Change Near The Top

November 27, 2013

The Mariners made some news on Monday evening, when team president Chuck Armstrong announced his retirement.

As John McGrath points out in his column linked below, Armstrong had a lot of career highs early in his tenure, while the recent years have been a struggle.

I barely knew Chuck – the major league team president has no hands-on responsibilities with the minor leagues, other than overseeing the man who oversees the man who oversees the minors. We’re like multiple-times removed here.

The big question is how will the Mariners replace him, and will it change the course of the franchise. That question is addressed by several writers below who cover the majors and are presumably a lot closer to the situation than I am.

Armstrong is not actually leaving the position until January. Don’t be surprised if it is vacant for quite a while after that.

Links:

  • We start with The News Tribune’s news story on Chuck Armstrong‘s retirement.
  • John McGrath has a column on Armstrong.
  • At the Seattle Times, Larry Stone has a column on Armstrong. Stone thinks they need to replace him with a baseball man.
  • Shannon Drayer talked to Howard Lincoln about replacing Armstrong.
  • The News Tribune lost Ryan Divish to the Seattle Times, but now the TNT has hired veteran baseball scribe Bob Dutton to cover the Mariners. This was big news in the baseball writer community, where Dutton is seen as a star.
  • In the PCL, Omaha Storm Chasers General Manager Martie Cordaro was named Baseball America’s Minor League Executive of the Year.
  • A month ago, Darnell Coles was announced as new manager of the Nashville Sounds. Yesterday he took a job as a major league coach instead – so we have another PCL manager opening.
  • Link just for Johnny Doskow: even Vin Scully spilled coffee all over himself once. << this link takes you to an entire Scully broadcast from 1957, so only click on it if you are able to spend your afternoon listening to that.

Have a great Thanksgiving, Rainiers fans!


Stearns, HoJo Promoted To Seattle

November 25, 2013

The Mariners set their major league coaching staff today, and one thing is clear: Jack Zduriencik wanted his minor league instructors on the big league bench.

That meant good news for Tacoma manager John Stearns and hitting coach Howard Johnson, who each got promoted to the major leagues. Stearns will be the Mariners third base coach, and HoJo will be the hitting coach. We’re happy for both of them and hope they have a great season – HoJo texted me today and said he’s very excited about it.

The new Mariners pitching coach will be Rick Waits. He was the Mariners minor league pitching coordinator for the last three seasons, during which he was a frequent guest on our radio pregame show. Fun bit of trivia: Waits was the starting pitcher in the PCL All-Star Game the last time it was played at Cheney Stadium – in 1974.

Former Rainiers shortstop Chris Woodward made the big league staff as infield coach. Andy Van Slyke is the first base coach, and Mike Rojas is the bullpen coach. Rojas is the son of major leaguer Cookie Rojas, and the brother of Angels TV announcer (and friend of the blog) Victor Rojas.

These moves wipe out two-thirds of the Rainiers coaching staff. The only possible returning member now is pitching coach Terry Clark. Daren Brown could come back, I suppose – Jack Z told reporters today that Brown “will have a job in the organization if he doesn’t get a big league coaching job.” Geoff Baker reported (first link below) that Brown interviewed for the Reds third base coach last week.

Former Rainiers pitching coach Dwight Bernard is out of the picture. The Mariners let the seven-year Tacoma vet go right after the season, and as soon as he hung up the phone it rang again and he was hired by the Giants.

So we’ll see who we get in Tacoma. I had heard some rumblings that we may have an all-new staff, and that appears more likely today.

Links:

  • The Mariners fired pitching coach Carl Willis – and in a strange turn of events, it appears that Willis had to call the Mariners to find out if he still worked there.
  • Geoff Baker has a quick blog post n the Mariners new coaching staff – I thought we were going to see our first Ryan Divish byline at the Seattle Times, but no!
  • Grant Brisbee wrote a piece on how the Mariners are the sleeping giant of the off-season. The very next day, Buster Olney wrote the exact same article (but without the insults).
  • Former Rainiers interim manager Jose Castro – who piloted Tacoma to the 2010 PCL title – was named “quality assurance coach” for the Chicago Cubs. I’m not sure what that means, but it is listed as a major league staff position.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners outfielder Casper Wells signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.
  • ESPN football expert John Clayton once called three Rainiers games with me, which gives me a great excuse to link to this terrific article on how he got to where he is.

M’s Set 40-Man Roster

November 21, 2013

The Mariners added four minor leaguers to their 40-man Major League roster, protecting them from other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. All four players were Tacoma Rainiers on the final weekend of the season.

Outfielders Stefen Romero and James Jones, first baseman Ji-Man Choi, and reliever Logan Bawcom are now on the 40-man roster. It’s a big step in all of their careers, and it makes getting called up to the big leagues a much more likely event for the foursome. Congrats to all!

The Mariners now have 38 players protected on their 40-man roster. Teams that expect to be active with trades and free agent signings in the winter time (like the Mariners this year) like to leave an open spot or two, for flexibility.

There is a select group of Mariners minor leaguers who are now exposed to the other teams in the Rule 5 Draft, which occurs annually at the Winter Meetings. If a player is selected in the Rule 5 Draft, he must be retained in the major leagues by the drafting team for an entire season or be returned to his original team.

To be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft players signed out of college must have three full seasons in the minors and not be on the 40-man roster. Players signed out of high school must have four full seasons in the minors, and international signees… well, it gets tricky with kids signed out of the Dominican or Venezuela when they were 16 years old, but generally if they’ve been playing in the US for 3-4 years they are probably eligible.

The Mariners left two Rainiers players off the 40-man roster who have a decent chance of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, in lefty Brian Moran and infielder Ty Kelly. Both players are intriguing to statistically aware organizations.

Moran profiles as a left-vs-left bullpen specialist. In the PCL in 2013, left-handed batters struck out 48 times in 115 at-bats against Moran. Overall, Moran had 85 strikeouts and 15 unintentional walks in 62.2 innings, giving up only four homers. These are all impressive stats – but Moran was left off the roster, probably because he gets his success from a deceptive delivery and not velocity. Adding to the mix: Moran suffered a foot injury at the end of the season and is currently recovering from surgery.

Kelly is coming off the best season of his career. The switch-hitting second baseman was acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on June 30 in exchange for Eric Thames, and things really took off for him: he was playing in Double-A in the Orioles system, but the Mariners promoted him to Tacoma upon acquiring him. Kelly hit .320 for the Rainiers, and a 51-to-41 walk-to-strikeout ratio helped him post a ridiculously high .456 on-base percentage. The knock on Kelly is defense – he’s pretty much limited to second base and left field. Also, scouts often wonder if players who draw a ton of walks in the minors will be able to do that in the majors where pitchers throw more strikes.

Moran and Kelly have something in common: both were eligible for the Rule 5 Draft last winter, and neither was selected. The Mariners are hoping that happens again.

The Rule 5 Draft will be interesting to follow this year, with these two high-quality Rainiers players possible draft picks. It puts us in a bit of a quandary: for Moran’s and Kelly’s sake, it is best for them to get picked. For us as Rainiers fans, we want these guys on the team next year!

Links:


Monday Round-Up

November 18, 2013

It’s a quiet time for baseball news, which is just fine in our corner of the world since the Seahawks are dominating both opponents and the conversation these days. They truly are an enjoyable team to watch right now. As for my Niners? Ugh.

There were a few tidbits of news over the weekend, including some of our favorite recent ex-Rainiers signing deals elsewhere. So, let’s just hit the links:

  • The player the Mariners need to acquire this off-season is not available via free agency, John McGrath writes.
  • Culled from Twitter over the weekend, a handful of former Rainiers have signed minor league free agent contracts with other teams. Alex Liddi has signed with the Chicago White Sox, Mike Wilson inked a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, Ryan Rowland-Smith hooked on with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • The Memphis Redbirds have long had financial problems, mostly due to debt from the construction of Autozone Park. Now we get word that the St. Louis Cardinals have bought the team, and the City Of Memphis is taking possession of the stadium. Hopefully this will help the financial picture.
  • The Colorado Springs Sky Sox will not be moving downtown any time soon.
  • The Mariners medical staff won the Martin-Monohan Award, which goes to the team with the fewest disabled list days during the regular season. Congratulations to trainers Rick Griffin and Rob Nodine, and the rest of the medical staff.
  • Rick Rizzs hosted his annual Toys For Kids charity auction over the weekend, and it was a success as usual.

I’ll be back Wednesday with… something. I have a baseball book review in the hopper, perhaps we’ll do that.


M’s Prepare To Set 40-Man Roster

November 14, 2013

The Mariners are deciding right now which minor league players they want to protect on their 40-man roster, making them unavailable to other teams in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

Jay at USS Mariner has a comprehensive post on this subject, which includes several Rainiers players who are in their protection year. If you are interested in this subject, I highly suggest reading his post.

Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft have to be kept in the major leagues all season, or else be exposed to waivers and ultimately returned to the Mariners. This stipulation means that players who get selected are almost always relievers who can be stashed deep in the bullpen (think Lucas Luetge, who the Mariners acquired in the Rule 5 Draft) or utility infielders and extra outfielders who ride a lot of big league (splinter-free) pine.

Using Jay’s list of Rule 5 qualifiers, I think the following players (not listed in any order) could be selected by other teams if not added to the 40-man roster:

  • Brian Moran – he doesn’t dazzle with stuff, but he had a terrific season in 2013, posted an outstanding strikeout rate, is deceptive and left-handed. It should be noted he was available to be selected last winter and was not.
  • Ty Kelly – stats-minded organizations will see his .456 on-base percentage in Triple-A and may take a flier on him.
  • Stefen Romero – he did not have a great Triple-A debut in 2013, but it wasn’t bad, either. Teams that scouted Romero closely in 2013 surely noted that he had better at-bats against the pitchers with big-league stuff in the PCL.
  • Logan Bawcom – seems like a major league ready reliever to me; I was surprised when he didn’t receive a September call-up. Maybe I’m missing something here?
  • Ji-Man Choi – he’ll be protected on the 40-man, I’m sure, because he can hit.

Two outside-the-box wild cards:

  • James Jones – outfielder with a great arm and some speed, some team might select him in the Rule 5, use him as a reserve outfielder for a year, and if it doesn’t appear that he’s gong to make it as a hitter they can try to move him to the mound (pitching has been seen as a possibility for Jones ever since he was drafted).
  • Forrest Snow – this is a real long shot, but he would be easier for a team to carry in MLB all year because the first 50 days of the season are an unpaid suspension. If there is a team that truly believed in his future returns, they could acquire him at about a 30% discount.

It’s always an interesting time of the off-season when we learn which minor leaguers the Mariners value the most. We’ll find out soon…

Links:

  • Logan Bawcom‘s latest blog post on playing in Venezuela is up and ready for your perusal. It’s good stuff.
  • Baseball America has a free column called “Minor League Free Agents With Intrigue.” I’d love to see the Mariners sign former Memphis outfielder Adron Chambers, who always seems to play great at Cheney Stadium. The Tacoma outfield for 2014 appears pretty full with guys ready to come up from Double-A (James JonesJulio Morban) and returning players (Xavier AveryStefen RomeroAbraham Almonte if he doesn’t make the big club), but they could squeeze one more player into the mix.
  • On Wednesday John McGrath wrote a good column on Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • Iwakuma ended up finishing in third place in the AL Cy Young Award balloting.
  • Ken Griffey Jr posted a classic photo on his Instagram.
  • Sacramento will bring back its entire coaching staff, headlined by manager Steve Scarsone.
  • Former Rainiers player Tommy Everidge was hired to manage a low-level minor league team in the Oakland A’s system.
  • Round Rock skipper Bobby Jones was added to the Texas Rangers big league staff as assistant hitting coach, so the Express will have a new manager in 2014.
  • There is going to be a big change in Major League Baseball next season: expanded replay is going to happen, apparently with “manager challenges.” We’ll get all of the details before spring training.

Nashville Ballpark Getting Closer

November 12, 2013

We’ve got big news in the PCL coming out of Nashville, where the city is once again on the verge of building a new ballpark to get the team out of dilapidated Greer Stadium and into a state-of-the-art Triple-A facility.

Nashville has been close to a new stadium before, only to have the rug pulled out from under its feet. However, this sounds like it is very close to becoming fully approved – they are even shooting for an April 2015 opening if everything is finalized in the next six weeks.

I’ve written this before, but if Nashville gets a new yard it will become one of the jewels of the PCL. It’s already a major league city in two sports (football, hockey), it’s a tourist destination, and it’s a fun place to visit.

Nashville is currently the Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, and the Brewers have been patiently waiting for the stadium issue to be resolved. If the new ballpark happens, many MLB teams will vie to affiliate with Nashville when the Brewers agreement ends.

I’m hoping this deal works out; it would be a big success for the PCL.

Links:

  • This story from The Tennessean explains how the stadium funding will work in Nashville.
  • We learn from Baseball America’s transactions that the Mariners re-signed minor league free agents Leury Bonilla and Jonathan Arias. Both are excellent candidates to return to the Rainiers in 2014.
  • New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon made his first hire, bringing in Trent Jewett as bench coach. Jewett was highly respected around the PCL when he managed Nashville for five seasons between 1998 and 2004. There is no word yet on the remainder of the Mariners coaching staff.
  • As expected all along, Kendrys Morales officially rejected his one-year qualifying offer from the Mariners and became a free agent. He’s looking for a multi-year deal; and the Mariners may offer him one – Dave Cameron has a very logical look at this situation.
  • Your Rookies of the Year are Jose Fernandez in the NL and my man Wil Myers in the AL. It’s too bad Myers never played at Cheney – the Rainiers did face him in Omaha in 2012. Fernandez skipped Triple-A (and Double-A, too).
  • Longtime PCL manager and all-around-good-guy Lorenzo Bundy was promoted to the big leagues, where he’ll serve as the Dodgers third base coach. So, we have a manager opening in Albuquerque. With the realigned divisions Tacoma plays Albuquerque 16 times in 2014.
  • The El Paso Chihuahuas new stadium is going to be haunted, obviously.
  • Baseball Prospectus has done the baseball world a favor by updating and re-releasing the premiere book about baseball scouting, Dollar Sign On The Muscle (it’s been out of print for years). I cannot recommend it enough – you can buy it here.

Mariners Have A Manager, What About Rainiers?

November 6, 2013

Yesterday the Seattle Mariners named Lloyd McClendon the 16th “fulltime” manager in franchise history. McClendon has previous managing experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and most recently he was Jim Leyland‘s hitting coach in Detroit.

I don’t really have an opinion on McClendon’s hiring. The Mariners struggles in recent seasons have had nothing to do with the manager, and everything to do with the talent on the field – which the manager does not control.

There is lots of stuff to read about McClendon in the links down below.

Now that the Mariners have filled the top spot, they have work to do in the minors. The Rainiers don’t currently have a manager – let’s take some guesses, and handicap the field.

Tacoma Manager Candidates

Jim Pankovits – the manager of the Mariners Double-A Jackson affiliate has been there for three years, and he’s in line for a promotion. Odds: 3 to 1.

Daren Brown – the man who has started the past seven seasons as Tacoma manager keeps getting promoted mid-season. I was hoping he would get the Mariners manager job, and now I’m hoping he gets a spot on the major league coaching staff. However, if that doesn’t happen he could be right back in his office at 2502 S. Tyler. Odds: 9 to 2.

The Field – this is everybody not listed, or alternately “some former Mets or Brewers employee who Jack Zduriencik trusts.” This is one of the most important parts of the Triple-A manager’s job: Jack Z has to trust the opinion of the skipper, when it comes to determining if a player is ready to get called up. Brown told me when he was Tacoma manager he talked to Jack Z almost every day – and when he was major league third base coach, he hardly ever talked to him. Don’t be surprised if the next Rainiers manager comes from outside the organization. Odds: 5 to 1.

John Stearns – the Rainiers “interim” manager after Brown was promoted last year, Stearns told me after the season he was going back to his previous duty as roving catching instructor. However, he could be asked to manage Tacoma again. Odds: 8 to 1.

Chris Woodward – the former Rainiers infielder retired after the 2012 season, and served last year as the minor league infield coach. Woody wants to manage and I think he’ll get the opportunity. However, he’ll probably have to start out in the low minors – although he has a ton of PCL experience and should be able to handle the players here. Odds: 12 to 1.

Scott Steinmann – served as Stearns bench coach after the mid-season shake-up last year. Steinmann has filled just about every role in the Mariners minor league system, but last season was his first in the upper levels of the organization. Odds: 15 to 1.

Jack Howell – currently the Mariners field coordinator, Howell oversees much of the Mariners minor league program. He’s a longshot simply because I’m not sure if he wants to manage – but we’ll list him, because he’s in the picture. Odds: 100 to 1.

Brian Sweeney – the consummate professional and ultimate Rainier, let’s bring in The PCL Dream as a player-manager! Odds: 2,500 to 1.

Roger Hansen – a former PCL player and longtime minor league instructor, the crusty Hansen has been working as a special assignment scout in the Mariners office. He could be asked to manage in Tacoma, which woild be quite a surprise. Odds: 1,000,000 to 1.

We should start to get a good idea which way this is going to go once McClendon’s coaching staff is announced.

The first Mariners Top Prospects list came out today, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. They are a subscription-based site and their list has a ton of information about the players, and a farm system overview.

If you are a subscriber, you can read it all right here.

Here is their Top-10:

  1. RHP Taijuan Walker
  2. 1B D.J. Peterson
  3. LHP James Paxton
  4. RHP Victor Sanchez
  5. RHP Edwin Diaz
  6. LHP Luiz Gohara
  7. SS Chris Taylor
  8. LHP Tyler Pike
  9. Tyler Marlette
  10. OF Gabriel Guerrero

It’s a big change from last year’s list, due to the graduation of upper-level prospects. Seven of the ten players could begin the 2014 season in Class-A. Only three have a chance of appearing in Tacoma next season: Walker, Paxton, and Taylor. Hopefully Walker and Paxton are in the big leagues instead – we’ll almost certainly see Chris Taylor in Tacoma.

The official list of minor league free agents was published by Baseball America, and several 2013 Rainiers players are currently on the open market.

They are: pitchers Brian Sweeney and Jonathan Arias, catcher Jason Jaramillo, infielder Leury Bonilla, and outfielders Joe Dunigan and Denny Almonte.

Links:

That’s it for this week – the next blog update will be on Tuesday.

* I disagree with their rankings – Green Chone Figgins is ranked way too low; that’s easily a Top-5 shirsey.