Big Wednesday

November 10, 2010

Two off-season “events” I look forward to every year both occurred today – just in the nick of time, as I’m leaving for my annual Las Vegas poker trip, and will not be blogging again until next week.*

In one corner, we have Baseball America’s list of minor league free agents. And in the other corner, Baseball Prospectus released their “Top 11 Mariners Prospects” list. We’ll discuss both.

Minor League Free Agents

Players who have six full seasons of experience in the minor leagues, and are not protected on the Major League 40-man roster, can elect to become minor league free agents. In the industry, these are called Six-Year Free Agents.

Every year, the Mariners sign a few of these players – and often they end up getting called up. For example, David Pauley signed as a six-year free agent last year, and he ended up being the Mariners #5 starting pitcher.

Six-year free agents are crucial for fielding a good Triple-A team. Not only do you look for these players to perform well on the field, but they also provide veteran leadership to help nurture the younger players. In 2011, the Rainiers are going to have a very young team by Triple-A standards. It will be the job of Jack Zduriencik, Pedro Grifol, and Daren Brown to identify and sign a couple of veteran players to balance out the squad.

Of course, the Rainiers and Mariners lose some players to free agency, too. Baseball America always posts the complete list of free agents, and here it is. Below is the list of players who were in the Seattle Mariners organization last year, and are currently free agents. 

Seattle Mariners (26)
 Andy Baldwin (AAA), Steve Bray (AA), Domingo Brazoban (DSL), Yunior DeJesus (DSL), Aaron Jensen (AA), Wes Littleton (AA), Luis Munoz (AA), Scott Patterson (AAA), Yusmeiro Petit (AAA), Steven Shell (AAA), Levale Speigner (AAA), Marwin Vega (Hi A), Sean White (AAA)
LHP: Ryan Feierabend (AAA), Chris Seddon (AAA)
C: Juan Fuentes (R), Blake Ochoa (Lo A)
1B: Brad Nelson (AAA)
2B: Jeff Dominguez (AAA), Tug Hulett (AAA)
SS: Terry Serrano (SS)
OF: Dwight Britton (SS), Eddy Martinez-Esteve (AA), Maximo Mendez (AA), David Winfree (AAA), Mike Wilson (AAA)

Not on this list, but also free agents, are 2010 Rainiers players Ian Snell, Eliezer Alfonzo, and Guillermo Quiroz (these players have enough major league service time to fall into a different category and not technically be considered minor league free agents).

As you can see from the list, if the Mariners don’t re-sign any of their own free agents, they’re going to need to pick some up: specifically, Tacoma will need a mashing DH/1B (its been a long time since we’ve said that!), a starting shortstop, at least one everyday outfielder, a catcher, and about 1/3 of a pitching staff.

They can still attempt to re-sign their own free agents. For example, I know that many in the M’s organization really want to keep David Winfree, who was one of the heroes of the Rainiers PCL Championship squad last year and is only 25 years old. But that’s a two-way street – Winfree will listen to all offers, and he will sign with the team that he thinks will give him the best opportunity to play in the majors.**

I’ll pass along any news of signings that I hear about, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. The Mariners don’t announce the majority of their minor league free agent signings until right before spring training, so I usually hear about them from my own contacts. And even with that, every year I show up for spring training and see someone out on the back fields and say “Wait a minute – when did we sign that guy?”

Top 11 Prospects

There are three Mariners prospects lists I look forward to every year, and the first one came out today: Baseball Prospectus released their Top 11 Mariners Prospects, which is actually a top-20 (I have no idea why a list of 20 is billed as a list of 11, but I’m not complaining).

Baseball Prospectus is a subscription service, and this list with the write-ups is behind the subscriber wall. I contacted them and got permission to list the names, with a link to the article for those of you who subscribe. If you are not a subscriber, they are running an 11% discount right now as they have just started releasing their “Top 11s.” Here is the link to the story, which has complete capsules on the players and you can ask questions there if you want. Here is the list of names:

Five-Star Prospects
1. Michael Pineda, RHP
2. Dustin Ackley, 2B
Four-Star Prospects
3. Nick Franklin, SS
4. Guillermo Pimentel, OF
Three-Star Prospects
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP
6. Mauricio Robles, LHP
7. Dan Cortes, RHP
8. Kyle Seager, 2B
9. Blake Beavan, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Johermyn Chavez, OF
11. Alex Liddi, 3B

Nine More:
12. Ramon Morla, 3B
13. Maikel Cleto, RHP
14. Marcus Littlewood, SS
15. Josh Lueke, RHP
16. Greg Halman, OF
17. Ji-Man Choi, C/1B
18. James Jones, OF
19. Carlos Peguero, OF
20. Jordan Shipers, LHP

I enjoy reading the prospect lists. They are fun, but I don’t really have much commentary about them. I’m not a scout, I’m just a radio guy.

Here are today’s additional links:

  • As I’m sure you have heard by now, Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez won Gold Glove Awards. And thus ends the 2010 Seattle Mariners Award Season. (I can’t believe I forgot about that – sorry, Felix!)
  • At The News Tribune, Larry LaRue has an interesting post about the only openly gay player in major league history, who is subject of an upcoming documentary.
  • Larry Stone commented on the Top-11 prospects.
  • This guy is definitely setting the record for Most Ink Generated By A 26-Year-Old In A-Ball.
  • The prolific Kirby Arnold caught up with new M’s executive Ted Simmons, and there are tons of M’s nuggets at the end of this post – I follow Adam Jones on twitter and he’s loving that trip to Holland. Yesterday, Kirby wrote about outfield prospect (#10!) Johermyn Chavez.
  • Jeff Sullivan riffed on the minor league free agent list.

OK, hopefully that was enough to keep you busy until next week. I’m off to Las Vegas for my annual degenerate poker weekend. I go there with the team twice every year, but those are work trips that leave little time for tomfoolery. This trip will be… different. And if I do as well as this guy, there will be no more blog posts from me – even if my island has internet.

* this is my last trip of the off-season – I did a poor job of spacing out my vacations this year. But this is probably a good year for it, considering how busy we’ll be moving back into Cheney Stadium before the season starts.

** a quick glance at the entire list of free agents leads me to believe that Winfree will be getting calls from many, many teams this winter.


Monday Notes

November 8, 2010

There wasn’t any Rainiers news this weekend, but there were a number of interesting Mariners-related stories, so let’s just hit the links.

  • At one point over the weekend, the Mariners were thought to be the leaders to acquire Japanese pitcher Hasashi Iwakuma. But when the dust settled, it was division rival Oakland the submitted the winning bid. The A’s now have six starting pitchers, and will likely do some trading.
  • Kirby Arnold filed another information-packed notebook from the Arizona Fall League. He has notes on Dustin Ackley and Josh Lueke, among others.
  • Speaking of Kirby, he had a vote for AL Cy Young Award this year, and he details the process he went through, and shares his final ballot here. The awards get announced next week.
  • At The News Tribune, Ryan Divish has an Erik Bedard Timeline that will make your shoulder throb, and Larry LaRue talks about the M’s attempts to acquire a hitter, and also promotes a candidate for Rainiers Pitching Coach.
  • Larry Stone wrote about new Mariners bench coach Robby Thompson. I actually attended the game he writes about – it was a year-after-college road trip, with three buddies, to LA to see how the pennant race would end. We saw the Giants beat the Dodgers on Saturday, with the late Rod Beck nailing down the save, and then Sunday was a total blowout that put the Braves in the playoffs. Since the Giants won the series, perhaps Dusty Baker will stop getting grief about starting rookie Solomon Torres instead of veteran Scott Sanderson in that game. I think it was Bob Costas who dubbed this the “Last Great Pennant Race.”
  • Two players drafted from Washington high schools in 2010 made the Tampa Bay Rays Top-10 prospects according to Baseball America. The list is free, the full write-ups require subscription.

I’m glad we have some baseball news to read, because this has been just a miserable football season, hasn’t it? I became a Mariners/Rainiers fan over a decade ago, but my football fandomhood still lies with Bay Area teams of my youth (49ers) and college (Cal). And I’ll tell you, this football season has been just as bad and disappointing for me as it has been for all you Seahawks/Huskies/Cougars fans. Pac-10 hoops can’t get here fast enough!

Daren Brown Returns To Tacoma

November 5, 2010

Buried deep in the stories about new Mariners manager Eric Wedge’s selections for his coaching staff, we learn that M’s General Manager Jack Zduriencik announced that Daren Brown and Alonzo Powell will return to Tacoma in 2011 as manager and hitting coach, respectively.

Tacoma will need a new pitching coach, as Jaime Navarro was added to Wedge’s staff in the role of bullpen coach.

Both Brown and Powell started 2010 on the Tacoma staff, and each was promoted to Seattle during the season.

Brown, who will manage Tacoma for his fifth year, went 19-31 as the Seattle Mariners manager after his August 10 promotion. Powell was the Rainiers hitting coach in 2008-09, and for the first month of the 2010 season.

Here are today’s stories:

  • Larry LaRue wrote The News Tribune’s review of the Mariners new coaches.
  • Larry Stone wrote on the same subject over at The Times.
  • New Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss hit one of the most famous playoff home runs in baseball history. Chambliss, by the way, was the TV analyst for the Triple-A Championship Game between Tacoma and Columbus.
  • In the PCL, the City of Tucson officially accepted the former Portland Beavers franchise for the 2011 season. Long-time Tucson Toros GM Mike Feder will operate the team, which will probably be called the Tucson Padres. Local columnist Greg Hansen is excited.
  • Like Tacoma, the Omaha Royals are moving into a new ballpark in 2011. The Royals announced their “founding corporate sponsors.”
  • If you are a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, here is a replay/analysis of the 2006 draft – which will forever be known to Mariners fans as the Tim LincecumBrandon Morrow draft. Read at your own risk.
  • Here’s an interesting look at the Giants championship, from one of their minor leaguers who didn’t make it to the majors.
  • So you want to be a PCL RG, huh? We have a rare opening.

Have a great weekend!

Hot Stove League Opens

November 4, 2010

Lots of Mariners news today, as baseball’s off-season machinations are in motion.

Wednesday afternoon the Mariners announced that they declined club options on 2011 contracts for Russell Branyan, Jose Lopez, and Erik Bedard; today Casey Kotchman was added to the list. This news was not surprising to close followers of the team. The Mariners may make an attempt to re-sign Branyan for a smaller amount, but I would think they are done with the “let’s sign Bedard and see if he can get healthy” gamble.

Former Rainiers infielder Jose Lopez is still Mariners property because he has not yet qualified for free agency. The M’s could potentially still cut ties with him by not offering him a contract for 2011 – something that has been speculated by many.

With Justin Smoak set to take over first base in Seattle full-time in 2011, there is just no reason to keep Kotchman on the team.

Also in the official press release, we learned that several players with Tacoma ties cleared waivers and were removed from the Mariners 40-man roster. This list included Ryan Langerhans, Guillermo Quiroz, Chris Seddon, Ryan Feierabend, and Sean White. Each of these players has the right to declare free agency – and both Langerhans and Quiroz already have. The rest need to decide soon – I’m not sure when the deadline is, but it may be as soon as this weekend.

Of those players, I think that Seddon and White are most likely to remain Mariners – and potentially Rainiers to start 2011, if they choose to stay. Seddon re-signed with Seattle as a Triple-A free agent after the 2009 season, and he ended up spending about half the season in the major leagues – so I think he probably had a good experience. As for White, he lives in Seattle, he went to UW – it would be a lifestyle change for him to go elsewhere. But, he may decide its best for his career to play elsewhere.

Feierabend is 25 years old, left-handed, and now one year removed from Tommy John surgery. Even though he didn’t have a great 2010 season, he’s going to be a hot commodity on the minor league free agent market. 

Soon, Baseball America will publish the official list of minor league free agents. Some of the names you can expect to see from the Rainiers include Ian Snell, Andy Baldwin, David Winfree, and Mike Wilson. We’ll dive into it more deeply here once it is announced.

Also, we learned that Brian Sweeney was claimed on waivers by Arizona – presumably to fill the “rubber-armed strike thrower at the back of the bullpen” role.

Let’s get to the links:

  • Here is Larry LaRue’s story about the Mariners moves from this morning’s edition of The News Tribune.
  • Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times also wrote about the moves, and then he added some news this afternoon: it looks like Jaime Navarro, the Rainiers pitching coach last season, will be the Mariners bullpen coach. Baker says the M’s coaching staff will be announced shortly – will Daren Brown be on it? Will he be back in Tacoma? Or will he be typing his resume? We should find out very soon.
  • Everett Herald reporter Kirby Arnold filed a story on Michael Saunders and the work he is doing this off-season, and then he followed up with a blog item that includes many good Mariners-related tidbits from the Arizona Fall League.
  • Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson passed away today, at age 76. I did not know Sparky, but he was a dugout fixture in the games I watched in my youth – his 1984 Tigers team was one of the first teams outside of the area I grew up in that I remember rooting for. Here is a very thorough Associated Press obituary.

We’ll try to stay on top of the M’s news here. In the meantime, I’ll be researching that planned historical look at the 1969 Tacoma Cubs next week, so that will be coming eventually.

The Giants Are Champs

November 2, 2010

San Francisco won its first ever World Series Championship last night with a 3-1 victory over Texas, taking the series in five games.

It was Renton native Tim Lincecum who starred yesterday, out-dueling Cliff Lee over eight nearly flawless innings.

In the end, the Giants pitching was just too much for the Rangers. In a five-game series, San Francisco tossed two shutouts and had another game allowing just one run.

It’s a special day in San Francisco – a city that has never had a World Series winner, despite having a team since 1958.

I enjoyed this series. I always like it when a new team wins, and this year that was a guarantee regardless who won it. I also enjoy it when young players are key components, and again that was the case with both teams. And on top of all of that, it’s great to see a local player shine. The only thing missing was a former Rainiers player in the mix.

San Francisco needed 52 years to win a World Series. Seattle has had a team for 34 years without winning it all. Hopefully we can win one without having to wait as long as San Francisco did!

Lots of links today:

  • Tim Lincecum was The Man yesterday, and he was the subject of a national piece from ESPN.
  • For the second time in his career, Edgar Renteria had the World Series-winning hit.
  • The Giants think that their young pitching will give them a chance to return to the World Series soon.
  • Talented writers working on deadline amaze me. Jim Caple turned out this gem following last night’s game. At the end of the story, Caple provides a look at how sports journalists sort of – but not really – stop being fans.
  • Hey, there’s Mariners news, too! Geoff Baker has an update on the Mariners coaching staff.
  • Dustin Ackley is putting up big numbers in the Arizona Fall League, but he hasn’t been stealing bases like the M’s want him to. Kirby Arnold has the story.
  • The second-best pitcher in Japan is coming to the USA. Larry Stone doubts that the Mariners will be interested.
  • Former Tacoma Rainiers pitching coach Ron Romanick got the Oakland job.
  • Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame member Artie Wilson passed away Sunday at age 90. Wilson is an interesting story on many levels – Larry Stone wrote about how he mentored Willie Mays, and his obit in The Oregonian focused on Wilson’s life in Portland.
  • Speaking of Mays, here is his reaction to the Giants win.
  • Baseball Prospectus has a free Q&A with Toronto Blue Jays radio announcer Jerry Howarth. Howarth talks about the two seasons he called games for the Tacoma Twins (1974-75), and how it was his Triple-A manager who helped him break into the major leagues.

Only three and a half months until pitchers and catchers report to spring training!

Mad Bum Gives SF A 3-1 Lead

November 1, 2010

The San Francisco Giants 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner tossed eight shutout innings in Game Four, giving the Giants a 3-1 World Series lead.

Renton, WA native Tim Lincecum will be on the mound tonight in Game Five with a chance to clinch it – but he’ll have to best Cliff Lee to do it.

Bumgarner – who is nicknamed “Mad-Bum” in a shortening of his name, not a nod to a long-standing San Francisco civic problem – changed speeds and kept Rangers hitters off-balance all game. In the parts of the game that I watched, Bumgarner had a particularly nasty change-up, and he had Rangers hitters out in front of it.

As the Series moves on, it’s becoming more clear what the Giants are: a group of three young stud starting pitchers (Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner) and a rookie catcher oozing superstar talent in Buster Posey, surrounded by a rag-tag group of free agents and cast-offs who are having the time of their lives. It’s a fun team to watch.

Game Five is tonight at 5:00 (OK, 4:57. Whatever.). Cliff Lee will be asked to carry the Rangers on his shoulders, and get the Series back to San Francisco. As fun as it would be to see Lincecum win the final game, I think that tonight will belong to Lee and the Rangers. 

Here are the links:

  • The Associated Press story covers all the pertinent details of Game Four.
  • In San Francisco, Bruce Jenkins wrote about Madison Bumgarner.
  • This Dallas columnist is looking for Josh Hamilton to step up.
  • I’m not the only one who thinks Cliff Lee will be in command tonight.
  • Away from the World Series, young players are honing their skills down in Arizona. This is an excellent story about one-time “can’t-miss” prospect Brandon Wood, who is trying to get it together down in the Arizona Fall League. It’s a reminder that, in its heart, baseball is a game of failure.

No Mariners or Rainiers news right now. Look for the Mariners to announce their major league coaching staff soon after the end of the World Series – all we know right now is that the pitching coach will be Carl Willis.