What’s Ahead

January 30, 2012

We’re just 12 days away from the start of Mariners spring training. The Mariners are getting an early jump on spring training because of the season-opening series in Japan against the Oakland A’s, March 28-29.

With that in mind, we’ll start looking at the positional battles to make the 2012 Rainiers roster. Of course, this directly ties in with the Mariners final roster decisions.

We’ll start on Wednesday with a look at the potential Rainiers catchers, and over the course of February we’ll work around the infield, move to the outfield, and then try to sort out the pitching staff.

Here are a few links from the weekend to keep you busy:

  • John McGrath went to Mariners FanFest and visited with pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
  • At the Seattle Times, Jerry Brewer has a well-written column on the Mariners rebuilding process.
  • Left-hander Luke French, who was a free agent, signed with the Minnesota Twins. French was the ace of the Rainiers 2010 PCL championship team, so much that he got himself promoted to Seattle at the all-star break.
  • From the Mariners themselves, we have a big photo slideshow from FanFest. If you went, maybe you can find yourself in a picture. Add-on: that first link was from Saturday; they put up another slideshow of pictures from Sunday.
  • Here’s a nice baseball history story from Larry Stone, regarding Cal Ripken and the O’Brien brothers. Ripken will be in town this week.
  • In the PCL, the Fresno Grizzlies hosted their annual Hot Stove Banquet on Saturday night. Former major leaguer Vida Blue was the keynote speaker, and the new Fresno manager spoke about the team.
  • The Rockies haven’t yet decided if they are going to install a baseball humidor at the stadium in Colorado Springs. C’mon, guys, just do it. Sheesh.

Check back on Wednesday for the catching round-up.


Tuiasosopo To Mets

January 27, 2012

Today we’ll follow-up yesterday’s post with links to the articles on all of the major league news that came out of the Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon yesterday.

But before we start with that, some good news just broke on Twitter: former Rainiers infielder/outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo has signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets, and he’ll go to spring training and try to win a spot on their roster.

I have long held the opinion that Tuiasosopo is a better fit in the National League. His ability to play nearly every position on the diamond makes him a good candidate to win a major league bench spot in the NL, where the bench is used more frequently due to the pinch-hitting for the pitcher and the double-switches that result from that.

We’ll be rooting for Tui to have a big spring and make the Mets.

On another subject, the Mariners have signed veteran right-hander Brian Sweeney to a minor league contract. If Sweeney makes the Rainiers, this will be his third go-around with Tacoma. He pitched for the Rainiers from 1999-2003, and 2010. He’s spent a lot of time in Japan.

Personally, I’m excited about this. Sweeney is a great guy to have on the club and he also is a broadcaster’s dream: he works quickly and throws strikes.

Links:

Have a great weekend, and try to hit FanFest if you can!


Season Approaching

January 26, 2012

It’s been a busy 18 hours here, with the Seattle Sports Star Of The Year awards last night, and then the Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Luncheon today. The media luncheon always serves as a wake-up call for me: it means the season is coming soon, and I better start prepping.

There is a lot to cover. I’m going to do it bullet-points style, because a) I’m lazy in the winter and b) I want to finish before Pac-12 Thursday tips off.

  • Major congratulations are in order to my occasional broadcast partner Bob Robertson, who was the recipient of the Keith Jackson Award on Wednesday night. After being introduced by Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, Bob received a standing ovation from the crowd at Benaroya Hall. Not surprisingly, Bob gave an outstanding speech (the surprise was in his attire: Bob wore a suit!).
  • In his speech, Robertson touched on his long broadcast career, which began when he graduated from Blaine High School in 1947. He has called games for nearly every college in the state of Washington, and of course he’s been the voice of Washington State football for 44 years. He has never missed a broadcast – 508 games, through 2012.
  • Robertson also called baseball games for the old Seattle Rainiers of the PCL, and of course the Tacoma Giants, Cubs, Twins, Tigers, Rainiers, etc…
  • You might not know that Robertson broadcast a lot of soccer games earlier in his career – he enjoyed it. He called a professional soccer game at the Kingdome right when it opened, and last night he quipped that at that first game he “never would have guessed that he would out-live the building.”
  • Other than Bob’s speech, the next-best thing to happen at the Seattle Sports Awards was the duo of Jay Buhner and original Guns N Roses guitarist Duff McKagen presenting the Pro Athlete of the Year Award. What would you give to sit in as those two spent the night swapping stories?
  • Special thanks to Mortenson Construction for letting me tag along as their guest at the awards.

Moving on to the Mariners event this morning, it was fun to see so many former Rainiers players who are now in the picture with the Seattle Mariners. I mean literally in the picture – here’s Mike Carp (left) and Michael Saunders (right) addressing the gathered media.

Hey, those are our guys!

  • Saunders had quite a revelation: he has worked hard with a private hitting coach during the off-season, as he looks to better utilize the lower half of his body. He did lots of video work with his coach – Mike Bard, catcher Josh’s older brother – and he not only watched himself, but also several of the game’s best hitters to see what they are doing. Saunders said he is “the most comfortable I have ever been going into spring training.”
  • On a personal note, Saunders moved to Castle Rock, Colorado to be close to his wife’s friends and family. Castle Rock is half-way between Denver and Colorado Springs – the Rainiers team bus drives through the town four times a year. Not surprisingly, the city is named after a massive castle-shaped rock that sits atop a hill.
  • Carp and Saunders have worked out extensively together in Santa Barbara, CA doing a “P3″ workout. I have no idea what that is/means – although I am familiar with the “PS3″ workout, which strengthens thumbs.
  • To my eye, both Carp and Saunders appear to be in terrific shape. They were also in a good mood – after lunch they left with Rick Rizzs, The Moose, and a few others to go on Mariners Caravan stops back here in Tacoma, including a visit to the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
  • Carp touched a little bit on the passing of his buddy Greg Halman, and he said that he has stayed in touch with Greg’s family. One of my spies told me that Carp added to his tattoo collection with a Halman memorial piece.
  • On that subject, the Rainiers have plans in the works to honor Halman - an announcement will come as opening day draws closer. I also heard a terrific idea to honor Halman that the Mariners are considering.

There was much more Mariners major league news at the media event. I’m going to let the major league writers cover that – I’ll provide all of the links in Friday’s blog. However, I also picked up some nuggets about the Tacoma Rainiers 2012 team. More bullet points!

  • The Mariners official roster lists hitting prospect Vincent Catricala as an outfielder, but new Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn said “versatility is an asset” and Catricala will play multiple positions this year. My opinion: look for Catricala to make the Rainiers opening day roster, and see time at first base and in the outfield.
  • Assistant General Manager Tony Blengino said that the Mariners “are going to be young at Triple-A and Double-A.” My opinion: the Rainiers will be young at the positions, but the pitching staff might be a bit older. They’ve signed a lot of veteran minor leaguers to fill the staff.
  • Don’t get your hopes up on seeing Kevin Millwood in a Rainiers uniform. Even though the former All-Star is on a minor league contract, it appears as if he has a very good chance of making the Mariners starting rotation. Both Eric Wedge and Jack Z mentioned that they hope Millwood can be a positive in the big leagues.
  • I heard a rave about infielder Eric Campbell, a former second-round pick of the Atlanta Braves whom the Mariners signed as a minor league free agent. Apparently Campbell has looked good trying to learn second base, and he’s also impressed at the plate. He’s 26-years-old and has some power – could be a nice pick-up for the Rainiers.
  • On the pitching side, I’ll be keeping an eye out for pitcher Philippe Valiquette in spring training. The hard-throwing lefty reliever missed all of 2011 with an injury, but I heard that he is healthy now and has an opportunity to make the Rainiers bullpen. The Mariners invited him to big league camp, so he’ll definitely get a chance to show his stuff.
  • The outfield situation is going to be a real battle royale for jobs in spring training. The Mariners appear to be going with Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp, Casper Wells, and Chone Figgins as the jack-of-all-trades. Michael Saunders and Trayvon Robinson will try to play their way into that mix, but might end up in Tacoma. Then we have Mike Wilson, Darren Ford, Catricala, Johermyn Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Johan Limonta, and Chih-Hsein Chiang in the mix, with Jake Shaffer and Jamie McOwen standing by. What a mess!
  • A source told me that Tacoma fan favorite Matt Tuiasosopo is currently weighing offers from three different National League teams, deciding which presents the best opportunity to return to the major leagues. On the all-time Tacoma statistical leaderboards, Tui ranks 4th in runs scored, 15th in hits, 6th in doubles, 14th in home runs, 10th in RBI, 8th in walks, and 2nd in strikeouts. That’s what roughly three full seasons in the Tacoma lineup will get you.
  • Big congrats to pitcher Forrest Snow, who was invited to big league spring training camp. Snow went from 36th round draft pick to MLB spring training in just one-and-a-half years. Seriously, who does that?
  • File this one under bad for him, but good for us: there was no talk whatsoever about Alex Liddi making the big league club. We’ll take him!
  • Ex-Rainiers trainer Rob Nodine was at the luncheon – I assume for the free food. Now the Mariners assistant trainer, Nodine is looking for some quality family time before heading to Arizona in ten days.

It was a fun day at Safeco – part of the fun is seeing all of the people you haven’t seen since September. I’m ready for the season to start.

Check back Friday mid-day; I’ll have all of the Mariners links from the real sportswriters.


Long Reign For Prince

January 25, 2012

The Prince Fielder saga finally came to an end yesterday, with the news that the slugger signed a nine-year contract with the Detroit Tigers for a reported $214 million.

The length of the contract stunned many in the industry.

I was certainly hoping for the Mariners to acquire Fielder, but not on a nine-year deal! He’ll be 37 years old when that contract ends, and it is reasonable to wonder if he will still be a star-calibre DH at that age.

On the other hand, Fielder will be an instant help for the Tigers. Detroit will now be picked to win the weak American League Central division.

It’s interesting that two of the best hitters in the National League moved to the American League this winter: Fielder and Albert Pujols.

Links:

That’s all for today!


A Necessary Evil

January 24, 2012

The big Mariners-Yankees trade was officially announced by the teams yesterday afternoon, and there were no surprises.

Michael Pineda and Jose Campos go to the Yankees in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

The thought of trading a young, emerging star pitcher like Pineda was certainly hard for a lot of Mariners fans to take. Even here in the Rainiers front office, a lot of employees were not happy to see Pineda go.*

But the Mariners had to do something.

This team has had the worst offense in Major League Baseball for two years running. While Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp provided some late-season hope that the offense might improve, the Mariners still have a long, long way to go to field just an average lineup in the American League.

They needed a hitter desperately, so they traded for one in Montero.

Montero is expected to become a  middle-of-the-order power hitter – exactly what the Mariners need. These types of players don’t come around very often, and the Mariners took the opportunity to grab one with six years of team control before free agency. To do this, they had to move a premium player – and that was Pineda.

The Yankees needed pitching, and the Mariners needed hitting. Each team had a young, emerging star that fit the other club’s need.

Public opinion seems split on the deal.

In one of his blog posts right after the trade was announced, Larry Stone wrote that according to the comments on the Times site, Mariners fans seemed split 50/50 on the deal. Then Stone went and looked at some Yankees sites and saw that their fans were also split 50/50 on the trade. That seems to mean it’s an even trade.

Check back in six years and we’ll see who won the deal. But for now, I see it as a trade that needed to happen.

Links:

  • Leading off, it’s the Seattle Times recap of the trade, with quotes from many of the subjects.
  • In the two-hole, John McGrath writes that a former Tacoma Rainiers player helped Jesus Montero with his work ethic.
  • Batting third, Montero was a guest on the Mariners Hot Stove League radio show last night. You can listen to the podcast here - Montero comes on shortly after the 19-minute mark.
  • Cleanup man Jeff Sullivan has a little off-the-cuff trade background.
  • Up fifth is The New York Daily News, which sent a writer to the Dominican Republic to visit with the newest Yankee, our old pal Michael Pineda. This is an excellent story adorned with photos of Pineda’s family and hometown.
  • Hitting sixth, the Mariners made the signing of starting pitcher Kevin Millwood official.
  • Batting seventh, former Rainiers (and Cal Bears) pitcher Brandon Morrow is getting paid. Hey, buddy, how ’bout a loan?
  • In the eighth spot, there are lots of rumors that Prince Fielder may sign today. Larry Stone opinionates that Baltimore could be his landing spot. Of course, The Onion has figured out exactly why this is taking so long.
  • And batting ninth, Ken Griffey Jr.’s son Trey is going to play wide receiver at the University of Arizona.
  • And there are more than nine links. So much for that plan. John Sickels ranked the MLB teams by strength of farm system, and he has the Mariners #4.
  • The Mariners PR Department now has a blog, called The Voice of the Mariners.** You might want to bookmark it – I’ll see if I can figure out how to add it to the blogroll on the right.
  • College baseball starts soon – here is the pre-season Top 25 from Baseball America. Oregon State is the only Pacific Northwest school to make the list.
  • In the just-invented super-duper unlucky 13-hole, baseball historian and amateur movie buff Rob Neyer writes that “Moneyball” received four Academy Award nominations.

That’s it for today – should have a lot of good blog content later this week.

* especially to the Yankees.

** did the Mariners PR Department win a bet with Rick Rizzs to take that name?


Mariners Invite A Veteran

January 23, 2012

It sounds like the Mariners have signed another major league veteran starting pitcher to a minor league contract, with the intention of bring him to spring training and checking him out.

Last week it was left-hander Oliver Perez. And today, according to Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, it’s right-hander Kevin Millwood.

Millwood is a former star. The 37-year-old led the American League in ERA in 2005, and twice he won 18 games in a season for Atlanta early in his career. He has a lifetime record of 163-140, with a career 4.10 ERA.

Last year, Millwood made nine starts for Colorado and went 4-3, 3.98. He also logged Triple-A time in the Yankees and Red Sox organizations.

Will the cagey vet be on the Rainiers in 2012? It’s possible.

The Mariners starting rotation, as it stands now, has “locks” in Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, and Hisashi Iwakuma.

Battling for the remaining two rotation spots will be Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush, Hector Noesi, Millwood, Perez, Danny Hultzen, Tom Wilhelmsen, and the other pitchers recently signed to Triple-A deals such as Matt Fox and Jeff Marquez.

All of these veteran additions increase the chances that young up-and-comers like Hultzen, Erasmo Ramirez, and James Paxton will open the season in the minor leagues – and perhaps with the Rainiers.

We’ll dive deeper into the Rainiers starting pitching situation next month, but as you can see there is going to be a lot of guesswork involved.

Links:

  • Late last week, Larry Stone at the Seattle Times had a blog post about reclamation projects - and he did find some successes. This is pertinent to the signings of Oliver Perez and to a lesser extent, Kevin Millwood.
  • Dave Cameron at USS Mariner likes the Millwood signing.
  • The newest Mariners hitter – we think; still waiting for the official announcement – took the #1 spot on MLB.com’s list of top catching prospects.
  • Former Rainiers infielder Mike Morse is getting paid. Hey, buddy, can I get a loan?
  • For all of you ballplayers getting ready to go to minor league spring training, here’s Triple-A pitcher Dirk Hayhurst’sTips For Spring Training.”
  • There are rumors that the Oakland A’s might sign Manny Ramirez. Since Man-Ram has to begin the season serving a 50-day suspension, you know what that means: rehab assignment with the Sacramento Rivercats.
  • Baseball America has reached the AL West with their Top-10 Prospects series – and they started with the Texas Rangers (subscription needed for link). I think this means they will release their Mariners list later this week.
  • I’m a 49ers fan, so I was not happy with yesterday’s playoff game. I did not know that Kyle Williams – the second-year player who was pressed into punt return duty because of the injury to Ted Ginn Jr. – is the son of Chicago White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams.  

Later this week – Thursday – the Mariners host their annual pre-spring training media event. I’ll be up there and will have a report focusing on the minor league aspects of the discussion.


Ice Cold Notes

January 19, 2012

Don’t slip on these ice-cold notes:

  • The Mariners signed veteran left-hander Oliver Perez to a minor league contract, and invited him to major league spring training. Perez has had some success in the majors – but not recently. After solid seasons in 2007 and 2008, the Mets infamously signed him to a 3-year, $36 million contract – and he immediately struggled. In the final year of that contract – last year – Perez made 15 starts for Double-A Harrisburg, where he was the highest paid player in the Eastern League (by a margin, I’m guessing, of roughly $11.9 million). It appears that the Mariners have signed him to a standard minor league deal, so they won’t be on the hook for any serious cash. Injuries were a factor in his decline. Why not take a cheap look at him in spring training?
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Yusmeiro Petit signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants, and he’ll try to earn a spot with Triple-A Fresno. Petit pitched for the 2010 Tacoma PCL championship team, but he had injuries last year. Eventually he recovered enough to pitch a little bit in the Mexican League.
  • Ten-year Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies. Yes, he’s 49-year-old. Yes, he’s coming off elbow surgery. Yes, in all likelihood he would have to pitch in Colorado Springs to open the season. If he overcomes all of that and gets back to the majors, I say first ballot Hall of Famer on General Principals alone. Fact #1: you can get from Moyer to Babe Ruth in just four degrees of separation. Fact #2: the Rainiers host Colorado Springs on the opening homestand, April 9-12.

I’m braving the weather to go see my beloved Cal Bears take their annual beat-down at Hec Ed. I’m just hoping it’s not a blowout ten minutes into the game – I want to be entertained!


(Insert Yu Pun Here)

January 18, 2012

Everything is at a standstill in Tacoma today, due to six inches of overnight snow – and that’s just here in the North End, I’m hearing there was even more in other parts of town.

We do expect one big piece of baseball news: today is the deadline for the Texas Rangers to sign superstar Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, presumable for millions and millions of dollars. If they don’t come to terms, Darvish will head back to Japan to pitch this season. Look for the Rangers to get him signed.

There has been a consensus that Prince Fielder would not sign until after Darvish. The thought was that if the Rangers don’t sign Darvish, they will have money to spend on Fielder, so Fielder’s agent has been waiting. The whole thing should end in a few days.

Do you think the Mariners are still in play for Fielder, assuming the Montero trade is completed? If they signed Fielder now, they would have too many players at the first base/DH position: Fielder, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero. The M’s would have to make another trade – or send Montero to Tacoma, which would seem like a waste, but we’d take him! Another option would be to trade one of the catchers, and spend the 2012 season seeing if Montero can play there.

Snow-covered links:

  • John McGrath has a column about Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson, who will be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame in late July.
  • Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com has been ranking prospects by position. Mariners appear in his Top-10 lists of right-handed pitchers, left-handed pitchers, and shortstops. Of the three M’s players listed, I believe that Danny Hultzen is the one we are most likely to see in a Rainiers uniform at some point this season.

Be safe on the roads today!


Snow Day

January 17, 2012

The big trade still hasn’t become official. There have been multiple reports that the players involved have not all completed physical exams yet – this is taking awhile because all four players are in either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

Once the trade is officially announced, I’ll share my opinion of it.

Remember, the Mariners and Yankees had a deal worked out in 2010 (Cliff Lee for Jesus Montero and other prospects) that was scratched due to one of the prospects not passing a physical. The Mariners were right in that case – the player in question, Yankees minor league infielder David Adams, did not play again in 2010 after the aborted trade, and he managed to play in just 12 non-rehabilitation games last year due to the same lingering injury. The M’s ended up flipping Lee to the Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and Josh Lueke.

So, we’ll wait until the official announcement before I tell you how great or awful I think it is.

Links:

  • Congratulations to friend and longtime Tacoma broadcaster Bob Robertson, who was named winner of the Keith Jackson Award. He’ll be honored later this month.
  • The Mariners will induct Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson into their team hall of fame, which is up to six members.
  • Also as noted in the previous link, the Mariners have settled on contracts with all of their arbitration-eligible players – which saves both sides from a major headache.
  • John Sickels updated his Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects list. There is a new #1, due to the trade.
  • Here’s a new one, from Iowa: one of the I-Cubs corporate sales guys played for their new manager.

Check out the new Cheney Stadium playing surface (click to enlarge):

Good thing Opening Day is 79 days away!

 Photo credit: Ashley Roth, official photographer of the No-Name Blog.


Big Trade

January 16, 2012

The Mariners apparently made a big trade with the New York Yankees, as word leaked out on Friday evening that Michael Pineda and Rookie-level pitcher Jose Campos were going to the Yankees in exchange for hitting prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi.

The trade has not yet been announced by the teams, as the players involved have to pass physical exams – and they are scattered around the globe right now. But there is a story on the Mariners website about it, so let’s assume this deal is going down.

This is a classic challenge trade of a pair of young, extremely talented players.

You know Pineda. The former Rainiers pitcher had a fine rookie season for the Mariners last year, putting up big strikeout numbers and making the all-star team. He struggled a bit in the second half and eventually was shut down by the Mariners coaching staff, simply to protect his young arm.

Pineda has a chance to become a star, and he won’t cave in to the pressure of New York.

The Mariners are banking on Jesus Montero becoming an impact hitter. Scouts are in agreement that the 22-year-old Venezuelan has a great bat and could become a star offensive player. He made his MLB debut last year and hit a few key home runs for the Yankees down the stretch.

Montero is a player without a defensive position, but that doesn’t matter to the Mariners: this team needs a DH, bad. If Montero hits like the experts think he will, the Mariners will have their first proper designated hitter since Edgar Martinez retired.

Catcher is Montero’s listed position, but I doubt he’ll do much catching this year. With Miguel Olivo and John Jaso on the roster, I think Montero will be the DH and he might catch once every week or two.

As for the other players, don’t sleep on Hector Noesi - he’ll have a good chance to make the Mariners starting rotation out of spring camp. The prospect in the deal is Jose Campos, who starred at Everett this year. He’s a 19-year-old with a strong arm and good command, but he is a long way from the major leagues.

This was a trade between two teams that each had something the other needed: the Yankees needed a starting pitcher, and the Mariners needed someone who could hit.

Ideally, Pineda and Montero will both become superstars. I’ll be rooting for both players.

Trade links:

Stay warm today!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30,328 other followers