ken Griffey Jr. in 1987.
In addition to his day-to-day work with the Mariners, Armstrong has been active in Major League Baseball at the national level, serving on the board of MLB Enterprises, Inc., the Commisioner's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, MLB's International Committee and the Commissioner's Ticketing Review Committee.
Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig said in the release, "I congratulate Chuck Armstrong, a great baseball man, on his upcoming retirement after 28 years of dedicated service to the Mariners franchise as club president. Chuck was one of the key leaders who secured the national pastime's future in the Pacific Northwest, guiding the Mariners as they became a model franchise in a wonderful ballpark. His knowledge and experience on both the baseball and business sides was an asset to our entire sport in numerous ways, including on my Special Committee for On-Field Matters and our International Committee, and he always kept the best interests of our game in mind.
"I and Chuck's many friends throughout the game will miss him both personally and professionally. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I wish Chuck, his wife Susan and their family all the best, and I thank him for his many contributions to the game he loves."
Armstrong will retire Jan. 31, 2014. The Mariners will now begin the process of finding a successor and determining a transition plan.
Monday, November 25, 2013 @ 11:18am
By Shannon Drayer
The transition of coaching staffs is just about complete with the Mariners announcing on Monday the additions of Howard Johnson (hitting), Rick Waits (pitching), Andy Van Slyke (first base), Mike Rojas (bullpen), John Stearns (third base) and Chris Woodward (infield).
On a conference call with the media, general manager Jack Zduriencik revealed that there could be one holdover from last year's staff. Former hitting coach Dave Hansen could return, most likely as assistant hitting coach.
"There is a possibility Dave Hansen will remain," Zduriencik said. "There are discussions going on right now. He certainly knows he has a position here should he decide to stay."
Also possibly staying in the organization is Daren Brown, the former third-base coach and longtime Tacoma Rainiers manager. Brown is interviewing with the Reds for a position, but according to Zduriencik he is still under contract with the Mariners and will have a position if he decides to stay.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the staff is a mix of a few Lloyd McClendon guys and a good number of Mariners organizational people. McClendon likes what he sees in those he is not as familiar with, including Johnson and Waits.
"HoJo and I played against each other for a number of years," he noted. "I know his competitive spirit and I know he knows what he is talking about. I was very impressed with the ideas he had moving forward and I think it really matched the same type of ideas I had."
McClendon said Waits "really blew him away" in the interview.
"I walked away thinking this guy represented everything I wanted in a pitching coach," he said.
I mentioned in the previous post that a number of people I talked to in Detroit lauded Van Slyke's teaching abilities. There was some question if he was willing to get back into coaching after taking the last four years off, however. Evidently he did, as he was the one who contacted the Mariners first. McClendon is thrilled to have him on board.
"For me, Andy Van Slyke in all my years of baseball is probably the most impressive practice coach I have ever been around," he said. "As far as getting guys prepared for the game, making guys better at their position? He made guys better."
Woodward will have the opportunity to make guys better in the infield. He has spent a good amount of time with Brad Miller and Nick Franklin over the last season, including time at the big-league level in August. He has a good understanding of the challenges facing them as you can hear in this interview.
It is great to see the addition of a designated position coach. Miller and Franklin are young and have a good amount of ability but we saw mistakes last year, particularly from Franklin. Both came through the system fairly rapidly so this will give them the opportunity to get work they may have missed in the minors. Van Slyke will do the same for the outfielders.
In addition to the coaches named Monday, the Mariners announced that bullpen catcher Jason Phillips and batting practice pitcher Scott Budner will return.
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