February 16, 2013 at 9:06 AM
Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez embark on encore acts with Mariners this morning
Michael Morse was sitting in the clubhouse rocking out to some tunes this morning and getting ready for his second act with a Mariners team that traded him to Washington for Ryan Langerhans back in 2009. Much has changed for Morse since he left. Back then, his spring training locker was in a rear section of the clubhouse and he largely stayed in the background, letting more established teammates be front and center.
Nowadays, Morse controls the clubhouse music. His locker is where Ichiro’s used to be and there’s a side buffer locker to his right that handles the overflow between him and Franklin Gutierrez (who has the end locker where Chone Figgins used to be). So, Morse is now big in clubhouse stature as well as in the lineup, where he’ll occupy the third or fourth spot.
“I got a chance to play,” Morse said.
Indeed he did. He nearly got that same chance in 2008 before diving for a fly ball and tearing the labrum his shoulder. I asked him whether he ever thinks things might have gone differently for him had he not been hurt.
“I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason,” he said. “I don’t like to look back on it or question it. I just know that good things have happened for me since I had the chance to play and I’m in a good situation right now.”
Morse owns at-shirt company 22 Fresh and today brought in a version he had made up yesterday. It reads: I love Japanese pitching and has a heart-shaped logo where the word “love” would be. The first person he showed it to was Antony Suzuki, interpreter for Hisashi Iwakuma.
“I think I’m going to have them made up for everybody except him,” Morse said with a smile, in reference to Iwakuma. “For him, I’ll maybe get one that says ‘I love American hitters’.”
Across the locker row, Raul Ibanez was preparing for his third go-around with the Mariners.
“It feels like I’ve come home,” Ibanez said. “Even when I landed here in Arizona and picked up my rental car. I came here in 1994 as a minor league player, so coming back here, it’s like I’ve come home.”
That the Mariners are even considering players like Ibanez and Morse for outfield playing time seems to represent a significant change for them from years past, when defense-first outfielders like Ichiro, Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez were more the norm. Much of it likely has to do with Safeco Field being reconfigured.
I asked Ibanez whether he thinks that will help him.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve always maintained that when you’re evaluating a player, the size of the outfield definitely does matter. It makes a difference. Bringing in the fences is obviously going to make it a smaller area to cover.”
Ibanez has heard the comments about his defense before. He’s well aware of what people perceive as being his short-comings.
“It’s something that I don’t think about very often,” he said. “People are always going to say something about what you do or don’t do. If I focused on everybody that told me what I couldn’t do, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
He’s also aware of how some of his scoring in advanced defensive metrics got better when he switched over to playing in a smaller outfield at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. So, we’ll see how much he plays the outfield this year and what happens.
Unlike Morse, Ibanez was already an established veteran when he left Seattle following the 2008 season. But he says he learned a few more things during years spent with playoff contenders in Philadelphia and New York.
“I think it’s really helped me, playing on some of the championship-caliber teams,” he said. “What it’s helped me do, as a veteran player, is see why teams do well and why teams don’t do as well. Sometimes, there’s a talent discrepancy, but more times than not it takes more than ability to win. It takes momentum, it takes a drive, it takes belief and it takes confidence. It takes confidence and character to overcome the tough times.”