(Jesus Montero does the traditional “hold up his jersey” photo op at today’s Mariners luncheon, flanked by Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik. Photo by Associated Press).
(With a cap tip to Ryan Divish, who believes he pioneered the format of a 10-item list — which would be a surprise to the FBI, David Letterman and Casey Kasem, among others. And yes, I know Kasem’s list was actually a top 40, but you got my point).
1, I’ve been to a lot of these events, and usually they’re flowing with optimism about the upcoming season. This one was flowing with realism, and pleas for patience while the young nucleus of the team develops. One of the first things Jack Zduriencik said was this:
“This is going to be a challenging year at the big league level. Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve got a young club, no matter how you shake it. We’ve got young players.”
And when I asked him later if he saw this as a contending season, he said: “It’s going to be a challenge, because of the young kids. You think about it. Dustin Ackley has a half year in the big leagues; Kyle Seager has a half year in the big leagues. Casper Wells. You start looking at these pieces, and the same with the pitchers, guys like Tom Willhelmsen. Then you look at what happened in this division. No matter how you shake it, you can’t ignore what Anaheim did, or what Texas did. And those clubs were ahead of us prior to these moves.
“It’s an uphill battle. We have a real challenge before us. The positive to it is, we’re going to know real quickly. We have two of the best clubs in all of baseball in our division. That’s a real challenge, but we’re going to compete against these guys and find out what we’re all about.”
It’s not quite “Believe Big.”
2, That said, Zduriencik stressed over and over again that he believes a strong foundation is being built that is going to pay dividends in a big way. Of course, that means the fans are going to have to be patient, which he recognizes is not going to be a popular request to fans who have heard it all before.
“That’s fair. Hey, I l walk through the halls and hear fans say these things. You know what? I don’t have a magic wand. There’s nothing I can do to go, boom, this is going to happen overnight. Boom, we can fix every ill this organization has had for the past number of years. There’s no way to do that. It’s a process that unfolds…Do you think I sit here as the general manager and say, ‘This is easy.’? It’s not easy. It’s hard to win a major-league game. It’s hard to get talent. There are 29 other clubs who are pretty darned good and pretty darned competitive. What we’re up against is people trying to do what we’re doing. We have our plan, and our people in place. We’re doing what we can to make this thing better as quickly as we can.
3, For the most part, it looks like what you see is what you get. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any major additions to this team before spring training. As I wrote earlier this week, after Prince Fielder signed, the Mariners are going all-in on their young players.
Zduriencik said, “I think if we do something, it will probably be a little chip. I don’t think it will be anything earth-shattering. At this point, there’s no much out there. In terms of trades, I don’t see anything happening right now that would be something signficant…I won’t say ‘never,’ because you never know when the next call might spur something. But right now, there’s nothing imminent.”
The one impact name still out there is Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who is on the verge of becoming a free agent after establishing residency in the Dominican Republic. I’ve heard the Mariners are monitoring the negotiations, but I don’t see it as a likely outcome considering how aggressively a team like the Marlins are going to go after him, and how high the bidding is likely to go.
4, Zduriencik addressed the Prince Fielder signing with Detroit, kind of.
“I did get a message from Scott (Boras) on that particular one,” he said. “He was very positive and thankful for the whole process. He had a vision of what the number was going to be. He openly shared that with me, and he got the number. He certainly thought it would begin with a 2, and it happened that way. That’s a large number and a large number of years (nine). Best to him. I congratulated him (Boras) and asked him to give my best to Prince and wish him the best, because we do. We wish he goes on and has the remainder of a terrific career.”
5, Zduriencik said he strongly believes that when the time is right to add a high-priced player, he will have the freedom to do that.
“I have a lot of confidence in this ownership group and those above me that as we move forward and we put this thing together, and we think we’re right there and we feel we can be competitive with this extra piece or two, I feel very confident they’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s go get it. Let’s do it.’
6, OK, you want more optimism than that, less than three weeks from spring training. I know you guys. Ladies and gentlemen, Eric Wedge.
“I’m as excited and as confident, if not more confident, than the day I got this job.”
And, on the message he gave to nine core players who came to Seattle recently for a minicamp of sorts:
“I told them all, if you guys can just believe half of what I believe, not just in this organization, and this plan, but in yourselves, then we’re golden. Just get to that point. And if you get halfway there, you can finish it off yourselves. That’s how much I believe in these young kids.”
And, on the subject of whether he thinks they can contend this year:
“Yeah. I come into every spring training — I’ve seen too many crazy things happen not to feel that way. It may be pie in the sky type of situation, because everyone tells me the best two teams in baseball are in our division now. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not. My expectation is to come in and try to win every ballgame. I want our players to understand that the expectation for our club is to work hard to win every game.”
7, Speaking of the minicamp, which included Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Casper Wells, Miguel Olivo, Franklin Gutierrez, John Jaso, Brendan Ryan and Chone Figgins, everyone was blown away by what kind of shape Gutierrez and Smoak, particularly, were in.
Smoak is down from 234 pounds when the Mariners acquired him to 220, with a four percent decline in his body fat, according to trainer Rick Griffin. And he’s completely over his thumb issues that hampered him last year. “His strength and agility are so much better than it was,” Griffin said.
But the real buzz was about Gutierrez, who finally seems to have his stomach issues (diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome) under control. He ended the season at 183 pounds and now weighs 197. “Everything he put on was muscle,” Griffin said. “He looks unbelievable, the best he has in two years. And he hasn’t had any stomach problems in 10 months.”
8, Jesus Montero got a thrill today when Edgar Martinez, one of his boyhood idols, came to Safeco Field to say hello.
“Ow, wow. That was a pleasure, an honor to meet him. When I was 11, I used to tell my dad he was going to see me on TV one day, which he did last year. I was talking about Edgar Martinez that moment I was telling my dad. Edgar was hitting a double to right field. I told my dad, I’ll be like him one day, hitting the ball to right field. Last year was good — I hit a couple of homers to right field, which I like to do.”
9, Montero’s mentor last year with the Yankees was Alex Rodriguez — whose brain he picked, much like A-Rod used to pick Martinez’s brain as a Mariner.
“Sometimes in the minor leagues before, I didn’t used to listen a lot,” he said. “I didn’t catch those things they were telling me. Alex was telling me a lot of good things in the big leagues last year. I learned a lot from him. He was amazing to me. I put those things in the game. That was good.”
10, Here’s Wedge on how he envisions using Montero: “Miguel (Olivo) is still our catcher right now, and we have a couple other guys too, obviously. With Jesus, the most important thing for me right now is to make sure he gets every-day at-bats. And then to continue to develop as a catcher. I do feel confident he’s going to be a solid big-league catcher, and without a doubt he has the potential to be an every-day big league catcher. I don’t think he should expect anything less from himself, because I don’t. But, he’s 22 years old. Most catchers develop late. We’re not going to rush this thing.
“It’s important he gets every-day at-bats, it’s important he keeps working with Jeff Datz and myself, in regard to becoming a big-league catcher. And he’s going to be catching for us as well. But I think with Miggy here, he has a chance to be a mentor for Jesus. Because we have Miggy here, we don’t have to throw him right in the fire, and we’re not. We’re going to take care of this young man. He has a chance to be special, and from talking to him here in the early going, I think he’s a special person, too. So I think the most important thing is he’s going to have every-day at-bats, we’re going to continue to break him in as a catcher, but we don’t have to throw him right into it. It takes time to develop. I don’t want to push that and it winds up taking longer. If you try to push that forward too fast, it’s going to take him longer to be the player he needs to be.”
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