(Seattle Times staff photo by Ken Lambert)
Today was the Mariners’ annual spring-training luncheon, with appearances by several team officials, capped by general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge. I’m still sorting through my notes, but to start things off, here is a transcript of Zduriencik’s remarks.
To summarize: He loves the Mariners’ minor-league prospects (“I don’t think you can take our upper level pitching, between Double-A and Triple-A, and the young kids at the big league level, and say anybody in baseball has that right now”), believes the talent base is continuing to grow at the major league level, and thinks that the veteran presence of guys like Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse and Jason Bay will help a lot. He still wants to bring in a veteran pitcher for the rotation, and plans to add probably two more catchers (one of them presumably being Ronny Paulino, who’s signing is not yet official).
Zduriencik went pretty deeply into the failed attempts to sign Josh Hamilton (though not using his name) and said it was indicative of ownership’s willingness to open its wallets in the right situation. Even though Hamilton signed with the Angels, here’s what Zduriencik said: “I do think when you look at us, at least it appears from media speculation, if it’s accurate, we made a more aggressive offer than the team he’s currently with. What does that tell you? We went after him. At the end, every player has their decision, every player has their comfort level. He made his decision, which he got a fantastic deal for. Next time, maybe it will come our way.”
He concluded, “What I really hopes happens is this is an exciting year for us, and I think this year become a launching pad for people to look at this organization, finally, and say, they have good young players, they’ve added some nice pieces there. And the players that are on this team, whether it be veteran players or younger players, spread the message through the baseball world to their colleagues that this club is not that far away. With an addition here and an addition there, this club could be pretty good. I hope we’ve laid the groundwork for that to happen.”
Here is the transcript:
Opening statement: We said in the offseason one of the things we were going to do was to try to add to our offense. We made some very specific moves to do that. We also went down some roads that didn’t quite work out. But I said on many occasions that at the right time, ownership would step up and allow us to do something that was outside the box. I think certainly in one of our challenges this winter, they allowed us to do that (Larry Stone here: Clearly, he’s talking about Josh Hamilton). And I think we were pretty aggressive in a scenario to go after a certain free agent that didn’t sign here, and went elsewhere.
I think it was an interesting challenge. We had a great meeting in Nashville, and I really thought there was legs to that possibly happening. It didn’t, but again, as I said many times, at the right time they would allow us to do that, and they did. It just didn’t work to our benefit – at least it seems that way right now.
We did target some offense, we did bring in Jason Bay, a local guy. It will be interesting to see what happens. He’s going to try to get back on track. He had some rough years in New York. He knows it, we know it. We’ll see. The nice thing is, he said to me, I get to sleep in my own bed each night, and play in my hometown. That will be an interesting comfort level for him.
Of course, bringing Raul back, a guy that has tremendous leadership skills. We’ll look forward to that, and see how he works out in spring training and his contributions. Then certainly a couple of the trades.
The recent move, the thing we wanted to do in this whole process was to continue to build the system, and continue to do as much as we can to let this thing get to a point where we now have what we consider talented young kids at the big league level. We did try to augment that this winter, and I think we have done that. The trade for Michael Morse….we thought it was important to bring someone in our lineup who could hit 30 home runs, let’s say. John Jaso, great teammate, good player – he was going to be a part-time player. The fact we had (Mike) Zunino around the corner I think helped our thought process in trying to make that move.
A periodical recently had us rated No. 2 in the strength of the minor-league talent. Some information came out this morning rating Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen as the one and two right-handed, left-handed pitchers in baseball. Paxton the fifth LH pitcher in baseball, prospect wise. Zunino the No. 2 catcher in baseball. There’s some really nice things happening with our young kids. Again, we’ve very young at the big-league level.
Again, what we wanted to do, and we have accomplished, was to continue to let these kids grow, continue to keep this system where it’s at, but augment it with middle of the lineup hitters as well as experience. That’s where it’s at. Spring training will be interesting. We’ll see young kids compete, veteran guys doing their thing, hopefully the kids at the big-league level take the next step and continue to grow to become mature big-league players.
On the impact of moving the fences in on attracting free agents: It’s probably a factor. Anytime you talked about an offensive player about coming to Seattle, it was a part of the discussion, in the past. The agent would bring it up all the time: What are you going to do about your fences, etc.? I’m repeating myself: The fences coming in doesn’t mean we’re going to hit more home runs than any other team. That wasn’t the reason for it. The reason for it was we felt was the psychological aspect of playing in a pitcher’s park 81 teams a year. Watching our kids go through that, and talking to players who have been here in the past, and their feelings about the ballpark. We wanted to create a fair ballpark. It’s been well-publicized. All the players are aware of it, the agents are aware of it. A couple of the guys we brought in this winter looked at it and said, wow, this is going to be cool. Until the see it, until they play in it, you won’t really know, but I think it will have a factor.
On adding experienced players to hit in the middle of the order: It should help a lot. There were times you looked at our lineup last year, I don’t think anyone’s to blame; the general manager, of course, is responsible for the club on the field, but our kids had to go through this. Had we brought in experienced players a year ago, yeah, maybe we would have had a little better record. But I do think you would have robbed young kids of ABs. Now Smoak doesn’t get his Abs, Ackley, Seager, whoever it may be. They had to go through that year at a very young age. At times during the year, you had Seager batting third, Montero batting three-four, right in the middle of your lineup, Smoak trying to do that – that’s a pretty big challenge.
I think right now what we wanted do was try to balance our lineup a little better. You’ll have these young kids in a different spot in the lineup where they would be more comfortable, and veteran guys taking on more of a middle of the lineup role. I think that’s probably what you’re going to see.
On where the Mariners fit in the division, and can they contend in 2013: None of us know. I don’t want to sit here and make any predictions, because you just don’t know. So many things can happen. Oakland had five losing seasons in a row, and all of a sudden that thing turns around like it did for them. They traded their one-two starter, their closer, let Josh Willingham walk away, and then all of a sudden guys stepped up and you went, wow, they had a heck of a year. Who knows what will happen? But I do think our kids are more confident. We’ve challenge them. We should roll into spring training with them have been there, done that another year. A lot of those kids got half a year the year before and last year they got a full season under their belt. Now you’re looking at guys that walk into the ballpark like, hey, I belong here.
How are we going to be in the division? Hey, we’re still at four right now. I’m not going to talk about the Astros; we haven’t seen them play yet in this division. But we haven’t leap-frogged anybody. That won’t happen until we got out on the field to see exactly how these things fall into place. I don’t have the answer to that right now. I feel strongly we’re in pretty good shape. We have a great group of young kids. We have a very good minor-league system right now, which we said we were going to do.
It’s kind of like, I’ve been here four years, I’m starting my fifth year. You can’t even count last year’s draft. If someone gets to the big leagues out of last year’s draft, that’s a Godsend. You’ve had three drafts with a chance to get guys to the big leagues. What we’re going to see in the future, in ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16 and ’17, these kids are all going to start to matriculate to the big-league level. I think it’s going to be fun. As the excitement builds, and we’re able to do another free-agent deal like we tried to do this year, it will be more successful in the future.
Talking to free agents, and agents, but particularly free agents, and we flew a few of them in here, they were like, “in the second half of the season, you guys were really competitive.” Guys on other clubs, guys that played against us that were on contending clubs, “You guys weren’t pushovers. You guys were tough. We see it coming. Your bullpen’s great. We love those arms in your bullpen. And we hear about these young pitchers you have.”
This is a good point right now that we’re in. I like it. Would I love to have another bat in the middle of our lineup? Of course. Would I love to have a second Felix Hernandez on this club? Of course I would. But you can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Felix extension talks: I don’t want to comment on that right now. 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.
Rotation behind Felix and Iwakuma, would he like to add veteran: I’d like to. Clear cut, I’d like to add a veteran pitcher, no doubt. We do have a Bonderman who’s a non-roster invite to spring training, we’ll see what happens there. We might do another one or two of those before spring training starts. There are some free agents out there we’ve had discussions with. We’ve had trade talk with clubs about trying to add another pitcher.
I think you look at Erasmo Ramirez and you look at Beavan and you look at Noesi, and then you look at this whole group of young kids. And then whatever else we do prior to going to spring training. I wish we had more experience right now. But it is what it is. Do I think one of these young kids will make the club? I don’t know. I think they’ll be given the opportunity in spring training. One thing I’ve been pretty adamant about, I don’t like to say this guy’s going to start in Triple-A. Because if I’m that kid, and I’m rolling into spring training, and I’ve got my sights on being a big-league player, the last thing I want to read in the paper is the general manager told everybody in the world, the week before I rolled in, I don’t have a chance to make the big-league club. I don’t think that’s fair. We’ll make the decision when all these kids come to spring training, with all the front office, the coaching staff, and what’s best for each individual part. So the door’s wide open.
Is Oakland success a blueprint for going to young pitchers: I don’t look at them as a blueprint. I look at them as a club that had a lot of success last year. I think a lot of clubs would look at the Seattle Mariners right now and say, I wish I had their upper level pitching. It was very evident this winter in all my discussions with agents and general managers and free-agent players – a lot of people are very aware that this is a very talented group of young kids. Not only at the big league level. We sat here a year ago, would you guys have said Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor. Well, we might very well do that again this year. We’ll see who it is. There might be other clubs in baseball that have maybe a better pitcher or two throughout their system. That’s fine. Everybody has good players. But I don’t think you can take our upper level pitching, between Double-A and Triple-A, and the young kids at the big league level, and say anybody in baseball has that right now. Will they all mesh, will they all work out? We hope so. But that’s a pretty talented group of young kids.
Was clubhouse leadership a void last couple of years: I think it was. I don’t think there’s a doubt it was. It’s that “been there, done that” thing. Eric and I, so many times after a ballgame, I’d roll in there, you’d look at who’s batting three, four or five, and a they had no experience. But again, we had to go through that to get these kids experience. But just the fact you got a young kid sitting in the on-deck circle, someone like Raul Ibanez gets up and puts his arm around the kid and says, I’ve been in this situation before. That’s a whole lot different than coming from a hitting coach or a manager. They’re in the locker room, after ballgames or before ballgames. I think the leadership factor on the field is going to be an important aspect to these additions this year.
Catcher: We’ll probably add more than one catcher. We really like our young catchers. Obviously, Zunino is Zunino. Hicks is a good-looking young kid. Do I expect them to make the club? I think it would be extremely impressive if that happened. But we will go out and add a catcher or two prior to spring training.
Iwakuma’s role: He should go in as probably a No. 2 starter and just pitch. He’s been an experienced pitcher. He’s older, he’s got tons of innings under his belt. I just talked to Antony Suzuki, who came back from Japan, who said he’s worked very hard and continued his shoulder exercises. Carried it all through the winter. I don’t see any reason why this guy can’t compete and give us all he’s got the whole year.
On progress of building: I think we are on the right path. A really good example I heard today on the MLB channel. Stan Kasten was on talking about the Dodgers. One of the things he immediately went to was trying to build the Dodger organization from the ground up. That club went out and spent a ton of money at the big-league level for a whole lot of players. They set a record this year for major-league payroll. But they’re trying to do the same things we started a few years back. Everybody has to have that. You just have to do it. Unfortunately in this game, it doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t get, unless you’re enormously blessed, a (Russell) Wilson to come in here like the Seahawks and be our starting center fielder the year after the draft. It just doesn’t happen in baseball, or rarely. It’s a continuing, building process. We haven’t deviated from that. We’ve stayed the course. We’ve tried to augment the big-league club. We continue to build this thing. I like where this organization’s health is right now.
Influence in attendance decline on your moves: You’re always aware of everything around you, but you have to do the baseball things that are the baseball sound decisions. You can’t turn around and deviate from something that’s not in your game plan. If you do that, you’re probably going to stub your toe big time and take two steps backward, so then you’re going to start all over again. Look, we wanted to do what we did this winter for sound baseball reasons. If it has an additional effect, if it excites our fan base, that’s great. Winning will excite our fan base. As much as we’ve told them we’re going to build, you’re going to have your own kids coming up here, winning would bring a lot of that excitement back to us. I certainly hope we’re in a position to do that this year.
Frustrating not get players you targeted: It’s always disappointing when things don’t work out like you hoped. But you have to go in with your eyes wide open. I will say this: No one was able to do, in one of the deals, what we were able to do (Stone here: I think it’s clear he’s talking about Justin Upton in the previous comment). That says the strength of your organization. In terms of a particular free agent that didn’t come here (Stone: Hamilton), there were a lot of reasons why. We knew going in we were probably going to be behind the eight ball. Here’s a guy who made it very clear in our meeting that he wanted to play for a club that had a chance to go to the World Series and I could probably do that immediately. If I going to come to your city, it’s got to be a long-term deal and I have to realize in the first couple of years it may or may not happen. So he was presented something in front of him that was an enormous amount of dollars. The amount of years he was comfortable with. But I do think when you look at us, at least it appears from media speculation, if it’s accurate, we made a more aggressive offer than the team he’s currently with. What does that tell you? We went after him. At the end, every play has their decision, every player has their comfort level. He made his decision, which he got a fantastic deal for. Next time, maybe it will come our way.
What I really hopes happens is this is an exciting year for us, and I think this year become a launching pad for people to look at this organization finally and say, they have good young players, they’ve added some nice pieces there. And the players that are on this team, whether it be veteran players or younger players, spread the message through the baseball world to their colleagues that this club is not that far away. With an addition here and an addition there, this club could be pretty good. I hope we’ve laid the groundwork for that to happen.