Friday, January 23, 2004

State of the M's 

The M's had their annual state of the M's Spring Training luncheon yesterday, and a number of news articles chronicle it. I'll try to summarize here, but I have borrowed quotes from the following sources, which you should read for more details (and in some cases better writing).

Tribnet - Larue - Spiezio hits all right notes is a nice get-to-know Scott Spiezio article that I highly recommend.
Times - M's optimistic, yet unfinished; can't move before Sasaki resolution
PI - Hickey - Melvin ponders lineup shift
PI - Thiel - News flash: M's boss opens up
Tribnet - Beene - M's weigh spending options Times - Kelley - Mariners will see real Melvin this year
HeraldNet - Arnold - M's: No fear of Angels
Heraldnet - Arnold - Wife's health played role in Sasaki's decision

No big spending until Kaz is gone
At least one Mariner source indicates that Kazuhiro Sasaki may be leaving the Mariners for reasons other than the stated "to be with his children." It seems that his wife, Kaori, has been ill for some time. Allen Turner, who has been Sasaki's translator for four years says "She has been in and out of the hospital. That is definitely one of the things."

And the M's brass recognizes that as sudden as this development came, it may turn around just as suddenly, so they will not spend this "free money" until Kazu's departure is official. Reports indicate this could be as soon as a "week to 10 days"

"Until the day comes that this is finished, he's got a right to change his mind," Bavasi said of Sasaki. "You're not going to hear me talk about our plans, post-Kaz. Now, do I think in my head, 'Gee, what are we going to do?' Yeah, I do."

Can you imagine the ire of M's fans if Kaz changed his mind? That would be interesting, wouldn't it?

But what about Pudge?
When asked about the M's interest in Pudge, Bavasi tap-danced with...
"I'll let you say that. I'm not going to comment on which players we're steering toward," he said. "But I wouldn't tell you not to say that."

Bavasi definitely sounds interested in Pudge, but won't play games or talk to his agent, Scott Boras, until Kaz is off the books.
"I don't want to represent us to Scott as being on the verge of being able to sign him. That's not fair to Scott, and it's patently unfair to his player. He reads the papers, believe me. He knows exactly what's going on with our club, exactly what's going on with Kaz. He knows when this is probably going to go down, and he knows the likelihood. He's on top of the whole thing."

So if the Tigers dealings drag on another week (and Boras sent a counter-offer to the Tigers 4yr/$40M deal yesterday), the M's may still get into the fray.

When asked about Greg Maddux, Bavasi seemed more inclined to slam the door shut on that possibility by indicating that the 5 man rotation was pretty much set.

Guardado is the closer
In other big developments, Bob Melvin officially stated that the M's want Eddie Guardado to be the closer to open the season.
"He has the most experience, and he's had tremendous success doing it. That's who I would look to right now. ... We do have some other guys that can do it. But if you were to pin me down right now, I would say Guardado would be our closer."

This was obviously coming, but I would still have liked to see Shiggy keep the job, just to keep our strongest pairing of Guardado and Soriano handling the important 6th/7th/8th innings.

Bullpen Shuffle
And, Dr. Evil himself, Mike Meyers is the favorite to take the top lefty role out of the pen, but they may look at other options including ones currently outside the organization.

Overall, the M's bullpen will continue to be a strength of the Mariners.

"If Sasaki does finish what he wants to do and stays in Japan, we will not be a better bullpen in his absence," Bavasi said. "We will have to do some things to fill a void. If we have to make an adjustment, we will, and we'll probably end up with the same kind of bullpen, maybe a little better, than last year's."

It seems to me that a trade that brings over a big bat and a lefty reliever for Freddy and ? may be the way to go. I'll see if I can dream up a scenario later.

"Spiezio says he's a great third baseman."
Scott Spiezio attended the luncheon, picking up brownie points with the brass and discussing his abilities to play third.

"I would say I'm a great third baseman when I get to play there a lot," said Spiezio, then stopped himself. "Oh, you're all going to put that in: 'Spiezio says he's a great third baseman.' ... I think with me being able to go to spring training and work every day at third, it will help me out tremendously, and hopefully I can live up to what I just said." He continued, "I've been working on things like making the long throws and barehanded pickups of bunts already."

Spiezio certainly wants to be back at the Hot Corner. "But I always was a first baseman in college and the minor leagues, and I always thought I would get back to third base. But after playing so long at first base, I was beginning to think maybe it wouldn't happen."

I am definitely driving the Scott Spiezio bandwagon. Naysayers look at his limited time at 3B and mediocreI believe he is going to be a huge part of our 2004 World Championship! Jump on the bandwagon folks! There's still plenty of room!

Ichiro to 3-hole in lineup shuffle?
Bob Melvin says that he will experiment with Ichiro Suzuki in different spots in the batting order.

"I can tell you that Ichiro will not be a leadoff hitter in every game in spring training," said Melvin. "Last year I was reluctant to do it because we were winning and Ichiro's a natural there. But he could bat other places in the lineup. And he will if that's what it takes to make us a better team. We didn't get to the playoffs last year, so we've got to make some changes. That could be one of them."

Then there was talk of John Olerud moving from 5th to 2nd in the lineup. Melvin said that getting Oly to rebound from a bad year would be like "adding an extra half player." Given his ability to work the count and make contact, Oly may be an ideal #2 hitter.
"Those elements of his game you can't use when he bats fifth behind Edgar, " Melvin said. "So we'll take a look at him batting second and see if that works for us."

I think both of these ideas are excellent, though there is the baseclogging factor of having Olerud bat second and would cut down on Ichiro's SBs in the 3 hole. But still, I think we need to try to get Ichiro more ABs with men on base. And spreading Olerud and Edgar out should help cut down on the number of double plays last year (where the M's had the 4th most in the AL).

A looser, more aggresive, Bob Melvin
Bob Melvin spoke a lot about possible changes to his managerial style in his second year, and I'm sure most M's fans will welcome them.

He assessed his leadership from last year and found himself wanting. Here is a collection of quotes that show where he hopes to go:

"I did come in reserved last year, and that was by design. I thought it was the right thing to do. With a veteran club, let it play. "

"And if you change in the middle of the year, it appears you're panicky."

"But, looking back, I felt there was a little bit left in the tank last year and I should have done things a little differently."

"I don't want the players to think it's going to be wholesale different, 100 percent across the board. But we didn't get where we wanted to go last year; therefore, you've got to do some things differently."

"I think I have to be a little more, not necessarily fiery, but more at the forefront in the dugout. I was real reserved, very unemotional last year, and that's really kind of not my nature. I'm not Larry Bowa by any stretch, but I'm somewhere in between Bowa and where I was last year. "

"I've learned that you have to let your emotions out at times. As a manager, if you're upset about something, everybody has to know about it. If you're happy about something, everybody needs to know about it. I maybe kind of missed that a little bit last year."

"At the end of the season, I felt like I was a wreck. A lot of that happens when you bottle up your emotions and you don't let anything out.

"I did a lot of thinking this offseason about what I need to do differently, and I think I need to let myself out a little bit more and let my emotions out a little bit more."

In addition to showing his personality, Melvin indicated that he wants to be more aggressive on the basepaths to take advantage of the better contact hitters we have and to keep out of the double plays, so look for more hit and runs, which are fun when they work and painful when they fail (see Edgar easing into the shortstops glove at 2B). Does anyone statistically check the success rate of hit & runs?

Trainer Rick Griffin's Health Report
Aaron Taylor had a partial rotator cuff tear repaired this offseason and might be ready for the start of the season.

Right-hander Freddy Garcia is recovering after operations to repair two ruptured eardrums and is expected to be ready when pitchers report for spring training Feb. 20. Garcia ruptured an eardrum in one ear when he had a head cold and sneezed while the team's jetliner was landing on a trip to Texas in 2002 (damn DFW!). On the return trip to Seattle after the series, Garcia ruptured the other eardrum. Corrective operations were postponed because patients aren't allowed to travel during recovery.

Griffin does not seem to think that the eardrum repair will have a big effect on Freddy, but is willing to give it credit if it turns Freddy around. "If he comes back and has a tremendous year and wins 20 games, throws 230 innings, then I guess it was his ears. As far as I know, there was never an equilibrium problem, never a problem with vertigo, never anything that stopped him from doing any of his work."

Former No. 1 draft pick Ryan Anderson, who has missed three years with arm troubles, has been given clearance to play catch.

Seems like good news on the medical front, though our coaches are falling apart with both Bob Melvin and Rene Lachemann getting offseason arm surgery. We'll see if the M's can get out of Spring Training without a prospect joining the bench staff by blowing out an elbow or shoulder, which seems to be an annual Rite of Spring for the Mariners.

Ranking the AL West
In a quote that will continue to fire up the other M's blogs, Bavasi, asked to rank the four AL West teams going into spring training, went with Anaheim, Seattle, Oakland and Texas, in that order. "Seattle and Oakland are real close," Bavasi said. "The Angels spent money wisely, and they spent a lot of it. I think Oakland or Seattle could get them."

Melvin seemed to back the assertion that the Angels should be the favorite, but shows no fear.

"They got better just by getting Erstad and Glaus back," Melvin said Thursday when he talked with reporters at the Mariners' annual preseason media briefing at Safeco Field. "Then you add a guy like Guerrero and a guy like Guillen, then a guy like Escobar and Colon, with the bullpen they have, they have a very strong club going into spring training.

"We've got our work cut out for us, but we still feel like we can beat them."

M's bloggers won't like this, but I think the M's are wise to position themselves as underdogs, and give them someone to shoot for. We have missed that feeling since Giambi left Oakland, and its a position we excel in. It does not mean we will compete less or more, or blow up our budget to keep up with the Moreno's. It puts the pressure on the Angels and takes it off of the M's.

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