Just got back from the M’s spring training luncheon at Safeco Field, where we got to quiz Bill Bavasi, John McLaren, J.J. Putz and the ever-quotable Norm Charlton (pictured above). Plenty of news came out from the answers they gave to our questions.
First, Bavasi still expects to get a deal done for a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. He never mentions names, but it’s clear he was talking about Erik Bedard. It’s also clear that Bavasi feels this team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot and is ready to give up Adam Jones and plenty of other names to get a deal done.
“We’re in a position now where we have to do our best to make those moves for a top-of-the-rotation guy so we can slot the rest of the rotation where it should be,” he said. “We feel we have to make a move — one more move.”
Bavasi says he’s already put his best offer on the table and that it’s now a waiting game. He says there’s been a genuine reluctance by some clubs to part with young prospects, but “we’re not one of those clubs. We’re prepared to move…but there is a limit.”
What would that be?
“I don’t think you can give a club its terms and its price,” he said. “We can move a premier prospect and numbers (of players), but we’re not going to move a number of premier prospects.”
So, what’s going to happen now?
“As I’m sitting here today, I think we will (get a deal done),” he said. “I think there’s a good chance of that.”
There was plenty of talk during the two hours of back-and-forth between reporters and the Mariners officials in attendance about what caused last year’s bullpen collapse. Charlton raised some eyebrows when he suggested that former manager Mike Hargrove was playing for his job every day and that his “Hot Seat” might have spurred him into using relievers too early in games in April, May and June.
Now, we should remember that Charlton wasn’t with the major league team at that point, though he was in the organization as a minor league pitching advisor.
McLaren was with the M’s, as a bench coach, early last season. So, I asked him whether he thought there was some truth to what Charlton said about Hargrove.
“Yes,” he responded.
To a follow-up question about how much Hargrove’s early-season use of the bullpen cost the team in August and September, McLaren said something about how he doesn’t like to make excuses — but that it did hurt the team to some degree. How much of a degree? That’s up to history to decide.
All of the people in attendance — Charlton, McLaren, Putz — seemed to agree that the lack of experience amongst most of the bullpen members finally caught up to them down the stretch. Charlton wouldn’t flat-out suggest some of the younger relevers were nervous, though he did admit he was nervous at times as a young pitcher in similar circumstances.
Putz suggested some of his younger teammates may have learned the hard way that it’s OK to take a day off late in the season.
“I think the only problem was that they were young and a lot of these guys, it was their first time pitching in September and they didn’t realize what kind of a toll that takes on your bodyin the major leagues,” Putz said.
Charlton and Putz both agree the starters have to go deeper into games than last season. Charlton is going to insist — along with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre — that the Seattle pitchers do a better job of throwing inside.
Putz feels that — and the addition of Carlos Silva to the rotation — can only help.
“I don’t see those guys throwing 100 pitches in four innings this year,” he said.
Charlton also expects to see the “throwing inside” doctrine preached to Felix Hernandez. He can’t understand why Hernandez abandonned his fastball in favor of breaking pitches as often as he did last season and is determined to find out why by the first week of camp.
“Watching him in the minor leagues, he was mean,” Charlton said of Hernandez throwing inside. “I don’t think he did that as well as he could have last year.”
Charlton went on to add: “It bewilders me. Guys that have done it before…I don’t know if he lost some confidence and was afraid to use his fastball — I don’t know. Those are things that we’re going to have to find out in spring training.”
Some spring training guest coaches being brought in? Former Mariner reservist Rich Amaral is coming in to help teach base-stealing and running techniques. The Mariners want more stolen bases out of guys like Ichiro and Yuniesky Betancourt this season.
Longtime major leaguer Tony Phillips will also come in to teach players how to, uh, be like…Jose Guillen, I guess. McLaren wants him schooling the younger players (hello Betancourt and Jose Lopez) about playing all-out for 162 games. Wants him to up the intensity level, so-to-speak. I got to know Phillips for a couple of months when he played for the Blue Jays in 1998 — his final major league season. One thing I can tell you is, he was very intense. A good guy to talk to about baseball in the clubhouse as well. Yes, he had some highly-publicized off-field incidents (had plenty to say about those as well). But I liked the way he looked at himself and the game. I think having him there (like having Guillen around all of last season) can’t hurt a team that, let’s remember, has not won a darned thing yet.
Anyway, that’s my update for now. On the medical front, Mark Lowe should be ready to compete for a job at spring training. Arthur Rhodes has a projected May 1 major league readiness date, though he could be back earlier. Putz has dropped 15 pounds (he does lose weight every off-season). The really encouraging thing about Putz is his body fat, said to be at its lowest point ever. He sure looks different. How will this translate out on the mound? I don’t know. Tough to be better than he was.