Mariners Make Moves

November 21, 2014

We’ve got a whole lot of player news today, so let’s jump right into it:

The Mariners had to set their 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft by 9:00 pm yesterday, so that caused a bunch of moves to be made.

The team added prospects John Hicks, Ketel Marte, and Mayckol Guaipe to the 40-man roster.

Hicks and Marte finished last season with Tacoma and will probably return to the Rainiers in 2015. Guaipe is a relief pitcher who had good numbers at Double-A Jackson in 2014 and I suspect we’ll see him in Tacoma next year, too.

Not getting protected on the roster was Tacoma’s 2014 standout pitcher Jordan Pries. The team must believe that they won’t lose him in the Rule 5 Draft – we’ll find out next month.

We lost one of our stalwarts when the Mariners traded infielder Ty Kelly to the St. Louis Cardinals for Double-A starting pitcher Sam Gaviglio.

Kelly played very well in his one-and-a-half seasons with the Rainiers, but there wasn’t much opportunity for him in the big leagues with Seattle – hopefully he’ll get a better chance with the Cardinals. The Cardinals added Kelly to their 40-man roster, so that’s a good sign.

Gaviglio is a right-handed starter out of Oregon State – he was the Cardinals 5th round draft pick in 2011. He pitched for AA-Springfield last year, going 5-12 with a 4.28 ERA in 24 starts. Two stats stand out on his page: he had a 126-to-46 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 136 innings, and he surrendered only eight home runs. The Texas League is tough on pitchers so the stat line is pretty good (other than the dismal win-loss record, but he can’t control that).

Gaviglio will have a chance to make the Tacoma starting rotation out of spring training.

The Mariners claimed left-handed relief pitcher Edgar Olmos off waivers from the Miami Marlins.

Olmos split 2014 between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans last year. In the PCL, he appeared in 33 games and went 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA. He pitched twice against Tacoma in August, with the Rainiers handing him a loss in the 12th inning to finish a 4 hour, 48 minute game on the August 14th.

Olmos is bullpen depth. He is on the 40-man roster and he has one option year remaining, so he is a very strong candidate to be with the Rainiers next season.

Outfielder Xavier Avery is the first of the 2014 Tacoma players who was a free agent to sign with another club.

Today the Detroit Tigers inked Avery to a minor league deal and invited him to major league spring training.

Avery spent the entire 2014 season with Tacoma, appearing in 120 games. He batted .275 with ten homers and stole 31 bases. His most memorable part of the season came in El Paso at the end of June: after hitting just two home runs all season up to June 27, he launched four homers in three days against the Chihuahuas.

If Avery goes to Triple-A with the Tigers organization, he’ll be playing for the Toledo Mud Hens.

Two of my favorite Rainiers from the past were hired by the Philadelphia Phillies as minor league coaches.

Former catcher Pat Borders was named manager of the Williamsport Crosscutters of the short-season New York-Penn League. This is Borders first job in a non-playing capacity.

The Phillies also hired Brian Sweeney to serve as pitching coach for their rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League. Sweeney will work with teenagers down there – many of whom will be in their first professional season.

Sweeney and Borders share a trait: both continued to play in Triple-A as they approached age 40 (or in Borders case, beyond 40), mostly for a love of the competition. These are the type of men who become good coaches.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton rounds up all of this news in his Mariners notebook.
  • Here is the report on Xavier Avery signing with the Detroit Tigers.
  • You will see a distinct ex-Rainiers flavor in the list of Phillies minor league coaches. The main reason: former Mariners front office folks Pat Gillick and Benny Looper are calling the shots in Philly.
  • The Salt Lake Bees have a new manager: former major league infielder Dave Anderson.
  • Want to get lost on the internet on a Friday afternoon? Enjoy Grantland’s MLB transaction trees. Credit Rainiers executive Jim Flavin for the solid link.
  • A fellow Rainiers executive – Ben Spradling – requested I link to this story. Please don’t click on it – you will regret it.

Have a great weekend!


Free Agent Season Starts

November 3, 2014

Now that the World Series is five days in the rearview mirror, the Hot Stove League is underway.

The Mariners will once again be looking for right-handed hitting – specifically a player who can hit in between left-handed batters Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in the lineup. An outfielder or 1B/DH type would be ideal.

There will be plenty of reports on the Mariners big league moves, and we’ll link to them all winter long.

Seattle will also try to sign some players to help the Rainiers, and serve as depth for the major league club.

Specifically, I figure the Mariners will try to sign a couple of Triple-A starting pitchers who have some MLB experience. You just can’t have enough of these guys.

They will also look for a veteran catcher in the Humberto Quintero/Guillermo Quiroz mold, and probably some experienced bullpen help.

I doubt if they will be very active trying to sign free agent infielders or outfielders for the Rainiers – it seems that the organization is well-stocked in these areas. Maybe one veteran outfielder, like Cole Gillespie last season?

We’ll be following it all winter.

As soon as I finished typing the above segment – I mean literally right away – the Mariners announced that they have claimed 26-year-old utility infielder Carlos Rivero off waivers from Boston.

Rivero made his MLB debut last year, getting into four games for Boston. He had good Triple-A seasons in 2012 (Syracuse: .303-10-64) and 2014 (Pawtucket: .286-5-36 in a half-season).

Rivero has been passed around 40-man rosters and is out of options. He’d have to clear waivers before he could ever play for Tacoma.

One move over the weekend made me happy: the Detroit Tigers announced that they re-signed Mike Hessman to a Triple-A contract.

Hessman is the active minor league home run king, with 417 career minor league dingers. He also is the all-time International League home run leader – he has 272 in that league alone.

I figured that the 36-year-old Hessman might retire after reaching 400 and claiming the IL title last season, but instead he is back! Maybe he’ll go for 500.

We won’t see him in 2015; he’ll be with Toledo. Hessman led the PCL with 35 home runs for Oklahoma City in 2012 and that was his only season in our league.

Links:


Nelson Cruz: Not A Mariner

February 24, 2014

It seemed like a foregone conclusion all winter long that the Mariners would eventually sign free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz.

That turned out to be incorrect. Over the weekend, Cruz inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

What a strange saga that turned out to be.

First off, Cruz turned down a one-year, $14 million deal with the Rangers in November – that was the “qualifying offer” the Rangers offered their free agent outfielder, the exact same deal the Mariners offered Kendrys Morales back in November.

Both players turned down those qualifying offers and became free agents, presumably thinking they could get a multi-year deal worth a lot more guaranteed money with another team.

Next on the Cruz front, there were rumors swirling during the Winter Meetings that he had several multi-year offers and that the Mariners were one of the teams trying to get him. Apparently that turned out to be nothing but rumors – he would’ve taken a multiple-year deal over a one-year contract, one would think.

Now Cruz signs one of those “show me” contracts, where he commits for one year and goes back on the free agent market next winter. If he puts together a big season this year, he should get a lot more cash next winter.

This season, he’ll make $6 million less than if he had simply accepted the Rangers qualifying offer. Whoops!

Whatever, he’s an Oriole now. I know many Mariners fans who were hoping the team wouldn’t sign him due to a host of red flags (age, home park in Texas boosting his stats, Biogenesis suspension, etc.). That group got what it wanted.*

Looking at this from a Rainiers angle, no Nelson Cruz means Stefen Romero is still in the picture to fight for a big league roster spot. Cruz would’ve eliminated the need for that “right-handed bat” role that Romero wants to earn.

Links:

  • The comeback of Corey Hart will be a key factor in the performance of the 2014 Mariners.
  • Stephen Pryor – coming off surgery – threw his first bullpen on Sunday. I wasn’t expecting this so early in camp; definitely good news.
  • Brandon Maurer had his back “lock up” on him while attempting to throw a bullpen on Friday. He had the same thing happen to him early in a regular-season start for the Rainiers last year.
  • John McGrath reminds us in a fun column that historically, players showed up at spring training overweight and out-of-shape. In fact, that’s why spring training was invented!
  • After decades of covering baseball, Larry Stone thinks that he is finally refusing to be seduced by spring training optimism. We’ll see about that, Stoney.
  • Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak knows this is a big year for him.
  • Add Dustin Ackley to the long list of players who have learned from reading Harvey Dorfman’s book “The Mental Side Of Baseball.”
  • Here is Monday morning’s camp round-up from Ryan Divish. I liked his pictures of the daily organization workout plan – that is some behind-the-scenes stuff.
  • The Red Sox are giving former Rainiers star Mike Carp some reps at third base. That would be something.
  • Friend-of-the-blog Rob Neyer took a look at the winter trade of former Rainiers pitcher Doug Fister.
  • Eddie O’Brien of Seattle’s famed O’Brien twins passed away at the age of 83. Eddie reached the majors as an infielder, then converted to pitcher in the PCL and made a few MLB appearances on the mound.
  • Interesting story on a Rays September call-up who can trace the existence of his baseball career to a single pitch in high school. One pitch – if it went a different way, he would not have had an opportunity in pro ball.
  • The new rules regarding catchers blocking home plate are official – here is a clear explanation.
  • Here’s a link for my Mom, and everyone else who loves these: a spring training crossword puzzle!

Come back on Wednesday, when I’ll provide a long list of candidates but no actual facts about who will be in the Rainiers starting rotation this season. I will, however, explain why we have no idea who the starting five will be.

* My opinion: I didn’t want Cruz on a big contract, but I would have been happy if the Mariners got him on this one-year, $8 million deal. Not a lot of risk there.


Mariners Add Relief

February 7, 2014

The Mariners signed veteran closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year contract yesterday, according to many reports. The team is waiting for Rodney to pass a physical before announcing it.

This is a big move for the Mariners, who had extreme bullpen problems last year. Seattle ranked 29th among the 30 MLB teams in bullpen ERA last year, and the team lost a whopping 27 games in the opponent’s last at-bat. The bullpen struggles were a surprise, as in recent years the team has been quite good at piecing together a quality relief corps.

Adding Rodney to the picture will take pressure off Danny Farquahar and Tom Wilhelmsen. Yoervis Medina will be pitching in the sixth or seventh inning, instead of the eighth. It eliminates any rush for Stephen Pryor to return from his injury prematurely.

This pick-up also improves the Tacoma pen, simply by pushing everyone one rung down the ladder. I like this signing – provided that Rodney performs well, of course.

One note: Rodney will have to be added to the 40-man roster, so somebody is going to get designated for assignment. We’ll find out who it is once Rodney passes his physical and inks the deal.

Links:

  • Here is the story from The News Tribune on the Fernando Rodney acquisition.
  • Ryan Divish took a look at the Mariners starting rotation prognosis.
  • Former Rainiers slugger Bryan LaHair is back from Japan – he signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians.
  • It’s interesting that the quarterbacks for the Super Bowl and NCAA (or if you prefer, BCS) Champions both play baseball.
  • The Diamondbacks and Dodgers have started spring training. They get an early jump, because they are opening the MLB season with a two-game series in Australia in late March (just like the Mariners did in Japan a few years ago).
  • PCL news: the new ballpark in El Paso will not be ready for the team’s scheduled home opener on April 11. However, they are not missing the date by much: the team will play four “home” game in Tucson against Reno, and then have their real home opener on April 28. This possibility was anticipated by the league, which scheduled 20 of the Chihuahuas first 24 games on the road. More details from Baseball America.

The Rainiers don’t go to El Paso until May 31 – they should have all of the kinks worked out by then.


Position Previews: Corner Infielders

February 5, 2014

For the past two years, I have lumped the first basemen and third basemen into one group when doing these positional previews.

This was because the Rainiers have had a lot of players switching across the diamond during the season – players like Alex Liddi, Nate Tenbrink, Vinnie Catricala, and Scott Savastano.

So, I assumed that would be the case again in 2014, before I really started thinking about it.

Well, now I’ve thought about it, and it appears that the 2014 Rainiers are going to have some separation between the first and third base positions. The first basemen are strictly first basemen, leaving the third basemen to play third base.

With the corner infielders, we don’t need to look at the big league picture. Kyle Seager plays third in Seattle, and three dudes play first (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Corey Hart). None of these players will be sent to Tacoma, and it’s going to be very difficult for any from the below group to crack the Mariners opening day roster.

Here are the Tacoma corner infield candidates:

First Basemen

The Rainiers will have a regular first baseman and the designated hitter come out of this group. The top two on the list have a lot to prove in 2014.

Rich Poythress: Tacoma’s incumbent at first base, Poythress hit .252 with 13 homers and 57 RBI in 365 at-bats in his first Triple-A season. The former 2nd-round draft pick drew 47 walks and has a history of showing patience at the plate. Poythress is an outstanding defensive first baseman and is very good at digging out errant throws – something his infielders and pitching staff greatly appreciate. Still, first base is all about the bat at the Major League level. This is a big year for the 26-year-old, who needs to show he can crush PCL pitching in order to make himself a candidate to reach the next level.

Jesus Montero: last year was a lost season for Montero. He was moved off the catcher position, sent to Tacoma to learn first base, blew out a knee, and then got suspended due to the Biogenesis mess. The 2014 season will be Montero’s chance to rebuild his career. I think he’ll be doing a lot of DH-ing while he tries to get his bat back on track, but he will see some time at first base. Like Poythress, Montero could really use a season of blasting PCL pitching to put himself on the big league map.

Ji-Man Choi: Choi had a tremendous offensive season in 2013, rising from Single-A to Triple-A and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. He played in 13 games for Tacoma at the end of the season and showed some promise. However, he may start the season in Double-A because the organization is going to want him to play every day – and that might not be possible at the Triple-A level. Choi will only be 22-years-old on opening day so it’s not like he’d be too old for Double-A.

Third Basemen

Nate Tenbrink: Going into spring training, it appears that Tenbrink is the lone third baseman in line for the Tacoma roster. He played 51 games at third for the Rainiers last year. He also played multiple games everywhere else: first base, second base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions. The way things look to me right now, he’ll be seeing the majority of his time at third base this year.

Others: the guys who will play the hot corner when Tenbrink is playing a different position or is not in the lineup will come from the middle infield group – I’ll be writing about them next week, but we are talking about familiar faces like Ty Kelly, Carlos Triunfel, Leury Bonilla, and possibly Nick Franklin if he doesn’t make the big club.

There is one everyday third baseman making his way up the minor league ladder in Ramon Morla, who reached Double-A for the second half of 2013. He is slated to return to Jackson to open the season, but Morla is a name to remember for the future.

Last year’s first-round draft pick D.J. Peterson is a third baseman, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Triple-A until 2015 at the earliest. I could be wrong, though: this organization has really been rushing top draft picks in recent years.

Those are the corner infielder candidates for 2014. We’ll look at the middle infield next Wednesday.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish broke down the Mariners catching situation and the Seattle bullpen.
  • The Mariners and arbitration eligible Logan Morrison agreed to terms.
  • There is opportunity for Stefen Romero, Bob Dutton writes.
  • ESPN predicts that the Mariners will win 74 games.
  • The Sporting News talked to Ken Griffey Jr about his 1989 Upper Deck baseball card.

I never blog on New Year’s Day, so this is the first post I have ever written while watching a parade on TV. That is some turnout!


Congratulations, Seahawks!

February 3, 2014

I hope you all enjoyed the Super Bowl – that was one impressive blowout! It’s great to have a major championship here in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks are so young, they may get one or two more shots at the title in the next couple of years.

One thing the Super Bowl did not have: a dramatic finish. Over the weekend, we got word that the Rainiers have lost the player who was responsible for the most dramatic finish since Cheney Stadium was renovated. The Mariners released Rainiers utility man Scott Savastano, and he was immediately signed to a minor league deal by the Baltimore Orioles.

Savastano spent the last two seasons with Tacoma, serving mostly as a bench player. That role didn’t stop him from having one of the most memorable performances in recent Triple-A Baseball history.

On July 18, 2012 Tacoma and Sacramento lasted 17 innings with the score tied, 1-1. At that point both teams were out of pitchers, so Savastano was asked to pitch the top of the 18th inning. He worked a scoreless inning, and then made himself the winning pitcher when he launched a walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning.

He came through in the post-midnight hour again on August 16, 2013. Savastano hit the game-inning sac fly in the 14th inning to beat Round Rock, ending Tacoma’s longest game of the 2013 season.

Hopefully Savastano will get an opportunity to get more playing time in the Orioles organization. At the very least, the Orioles got themselves an extra innings specialist.

Links:

  • The Scott Savastano move was one of many noted in this week’s rendition of Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions. The Mariners released a few minor leaguers, including pitcher Jandy Sena who appeared in five games for Tacoma in 2012.
  • Greg Johns caught up with Mariners infield prospect D.J. Peterson.
  • Former Rainiers pitcher Doug Fister is getting paid.
  • The Caribbean Series started on Saturday down in Venezuela. It’s of particular interest this year because the Cubans have been invited to participate for the first time since 1960. Here’s a preview from Baseball America.
  • It’s been well-documented that the Texas Rangers drafted Russell Wilson in the minor league Rule 5 Draft even though he is not expected to ever play in a game. Well, the Rangers Class-A affiliate in Myrtle Beach is offering $10,000 to Wilson’s favorite charity if he plays for them in one home game. That’s going to be tempting for Russell, who is on his way to spring training.
  • A number of former Tacoma baseball employees gathered at Cheney Stadium on Saturday to remember Ron Zollo. I did not know that Ron invented Used Car Night – we still did that in my first few seasons with the team and it was always a fun one.
  • My TV carrier does not provide the Pac-12 Network, so I have to go to bars/restaurants to watch certain games. I’d like to publicly apologize to the customers of the Cloverleaf Tavern for running a celebratory lap around the dining area when Justin Cobbs nailed the game-winner to beat No. 1 Arizona on Saturday night.

We’ll preview the Tacoma corner infield candidates on Wednesday.


Position Previews: Tacoma Catching Candidates

January 29, 2014

Can you smell the baseball in the air? No?

I can’t either. We still have that one little football game to get out of the way.

Nonetheless, it is time to start our around-the-diamond Tacoma Rainiers position previews for 2014.

The goal of this annual series is to see which players will be battling in spring training to make the Rainiers 2014 opening day roster. This can’t be done without also looking at the Mariners major league situation, so that will be part of the process.

The position previews series will continue each Wednesday for six weeks. I’ll continue to have other blog updates around it – usually on Mondays and Fridays as we head into spring training.

We start with the catchers.

MARINERS CATCHERS

It appears that the Mariners are going to carry two catchers: John Buck and Mike Zunino.

Many observers have this duo set, although I should point out that Zunino has three option years remaining and could be sent to the minors if in spring training it looks like he needs the seasoning. I’m sure the Mariners are hoping that is not the case.

TACOMA CATCHING CANDIDATES

The recent signing of Buck must have been a bummer for Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre. Both spent quite a bit of time in the majors last year and surely thought they had a chance to break camp with the big league club. Now, they face long odds.

Humberto Quintero is a 34-year-old veteran with 7.5 years of Major League service time. He has not logged more than ten Triple-A games in a season since 2008 with Round Rock – the reason being, he’s been needed in the majors. A veteran of his stature probably has an “out” in his minor league contract if he doesn’t make the big league team on April 1, so it is hard to figure if Tacoma is in Quintero’s future.

Jesus Sucre is on the Mariners 40-man roster and has two option years remaining. The defensive specialist had an up-and-down season last year: he got his first-ever major league call-up, and then in his eighth big league game he broke his wrist and spent months on the disabled list, eventually coming back to Tacoma. Sucre is highly likely to be on the Rainiers roster.

Brandon Bantz is always in the picture. The affable Bantz threw out an excellent 41% of PCL base stealers while hitting .255 in a reserve role last year. He made his MLB debut, but was removed from the 40-man roster afterwards. It would not be surprising to see Bantz swing between Double-A and Triple-A this year, or even spend all season in Tacoma. A lot depends on if Quintero is still in the organization on Opening Day.

Manny Pina was signed as a minor league free agent. The 26-year-old has been a Double-A and Triple-A receiver in the Royals organization, and he has five games of major league experience with Kansas City. Pina was a good depth signing for the Mariners – he could be in Jackson or Tacoma at the start of the season.

John Hicks is the prospect. Or at least he was last spring, when the now 24-year-old opened eyes throughout the Cactus League. Then he was sent to Jackson, where he had a lot of trouble with the bat (.236 with four homers, a .632 OPS). Hicks did throw out a whopping 49% of base stealers for Jackson. My trusty Magic 8-Ball says he’ll go to Jackson in April and work on hitting, but that old Magic 8-Ball isn’t always right. You can count on seeing him in Tacoma at some point.

Mike Dowd is a 23-year-old who played in 36 games for Jackson last year. The Mariners invited him to major league spring training because of the need to have a lot of catchers there (you know – to catch all of those pitchers in camp!), so you will hear his name in February and March. However, I think he is unlikely to make Triple-A this year – but with catchers more than any other position, you never know.

That’s the catching pool as of right now. Next Wednesday we’ll look at the corner infielders.

Some news just coming across the “wire” today:

The Kansas City Royals claimed Carlos Peguero off waivers, and the teams worked out a trade – well, they will someday work out a trade. The Mariners trade Peguero to Kansas City for “a player to be named later or cash considerations.”

I knew some team would claim Peguero after he was DFA’d last week. He has too much talent to get through waivers. The risk for the claiming team is very little: bring him to spring training, see if he makes your opening day roster, and if not you just DFA him yourself (Peguero is out of minor league options).

Now we’ll see if Peguero can take advantage of this opportunity.

Peguero hit 53 home runs for Tacoma, and many of them were very impressive. I am reminded of this blog post from 2011 about a tape-measure blast he hit in Salt Lake City. We actually measured it the next day.

One other transaction: the Mariners signed veteran right-hander Scott Baker to a minor league deal. He was pretty good before elbow surgery cost him 2012 and most of 2013. Look for him to make the Mariners big league roster if he is fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery.

Links:

  • Bob Dutton has a blog post on the Carlos Peguero and Scott Baker moves. So does Ryan Divish.
  • Former Rainiers infielder/outfielder Vinnie Catricala announced he is retiring, to become a police officer in his hometown Sacramento area. Here’s more from Lookout Landing.
  • The Mariners might not be done making moves, Jon Heyman writes.
  • Keith Law ranks the Mariners farm system #21 in baseball. This is mostly due to graduations to the big leagues. His Top-100 prospects list came out today – for ESPN Insiders.
  • The Nashville Sounds broke ground on their new ballpark. I can’t wait to visit, although if the schedule trends hold the Rainiers won’t be going there until 2016 (we do get to say goodbye to Greer this year, though!).
  • Are you familiar with the batting stance of Johnny Wockenfuss? You are now. Special note to baseball coaches: don’t watch this.
  • Friend-of-the-blog Rob Neyer said goodbye to SB Nation with an interesting, twisting column about Jamie Moyer, analysis, and humanity.
  • John Feinstein is a great writer, and his newest book is about Triple-A baseball. It takes place in the International League, but that shouldn’t stop it from being really good.
  • Speaking of the IL, current Toledo Mud Hens broadcaster Jim Weber was elected to the International League Hall of Fame. Money quote: “It sure is nice to have this happen before I died.”
  • The guy running the Super Bowl once oversaw Cheney Stadium. Nice find from John McGrath.
  • Longtime Tacoma baseball employee Ron Zollo will be remembered in a service at Cheney Stadium on Saturday – details are here.

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