The Mariners held their annual pre-spring training luncheon today at Safeco Field. Basically, it’s a two hour press conference featuring people from all over the organization to talk and answer questions about the upcoming season. The speakers ranged from trainer Rick Griffin, vice president of media relations Kevin Martinez, new radio broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith, Michael Saunders, Lucas Luetge, manager Eric Wedge and GM Jack Zduriencik.
Here’s 10 things to be gleaned from all those speakers in no particular order…
1. This is Eric Wedge’s team
Now in his third year with the team, Mariners manager Eric Wedge seems to have the players he wants. He’s got young players that he’s helped build up and nurture. He’s also added veteran presence in Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Michael Morse.
“We’ve been very consistent with everything that we’ve said and what we’ve done,” Wedge said. “I feel as confident as ever in regard to our future here in Seattle and our future regarding competing at the big league level.”
If you look at the roster, they are his type of guys. The likes of Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo, Ichiro Suzuki are gone.
“You could look at their role and their impact or lack thereof,” he said. “This is professional sports. This is the big leagues. This is the highest level. Either you do it or you don’t. And either you help or you don’t. If you help, then you are on board, and if you don’t, then we are going to eliminate you. That’s what we’ve done.”
But Wedge wasn’t finished.
“Championships don’t come easy,” Wedge said. “You gotta have talent, you gotta have toughness and you have to have players that get it. I’m not looking for choirboys. I’m looking for people that are looking to help us get better and win.
The leadership was big to Wedge. And he demands from the veteran players and expects to see grow in his younger players.
“If you look at the veterans we had int he clubhouse last year and the veterans we have in the clubhouse this year, it’s night and day,” he said.
2. The roster isn’t done
The Mariners need obviously needs to bring in another catcher to back-up Jesus Montero. Obviously there is a report of the Mariners signing Ronny Paulino. According to sources, this deal is pending a physical. And it’s not a major league contract. It’s a split contract based on Paulino making the club out of spring training. But he will obviously be a non-roster invitee to big league spring training. But GM Jack Zdurienick made it clear they will bring in another catcher as well. So expect the Mariners to sign a couple of catchers.
Besides catcher, Zduriencik would like to add another veteran starting pitcher or two. Ideally, the starter would be a lefty. The Mariners are talking with Joe Saunders. He wants three years. But his market is dwindling. The Mariners could also trade for Chris Capuano from the Dodgers, who seem to have an abundance of pitching right now.
3. Jesus Montero is THE catcher
Jesus Montero is in Seattle right now. He’s going through workouts and meeting with Wedge on a one-on-one basis. There is little doubt that he’s the starting catcher going forward.
“He knows he’s coming here to catch,” Wedge said. “It will be ultimately be my decision in regard to how much he does catch. But we are going to ask him catch as much as we feel like he can to go out and perform the way he is capable of performing.”
Montero has his deficiencies defensively. There are tools there. And he did improve. But there were times last season where he was clearly fatigued physically which led to mental mistakes and lack of focus.
“It’s more the mental than they physical side of things,” Wedge said. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that he can handle it from a talent perspective, that he can handle the role fundamentally.”
4. The first base job is still Justin Smoak’s to win or lose
According to Wedge and Mariners trainer Rick Griffin, first baseman Justin Smoak is in the best shape of his career (yes, we hear that often this time of year). But still, the Mariners asked Smoak to get stronger in the offseason and apparently he has done that – adding eight pounds of muscle while also trimming down a little.
“The goal for him to put on good weight,” Griffin said. “He put on nine pounds and his body fat went down. He looks bigger and stronger. He’s more agile. We ran him through a bunch of agility drills. Three years ago when he got here, he could not do the drills. The other day when we did them, he blew right through them.”
And Wedge expects that to make a difference.
“I’ve made it very clear that I feel strong about Justin Smoak and what his abilities,” Wedge said. “I have every anticipation that he’s going to be our first baseman this year. Now if he shows us something different, then so be it. But he’s coming in as our first baseman. I expect him to take that on and run with it.”
“What you don’t want to do is give up a day early. You would rather be late than early when it comes to players.”
6. The Mariners are healthier than ever
Even with the oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez spending time on the disabled list ( a yearly occurence), the Mariners still had the fewest amount of injuries in MLB and the fewest days on the disabled list.
The team had two every day players with offseason surgeries. Dustin Ackley had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his ankle.
“He looked great,” Griffin said. “He’s running and doing everything. He will have no limitations in spring training.”
The bone spur was a nagging injury that started in college and progressively got worse.
“He was really unable to stay on his back leg and drive off his back leg because of the spur,” Griffin said. “On day games, he would walk into the training room, we couldn’t tell if he was a 23-year old or a 90-year old.
Brendan Ryan had some loose bodies and a bone spur removed from his throwing elbow.
“He’s already throwing up to 120 feet and feels great,” Griffin said. ‘ He’s hitting. He’s doing all the things that he was unable to do last year, prior coming to spring training.”
Of course, Gutierrez’s health is always an issue. But so far it won’t be. He played for a month in the Venezuelan winter league and had no injuries.
“He weighs 197 pounds and he’s not having any issues of any kind,” Griffins said. “Anything he’s had the last three years does not exist. He’s going in with a good frame of mind. We are hoping everything works out for him. He’s been snake bit the last few years by a lot of different things, unusual things. Hopefully this year he can get back to the way he was.”
7. Jack Zduriencik isn’t going to comment on Felix Hernandez and a possible extension.
We tried to get him to budge. But credit to Jack Z, he won’t give in when it comes to being mum on contract situations.
“I don’t want to comment on that right now,” he said. “I’ll just say this, I’ve made it clear, any time anyone’s asked me, I have every intention of keeping Felix here for the long term.”
8. Don’t call them the Big 3? Maybe the “Fab Four?” And patience with Zunino
A year ago, everyone wanted to talk about the Big 3 – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen. Well, now there’s a fourth pitching prospect to mix in there – Brandon Maurer. Those who know about the Mariners, know that Maurer has elevated himself into a top pitching prospect.
You can watch Mariners director of minor league development Chris Gwynn talk about the minor league system and some of the top prospects (above). Of note … infield prospect Stefen Romero will add third base and outfield to the positions he play this season along with second base to make him more versatile.
Gwynn was also very frank about the progress of Mike Zunino.
“He’s definitely ahead of most college players that come out,” he said. “Receiving-wise he still has some stuff to learn. Offensively, he’s pretty good now. But he’s only had 160-180 at-bats in the minor leagues, which makes me nervous in the sense that — Are we really preparing him for when he gets here? He still has stuff to learn both ways. But catching is such an important position, you need make sure he’s well seasoned before he shows up here.”
9. Safeco Field doesn’t look like Safeco Field right now
The construction in the outfield is in progress. The fence is gone and everything looks different. You can see in this video that my co-worker Todd Dybas was kind enough to shoot for me.
10. New radio guy Aaron Goldsmith looks like he’s 18, but has a voice like he’s 50.
Rick Rizzs (left) introduced to Goldsmith (right). The new broadcaster seemed very excited and very friendly.
11. The Mariners will still have plenty of promotions
There will be a Felix bobblehead where he is “Felixing (above) on May 25th. There’s a train night for Tom Wilhelmsen. There’s also a Dustin Ackley gnome night (not sure what that is). There is also a nit cap and beard hat night … which was obviously designed for John Jaso. There will be a few fireworks nights this year. The group that does the fireworks by the Space Needle are doing it.
Here’s the complete list …