Mariners Bring Back Raul

December 23, 2012

Former Tacoma Rainiers slugger Raul Ibanez has agreed to sign a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners, according to multiple reports. This will be his third go-around with the Mariners.

The 40-year-old Ibanez played for Tacoma from 1996 through 2000, and he came back on an injury rehabilitation assignment in 2004. He ranks in the top-20 on the Tacoma all-time career leaderboards in hits (17th), runs (16th), total bases (16th), doubles (16th), and runs batted in (18th).

When he was in Tacoma initially as a young up-and-comer, he spent a lot of time here – mostly because Mariners skipper Lou Piniella was unsure if Ibanez could hit major league pitching. It wasn’t until Ibanez became a minor league free agent and signed with Kansas City that he finally got a true big league opportunity, and he made the most of it.

For his career, Ibanez has 1,883 hits and 271 home runs – not including an additional six home runs in the playoffs, half of which came just three months ago for the Yankees.

The general reaction among many Mariners fans seems to be, “I like Raul, but his career is just about over. Why did they sign him?”

That’s a good question, and I think I know why.

Eric Wedge has spoken in the past about the team needing a veteran influence on the roster. Ibanez fits the profile perfectly – he is extremely popular in the clubhouse, one of the most respected players in the game for his work ethic and how he handles himself. The Mariners are hoping this rubs off on the young position players surrounding him.

As for playing time, I would be surprised if Ibanez is more than a pinch-hitter and occasional spot-starter in favorable match-ups. Maybe he’ll get hot at some point and play regularly for a week or two, but in the big picture I would not expect him to take meaningful playing time away from any of the young players.

Raul is truly one of the nice human beings in the game. It’s thrown about all the time that such-and-such player is “a good guy,” but the reality is that almost all baseball players are good people – just like regular people everywhere. That being said, Raul stands out above the crowd in terms of how he handles himself around the team, both publicly and privately.

It will  be good to have him in a Seattle uniform this season, and I suspect that the club would be proud to have him retire as a Mariner.

The Mariners also signed former major league starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman to a minor league contract, and I suppose we must consider him as a potential Rainiers player – although it is a little early for that, because of this: Bonderman has not pitched since 2010 due to arm problems that eventually led to elbow surgery.

The Mariners are bringing the Pasco native in to spring training on a no-risk gamble. In fact, there are reports that the Mariners didn’t even scout him in-person; they just said “come to spring training and we’ll take a look.”

So that’s exactly what they will do: keep an eye on Bonderman. He had Tommy John surgery in April and recently began throwing again. Even if he looks promising in March, don’t be surprised if he has to stay back in extended spring training before joining a team, building up arm strength.

Links:

  • Stories on Raul Ibanez signing with the Mariners: one from Ryan Divish of The News Tribune, and one from Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times.
  • In this blog post, Baker talked to Ibanez to get his thoughts on coming back. Not surprisingly, Raul is already talking about helping the young kids.
  • As I post this, the Mariners have not made a complimentary move to fit Ibanez on the 40-man roster. They have reached a point where it is hard to find a player on the roster who has a good chance of getting through waivers (the last player removed, Mauricio Robles, was claimed by the Phillies). Don’t be surprised if they make a small trade instead, moving a 40-man roster player to another club in exchange for a prospect who is not on the 40-man.
  • Here is more on the Mariners signing pitcher Jeremy Bonderman.
  • Former Rainiers in the latest round of Baseball America’s minor league transactions: Brad Nelson signed with his home-state Iowa Cubs, and Ryan Langerhans inked a deal with Toronto.
  • USA Today did a slideshow of 50 Strangest Sports Team Names. I was highly entertained – there is a little blurb on the origin of each name. As you might expect, Minor League Baseball is well-represented – but not so much as the colleges. Scottsdale Community College might have the best mascot. High schools are covered, too.
  • In the PCL, the New Orleans Zephyrs are going to host their parent club the Miami Marlins in an exhibition game at Zephyr Field at the end of spring training. It will be the first major league exhibition in New Orleans since 1999.
  • Looking for a last-second Christmas gift for a loved one? How about this 23,000 square foot mansion being sold by Chipper Jones?

Have a great holiday!


A Different Look At Mariners Prospects

December 21, 2012

Today Baseball Prospectus released their version of the Mariners Top Ten Prospects, and it looks quite a bit different from the lists put out by other publications such as Baseball America and Fangraphs.

The Baseball Prospectus rankings can only be read by subscribers to their website – if you are a subscriber, here is the link. However, the author granted me permission to list the names, so here’s how they rank ‘em.

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Taijuan Walker
  2. Mike Zunino
  3. LHP Danny Hultzen
  4. IF Nick Franklin
  5. LHP James Paxton
  6. RHP Brandon Maurer
  7. LHP Luiz Gohara
  8. RHP Victor Sanchez
  9. LHP Tyler Pike
  10. IF/OF Stefen Romero

The author of this particular list is Jason Parks, who has more of a scout’s eye towards the rankings than many other publications. He is far more interested in a player’s potential upside than simply if he will make it to the majors.

Because of this, he has three teenage pitchers on his list – two of whom do not appear on the Baseball America or Fangraphs top-tens.

Luiz Gohara is a 16-year-old the Mariners signed from Brazil this past summer, and the word in the scouting community is that this kid has serious upside. Sanchez we have spoken of before; he’s the 17-year-old who pitched well for Everett last summer in a league full of 21-year-olds. The other new name is Tyler Pike, an 18-year-old who was the Mariners 2012 3rd round draft pick.

Prospectus has Walker ranked higher than Zunino – the opposite of Baseball America – because Parks and his contacts believe that if both players reach their top-level of performance, Walker will be better. Zunino is a safer bet to reach the majors, but Walker has a better chance for stardom – and that is why he has Walker ranked No. 1.

In the comments at the end of the post, Parks mentions this: “That Tacoma (Triple-A) roster could feature seven prospects from the Top Ten, not to mention a few other players that were in Top 10 consideration. Stacked isn’t a strong enough word.”

So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice!

Today is the last day of business of the 2012 calendar year for the Tacoma Rainiers. Almost all minor league baseball teams close their offices for the week between Christmas and New Years, and the Tacoma Rainiers do this as well. It offers a needed respite for office workers who logged long nights-and-weekends hours during the baseball season.

If you have any Rainiers business needs, the team office will re-open on Wednesday, January 2.

This blog will be quiet during the office closure, but if there is baseball news that requires a blog post, I’ll be on it. Otherwise, we’ll start up again the first week of January, when we will begin to look forward to the 2013 season.

Links:

  • In a Seattle Times blog post, Geoff Baker speculates that Michael Saunders will be playing a lot of right field this season.
  • John McGrath of The News Tribune weighed in on the Kendry Morales trade.
  • As we go into the holidays, I present you with the long and twisted baseball career of Santa Claus. Enjoy!

Reaction To Vargas – Morales Trade

December 20, 2012

Yesterday afternoon the Mariners made their first impact move of the off-season, trading starting pitcher Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for slugger Kendrys Morales.

This is an interesting trade between division rivals, and it appears to be one of those trades that makes a lot of sense to both sides. Morales was expendable for the Angels, because they just signed Josh Hamilton and it created a backlog of hitters.

The Angles needed a starting pitcher, the Mariners have plenty of starting pitching prospects and needed a hitter, and here we are.

Both players are free agents after the 2013 season, so this deal is unlikely to have long-term ramifications.

I really like it from the Mariners side. They desperately needed a hitter who is a power threat in the lineup, and now they have one.

One side effect is that the arrival of Morales is going to put pressure on Justin Smoak to make the team. Smoak has one minor league option year left, and could end up in Tacoma if he does not have a productive spring training. With all apologies to Justin, if this happens, we’ll take him!

Reaction to the trade:

  • The Seattle Times has a news story on the trade from Geoff Baker, who also has a blog post on how the trade came into focus.
  • The esteemed Larry Stone calls the trade a “win-win.” He also notes that the Mariners are expected to save roughly $2.5 million on salary with this move.
  • The News Tribune has a news story on the trade from Ryan Divish, who provides much deeper analysis of the trade on this blog post. He also talks about the starting rotation, and who is available on the market to take the Vargas slot. I think he left out a key name on the list of in-house candidates: Charlie Furbush has a lot of starting experience and the M’s are deep in left-handed relievers to fill his bullpen spot.
  • Jack Z talked about the trade with Mitch on KJR this morning, here is a link to the interview.
  • The trade sent Dave Cameron into a writing frenzy over at USS Mariner. In this post he tries to figure out how the pieces fit together now (and also takes a tweet of mine way out of context as a joke), and here he writes that the trade probably leaves Mike Carp dangling in the wind.
  • At Lookout Landing, Jeff Sullivan posted his thoughts on the deal.
  • On an ESPN video interview, analyst Keith Law likes the deal and still thinks the Mariners are trying to add more offense.
  • Rob Neyer asks the question, what does Kendrys Morales do for the Mariners?
  • If you are a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, here is their analysis.
  • In the PCL, the Reno Aces announced their coaching staff. Brett Butler returns as manager, ex-Mariners starter Mike Parrott is back as pitching coach, and the new hitting coach is Greg Gross. Gross, parrott butler.
  • 2012 PCL Pitcher of the Year John Ely was traded by the Dodgers to the Astros yesterday, opening up an opportunity in the majors for him. Ely went 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA with 165 strikeouts last year, leading the league in all three categories for the “pitcher’s triple crown” – and he did that despite pitching on the moon in Albuquerque.
  • Anyone who buys the Rainiers 12 Days Of Tacoma Pack today gets entered to win a chance to throw out the first pitch at a 2013 Rainiers game. Info is here, you can buy it here or just call 253-752-7707.

Tomorrow Baseball Prospectus releases their Mariners Top Prospects list, and I’m told it will be different and interesting. Looking forward to that…


Angels Sign Rodriguez

December 19, 2012

Infielder Luis Rodriguez signed a minor league free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, ending his stay with the Tacoma Rainiers.

Rodriguez had an excellent season for Tacoma in 2012, batting .296 with 12 home runs. He walked (50) more than he struck out (41), posting a .389 on-base percentage.

However, he did not get called up by the Mariners last season – a big disappointment for a player who has spent much of the previous six years in the majors. He’s hoping to get back to the majors with the Angels, presumably in a reserve infielder’s role. If that doesn’t happen, we might see him in a Salt Lake Bees uniform.

Rodriguez was expendable as far as the Rainiers and Mariners are concerned.

In the middle infield at the major league level, we’re looking at starters Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley, with Robert Andino the new utility infielder.

Here in Tacoma, we have Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin switching between second base and shortstop, with more young middle infielders about ready to come up: Brad Miller and Stefan Romero are waiting in the wings.

The Rainiers will miss the bat and quiet leadership of Rodriguez, but we should be set in the middle infield for two seasons moving forward (unless there is a big trade of some sort).

Links:


Weekend Notes

December 17, 2012

A round-up of news, notes, analysis, and humor from the weekend:

  • On Sunday Ryan Divish wrote a story on where the Mariners stand now that Josh Hamilton is off the table. It nicely wraps up all of the options.
  • Baseball America has another round of Minor League Transactions, and we learn that ex-Rainiers pitcher Steve Garrison signed with Arizona and could end up with the Reno Aces, along with much-traveled former Rainiers infielder Josh Wilson.
  • From the above link, the guy I desperately want on the Rainiers – infielder Rainer Olmedo – signed with the Twins. Total bummer.
  • George Brett – who can tell a good story, you might be aware – has some great Hall of Fame stories, including one about golfing with Yogi Berra and Bill Murray. More importantly, he reveals who is in the Hall of Fame wine clique.
  • Well, at least one minor league team is trying to get to the bottom of this December 21, 2012 end of the Mayan calendar stuff. That would be the Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, who are hosting a talk with a Mayan Grand Elder tonight.
  • MLB is getting serious about the new padded protective hats for pitchers. Samples have been issued.
  • Could San Antonio be the next Triple-A city? Some guys down there are kicking around the idea of a new, downtown, expandable-for-MLB stadium. This is just in the idea phase right now.
  • If you like mid-20th century jazz and baseball, you will like this. Otherwise, move along – nothing to see here!

Reactions To The Josh Hamilton Signing

December 14, 2012

The Angels signed Josh Hamilton yesterday, causing quite a stir among Mariners fans (myself included) who were hoping Seattle would land the free agent slugger.

Free agent options are now limited for outfielders at the major league level. Nick Swisher is still available, and he would be a nice piece for Seattle to add. Michael Bourn is a good player, but he doesn’t have the power that the Mariners are looking for. Delmon Young? I’m not seeing that one.

Hamilton moving to the Angels may open up more trade discussions for Jack Z and his staff. If they can’t sign Swisher, a trade will be the best way to add an impact hitter.

Another thought is to do nothing. I’m sure this would be an unpopular move, but what if Swisher signs elsewhere and you can’t work out a decent trade? Perhaps you just go into this season as is, and then revisit things at the trade deadline and look at next winter’s free agent class. It could come to that.

Lots of pieces about the Hamilton signing in the links:

  • Greg Johns has reaction from Jack Z in the wake of the Josh Hamilton signing.
  • Ryan Divish reports that the Mariners offer for Hamilton was very large – he has the numbers, it seems that Hamilton simply preferred the Angels.
  • John McGrath of The News Tribune is happy that the Mariners did not overpay for Josh Hamilton.
  • At the Seattle Times, Geoff Baker dropped a blog post listing the hitters who have changed teams this year. If you read this one, make sure you make it through the second paragraph, which had me laughing here in my office.
  • Larry Stone has an excellent post on the Mariners and trading prospects. The nuts & bolts of it is this: evaluating your own minor league talent is extremely important.
  • The Phillies made a waiver claim on ex-Rainiers pitcher Mauricio Robles. The left-hander was taken off the Mariners 40-man roster last week when Jason Bay was signed. Robles has been unable to throw strikes at the Triple-A level in the past.
  • We have a solid Q&A with Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker over at Fangraphs. I was interested to read that the Mariners have prevented him from throwing his slider – the M’s did the same thing with Felix Hernandez when he was a teenager. Felix used to cheat and throw one or two each game in Tacoma, driving pitching coach Rafael Chaves batty.
  • If you have an hour to kill, this ESPN feature on Roberto Clemente and the bat used for his 3,000th hit is enjoyable on a number of levels.

Hall Of 100 – Tacoma Style

December 13, 2012

ESPN has stirred up a debate by releasing a “Hall Of 100″ ranking the top 100 players in baseball history.

This type of project is something that can be argued about forever, with no solution in sight. It’s extremely difficult to compare players across eras in a sport that has been played at a professional level since the late 1800s.

I’m not even going to attempt to critique their list – you can check it out for yourself, the whole presentation is right here.

However, I am willing to look at the Tacoma connections on their list:

Played for Tacoma: Mark McGwire (ranked #83) played for the Tacoma Tigers in 1986. Juan Marichal (70) was a member of the original Tacoma Giants in 1960. Gaylord Perry (66) pitched for the Tacoma Giants from 1960 to 1963. Willie McCovey (57) played for Tacoma in 1960. Ken Griffey Jr (34) played in that one rehab game in 1995. Alex Rodriguez (18) was with the Rainiers in 1995 and 1996. Walter Johnson (12) infamously pitched in one exhibition game for the 1906 Tacoma Tigers before manager Mike Lynch told him he would never make it as a pitcher.

Definitely played at Tacoma as a visitor: we saw Manny Ramirez (85) roll into town with Sacramento just last season. Mike Piazza (78) came through town as an Albuquerque Duke in 1992. Tony Gwynn (61) was a visitor with the Hawaii Islanders in 1982, and possibly Las Vegas in 1983. Pedro Martinez (41) came into town with Albuquerque in 1992. Mike Schmidt (16) played in numerous games at Cheney while with Eugene in 1972. Willie Mays (2) made several appearances at Tacoma in Tacoma Giants vs. SF Giants exhibition games in the 1960s.

May have played at Tacoma as a visitor: Jim Thome (94) played portions of two seasons with Colorado Springs, in 1991 and 1992 for a total of 53 games. It’s possible he came through Cheney Stadium back then. Craig Biggio (90) played a half-season with Tucson in 1988 and seems likely to have played at Cheney. Roberto Alomar (73) played in a whopping nine games for Las Vegas in 1988 – the chance that any of those were in Tacoma is slim. Ferguson Jenkins (62) pitched parts of two seasons with Arkansas in 1964-1965. Arkansas, believe it or not, was a PCL team during those seasons and Tacoma played 14 games against the them, so it is likely that Jenkins played at Cheney. Rickey Henderson (14) played a half-season with then-PCL entry Ogden in 1979; he may have played in Tacoma – if any readers know for sure on Rickey, please contact me.

Tacoma-related: Bob Feller (59) did several appearances/autograph signings at Cheney Stadium in his post-playing days. Babe Ruth (1) played exhibition games in Tacoma and Seattle in the early 1920s.

I will leave you with one complaint about ESPN’s list: no Ichiro? Not even in the “honorable mentions?”

Links:

  • Josh Hamilton signed a five-year contract with the Angels. This really limits the Mariners chances of acquiring an impact hitter – they might have to go the trade route at this point, as Nick Swisher seems to be the last quality free agent hitter on the market.
  • On The News Tribune’s Mariners blog there is a wrap-up with audio of Jack Z and Eric Wedge visiting the Hot Stove League radio show.
  • Ex-Rainiers third baseman Jack Hannahan signed a two-year major league contract with the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Another former Rainiers player, Shin-Soo Choo, was part of a somewhat controversial three-team trade. Choo is also now on the Reds, and there are reports that Cincinnati is going to try him in center field.
  • In the PCL, the Iowa Cubs have a new manager and it is Marty Pevey.

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