AUDIO: Here’s my extended appearance with Ian Furness. He mentions it on here, but I will also be co-hosting a show with Ian and Jason Puckett from Mariners Fanfest on Sunday from 1 to 3 on KJR.
Instead of transcribing the whole press conference, I figured I’d give you 10 things I took away from today’s luncheon, in no particular order of importance.
1. The Mariners theme for the 2010 season is: “Believe Big”
Not sure if they’ve been talking to Greg Oden. But anyway, it’s not bad. It sort of incorporates manager Don Wakamatsu’s mantra of a “belief system.” I was a little disappointed that Wak only used “belief system” twice today. But he did say he wasn’t going to use it as much, probably because we used to joke about it privately and of course he found out. I think would I have liked the whole belief system. Like Mariners baseball: “a belief system for success,” Or how about: “a postseason belief system” or “we have a belief in our belief system.”
2. Ken Griffey Jr. isn’t expected to be just a clubhouse mascot..
He isn’t going to be some emotional team leader or clubhouse cheerleader. He’s on the 25-man roster and Wakamatsu expects him to play. How much? Well, Wakamatsu was asked about easing Griffey into playing time and how much he will play and here’s his response …
“I think we are going to go similar to what we did last year. Let’s ease him into it, but when he can play he is going be in there.”
3. Last year it was Adam Moore who was the hot prospect being talked about. This year it’s Dustin Ackley.
Whether it was director of pro scouting Carmen Fusco, director of amateur scouting Tom McNamara or GM Jack Zduriencik doing the talking, a hot topic at the luncheon was Ackley and his transition to second base.
“One of the things, philosophically, we’ve talked to Pedro (Grifol, director of minor league operations) about a lot is, make sure you have versatility with the players. At least if I ask the question, you have the answer. What does Dustin Ackley look like at second base? This is how the whole thing got started. So when he comes to the big leagues, at least someone can say, ‘we saw him for two weeks in left field, this guy can play.’ Or ‘we saw him in center field.’ No one cares if you lose a game in Jackson, Tenn., in the middle of June, right? But it has a huge effect if you lose it up here because of a player’s versatility.”
… and more from Zduriencik …
“But it really did come from a statement from his college coach – ‘I think he can be a great second baseman.’ So I asked Mac about it, and he said he did play shortstop in high school. Let’s give him his shot at second base and see where it goes. The discussion with Dustin and Scott Boras, they’re all in. If he becomes the type of player we think he’s going to be, if this guy is a premium bat with speed, a left-handed hitting middle infielder, that’s pretty special. It only aids to a player versatility and opportunity at the next level.”
“(Ackley) was fine at first base, I looked at him as outfielder. But a plus offensive second baseman is pretty tough to find. It’s pretty unique. He’s just a great athlete.
“We thought it was the right time to tinker and experiment and so far so good.”
“I was one of the first to see that transition from outfield to second base, and I immediately told Jack and the front office and Pedro (Grifol) this is something I would pursue. He’s a good baseball player. His actions, his catching, his throwing embody that of a middle infielder. When he took ground balls, it was amazing. He played through the ball, his feet were moving. This wasn’t a kid who stopped and re-gathered himself. This is a kid who had a good feel for playing through the ball, hands working through the ball. Then when I saw him in December I was back in Arizona and he was working with Mike Brumley, who I feel is a brilliant middle infield coach and a brilliant coach. I told Jack and the front office and Pedro, from where he was when I first saw him and where he is today, you would have just thought this player was a middle infielder his entire career.”
4. Zduriencik is going to get a right-handed bat for certain, and he probably wouldn’t mind some more pitching.
Zduriencik is loathe to talk about moves, and pending moves, but he did say that finding a right-handed bat was a priority, which leads me to think that he probably has something close to being done.
“We’re still looking for a right-handed bat. We’d like to add a right-handed bat, to be somewhere, whether it’s at first base, DH, outfield. I think that’s something we need, and we’ll continue to pursue that in the next few days, and weeks, depending on how long it takes. I think you can almost look at the club and kind of figure out what’s going to be out there Opening Day. However, things change. Injuries happen. We didn’t sign Ken Griffey until right at the beginning, or a day into spring training, and that might happen again.”
Hmm, well, the pickings are kind of slim, but Ryan Garko is out there and he fits the criteria. Jermaine Dye is out there. As is Eric Byrnes and, well, here’s a list of free agents. Remember this is most likely going to be a one-year deal, so don’t think of it like a Richie Sexson signing. Zduriencik isn’t necessarily looking specifically for a bench player, a platoon player or an everyday player.
“It depends what presents itself,” he said. “I’d say it would probably be a versatile position. If we end up with that, it would probably be a guy that offers multiple skills. Or it would be a dead-on, this-is-the-only-thing we-could-get (player), if you will, but that’s good enough. We’re playing with a few things right now that we’re reasonably comfortable with that might happen.”
As for pitching, well, Zduriencik was a little more coy – like the Jack Z we know.
“Anyone would say pitching.The Phillies wish they had more pitching, the Yankees – the all-star team wishes it had more pitching, especially in Milwaukee a few years back. There will be areas of concern if injuries happen, but we’re not any different than anyone else. We have a lot of candidates for our left-field job, our backup outfield job.”
5. Tony Blengino, special assistant to Zduriencik and a statstics analyst, doesn’t care much for earned run average and the use of it by people as a viable and justified measure.
He prefers fielding independent pitching (FIP). I knew this, but I asked it anyway so I could have his answer for later use. Here’s his answer:
“I think fielding independent pitching is a better barometer of pitcher performance than ERA is. ERA is so dependent upon the defense behind you. It’s so dependent on ‘luck.’ Fielding independent pitching isn’t perfect. Right now it kind of treats all batted balls equally. There’s more granular data that’s progressively becoming available that’s going to allow (analysts) to differentiate between line drives, ground balls, fly balls and come up with a next generation version of FIP. ERA, it’s a measure. It’s a preliminary measure that became the gold standard for a long period of time. But now we have better data to take it another level. ERA still has meaning. But to me FIP has more meaning and there will be something beyond FIP that will have more meaning than that.”
6. Ichiro will be the Mariners leadoff hitter, unless he says otherwise.
Wakamatsu was asked directly, “Who will be the leadoff hitter for this season?”
“That would be my right fielder. He’s one of the best in the game of all-time. I’m not going to sit here and say Chone Figgins isn’t a great leadoff hitter, he is. If when I get a chance to sit down with these guys in spring training and Ichiro comes to me and says, ‘now’s the time I need to look at a different position,’ or ‘I want to hit for more power,’ then, hey, we’re open to a lot of things. But right now he is our leadoff hitter. The beautiful thing about Chone Figgins is that he wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever. So to have a player of that magnitude to come in with no ego is a beautiful thing. We’ll see, but right now Ichiro is our leadoff hitter.”
7. Wak won’t say whether or not Milton Bradley is crazy because he hasn’t met him.
So until he does, he’s giving Milton the benefit of the doubt. My vote is that Milton is not quite as crazy as Carl Everett and perhaps a little more crazy than Jose Guillen. But I know for a fact he’s a better player than both of them combined.
“I think (the Mariners are) a good fit for him, and Jack and I have talked about this,” Wak said. “We all know that there’s been issues with Milton, but you really can’t comment on those. I’ve never met him. You form those as we go along, there’s a history. But I’ve also talked to a lot of players that really like Milton and say he’s a tremendous teammate. That’s a good starting point for me. The rest is trying to convince the group that no one’s bigger than that. I think there are a lot of positive factors in that clubhouse that are going to help Milton become a better person and to be able to be successful here and help us win. Ken Griffey Jr. being one of those. Obviously, I think about it quite a bit, to get to know Milton. Hopefully, we can feed off of each other and have a good year together.”
Milton, it’s time to learn the words “belief system,” because you are running out of chances and teams.
8. Zduriencik still isn’t satisfied with the talent level in the organization as a whole.
Yes, the M’s have some prospects at the lower levels, but true organization depth to Zduriencik means talent and prospects at the AA and AAA level, too – guys that can step in and contribute or are on the verge of doing so.
“If we’re going to be a really good organization, what we’ve done last year and what we’ve done this year is nice. There’s a degree of necessity to it, obviously, if you want to win quicker. But if we’re going to be the type of organization that’s a premier organization, you’re going to have to do it through your system. You’re going to have to bring players up that come through your system. Last year was the first draft. I think they did a very nice job. I compliment Tom and his staff on the effort they put forward and the results. But, anyone that wants to sustain anything for any period of time, it’s got to come through your minor-league system. Now, if you’re able to make a deal and get a Chone Figgins, or you’re able to make a trade and get a Cliff Lee, at any point in time, you’re going to do that. But if we have to do that every year, the resources, the history of that happening, it just doesn’t work. Good clubs build minor-league systems. Now, where are we at? We made some interesting acquisitions last year that kind of go unsaid. (Pitcher Mauricio) Robles from Detroit was a really nice acquisition we’re happy with. The kid we got from Kansas City (pitcher Dan Cortes), we’re tickled pink. He’s on the 40-man roster, he’s going to roll into spring training. We have some nice pieces here. We hope (infielder Carlos) Triunfel becomes a very good player, (third baseman Alex) Liddi had a terrific year last year. There are other players. Ackley is a tremendous acquisition for us.
“We’re not anywhere we need to be. The depth at triple-A, to sit here and say we have a star in the making sitting at triple-A, I don’t think is the case. Do we have pieces that can be big league contributors? Yes. When you build an organization, your superstars better come from within, because it’s very difficult to go out and pay for those guys. In Milwaukee, we were fortunate because of what Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun were doing at a young age. What happens with those guys, it affects your payroll. You’re paying those guys $400,000, and they’re producing like they’re $10 million players. That’s golden. That’s what our goal is.”
9. Injury updates from Rick Griffin .
There was a special appearance from Rob Johnson. Griffin said he didn’t feel like talking about all the surgeries that Johnson had in the offseason (both hips and wrist) and that it would be easier for Johnson to do so. Johnson said he was very healthy. He participated in a workout with Sean White after meeting with the media. He also said that he feels the hip injuries limited him with his swing and his ability to block balls. Griffin said Johnson would be monitored closely in spring training to keep him healthy.
But Johnson wasn’t the only one with health issues … here’s a rundown.
DH Ken Griffey Jr.: Had surgery to remove a bone spur from his knee.
“He was running around 10 days after surgery,” Griffin said. “I haven’t seen him recently, but he told our general manager that he will be ‘ripped.’ He knows he has to lose some weight and we think he will. When I saw him, he had lost 6-7 pounds. I’m not saying he will look like he did in ’95, but I think he will look better.”
LHP Erik Bedard: Though a free agent, he’s still on the Mariners watch during rehab since he had shoulder surgery (torn labrum) while still with the club. He’s on a throwing program and working with a therapist in Canada and doing his conditioning. After the surgery, Dr. Lewis Yocum told Bedard it would be a 10-12 recovery period, Bedard is seven months in. As Griffin said, “He has a ways to go.”
RHP Sean White: Also recovering from labrum issures, he is on a throwing program, according to Griffin, throwing four days a week from 120 feet. The Mariners anticipate he’ll be ready to go to in spring training and compete for a spot. But expect them to be careful with him early on.
LHP Ryan Feierabend: He had Tommy John surgery last season. He’s about 11 months post-surgery and is throwing bullpens. The anticipation is that Feierabend should be ready to go by spring training.
RHP Chad Cordero: He’s still recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in 2008. His arm strength is coming back and he’s lost 20 pounds as he works to get in better shape. He’ll come to spring training with no restrictions.
OF Endy Chavez: He will be here next week. He has started running straight ahead and doing some agility work. He’ll meet with Dr. Khalfayan on Monday and probably start some functional rehab like BP. He’ll do that in New York.
10. Finally, Jack Zduriencik is not satisfied with the team he has right now.
He’s not satisfied with where the organization stands. He has a plan and a goal, and he wants to get there – and even then I doubt he will be satisified.
Truth is, I doubt he’ll ever be satisfied. And that’s what makes him a great GM. He never stops searching for talent or ways to make the team better. He never views it as a finished product. Trade for Cliff Lee? That’s great, but maybe he could get another starter for the backend of the rotation. Sign Chone Figgins? Great OBP, but he needs to find some help to drive him in.
He’s never finished.
“I sit here as a general manager, and I don’t feel like we’re where we need to be. We have players in this organization that need to step up. They need to accept the challenge, and they need to be out there and realize as they’re going through our Fanfest, the caravan, and as they’re in their cities working out, there’s a goal here. The responsibility falls on each individual player to meet that criteria.”
… and later …
“At this moment in time, we haven’t proven a thing. It’s nice to have had a successful winter, if you will, but as I look at it, we are still the third-best club in our division and it will be very, very competitive. Clubs have done things to make their clubs better. We were challenged in some areas of our game last year and I think we have helped ourselves in some areas of the game. But the game is not played in the newspapers, not played in the hot stove league. It is played on the field .”