Here’s some highlights from manager Don Wakamatsu’s appearance today. I’m too tired right now, frankly, to add any witty comments, so I’ll give you unvarnished Wak:
“To me it’s been a great winter. Sitting down in Texas watching what’s going on, obviously Jack and I have dialogued an awful lot this winter. I think that’s a stepping stone for me of a good organization is communication. Jack is extremely good at that. The second part is he makes eveyrbody in the organization a part of it.
“As far as the acquisitions, I sat back and listened to a lot of comments. As a manager, people have asked me what do we need and how I feel about all of this. You wait till you get to spring training and you put the pieces together and then you find out how good you are. Then you go into the season and make adjustments along the way. To have Cliff Lee, to have Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Brandon League, you can go down the list, it’s been a very busy winter that makes us feel warm and fuzzy right now. But there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m pretty excited about it.
“With the amount of turnover, the new players that are coming in, we have a lot of work to get to know people. I don’t know Brandon League, I don’t know Milton Bradley. I haven’t had much time to spend with those guys.
“Fortunately, I think a nice thing is that I have a relationship with Casey Kotchman and Chone Figgins. So if you prioritize things, No. 1 for me is the coaching staff getting to know these players and them getting to know us. From that point, we start to figure out the lineup, figure out the rotation, figure out playing time, put the pieces together. Then you deal with how guys come into shape and players like Rob Johnson – how good of shape is he in, is he ready to play right away in spring training. So there are a lot of unanswered questions for us.”
On whether he sees the Mariners as strong contenders in the AL West: “From a personal standpoint, yeah, you have to have some confidence in that. But on the same note, I’m down in Texas in the winter and I get to see what they’re doing firsthand. I got on the plane to come here and I come here and I find out Oakland’s signed Ben Sheets. They are all trying to do the same thing. I think the key for us, not to be old hat, but we have to worry about what we can do.
“That’s going to be our MO in spring training. I don’t have control over the Anaheim Angels. They’re going to be a good club. Oakland is going to be strong and maturing. Texas has made some good moves to bolster their bullpen and they got a big bat. That’s not what our focus is going to be. It’s going to be every player on our team trying to have a career year. The critical thing is are we continuing down the right path? Are we getting better every day? I’m not going to look at he end of the rainbow until we get there.
On Ryan-Rowland Smith: “I think it’s going to be a big year for him. Is it crucial? He is still a fairly young player. Last year was a good learning experience for him. I think it was necessary for him to go back and find himself. Every player has these aspirations of coming and being a starter and poof, your career is off and running. Well, sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. I think he did that last year. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s a tremendous competitor, I think he got a better feel for his offspeed pitches. I thought he pitched with better angle and he learned some things about pitching deeper in ball games. It might not have been his ideal last year, but I thought it was a great development year to set up for this year. That’s why I have a strong belief system in him this year.”
On Casey Kotchman: “I know Jack looks at every diff angle. Part of that dialogue was with myself but with other parts of the coaching staff, Ty Van Burkleo, Mike Brumley, Lee Tinsley, they were all involved in Casey’s development. That’s valuable information. It’s not only my opinion, but Jack is trying to fact find and get everybody’s. The thing that I like about Casey is I know where he’s come from and where he is at today. I think Casey is on a mission. I talked to Casey and he’s extremely excited about being here and having some life given back into his career. I think he feels that he hasn’t reached his potential, nor do we. He’s a guy that really understands the strike zone. He has since high school. He’s a guy that’s an above-average defender that gives us that aspect to help our pitching staff. But he’s also a guy that we think … we’ve seen a number of at-bats – seen them good and bad. I think we like to pride ourselves, along with Alan Cockrell as our hitting coach, that we can do some things. Not that nobody has tried, or that we can do something special. But I keep talking about giving players homes. I think he’s going to find a home here and he’s going to find a comfort level, and I think he’s already excited about that.”
On Milton Bradley: “I think it’s a good fit for him, and Jack and I have talked about this. 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 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 that 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. Hopefully we can feed off of each other and have a good year together.”
On speculation that Chone Figgins could play second base and Jose Lopez third: “If we broke today, Chone is going to play third base. As a manager to sit here and say this is going to be my starting lineup, this is going to be my bullpen already picked, there’s just so much that can happen from now till then. With our defense, we don’t know. I promise you this, staff-wise, front office-wise, we are going to sit and dissect this club and turn it upside down and every which way to try to break camp with the best club. That includes positions.”
On who will bat leadoff: “That would be my rightfielder. 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 lead-off hitter, he is. But 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 pattern, hey we’re open to a lot of things. But right now he is our lead off hitter. The beautiful thing about Chone Figgins is that he wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever so to have a playaer of that magnitude to come in with no ego is a beautiful things. We’ll see, but right now Ichrio is our lead-off hitter.
On Michael Saunders and Adam Moore’s chances of making the team: “The tough thing for a manager is to sit up here and never take somebody’s dreams away. Michael Saunders has as much chance to be our leftfielder as anybody in the game. He did a tremendous job last year of making some adjustments. As you remember he came up and had extremely tough role against a lot of lefties, which would be tough for anybody. He sat for a little bit, did a lot of work with Alan and I thought he made great strides, not only with his swing, but it was a great learning experience for him.
“I saw him yesterday at the Hutch luncheon and I saw a much more confident and mature player. He went to winter ball and put in some time down there and has worked extremely hard. We’re going to give him the opportunity to make this club.”
On Ken Griffey’s influence in the clubhouse: “I think Ken Griffey evolved into a tremendous leader. I don’t’think he came in that way. And in that I think he found a renewed enjoyment. You saw it at the end. That was a big decision. He wanted to sign back right away. There wasn’t a big – oh let me got think about this for a long time. He wanted to be a part of where we are going. The neat thing, as Jack has mentioned, there’s player out there that are starting to feel like this is a place they want to be. That’s what we set out to do. To have Ken in the clubhouse is critical. He’s a guy that makes the young players forget because he really enjoys the game and he understands the game and he understands the struggles. He doesn’t have an ego. You might laugh at that, but he comes in as humble as anybody and that’s why players gravitate toward him. He helps this staff. I think for all those things from an inside the clubhouse perspective, it’s a no brainer
“With his health, a lot of people don’t understand because they weren’t in the clubhouse is how bad his knee was last year. There were times when it was swollen and he couldn’t play. The good news was right after the season when he had the surgery, he really … we dialogued quite a bit over the winter … he feels like he’s in tremendous shape. We had Rick Griffin go down and see him. He’s lost some weight to take some pressure off the knee, but more importantly, he feels that surgery was a great success. So in that we are looking for some production out of him.”
On Griffey’s playing time: “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.