(In the picture above, ex-Mariner Sean Green throws at today’s Mets’ workout in Port St. Lucie, Florida, while J.J. Putz and an unidentified left-hander watch).
J.J. already seems like “one of the guys” here, interacting easily with his new Mets’ teammates. Turns out there’s a good reason — he’s been in Port St. Lucie for nearly two weeks, coming to the complex every day to work out and throw bullpens. He said that gave him a chance to get to know most of the pitchers before the official camp opening today.
Putz said he has especially bonded with pitchers John Maine and Mike Pelfrey, and catcher Brian Schneider. Apparently, he had a bet with Pelfrey, another husky fellow (listed as 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, compared to 6-5, 250 for Putz) , on who would have the lower body-fat count when they took their physicals. I hear J.J. won 100 bucks in that competition. Putz is staying at a a hotel near the Mets complex, and he’s become video game buddies with Daniel Murphy, an outfielder that’s staying across the hall.
He contrasted the Mets’ confident attitude with that of the Mariners.
“It’s different. Big time,” he said. “It’s almost like there’s a more relaxed feeling. They just know they’re going to win. Where in Seattle, a lot of times, it was expectations, and a lot of times we didn’t really know how to deal with that. Here, it’s a given. We will win. Not ‘we’re supposed to win this year’ but: We will win.”
I asked him if he thought the high expectations got to the Mariners last year.
“A little bit. We got killed by injuries, too early. I don’t think we ever fully recovered from that. We lost a ton of one-run games those first few weeks of the season. Like I said, we never recovered. There wasn’t enough time.”
I was curious, of course, to hear what Putz had to say about the clubhouse divisions that have been cited as a reason for the Mariners’ downfall. I asked him if that was overblown. He shook his head and said no, and noted that there was lots of internal tension all season.
“There were just some guys that just aren’t really team guys. There’s a lot of guys that are team guys in there. There was definitely some butting heads on certain things. What the hell can you do? Some guys are just stubborn.”
He refused to name any names. “I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus. But I think everybody knows who everybody is talking about. It is what it is. Hopefully, it changes for them over there.”
Can the Mariners win with “non-team guys” on the roster? “I don’t think so. It depends. It depends if they hold everyone accountable equally, or some guys just get special treatment, like it’s been in the past.”
When I asked him specifically to comment on Ichiro — and I got the strong impression that was who he was primarily referring to; there was really no doubt about it, in fact — he said: “It’s hard to argue with 200 hits every year, and a lifetime, what, .320 hitter. I just think there’s so much more he can do that doesn’t happen. I would have liked to have seen him take more chances on the basepaths. It seems like he was only going to steal a bag when he was absolutely sure. I don’t think he even realizes how good he is at stealing bags.
“I don’t know….200 hits isn’t easy, and to do it eight straight years, it’s hard to argue. You can’t really knock the guy for his work ethic. His routine is ridiculous. Everything is the same every single day. I mean, he’s prepared to play. But…”
Putz stopped there. I’ve talked to enough Mariners’ players off the record to know the litany of Ichiro complaints — that he’s a selfish player; that he doesn’t do the little things it takes to win, like diving for balls, or moving runners over, or stealing bases when the team needs him to, as Putz alluded to; that he’s too stat and style oriented.
This is clearly an issue that Don Wakamatsu is going to have to confront head-on. Whether or not the complaints are valid — and I remain a staunch Ichiro proponent — if this perception is as strong as it appears to be in the clubhouse, then there’s going to be resentment. Plain and simple. You can label the complainers as misguided, or jealous, or whatever, but a disfunctional team is a disfunctional team. Making the Mariners cohesive again is Wakamatsu’s first challenge.
Of course, there’s one surefire way for all this to disappear, and that’s for the Mariners to win. Everyone seemed to love Ichiro in 2001, if I recall.