January 2010

Filling a void with a character

When GM Jack Zduriencik says he will fill a hole in the Mariners roster, he means it.

About 27 hours after telling the media (and all Mariners fans via the media) on Thursday that he wanted to add a right-handed bat, he did it — signing Eric Byrnes to a one-year contract.

Judging from the email I have received, Mariners fans wanted Jermaine Dye to be the guy, but he was too expensive. The $400,000 (MLB minimum) Byrnes gets does not push the player payroll over the top. If it doesn’t work out in Spring Training, so be it. There could be plenty of other players available as camps close and rosters are reduced to the 25-man Opening Day limit.

But it will be fun just to have Eric Byrnes around. He is one of the characters of the game, for sure. It’s only a rumor that he plugs himself into a power source before he goes to sleep.

Look up “hyper” in the disctionary and you’ll see his picture.

I actually was hoping the much sought-after right-handed hitter would be Mike Sweeney. He was such a good guy to have on the club last season and, during the latter part of the season, was as clutch as anyone on the team.

Byrnes definitely will bring enthusiasm to the ballpark every day, and that’s a good thing. He can play left field and share the DH spot with Junior Griffey against the toughest lefties.

— Jim Street

Aardsma, Lowe sign 1-year deals

The Mariners have reached agreement with right-handed closer David Aardsma for $2.75 million and right-handed setup reliever Mark Lowe for $1.5 million, avoiding salary arbitration in both cases.

“I’m very excited and happy,” Aardsma said. “Now I don’t have to worry about (salary arbitration). I can just go out there and get ready to play.”

Aardsma and Lowe were among the five Mariners who filed for salary arbitration and was to exchange salary figures with the team on Tuesday. The others are right-handed reliever Brandon League, first baseman Casey Kotchman, and ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, who reportedly has agreed to a multiyear contract.

The 28-year-old Aardsma was 38-for-42 in save opportunities and led the American League with 18 “quality” saves, defined as coming into a game with the tying run in scoring position or protecting a one-run lead for at least one inning.

— Jim Street

FanFest highlights set

The FanFest lineup has been set and recently-acquired first baseman Casey Kotchman and infielder Chone Figgins will meet Mariners fans for the first time during the two-day event.

Also scheduled to attend are manager Don Wakamatsu, pitchers David Aardsma, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Mark Lowe, and Mariners legends Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus, Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims and Mike Blowers will also be on hand.  And fans will have the chance to meet the 2009 National Champion University of Washington Huskies softball team.

Fans will be able to tour the Mariners clubhouse, run around the bases, catch a pop fly in the outfield and hit a home run over the centerfield fence. Mariners players and club officials will be available for Q&A and autographs.

Information about FanFest events, player appearances, and ticket information is available on this website. 

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-14 (children 5 and under get in free).  FanFest hours are 11a.m.-4p.m. PT each day. 

— Jim Street

Mariners Caravan rolls along

I have the remainder of the Mariners Caravan schedule. The populur event began last week and continues through next week, leading into FanFest on Saturday and Sunday at Safeco Field.

And here it is:

Wenesday, Tacoma: 1:45-2:45pm, Get Well Tour at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, 317 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Mark Lowe, Sean White, Mike Blowers, Mariner Moose; 4:15-5:45pm, Free public autograph session, University of Puget Sound Memorial
Fieldhouse, 1500 North Warner, Lowe, White, Blowers, Mariner Moose.

Thursday: Portland: 3:30-4:30pm, Wattle Boys & Girls Club, 9330 S.E. Harold St., Lowe, Matt Tuiasosopo, Blowers, Mariner Moose.

Friday: Longview: 2:15-2:45pm, D.R.E.A.M. Team Assembly, Olympic Elementary, 1324 30th Ave., Lowe, Tuiasosopo, Blowers, Mariner Moose. 4-5:30pm: Free public autograph session, Lower Columbia College Myklebust Gym,
1600 Maple, Lowe, Tuiasosopo, Blowers, Mariner Moose; 6-7:30pm: LCC Athletics Dinner & Auction, Student Center on 15th Ave., Lowe, Tuiasosopo, Blowers, Mariner Moose.

Wednesday, Jan. 27: Seattle, 12-1:30pm, Hutch Award Luncheon, Safeco Field, Shawn Kelley, Michael Saunders, Rick Rizzs, Mariner Moose.

Thurs., Jan. 28, Langley, B.C., 12-12:30pm, D.R.E.A.M. Team Assembly, H.D. Stafford Middle School, 20441 Grade Crescent, Kelley, Saunders, Rizzs, Mariner Moose. 4:30-5:45pm, Bellingham, Free public autograph session, Bellingham Boys & Girls
Club, 1715 Kentucky St., Kelley, Saunders, Rizzs, Mariner Moose.

Fri., Jan., 29, Lacey, 4:15-5:45pm, Free public autograph session, Saint Martin’s University Worthington Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. S.E., Kelley, Saunders, Rizzs, Mariner Moose.

— Jim Street

Mariner Nation awaits “official” word on Felix

It’s still not official, but the Mariners apparently have locked up their most dominating pitcher since the Randy Johnson era through 2014.

It is company policy not to release news of a transaction until all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. But it seems that the only thing between “official” and “unofficial” is a physical exam ace right-hander Felix Hernandez must take before his mega-deal, perhaps as much as five years and $80 million, is announced by the Mariners.

The pending deal, first reported by ESPN late Monday night, has not been confirmed as of this morning and no announcement is forthcoming, according to a club official. However, it usually takes at least a day before results of an exam are known, and unless Felix tripped over his wallet or something, he should pass with flying colors.

Confirmation from the Mariners isn’t expected until Thursday or Friday.

Securing King Felix’s services long-term should send a strong message through the AL West — GM Jack Zduriencik has pushed the fast-forward button for getting the team back into playoff contention. Though Felix would not be eligible for free agency until the end of the 2011 season, a new deal would remove a potential distraction.

It also could, at the end of the day, help persuade former AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee to stick around a few more years. He would be free to leave at the end of this season, but if the Mariners unseat the Angels in the AL West, he probably would be more receptive to signing a long-term deal with Seattle.

Lee, who helped the Phillies reach the World Series, was acquired from the NL champs last month and gives the Mariners one of the best one-two starting punches in the Majors. He is expected to be in Seattle next week for his introduction to the Seattle media.

Hernandez is one of five Mariners eligible for salary arbitration and was expected to seek a $10 million contract — a hefty raise over the $3.8 million he earned last season, when he posted career-bests in every pitching catetory, including a 19-5 record and 2.45 ERA.

Hernandez has established himself as an ace, and he broke out in 2009, finishing second in the American League Cy Young Award balloting after posting a 19-5 record, 2.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 238 2/3 innings pitched.

The five-year veteran has a career 58-41 record and 3.45 ERA in 138 career starts, with 810 strikeouts and 287 walks in 905 innings.

A done deal would be a win-win — for King Felix and the Mariners.

— Jim Street

One HOF vote Big Mac still won’t get

Like many other baseball fans, I sat in front of a television set and watched Mark McGwire plead guilty to using steroids during his Major League career with the Athletics and Cardinals.

A few things stood out: McGwire seemed sincerely sorry for what he did to stay on the field and in the lineup to help his team win games and how gut-wrenching it was to hold his guilt inside. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to hide the truth for so long. He said five years, but if he started using PEDs between the 1989-90 seasons, it is more like a 20-year secret. Also, I felt no different about his Hall of Fame credentials after the interview than before the interview.

Big Mac is not, in my opinion, a Hall of Famer. But not because of his transgressions. As a long-time member of the Baseball Writers Association, I have a Hall of Fame vote — and have not yet voted for McGwire, and will continue to not vote for him when his name appears on the ballot voters receive every December.

Yes, he hit a lot of home runs — 583 — but nothing else he did during a 17-year MLB career stood out. He never won a Most Valuable Player Award, not even in 1998, when he broke Roger Maris’s single-season home run record; he won only one Gold Glove Award; led the league only once in RBIs; and finished his career with 1,626 hits, barely halfway to the “magical” 3,000-hit mark.

These numbers also stand out: .201, .231 and .235. Those are his batting averages in 1991, 1989 and 1990, respectively, while playing 154, 148 and 156 games. Those batting averagtes are not exactly HOF caliber.

Mark McGwire was one of the finest gentlemen I ever interviewed after or before games. As a person, he always was the antithesis of Barry Bonds. I commend him for admitting what just about everyone I know suspected.

I can only imagine what Ken Griffey Jr. must have been thinking as he watched the interview. Junior had as many, if not more, injuries than McGwire during his career and has never, ever been linked to PEDs. Kudos to him.

Griffey,  by the way, finished third in the 1998 Home Run Derby with a career-high tying 56 home runs with the Mariners. Only McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) hit more that season.  

And so, while it’s a step in the right direction to come clean the way McGwire did, he gained my admiration — but not my Hall of Fame vote. And judging from the things he said during his interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network, coming clean is far more important than being elected to the Hall of Fame.

— Jim Street

Saunders gets “national” recognition

Left-handed hitting Michael Saunders, who needed only one day on the job to record his first Major League hit — a single off left-hander Cliff Lee on July 26 at Safeco Field — will be among those saluted at The Canada National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser at the Eaton Centre in Toronto on Jan. 16.

Saunders and John Axford of the Brewers will be honoured with Alumni and Special Recognition Awards, respectively, during the annual event.

Saunders, promoted from Triple-A Tacoma on July 25, after hitting .310 with 13 home runs and 32 RBIs.

the left-handed hitter became the fourth rookie in franchise history to have at least six bunt singles in a season.

Now Mariners teammates, I’m sure Lee will remind Saunders of his first hit — a bunt single — when they meet at Spring Training next month in Peoria.

Saunders ended up with a .221 batting average, no home runs and four RBIs with the Mariners, who selected him the 11th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.

— Jim Street 

Felix, Junior up for Star of Year awards

If you haven’t yet voted for Felix Hernandez as the “Professional Sports Athlete of the Year” in Seattle, you only have about a week remaining.

Thanks to the Seattle Sports Commission and Seattle Children’s Hospital, a 75-year Emerald City tradition — the Sports Star of the Year Banquet continues. Originally created by Sports Editor Royal Brougham and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1935, the PI Sports Star of the Year award banquet celebrated the achievements of local athletes, coaches and others in the sports industry.

The printed version of the P-I went out of business last March, but on January 19 the Sports Star of the Year awards will celebrate its 75th anniversary on the big stage at Benaroya Hall.  Recreated as a high-energy awards show, this event will continue to honor top local professional and amateur sports icons, and bring in new awards for an inspirational youth, best sports media figures, sports executives, and many others.
 
The Mariners have had their share of award winners at the P-Isannual bash held in January — including Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro Suzuki, J.J. Putz and Alex Rodriguez — and Hernandez just might be next.

Felix established career highs in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched and ERA in 2009 and contended for the AL Cy Young Award.

Griffey’s return to his baseball roots included a game-tying, pinch-hit home run against the Diamondbcks, which is one of the contenders for FSN/Direct TV Play of the Year. The 1995 Mariners are up for an award honoring the best Seattle Sports Moments over the past 75 years. In addition, GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu will attend the event and recognized for “non-voting” categories.

Go to http://ww.seattlesports.org/site446.php to vote, purchase tickets and get more information.

— Jim Street

Re-living some ’09 highlights

For those of you who still haven’t gotten last season’s 24-game improvement out of your mind, here’s some good news and need a dash of baseball before camp opens and through Spring Training, have I got some news for you. 

FSN is once again replaying selected games from the 2009 season from now until the end of March (it actually started last Monday). Here is a listing of when and which games will be replayed:

Monday: Sept. 18: Mariners 3, NY Yankees 2: Felix CG, Ichiro GW HR off Rivera 9th.

Jan. 18: October 4: Mariners 4, Texas 1: Felix win, Junior single in final AB, Aardsma save, postgame celebration.

Jan.25: May 1, Mariners 3, Oakland 2; Jose Lopez’s game-winning single in bottom of 9th with two outs in a 14-pitch at bat.

Feb. 8: May 3: Mariners 8, Oakland 7; 15-inning game.

Feb. 15: May 15: Mariners 5, Boston 4; comeback from 4-0 deficit; Ichiro 2 HRs.

Feb. 22: May 17: Mariners 3, Boston 2; Gutierrez GW single in bottom of 9th.

March 1: June 19: Mariners 4, Arizona 3; Griffey 2-run pinch HR to tie game in 8th.

March 8: July 9: Mariners 3, Texas 1; Felix 8 innings & Gutierrez 3-run HR in 8th.

March 15: August 12: Mariners 1, White Sox 0; Griffey game-winning pinch single in 14th inning.

March 22: Sept. 18: Mariners 3, NY Yankees 2: Felix CG, Ichiro GW HR off Rivera 9th.

March 29: October 4: Mariners 4, Texas 1: Felix win, Junior single in final AB, Aardsma save, postgame celebration

Check local listings for times and enjoy.

— Jim Street

Goofy e-mails

I find it interesting that the impending trade with the Red Sox for slick-fielding first baseman Casey Kotchman for two players that are totally expendable is being questioned.

For example, an e-mail from seaboy3 said:  “(I) do not like this trade at all. The Mariners need simply one thing.. Left handed batting power. Why hasn’t “Dr. Z” gone for Adrian Gonzalez over the winter? The M’s will not match the Angels in the division if we have no power. Sign Vladimir Guerrero or someone like that, they need POWER.”

For one thing, to give up someone like Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres are going to ask for (drum roll) FELIX HERNANDEZ. Duh. A Gonzalez-for-Ryan Langernhans deal is just not going to fly. And Vladimir Guerrero? Sorry, but he’s over the hill, pal.  Who would he replace — Ken Griffey Jr. as the DH or Ichiro Suzuki in right field?

Look at it this way: The Mariners are better off with with a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman who rarely strikes out than not having one of its top pitchers.  Kotchman puts the ball in play and was developed in the Angels organization.

I also find it interesting that the Z-man, GM Jack Zduriencik is getting his hands on as many Angels as he can. Most of the Seattle coaching staff once worked for the Angels and now you have Chone Figgins and Kotchman coming on board.

As the saying goes, If you can’t beat ’em, get ’em.

And if you can get ’em without giving up the likes of Felix, go for it.

— Jim Street