UPDATED 7:15 P.M.
Here are some quotes from Jack Zduriencik from today’s Mariners’ luncheon (sorry for the delay, but I had to write my stories for the newspaper):
On the possibility of making a move before spring training: “We have ongoing discussions. We’re talking to agents, talking to other clubs. When you sit in this chair, you don’t shut the door to anything. We’re exploring, we’re continuing to try to move forward…Could we improve this club? Certainly we can. We’d be open to anyone who wants to talk about what we think would help this organization.”
On why so many free-agents remain unsigned: “Good question. A lot of it is what’s happening in this country right now. Everyone is a little cautious right now. The other issue is the economics of player’s contracts. We’re in same boat as everyone else. You’d like to go out and bring a player or two in. But you have agree on two things — dollars spent and length of contract. There’s a degree of reality that has set in with the current market and the economic times we’re in. I think some of this is going to fall into place as we move forward.”
On whether a lot of well-known players will sign minor-league contracts, like Omar Vizquel did with Texas earlier this week: “That could happen. You could go back and look at the Kenny Lofton scenario from a year ago. Kenny had offers and didn’t sign, and he didn’t play. As we move forward in the next few weeks, players might have to settle for something. Not that they necessarily want to, but that might be the reality we’re in.”
On signing Josh Fields: “It’s not imminent, I would say. I do think our desire is to have him. Again, like anything else, the two sides have to meet. We have our thoughts where he should come in at, they have their thoughts. We’ll see where it takes us.”
On his plan for developing the club: “I don’t think it’s any different than I’ve said in the past. What we need to do here is get this club healthy. That’s very, very important. We need to get players to buy into playing at least to their level of ability. There were players here who under-achieved, no question about that. I’m trying to send a message any way I can to come to spring training ready to compete.
“Then you hope you have a couple of players have exceptional years. Any club that moves forward, that takes it to the next level, players have good years. If we’re fortunate enough to have that happen, then we’re moving in the right direction.
“The biggest key, we have to increase the talent level in this organization. I can’t sit here today and look at this major-league ballclub and feel warm and fuzzy about it. I see potential, I see things I like about this club. But I also see things that need to be improved. From the ground level to the top, we need to improve the talent level.”
On what message he would send to fans about the need for patience: “That’s a very good question. I sit here and ponder that myself. I’m a fan myself. You never move away from that. I feel for the fans. When I was a kid, I’d go to bed with a transistor radio. I’d fall asleep listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In Little League, I’d take the field with a Bill Mazeroski card in my back pocket.
“When I look at the fans, it really, really touches home. I know how much this organization means, how much the players mean to them. The message I want to send is, we do care. I feel a strong commitment to this community and this organization. I would never want to do something that would mis-represent what we are trying to accomplish. We want this organization to move forward. We owe it to the fans, the people who are putting their heart and soul every single night into this club. It’s important our players understand that.
“The promise I’d make to them is we’re going to put a product on the field they’re going to be proud of. Is it going to happen over night? It’s going to take a little time. If we’re lucky, and some things fall into place, and some people have exceptional years, then it could happen sooner rather than later. But I can’t sit here and look people in the eye and say, ‘Get ready because we’re going to be playing in November, or October.’ I hope that happens. I’d love to see that happen, but there has to be a certain amount of patience. There is a plan in place.”
UPDATED 4:15 P.M.
Here are some Don Wakamatsu quotes from today’s luncheon. Note that Kenji Johjima, who will be tied up most of the spring with Team Japan, is flying to Arizona on his own initiative a few days before Mariners’ camp opens to meet with Wakamatsu.
On whether he’s come up with a theme for spring training: “We talked about several things. One is trying to really focus on teaching from the neck up, trying to play the game intelligently. Try to educate the players on their own abilities and weaknesses. Try to get them to understand how to play the game the right way. It’s a cliche, but try to get more in depth in that.
“I think lot of players today are expedited to some point to big leagues, not spending as much time in the minor leagues. We want to continue to educate at the major league level. As a staff we want to invest in a player — try to get to know a player, and understand how he thinks.”
On how competitive the camp will be for jobs: “I believe it’s going to be a real competitive. We’re looking at a fresh start here. We want to challenge these guys in spring training and see what they can do. We want to push the envelope, take the handcuffs off. We talked about creating an environment where they have a little more freedom to fail.”
On Kenji Johjima, who is likely to be training for the World Baseball Classic with the Japanese team throughout much of spring training: “Kenji is going to make a commitment; he’s going to come to spring training to meet with me Feb. 10 through the 12th, which is quite a commitment from him to come all the way from Japan prior to the WBC. He doesn’t have to do that. Obviously, he wants to start the year off right. I want to start the year off right with the relation part of it.”
On the pitching staff: “I like our starting pitching, No. 1. That’s a competitive area. Same thing with our bullpen. Jack has done a great job acquiring some pieces that we need to take a look at. I can’t sit here today and say this is 6, 7, 8 and 9 roles, or long, short. I have some ideas, but I’m not even going to speculate on that, yet. I need to see some of these guys pitch. Obviously, we’re looking at Felix. He’s one of the guy’s at the WBC, but we’ll have a chance to see him for 10, 11 days before that, see what kind of shape he’s in, how he’s pitching. Obviously, he’s going to be on the top of our rotation.
“Obviously the reports are good on Bedard, and also Morrow. Psychologically, if we can get those guys healthy, that’s 3 pretty good starting pitchers, and we’ll work from there. We’re going to give a lot of guys, because of the length of spring training, a chance to initially start and compete for the remaining spots.
On Aaron Heilman: “We’re going to let him compete (for the rotation). We have the opportunity to really start, at the start of spring, almost eight starters, and work along the way. We’ll have (new pitching coach) Rick Adair, myself, and the rest of the coaching staff look at these guys. That’s what we’re excited about. We want to get our hands on these guys and make some individual evaluations.
On whether he wants one closer, or closer by committee: “I’d like to have the roles established. Time will tell.”
On developing leadership: “First off, it is my responsibility; the way the club plays is absolutely my responsiblity, it’s a reflection of the way I lead. I absolutely take that with a lot of respect.
“As far as developing leaders, it’s real hard to change personalities. But there are different ways to lead. Would you say Edgar Martinez was a leader? I’d say absolutely yes. Was he a vocal person? Maybe not. Action speaks louder than words. The bottom line is, can you come to the ballpark, can you prepare to play, and can you give your teammates everything you’ve got. I think a lot of respect is gained that way. I’ll find out and we’ll create an environment for guys that want to lead that can lead. It’s my responsibility to handle all that.”
On the catching position: “I’ve seen Kenji catch extremely well. I’ve seen him swing the bat extremely well. Obviously, the history here is that Kenji is the starting catcher. The beauty of what we have in the sysem is depth all the way down to Adam moore. We’re going to try to give everyone an opportunity to grow. Where that slots out is going to be up to them, how hard they work and how fast they develop. That’s a good problem, in my mind.”
On whether he’s spoken with Ichiro: “Once I was hired, he was down here, working out in November. That tells you the work ethic. I don’t know many players taking batting practice and working on their game in November. Especially a guy that played 162 games. When I came down to my office, he was in there hitting. We had two different sessions;’ we had an opportunity to dialogue a little bit. I tried to stay away from the past and just try to get to know him a bit. He was great, had a great sense of humor. I look forward to having him.”
On whether the Mariners can contend: “My goal is for everyone to play to their best abilities. Where that leads, I don’t know. There were a lot of expecations last year on where we were going to finish. They were breaking out the champagne, in a sense. I don’t want to do that. I’m not scared of that. What I’m saying, I know this is a process. I believe in the front office, I believe in Jack Zduriencik. He’s going to get us players. I’m going to try to convince these players if we prepare to play and play the way we should play, that’s our highest expectaion. I don’t want to try to get into goals, like we have to get out of the gate early, we have to be in first place by 15 games by the All-Star break. We’re not going to talk about those things. We’re going to try to stay in the now and learn to play the game on a pitch-to-pitch basis.”
On how many positions are truly set in stone: “Mine. Honestly, there’s guys that have been in that role. Are we going to honor that? Yes. Beyond that, it’s a new day. I want to see what guys bring. Anointment is a strong word. We’re here to win, and to move in the right direction. We’ll make that evalution as we go along.”
That’s the official slogan for this season (A new day, a new way). Kind of has a nice ring to it, and unlike Sodo Mojo — which I liked — it won’t confuse a certain segment of the fan base who didn’t understand either “Sodo” or “Mojo.” I’d say my two most common e-mails over the years are 1) Whatever happened to Bucky Jacobsen?; and 2) What the heck does Sodo Mojo mean?
The luncheon was fun and informative. No bombshells, but it was interesting to contrast last year’s event, when everyone came out breathing fire and predicting contention, if not championships, to this year’s more realistic and restrained outlook. As I expected, manager Don Wakamatsu was pretty circumspect when talking about how the pitching staff will shake out, but there’s no question this will be one of the more competitive Mariner camps in recent memory. And also as expected, Jack Zduriencik said he is still working hard to add some roster pieces, but “it takes two to tango.” More on that later.
I still have much tape to transcribe, so I’ll dole this out in segments. First up is trainer Rick Griffin, who painted a pretty rosy picture of the team’s health going into spring training. Five players are coming off surgery, and “they’re all doing very well,” Griffin said. “We anticipate them all coming into camp and being able to participate and do everything the other players are doing. As of today, they should all have no restrictions.”
The five are (with Griffin’s comments):
Jeff Clement: (left knee, meniscus repair). “He’s hitting, he’s running, throwing, doing squatting and working on his catching. He’s doing very, very well. He’s actually going down to Arizona early to work with Roger Hansen seven to 10 days before camp starts. We anticipate him being ready to go.”
Erik Bedard: (left shoulder surgery). “I was just with Erik the last three days in 16-below Ottawa, Canada. He’s doing very, very well. I’m very excited for him. He’s in very good shape, he’s throwing, he’s pain-free. He’s going to step right in and do everything all the other pitchers are doing. I was very, very impressed and happy to see how well he was doing and how hard he’s been working this offseason.”
Mike Morse: (Left shoulder reconstruction) “Mike worked very hard all year. He went down to winter ball and was one of the better players in winter ball. He hit eight home runs and had 30 RBIs in only 150 at-bats. He is really ready to go. He’s excited. He’s looking forward to getting to camp and showing the new coaching staff what he can do.”
Adrian Beltre: (thumb and left shoulder surgery). “He’s doing really well. He’s down in California, working out, swinging, doing everything he needs to do. He also went down to the Dominican Republic for about six weeks and worked out down there. He’s doing well and will be ready to go as well.
Brian LaHair: (hernia) “That’s one that many of you probably don’t know about. He had a hernia surgery right after the season was over. He’s back competing, running ,and doing everything he needs to do as well.”
Griffin also had some interesting things to say about Carlos Silva, who was overweight last year and suffered a serious of nagging injuries en route to a 4-15 record.
“He’s doing really well. He’s lost a lot of weight and he’s in very good shape,” Griffin said. “He says he’s going to surprise me, and I’m looking forward to being surprised, pleasantly. He’s worked very, very hard over the winter. He’s had someone go to his house pretty much every day this winter. He’s either had a therapist, or a yoga instructor working on his flexibility…He’s telling me he’s going to surprise the Mariners, himself, and get back on track.”
Griffin defined Silva’s weight loss as “more than 20 pounds. We’ll leave it at that for now.”
Griffin said Felix Hernandez “is in very, very good shape. He got to Arizona two days ago and went to the ballpark today to work out. People who have seen him have told me how hard he’s been working out and how good he looks.”
Brandon Morrow spent two weeks in Seattle in November with the training staff working on a new program designed to prepare and strengthen him to be a starter.
“We altered his program from year’s past,” Griffin said. “He’s down in Arizona, going to the ballpark every day, five, six days a week. He has to do that. That’s a sacrifice you have to make, and he’s done that.”
The Mariners would like to eventually bulk up Morrow, who was 180 pounds when he was drafted, to 195 or 200 pounds. He’s currently around 190.
UPDATED 7:15 P.M.