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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

Category: Free agents
September 6, 2013 at 12:57 PM

Mariners have potentially ‘good’ players, but that’s it

Kendrys Morales (left) congratulates Justin Smoak at home plate after Smoak's first inning homer yesterday. The Mariners face a key decision on how far they'll go to bring Morales back next season to a team lacking elite level bats. Photo Credit: AP

Kendrys Morales (left) congratulates Justin Smoak at home plate after Smoak’s first inning homer yesterday. The Mariners face a key decision on how far they’ll go to bring Morales back next season to a team lacking elite level bats. Photo Credit: AP

Mariners manager Eric Wedge made an interesting comment about his team in the hours prior to yesterday’s 13-inning loss to the Kansas City Royals.

“I think we’ve got a lot of guys that have a good chance to be good ballplayers,” Wedge said. “I don’t know if we have any superstars. That’s probably a reach. But I think we’ve got volume, if that makes any sense. More so than in the past. We’ve got a number of players — probably more players who’ve got a chance to be good, solid big league players — than maybe other organizations. So, that’s what we’re trying to develop.”

Wedge meant the comment as a compliment more than a shot at his own team. But his unsolicited words echo what we were discussing in this space a couple of days ago when it comes to Kendrys Morales and his future with the organization. As was mentioned, the Mariners do not appear to be a team with any true, elite-level talent. Mike Zunino is not Buster Posey — at least not yet. Dustin Ackley has not morphed into another Chase Utley, or Aaron Hill. Justin Smoak is not Mark Teixeira. Nick Franklin hits the home runs that a young Adam Kennedy once did, but his defense isn’t as good and no one ever called Kennedy a superstar even though he did hit three homers in a decisive ALCS game back in 2002.

Brad Miller gets compared to Kyle Seager a lot for his intangibles, but again, nobody is confusing Seager with Adrian Beltre.  Seager is a guy who has worked his tail off to get where he is today — possibly the best all-around player on the Mariners right now.

But if he’s your best, it likely won’t be good enough. You look down the list of first place teams and playoff contenders and all have at least one player who ranks as truly elite on the hitting side. Many have multiple guys who can do that. The Mariners, right now, don’t really have that game-changer. And as hard as Seager has kept on working to improve his game, he may never attain those levels and certainly is not expected to by those who make their living forecasting these types of things.

But even if Seager does work his way up to surpass all expectations and become a top-10 hitter in the American League, it helps to have more than one. And right now  – five years and counting into this rebuilding plan — the Mariners are lacking that key element that teams they supposedly aspire to emulate do have.

Which is why the Morales question becomes so important.

As mentioned before, Morales right now isn’t putting up elite level numbers. But he has put up good numbers. And the last full season before he broke his ankle early in 2010, he put he put up a .924 OPS in 594 at-bats. Not protected against certain-handed pitchers, or buried in spots No. 7-through-9  in the order to ease pressure. In nearly 600 at-bats, most of them in the No. 6 spot or higher up.

So, there’s still that expectation that Morales can do more than he’s done this year or last season coming back from a devastating two-year injury. And if that’s right, then the team having him will benefit tremendously. If it’s wrong, that team still gets a good hitter.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: kendrys morales; kyle seager; switch-hitter; contract

August 31, 2013 at 12:33 PM

Scott Boras says Kendrys Morales told Mariners he’s interested

Scott Boras, the agent for Mariners slugger Kendrys Morales, says his client has yet to decide on free agency and has told the M's -- through him -- that he's interested in returning. Boras expects he'll hear an offer once the season is completed. Photo Credit: AP

Scott Boras, the agent for Mariners slugger Kendrys Morales, says his client has yet to decide on free agency and has told the M’s — through him — that he’s interested in returning. Boras expects he’ll hear an offer once the season is completed. Photo Credit: AP

Kendrys Morales is set to become a free agent after this season. His agent, Scott Boras, raised some eyebrows in Seattle yesterday when an item from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports came out suggesting talks between the slugger and Mariners never got serious this summer.

Another part of the piece that drew attention was Rosenthal writing that Boras planned to market Morales as a hitter whose home numbers would vastly improve if he moved from Safeco Field. Now, I think Rosenthal does good work, so I’m not here to knock down his piece. But I decided to speak to Boras myself to get a clarification of exactly what’s gone on between the Mariners and Morales.

So, we spoke late last night and Boras told me that Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik phoned him up and expressed an interest in doing a longer deal with Morales. At the time, they talked and Boras did relay what general financial ballpark he was looking for in terms of a deal. But the Mariners never made a formal offer.

Still, Boras did go to Morales on behalf of Zduriencik and asked whether he’d be interested in returning to Seattle next year. Morales told Boras he would indeed have interest and this was relayed to Zduriencik.

But as I said, no offer was made at the time, the July 31 and Aug. 31 trade deadlines came and went and Morales is still here. Still, if you remember what Zduriencik told us on July 31, it was that he’d be interested in keeping certain veterans here with the hope of enjoying an exclusive negotiating window with them after the season ended.

And when I spoke to Boras last night, he said he and Morales have yet to decide firmly on whether he’ll explore free agency. That part of the FOX story — that Morales was likely headed for free agency — was Rosenthal’s interpretation of where it’s headed . And I happen to agree with it. But there’s still a chance for Seattle to make an offer.

Boras told me the odds of anything happening in-season are slim and none. Which is exactly what Morales told us several weeks back.

But in that exclusive negotiating window, he and Morales will listen to what the Mariners are ready to propose. That whole marketing thing about Morales potentially hitting more home runs away from Safeco? Boras said it’s absolutely the case.

“A 20-homer season in Safeco is like a 30-homer season somewhere else,” he said.

Now, before you go all crazy on me, listen to how he qualifies that. Boras is well aware that the fences were moved in at Safeco and that Morales’s home/road splits aren’t that much different when it comes to power and home runs. In fact, his overall numbers are virtually idential in terms of OPS and his home runs/AB numbers are just a touch better away from Safeco.

But Boras told me he’s thinking more along the lines of comparing what Morales did next to what Adrian Beltre did when he left the Mariners and played home games at Feway Park and then at Rangers Ballpark. He isn’t thinking of comparing what Morales does at Safeco to what he might do at a pitcher-friendly park in Anaheim.

No, he’s going to make that push for what Morales could do in hitter-friendly venues. And when you do that, it stands to reason his numbers would take a leap from what he can produce in Seattle.

So, what does this all mean?

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Comments | Topics: kendrys morales; scott boras; jack zduriencik; contract

August 3, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Kendrys Morales not going to worry about Mariners extension in-season

Kendrys Morales (left) sits in dugout during a wet pregame afternoon here in Baltimore today. Teammate Brad Miller is seated to his left chatting with media members.

Kendrys Morales (left) sits in dugout during a wet pregame afternoon here in Baltimore today. Teammate Brad Miller is seated to his left chatting with media members.

Kendrys Morales is on his hottest hitting tear in several years. He has eight hits his past two games and 13 in the first four contests on this road trip.

For the season, he’s hitting .298 with 17 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .841. The Mariners would likely want him back next year as a fixture in the middle of their batting order. Though he’d primarily be a DH, that’s OK, given all the uncertainty surrounding Jesus Montero. As of right now, Montero has done little to show he can hit in the majors. According to reports, he’s on a list of players about to receive a suspension as early as Monday for his part in the Biogenesis scandal.

If I’m with the Mariners, I’d be worried about Montero’s sudden power dropoff this year, compared to his 15-homer debut last season. Because if Montero ever did use performance enhancing drugs, you’d hope he would have gotten off them when the Biogenesis scandal broke last winter. And if that’s the case, I’d be worried that his power dropoff this year may have been caused by something other than his focusing too much on catching.

Anyhow, that’s all speculative for now. Bottom line: Montero hasn’t shown he can be a DH for a major league team and Morales has. The Mariners are nine games under .500 in the fifth year of their rebuilding plan and have to figure out a way not to waste Year No. 6 giving more tryouts to young guys who may have used PEDs to help get on the radar in the first place.

Just one man’s opinion.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said this week that he’d like to approach some veteran players as the season winds down and chat about an extension. The obvious one would be Morales. Today, we spoke to him, using bullpen coach Jamie Navarro as an interpreter, and asked how he felt about a possile return to Seattle in 2014.

“I feel comfortable here, I like what I see,” he said. “We have a young team and I like the team a lot. But that’s not a decision I can make. That’s something they need to work out up in the (front) office. I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just worrying about helping the team.”

Morales was asked whether he’d prefer to wait until after the season for negotiations to begin.

“I haven’t worried about it,” he said. “I’m worrying about finishing strong and then we’re going to talk about it.”

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: kendrys morales; jesus montero; extension; jack zduriencik

February 14, 2013 at 8:35 AM

Latest Mariners bullpen addition wants…to start again?

Mariners non-roster invite Kameron Loe participates in a pitchers’ fielding drill this morning in Peoria, AZ.

Well, this certainly wasn’t expected when I rolled in to the Peoria Sports Complex this morning in search of 6-foot-8 non-roster bullpen invitee Kameron Loe. It actually doesn’t require much of a search to find Loe, one of the taller professional athletes not employed by a basketball team.

Turns out, Loe would like to get back to being a starting pitcher again. I didn’t even ask him the question — he offered it up. Thing is, he hasn’t started in the majors since 2007 with the Rangers.

“I’d love to have seventh, eighth inning, or at least help out in close games at the end of the game,” he said. “Eventually, I’d like to get back to being a starter. If they see an opening for me. I either want to be at the beginning of a game or the end of a game.”

Loe did pitch as a starter for the Softbank Hawks of the Japanese League in 2009 after the Rangers released him from their bullpen. He went 0-4 with a 6.33 ERA in his ony five outings.

Then, in 2010, when the Brewers signed him to a minor league deal, he went 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 10 starts in Class AAA.

“I was going pretty deep into games,” he said.

But the Brewers needed bullpen help that year, so when Loe was promoted to the majors, it was back to full-time relief work again. Loe held opponents to a 2.78 ERA in 56 outings for the Brewers that year, striking out 46 and walking only 15. That helped earn him two more seasons with the Brewers, first for a playoff team in 2011 and then a disappointing squad last year in which he broke his toe and endured a big slide at the end of the season.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: brewers, bullpen, japan

February 13, 2013 at 8:18 AM

As Mariners prepare for Felix Hernandez press conference, Joe Saunders begins next career stage in Mariners rotation

Felix Hernandez will have his press conference at Safeco Field this afternoon, but down here in Arizona, the rest of his pitching and catching teammates are preparing for their first workout of spring training. The team is presently meeting with manager Eric Wedge and the coaching staff in the clubhouse. Among those taking the field at 8:30 a.m. PT will be Joe Saunders, recently signed to shore-up the middle of the rotation following the departure of Jason Vargas for the Angels.

Newest Mariners starting pitcher Joe Saunders takes the field this morning for team’s first workout in Peoria, AZ.

Saunders, 31, is coming off a 2012 season in which he was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles and actually started — and won — the inagural wild-card play-in game against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards last October.

“It was a lot of fun,” Saunders said. “It was nerve-wracking as heck. My numbers in that ballpark obviously weren’t very good. It was just another…you look at it asanother opportunity to prove people wrong. I just tried to go out there and give the team a chance to win. We won that game and then we took the Yankees to five games and lost in New York. It was a fun run.”

Saunders has had the opportunity to pitch in several post-seasons already between his time with the Angels, the Diamondbacks and the Orioles.

“I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be in the post-season five times,” he added. “It’s definitely a great opportunity, you cherish it. Each and every time you get there, you want to get back there again because you never know when it’s going to come again. So, you just kind of relish it and do everything you can.”

Mariners pitchers and catchers take the field this morning for first workout in Peoria, AZ.

Which sort of begs the question of why Saunders chose to come to Seattle, which has not made the playoffs since 2001. Saunders did, after all, have a chance to go back to Baltimore and was courted by several teams.

“I liked where this organization was going,” he said. “I thought they made some good moves, some good trades. I’m familliar with the division and hoping to have some fun. Try to take another team, hopefully, to the post-season, so we’ll see where it goes.”

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: felix hernandez, Jack Zduriencik, joe saunders

February 11, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Michael Bourn signs with Cleveland for $48 million; Mariners pretty much set as they await announcement of Felix Hernandez extension

ADDITIONAL NOTE 8:30 p.m. PT: The Mariners have just informed us Felix Hernandez will not be available to the media tomorrow. My guess is, his deal won’t be done until later in the day at the earliest, after his physical is taken.

Scratch Michael Bourn off the list of potential long-term pieces for the Mariners. Bourn has agreed to a four-year, $48-million deal with the Cleveland Indians and becomes their center fielder. There is also a $12 million option for a fifth year if Bourn reaches 550 plate appearances in Year No. 4 of the deal.

That means the Mariners are likely done with big-ticket additions for now on the eve of camp opening tomorrow.

As of right now, they’ve got a payroll of right around $85 million. With incentive bonuses factored in, that could climb as high as $91 million or so, assuming no one gets traded at mid-season.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: extension, felix hernandez, Michael Bourn

February 8, 2013 at 6:47 PM

Jon Garland agrees to minor league deal with Mariners pending a physical

Right-handed starter Jon Garland hasn’t pitched since undergoing shoulder surgery midway through the 2011 season with the Dodgers. Photo Credit: AP

First, it was Jeremy Bonderman, now Jon Garland joins the list of veteran pitchers attempting career comebacks with the Mariners this spring. Garland, 33, hasn’t pitched since undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery with the Dodgers midway through the 2011 season and will come to Seattle’s camp on a minor league deal.

He was invited to spring training with Cleveland a year ago, but never took his physical and the deal was cancelled. This year’s physical with Seattle is to be done next week down here in Peoria, Ariz.

I’ve also been told that Joe Saunders will have his physical done at that point as well and only after that will the Mariners announce his major league deal.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: felix hernandez, jeremy bonderman, joe saunders

February 7, 2013 at 5:53 PM

Mariners reportedly agree to one-year deal with pitcher Joe Saunders

The Mariners have reportedly reached a deal with Joe Saunders, who pitched for the Diamondbacks and Orioles last season after starting career in Anaheim. Photo Credit: AP

The Mariners look to have found the replacement for Jason Vargas, reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal with free-agent pitcher Joe Saunders pending a physical. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported the move.

Saunders, as we wrote last week, fills a left-handed need in Seattle’s rotation with a pitcher similar to Vargas in terms of how he gets his outs. Both give up their share of flyballs and struck out a mediocre total of about 5.8 batters per nine innings apiece in 2012.

With the fences coming in at Safeco Field, we’ll see how the dimensions impact Saunders, who got tagged for a .302 average and .849 OPS by right-handed hitters last year. Safeco Field used to help Vargas by knocking down some of his flyballs, especially those hit by right-handed batters.

Interestingly enough, as colleague  Larry Stone points out, Saunders is 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA lifetime at Safeco Field. The downside to that, of course, is that he was beating up on some bad Mariners teams with a strong Angels squad behind him helping him do it.

So, like I said, we’ll see.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: fences, Jack Zduriencik, jason vargas

February 7, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Felix Hernandez deal still not officially done; Mariners do finally announce Kelly Shoppach move

The Mariners are about to give Felix Hernandez millions more reasons to lift his arms in triumph. Photo Credit: AP

Word is, the Felix Hernandez contract talks are still in their final stages and not officially done. A source told me this within the past hour, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. This sounds like haggling over last-minute details, not the overall framework of a deal said to be for seven years, $175 million.

Hernandez is the first step — a big one — in what will have to be others by the team if the hope is to contend by 2014 or 2015. The Mariners could win as many as 85 games next season by feasting on the Houston Astros, but they play in an AL West where three other squads could win 95 or more.

Anyhow, we’ll see what else the Mariners do to upgrade long-term once the Hernandez deal becomes official. How are the Mariners going to pay for the Hernandez deal? Well, they’ll be getting the rough equivalent of his yearly salary coming their way soon as part of a new national TV deal, then stand to make an absolute killing in a coule of years on a new local TV deal.

It’s too early to estimate how that deal would compare to the $7 billion signed by the Dodgers recently or whether the overall TV market will change for the worse before the Mariners can do something with their current ROOT Sports contract. One thing to keep an eye on is what happens with bids to obtain a new NBA and NHL team in Seattle. If those teams get here sooner rather than later, it could create competition in the marketplace either by owners of those teams combining to form their own regional sports network (RSN), or another network like Comcast entering the fray to try to buy up rights.

If either were to happen, the market for TV in Seattle could change dramatically. Such a change could prompt the Mariners and ROOT Sports (owned by DirecTV) to get a new TV deal done between them a lot sooner than the 2015 opt-out date the M’s currently have.

In any event, the Mariners stand to make money. Predictions that the bubble is about to burst on the current RSN market in this country have focused more on long-term than the immediate short-term. Nobody really knows. But it’s a pretty safe bet that even with a burst bubble, the Mariners will secure more TV revenue than they currently enjoy and in the process will take the value of their franchise soaring well beyond the $1 billion mark.

For the time being, smaller fish are being fried. The Mariners have finally added catcher Kelly Shoppach as a free agent signing. To clear a roster spot, relief pitcher Shawn Kelley was designated for assignment.

That might be confusing for some, since Kelley just inked a $935,000 deal last week that avoided arbitration. But it becomes less confusing when you consider the team will only owe Kelley one sixth of that amount if he’s released within the next 10 days. Kelley could also be put on outright waivers and claimed, but then the claiming team would owe the entire salary.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: bullpen, felix hernandez, kelly stoppach

January 30, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Why the Mariners must add a dependable starting pitcher

Chris Capuano of the Dodgers is one of a handful of pitchers out there capable of delivering the quality innings totals the Mariners desperately need. Photo Credit: AP

We’ve spoken about the offensive upgrades made by the Mariners and how the “wild card” to it all is how much of an impact moving the Safeco Field fences in will have on the team.

But all of that could be offset by a decline in the pitching staff if the Mariners don’t do something significant to upgrade their starting rotation. Moving in the fences will help the offense, in theory, yes. But using the same logic, it could also hurt the pitching staff even if you put the same five-man rotation out there as we saw for most of last year.

Now, of course, the Mariners won’t have the same starting five as last year. In order to acquire Kendrys Morales, the Mariners had to trade away Jason Vargas. And they also saw free agent Kevin Millwood leave.

You didn’t have to be a huge fan of either Vargas or Millwood. But between the two of them, they threw 378 1/3 innings last season and kept their teams in the game for the most part. Both pitchers relied heavily on their defense and — especially with Vargas — a pitcher-friendly home park , but they still were able to keep the score close after six or seven innings.

And you can’t just let that walk out the door without replacing it.

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Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: Chris Capuano, franklin gutierrez, joe saunders

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