UPDATE 6:24 p.m. PT: Mariners first-round draft pick (No. 3 overall) Mike Zunino has officially signed with the team. He’ll be introduced to the media tomorrow.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was in the dugout pregame, so I walked on over and chatted with him for about 10 minutes on what he’s seen so far from the team and what he expects moving forward.
Zduriencik told me he’s seen some optimistic signs on quite a few fronts — not necessarily on a consitent basis for some guys, but snippets of good things.
“There have been some really nice individual performances,” Zduriencik said. “You look at some of these pieces in the bulpen that have really come together and realize they’re going to be here for a long time because of their age. I mean, look at what (Tom) Wilhelmsen has done. Look at what (Charlie) Furbush has done. (Lucas) Luetge has been impressive. Oliver Perez has come in and done and very nice job.
“And then, you look at Stephen Pryor coming from AA to the big leagues. We’ve yet to see the completeness of what he’s going to be. But I think it was impressive, what he did, for just a few outings. And he’ll continue to grow. So, I think when you start to look like that, if you have vision, this can have the makings of a really good bullpen going forward.”
As for the starters, Zduriencik said he has seen positive spurts from Hector Noesi. “He can go four innings, five innings at different spurts of the ballgame where he really looks like a good pitcher. But he’s still working on putting the finishing touches on becoming a complete pitcher.”
Zduriencik also saw some positive signs from Erasmo Ramirez before he went down with his elbow problem.
On to the position players.
“I think you can look at individual performances — even in spurts,” he said. “You’ve seen the spurts out of (Kyle) Seager. I think he’s certainly established himself as a big league player and you’ve seen some really good spurts out of him. (Jesus) Montero has done the same. A 22-year-old kid playing a lot in the big leagues. At that (catching) position, I think we’ve been fairly pleased. He’s had really good days. He’s had challenging days. But I think that’s expected from a young guy like him.”
Zduriencik moved on to backup catcher John Jaso.
“I think Jaso’s put a print on what he might be. He’s a catcher, a part-time catcher. A DH, he’s bounced around a little bit here and there. Certainly a good bat off the bench as well. That’s been a good acquisition for us and certainly with the years of control for him.”
As from Franklin Gutierrez: If you look at Guti, I think we were all excited to get him back. And unfortunately, another freak injury for him. But I think the little glimpse we had, I think it added a lot of stability to what we were trying to do here. It gives you a pure center fielder.
“Of course, (Michael) Saunders has been impressive as well. He’s still growing and he’s still learning but I think we all have to be happy with what he’s done.”
And now, the downside.
“Guy like (Justin) Smoak and (Dustin) Ackley, it’s been a challenging first half for them, but they’re still young. And this is Ackley’s first…as of right now he’s got a year of big-league time under his belt. He’s got to make adjustments at this level as does Smoak does as well.
Zduriencik reiterated that he said going into the season that “it would be a year of streaks and a year of spurts” and getting the young players’ feet wet.
“What we’d like to see in the second half is for that gap to close,” he said. “For these guys to become more consistent. To understand ‘I’m a professional big leaguer, this is my job day in and day out’ and approach it that way. And I think they are starting to understand that.”
Zduiriencik and I spoke as well about the trade deadline and the depth in his bullpen. He already mentioned Wilhelmsen and Furbush, but we chatted as well about guys like Pryor and Carter Capps and whether anyone could emerge as a potential closer candidate and he agreed that there is some late-inning potential there.
There are rumors out there that the Mariners might try to move Wilhelmsen as part of a deadline package. For me, that makes a lot of sense. The Mariners spent next to nothing to acquire and develop Wilhelmsen off of baseball’s scrap heap and he’s become a fantastic story.
And if you’re another team looking for a trade with the Mariners, you are going to want a guy like Wilhelmsen, who costs about one-tenth what Brandon League does, is performing better and will be under club control for several more years.
In other words, if you’re the Mariners and can land an interesting piece from another team, you’d be getting it for a guy you basically stumbled upon out of nowhere and didn’t have to waste a high draft pick or a huge signing bonus on. Don’t forget, Zduriencik already did the equivalent of using a first-round pick on a closer when he decided to sign Josh Fields rather than let him go back in the draft and get a compensatory pick.
So, Zduriencik knows he essentially got Wilhelmsen for free. As good as he looks now, there are others who can potentially handle the ninth inning in coming years and right now — other than the big minor league starters — Wilhelmsen may have more trade value than any other Mariners.
Zduriencik would never talk about a player by name that he’s looking to deal. But I asked him, in general terms, about whether he’d have the depth to move a young bullpen arm right now.
“I’ll answer it this way,” he said. “Because this is the easiest way for me to answer it. Any time you have desirable pieces, you never know what can happen.”
Zduriencik repeated that while winning in the majors remains the most important goal, another big one was to keep the pipeline of good pieces flowing throughout the organization and provide depth at various areas.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “If you’re another general manager and you call me to begin a dialogue, it all depends on what you are offering.”
In other words, no. I don’t believe Wilhelmsen or any young bullpen arm would be off-limits at this point.
By the way, Zduriencik said to expect an announcement “very shortly” on first-round pick Mike Zunino, who is in town to sign his deal.
2B Robert Andino
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Wilson Betemit
CF Adam Jones
DH Jim Thome
C Matt Wieters
RF Chris Davis
1B Mark Reynolds
LF Steve Pearce
RHP Jason Hammel
CF Casper Wells
DH John Jaso
3B Kyle Seager
C Miguel Olivo
1B Dustin Ackley
LF Chone Figgins
2B Munenori Kawasaki
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma