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.

More Prospect Lists

January 27, 2014

The media build-up to the Super Bowl is really going to increase this week, but in the meantime there are a bunch of baseball items of note to pass along today.

The Mariners held their FanFest this past weekend, as some good stories came from it – they are available in the links down below.

You can add another name to the ever-growing list of potential Rainiers players. On Friday the Mariners announced they are bringing oft-injured yet intriguing pitcher Mark Rogers to spring training on a minor league deal.

Rogers was the 5th player chosen in the first round of the 2004 draft, and he has spent a ton of time on the disabled list since then. Shoulder injuries have been the culprit – yet when healthy, he flashes enough potential to keep teams interested.

Rogers spent most of 2013 rehabilitating his latest shoulder injury. If he is healthy in spring training, he could make the Tacoma roster.

A wave of prospect lists came out today, with more on the docket for later this week.

Baseball America released their Mariners Top-10 Prospects list, and Baseball Prospectus came out with their Top 101 Prospects in the game (links are below, of course). Later this week, ESPN Insiders will get Keith Law’s annual prospectpalooza.

I enjoy these prospect lists, but don’t put too much weight on them. Lists like these are merely fun diversions – players need to perform. Baseball is full of players like Abraham Almonte, who was on nobody’s prospect list last year and ended up being Tacoma’s MVP and finishing the season with an impressive run in the majors.

On to the links:

  • Baseball America’s Top 10 Mariners Prospects list came out today. This link is the free list and a round-up, and if you are a subscriber you can get their scouting reports right here.
  • The Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects is right here – it’s just a list; the full write-ups are in their annual book which has just been released. Three Mariners (two 2013 Rainiers) make the list.
  • Bob Dutton caught up with Robinson Cano at FanFest, and he also has a report on the health of Corey Hart.
  • Dutton’s notebook from FanFest incudes a visit with new Mariner Logan Morrison.
  • The curveball drove Russell Wilson to stardom – in football, says the Denver Post. The story has some good quotes from current Rockies and Sky Sox players who were teammates with Wilson.
  • Former Rainiers manager Dave Myers was announced as the hitting coach for the Durham Bulls – his sixth season as the Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hitting coach.
  • Here’s a fun story from the SF paper on former PCL player Neill Sheridan, who once hit a 613-foot home run for Sacramento.
  • After I was done reading the previous story on Sunday afternoon, I fell into a fun non-baseball wormhole and now I’m going to suck you in, too: photos from the big wave surfing contest. Enjoy.

Coming Wednesday: we start our position-by-position spring training series by looking at the potential Tacoma catchers.


Notes From Media Day

January 24, 2014

The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training media day at Safeco Field on Thursday, and I was there to get some news. Most of the focus is on the major league squad, but the Mariners make sure to always have the farm director and usually at least one Triple-A level player available.

We’ll leave the major league news for the major league writers – check the links down below. As for the Triple-A tidbits that impact the Rainiers, let’s do it bullet-points style.

  • Stefen Romero is one of four Mariners players who attended, and the only one who I think might play for Tacoma in 2014. Romero played in 93 games for Tacoma during an injury-riddled 2013 season, batting .277 with 11 homers and 74 RBI. Many of the questions Romero was asked concerned his defense and what position he would play – Romero said he sees himself as a multi-position player, and that he has worked mostly on his outfield play during the off-season. Romero also made it clear that he understands that his bat is key for reaching the major leagues.
  • Jack Z also talked about Romero, noting that the fact he is right-handed plays to his favor. Currently, the Mariners lineup is extremely left-handed.
  • Zduriencik was asked about Nick Franklin and what position he would play. Jack said he has spoken to Nick, and told him that he wanted to see Franklin come to spring training and compete for the shortstop job. This is a story that will be followed throughout spring training.
  • Mariners (and former Rainiers) trainer Rob Nodine gave the health report, and he included an update on Rainiers pitcher Danny Hultzen and his recovery from shoulder surgery. Nodine said Hultzen “is progressing, and is on the verge of starting an interval throwing program in Arizona.” That sounds good, but keep in mind he is not expected to pitch in 2014.
  • Manager Lloyd McClendon was asked an interesting question about Taijuan Walker: if in his past he had ever seen a young pitcher come up to the big leagues in September, and then have expectations placed on him the following April. He said he saw a comparable situation in Detroit, with Justin Verlander. We can only hope it works out that well for Taijuan! Bob Dutton wrote about this – the link is down below.
  • The team announced that veteran outfielder Endy Chavez has been re-signed to a minor league contract. Chavez opened the 2013 season with Tacoma and was quickly promoted to the big leagues – a scenario that does not seem far-fetched for a repeat this year.
  • I asked Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn about going outside the organization to hire Rainiers manager Rich Donnelly, and he said that Donnelly’s “resume speaks for itself.” He also noted that Lloyd McClendon is comfortable with Donnelly, and in terms of bringing in a new face he “just felt it was time.” Gwynn also added that Tacoma “should have a pretty good team, let’s see if they can put it together.”
  • I think the most important part of Gwynn’s response was Donnelly’s familiarity with McClendon. The Mariners new manager didn’t get to hire many of his own major league coaches, but he did get someone he knows and trusts in Triple-A.
  • Chatting with Gwynn at lunch, he seemed unsure about how the Rainiers roster will break down, considering the number of players in the mix. He said they’ll use the seven weeks of spring training to sort it out.
  • Gwynn did, however, indicate that the Rainiers should have a very impressive bullpen. There will be some power arms in the ‘pen.

Overall, it was another successful event run by the Mariners PR Department. This always gets me thinking about the new season.

Links:

  • The Seattle Times has a notebook from yesterday’s event.
  • On August 9, the Mariners will induct Lou Piniella into their team hall of fame.
  • As part of the event yesterday, the Mariners announced their promotional giveaway schedule. Beard Hat Night is back, thank goodness.
  • There is word from the Seattle Times that the Mariners have decided on a new team president.
  • John McGrath wrote about Lloyd McClendon and Pete Carroll.
  • Bob Dutton has a piece on Taijuan Walker‘s reaction to being named in off-season trade rumors. Good story.
  • Dutton also has a blog post on Walker and prospect rankings.
  • Fun blog post on a college player at Whitman who, while researching a paper, found a 1960 Tacoma Giants promotional roster. Pictures are here. I love the wording “Palatial Ben Cheney Stadium.”
  • I was hired to write the Mariners essay (important distinction: the Mariners essay only - I did not write the player comments) for the Baseball Prospectus annual book. Here is a preview of the book.
  • The pride of Central Kitsap High School and longtime Fresno Grizzlies outfielder Todd Linden has retired as a player – and the Giants immediately made him hitting coach for their Class-A team in Augusta, Georgia.
  • The New Orleans Zephyrs new manager is Andy Haines. Haines has coached and managed in the Marlins system for seven years, but he’ll be a rarity in the PCL: a manager who did not play professional baseball.
  • Matt Eddy reported on Twitter that the Dodgers signed former Rainiers outfielder Trayvon Robinson to a minor league contract. We could see a lot of him this year if he makes the Albuquerque roster.
  • Bay Area sports wiseass pundit Ray Ratto writes that Greg Maddux should go into the Hall of Fame as a Las Vegas 51.
  • Got an extra $750,000 in your pocket? You can buy Babe Ruth‘s 1923 World Series watch. It’s pretty awesome.
  • Red Sox star Jon Lester will be a free agent after the season, and he said he’s willing to take a hometown discount. Lester is from Tacoma, so… Jon Lester, Tacoma Rainiers ace in 2015! Wait, you mean Boston is the hometown now? Oh.

Have a good weekend – next week we’ll start the Rainiers position-by-position previews.


Tanaka To Yankees

January 22, 2014

The last major free agent signed today, when the New York Yankees inked Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal.

It was thought that the Mariners were originally in the running for Tanaka, but recently they were not named among the rumored suitors. It’s all over now – the Yankees got him, paying exactly what was reportedly their final offer to try to keep Robinson Cano.

Tanaka will be one of the most fun players to watch in 2014, simply due to the mystery. This guy went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last year. Think about that for a minute. It’s not a stretch to say that the Japanese league and Triple-A are roughly the same level (most scouts I speak to say that Japan is just slightly better, due to the presence of a few superstars like Tanaka). Can you imagine a pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the PCL?

Now we’ll see what – if anything – the Mariners do. They are currently looking at a starting rotation of Felix, Iwakuma, and then three very young pitchers – from a group of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and possibly Blake Beavan.

I am torn over those final three spots. As a fan and an “insider,” I like all four of those guys and it would be a lot of fun to see how the young guys do in the big leagues pitching every fifth day. But the baseball veteran inside my head is screaming “too many freshmen and sophomores! They need another veteran! It’s a long season! Kids break down!”

Which way will the Mariners go? There are still several good veterans on the market – guys who will command money, like Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez. The Mariners should still have plenty of payroll room to add one of these types of pitchers – if they choose to.

Tomorrow is the Mariners pre-spring media conference, and on Friday I’ll have a blog post with all of the Rainiers-related news from that event.

Links:

  • Mariners 2013 draftee D.J. Peterson made MLB.com’s list of the Top 10 Third Base Prospects in the minor leagues.
  • The Mariners will be adding their MLB-mandated metal detectors in 2014 – one year early.
  • Former Rainiers reliever Eric O’Flaherty has signed with the Oakland A’s.
  • There is another international free agent the Mariners might be interested in: pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, whom Lookout Landing dubbed “the Korean question mark.”*
  • In the PCL, the Omaha newspaper caught up with new Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg, and asked him about defending the PCL title.
  • The Round Rock Leader took a stab at predicting how the Express will look in April. The story notes that on paper, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is currently a member of the Round Rock Express.
  • Congratulations to Peter Barrouquere on being inducted to the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. Barrouquere covered Triple-A baseball for years in New Orleans, and he is highly respected throughout the PCL. Peter was always very friendly to visiting radio guys, offering to play tour guide while entertaining us with his Cajun accent.

Check back on Friday afternoon – we should have some good tidbits on the 2014 Rainiers!

* I could give that same nickname to about half the guys in my regular poker game.


Two More Additions

January 20, 2014

The Mariners are bringing two more minor league free agents into spring training camp, and both are potential Rainiers players in April.

The team announced that former Omaha catcher Manny Pina has been signed, adding more depth to the catching group. Pina has played at the Double-A level or above every year since 2008, getting brief tastes of the majors in 2011 and 2012 (for a total of five MLB games, with Kansas City).

Pina is a defense-first catcher – in fact, that might be why he has spent so much time at Double-A the past six years. He did get 99 at-bats for Triple-A Omaha last year, hitting .242 with two homers. In 68 games for Omaha in 2011, he batted .238 with five homers, and nudged his OPS over .700.

The catching depth chart is probably full now, and it’s interesting – we’ll start with the catching position when we begin our look at the spring training positional battles next Wednesday.

Potentially more important to the big league team, the Mariners have signed veteran left-handed reliever Joe Beimel to a minor league contract, presumably with an invitation to big league camp.

The 36-year-old Beimel has appeared in 567 Major League games, posting a 4.21 career ERA. His best years were 2006-to-2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he was one of the tougher left-on-left relievers in the NL.

Beimel’s career came to a halt with an elbow injury after the 2011 season, which eventually required Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2012, then came back for the second half of 2013 which he spent with the Atlanta Braves Triple-A affiliate in the International League. Beimel had a 4.36 ERA in 30 games for Gwinett, but was not called up by the Braves in September, so he became a free agent.

Beimel is a gamble that could pay off at the major league level for the Mariners. He could be a Rainiers reliever, too – he’s pitched at Cheney Stadium before, prior to the renovation when he had a very brief stay with Las Vegas in 2010.

Links:

And that’s all we have for baseball stories today. I wonder why? Nothing else is going on…


Peguero In Limbo

January 17, 2014

Yesterday the Seattle Mariners signed free agent catcher John Buck, and they had to create room for him on the major league 40-man roster. To do that, they designated Rainiers outfielder Carlos Peguero for assignment.

Peguero is out of minor league options. He was going to have to make the opening day roster out of spring training, or else the Mariners would have been forced to designate him at the end of March. Instead, they are doing it now.

Any team can claim Peguero off waivers right now, as long as they immediately place him on their 40-man roster. I think some team out there will take a chance on the power hitter, and take a long look at him during spring training.

However, Peguero might go unclaimed. Then the Mariners can assign him to Tacoma for the 2014 season.

If Peguero ends up back in Tacoma, he will have a chance to break Tacoma’s all-time career home run record. He needs 19 homers to tie Rick Renick, who hit 72 home runs over four seasons as a member of the Tacoma Twins from 1973 to 1976.

Here is the current all-time Tacoma career home run list:

HOME RUNS
1) Rick Renick 72
2) Mike Carp 67
3) Tom Kelly 66
T4) Randy Bass 64
Danny Goodwin 64
6) Bryan LaHair 60
7) Dan Rohrmeier 58
8) Kelvin Moore 57
9) Carlos Peguero 53
T10) Jeff Clement 52
Alex Liddi 52

As for Peguero, he’s currently in baseball limbo. It could take as many as ten days before we learn his fate.

Links:

  • Here is the Seattle Times story on John Buck‘s signing.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweeted that the Mariners signed reliever Logan Kensing to a minor league contract. Kensing is a veteran who had a very good season for Colorado Springs last year – he should certainly help the Tacoma bullpen; and last year he was briefly called up by the Rockies. More on him later…
  • On Thursday the News Tribune ran a Mariners notebook that leads off with the Rich Donnelly hiring.
  • The Robinson Cano signing left Nick Franklin without a position, and he told Mariners Radio that he still hasn’t heard from anyone in the Mariners front office.
  • Mariners catching prospect Tyler Marlette was listed as one of the Top-10 Catching Prospects in the minors by MLB.com. Marlette was a part of the best-groomed team in the minors last year: the Clinton LumberKings.
  • Major League Baseball is implementing expanded instant replay this season. Jayson Stark explains how it is going to work.
  • PCL mainstay Tony DeFranceso will return as the manager in Oklahoma City.
  • The El Paso Chihuahuas are selling partial season ticket plans, but they are calling them… I don’t even want to type it… “paw-tial season ticket plans.” My goodness, this is going to be ruff. Err, rough.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the football. Yes, there will be another Cheney Stadium viewing party. Dare we promise that high winds won’t blow the power out this time? Yes, we promise.*

* please please please no wind storms. The forecast says no wind storms.


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