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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 28, 2009 5:49 PM

What a time

Posted by Geoff Baker

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As the sun sets on another gorgeous day here in Arizona, it's time to get ready for the next round of Mariners coverage. I told some of you on Friday's episode of Geoff Baker Live! that I will be flying home to Seattle on Sunday. I will not be here covering the team next week, or for a couple of days after that. It's been 18 consecutive days down here and there are 23 more waiting when I return from a brief rest. After that, the team hits the road right away to start the season so now is as good a time as any for a lengthy recharge before the workload carries us into mid-April.

We've tried, in the first 2 1/2 weeks down here, to give you a glimpse of what the future of newspapers can look like. With all the doom and gloom in the business these days, there have been some positive developments to look forward to. Newspapers have technological capabilities like never before. Your overwhelming response to our daily webcasts has encouraged us to continue it when I return. There are other things, as well, that I look forward to introducing on the blog.

For now, intrepid Huskies reporter Bob Condotta will be filling in for part of next week when I'm away and Larry Sone arrives later on in the week. As you know, he's started his very own, very popular, baseball blog.

So, bear with me a bit while I regroup and prepare for the second, more important part of spring training. Once that comes around, there is no stopping. And be sure to stay tuned to the Times for more baseball coverage throughout next week. It's been fun so far and I'm looking forward to the rest.


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February 28, 2009 3:00 PM

Closer candidates shine in win

Posted by Geoff Baker

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The Mariners used a three-run rally in their final at-bats of the game in the eighth to pull off a 6-4 comeback win today over the San Francisco Giants. Chris Woodward, pictured below, got the comeback started with a solo homer off Alex Hinshaw to start the inning off. Matt Tuiasosopo, continuing to demonstrate extra-base power, promptly doubled and scored on a single by Adam Moore.

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Prentice Redman added an RBI single that inning to cap the three-run rally.

But the more meaningful stuff, from a long-term perspective, may have been the work turned in by closer candidates Miguel Batista and Roy Corcoran.

Both helped keep the M's in the game after Carlos Silva yielded a couple of early runs to fall behind 2-0 by the second inning.

Batista tossed a couple of scoreless frames, retiring all six batters he faced. He had a little help from left fielder Endy Chavez, who ran down a leadoff shot to left center by Fred Lewis to start the third inning. It had been Lewis who tagged Silva for a huge home run back in the opening frame.

"He's a really good defensive player,'' Batista said of Chavez.

Corcoran also mowed down the side 1-2-3 in his lone inning of work in the fifth.

We've all heard the starters talk about how they're going about things slowly, working merely on locating their fastballs to both sides of the plate. Silva was no exception in that regard today.

I asked manager Don Wakamatsu afterwards whether he expected his closers to be a bit more up-to-speed and he agreed with that take.

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"I think the things we're talking about with our relievers is the tempo and I thought Batista's tempo was better than I've seen in the past,'' Wakamatsu said. "But really, it's about being aggressive, down in the zone and not nibbling as much as maybe the starters.''

Click here for Wakamatsu's audio, starting with comments on Silva, then the relievers.

"With the starters, where they're trying to command more pitches, we're talking about trying to get behind the baseball first,'' he said. "With the relievers, we want to see if they're coming out there and throwing sliders in 2-1 counts, or do they trust their stuff that they can get ground balls like Corcoran did today?''

Corcoran displayed some emotion on the mound in this game. He's clearly taking his best shot at a job that, for the moment, appears to be between him, Batista and Mark Lowe.

One more word on Adrian Beltre and the team's decision to keep him out of the WBC. I've read some blogosphere comments today that suggest the team is somehow providing "cover'' for Beltre to pull out of the WBC and that he didn't really feel up to playing.

Uh, the fact that he gave up his apartment should be the first clue that Beltre was all set and ready to go. Not sure what the difficulty is in understanding this. He's told anyone within earshot these past two weeks that he wants to play more than anything. After getting those two hits yesterday, his mind was made up. That's why he gave up the apartment, meaning that he now has to scramble for new living accomodations. Conspiracy buffs on the web will just have to come up with some new lines of fishing. Because on this, there are two basic facts they will have to accept:

1. Beltre badly wants to go
2. The team reversed its stance at the last-minute and took the decision out of his hands

Which brings us to the third very likely fact: that Beltre is not happy with the turn of events. He's being a pro about it. He's saying all the right things because that's what pros do. But he's human. You don't simply shrug something like this off when you were this passionate about it in the first place. It can't be easy for him to see all of his teammates packing up and preparing to head out for the WBC.

Will this impact his pending decision on free-agency? No idea.

I doubt it will help the M's if they want to seek an extension. But I have no evidence it will hurt their chances if they truly do want to extend him. Not sold that this is even their intention at this stage, but that's beside the point.

Perhaps none of this will matter in the big picture of whether he stays or goes. But to deny that these emotions exist, and that he's likely going through a difficult day today, smacks a little of burying one's head in the sand. These things are real, they are human, and they do exist, no matter how much money a guy earns.

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February 28, 2009 2:21 PM

Giants at Mariners: 02/28 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Been down talking to Carlos Silva, who yielded two runs on five hits in his two innings of work. But Silva doesn't feel that being one of three Venezuelan starters at the upcoming World Baseball Classic will hamper his progress this spring.

Silva said he felt strong today, despite the plethora of hits. His main goal was to spot his fastball on both sides of the plate. It was a four-seamer that Fred Lewis deposited two-thirds of the way up the berm in right field back in the first inning, I asked Silva whether he was still having trouble getting enough spin on his pitches in the dry Arizona air and he confirmed that it's still a struggle, He was doing all he could tp get his fingertips sweaty enough so the ball wouldn't feel too slick.

Click here for some Silva audio on the WBC.

The Mariners just scored three runs in the eighth to take a 6-4 lead, with Adam Moore driving in the go-ahead marker on a single to left, followed by another RBI single from Prentice Redman. Chris Woodward had started the inning off with a solo homer to left field.

Seattle scored three in the fifth inning to take a 3-2 lead, but San Francisco notched a run in each of the seventh and eighth innings to go up 4-3.

By the way, Giants starter Barry Zito fanned Ronny Cedeno in the first inning. Cedeno was the second batter faced by Zito this spring, Last spring, Zito didn't notch a strikeout until facing his 73rd hitter.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 28, 2009 8:00 AM

M's tell Beltre: "No WBC."

Posted by Geoff Baker

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UPDATE 10:00 a.m.: Wladimir Balentien has obtained his visa and is expected to arrive in Arizona tonight. He is scheduled to take a physical tomorrow and could be on the field for some workouts later in the day.

The Mariners have stepped in and made the decision for Adrian Beltre when it comes to his participating in the World Baseball Classic. Beltre was informed this morning that he will not be allowed to play for the Dominican Republic.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told us moments ago that it's a decision he tried not make, given how badly Beltre wanted to play in the WBC. But in the end, he said, he felt he had to step in and do what was best for the ballclub.

"If it was up to him, he'd be going,'' Zduriencik said. "We need this player and we need this player badly to be a very competitive club this year.''

Beltre was obviously not happy about it. He and Zduriencik had a conversation two weeks ago, when camp began, to feel each other out on where they were leaning.

"We had an idea how we both felt,'' Beltre said. "And from that conversation, I got that he wanted me to stay here but if I was going to go he was going to support that.

"I was trying to get ready and mentally, I was ready to go. And physically, yesterday I found out I was ready to go. But today, it's a different story.''

Beltre does say he understands the team's thinking.

"They're looking out for me, they're looking out for the team,'' he said.

Zduriencik has allowed every other M's player wishing to play in the tourney to do so. The M's had stated that it would be totally up to the player, even though some, like Kenji Johjima and Carlos Silva, are coming off horrible seasons and need to re-establish themselves this year.

But Beltre had undergone multiple surgeries on his thumb and shoulder and the team was not convinced his playing at full speed right away is in his best interest.

"I just didn't feel that everyone who's dealt with him feels he's 100 percent,'' Zduriencik said, "He's coming off three surgeries, two of them were considerable. This is a long spring training and we can bring him along slowly.''

Silva (talking with Beltre this morning in the photo above) will take the mound today against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants at Peoria Stadium. But Beltre, who was going to play to test himself ahead of the WBC, won't be in today's lineup as the team tries to ease him into games more slowly.

Beltre still feels he's ready to play in the WBC right now.

"I was disappointed, because yesterday I basicly made up my mind that I was going to go,'' he said. "Because I swung the bat, didn't feel any pain or anything.''

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Beltre was so confident about what he was going to do, that he moved out of the apartment he'd been leasing for spring training.

"Now, I have no place to live,'' he said, with a smile. "I'm going to show up wherever he (Zduriencik) lives and he's going to have to get me a room.''

Zduriencik said the team would do everything in its power to make sure Beltre has a place to sleep.

"Knowing what's inside of him and how hard he plays, it would be difficult for him not to do everything and give 100 percent of what he has,'' Zduriencik said. "He understood and he was disappointed, but he was 100 percent professional.

"He's cut from a different cloth and I would welcome a ton of Adrian Beltres on this ballclub.''

And apparently, do what it takes to keep them there. A big question now is how long the M's will be able to keep Beltre around. He's a free-agent after this season and -- regardless of how diplomatic he's being right now -- this one has to hurt. Beltre kept reiterating this morning how he would have approached spring training differently had the M's just made this decision two weeks ago.

Instead, they told him it was his call to make -- apparently, it now seems, as long as he made the call they wanted. Instead, after he went 2-for-3 in his first spring training game yesterday, the team, correctly sensing he'd made his choice and was about to leave, pulled the plug on him.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 27, 2009 2:48 PM

Slaughter at the ballyard

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu congratulates his players on the field after earning his first Cactus League win as a manager, an 18-2 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hard to believe this M's team isn't supposed to score runs. But it is spring training, let's not forget. Still, a whole lot of power on display today. Three homers, a triple and seven doubles by the Mariners off Dodgers pitching -- if you can call it that.

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Mike Carp (shaking Wakamatsu's hand in the photo atop the blog post) went deep for a three-run homer in the eighth, putting Seattle ahead 18-0. That Carp kid looks good. He had a homer, a double and five RBI with a run scored and is now hitting .500 for the spring. Someone asked me if he'll make the club out of spring training. I don't think that's the plan. He's yet to play in Class AAA and with young guys, sometimes they have to struggle a bit and taste failure before they get up to the majors. We saw how poorly Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement did when faced with some real major-league slumps last season after they'd mastered the minors. I think the organization would prefer not to rush Carp up here for April. There's no real need to at the moment. Russell Branyan is here for a year, bats left-handed as Carp does, and will get the bulk of ABs at first base. Ken Griffey Jr. will get the bulk of lefty DH ABs. But I would not be surprised to see Carp up at some point this summer. The guy can flat-out hit. And with Branyan and Griffey possibly not coming back here in 2010, a spot would open up for a lefty 1B/DH who can rake.

Chris Shelton, a guy I wrote about for this morning's newspaper, had a double and two walks and is also batting .500 this spring. The team will likely get Shelton up before Carp, all things being equal. Shelton is a non-roster guy and a right-handed bat, and they have to make a quicker decision on him. As one of you mentioned, it will likely be him or Mike Sweeney as the RH portion of a first-base platoon with Branyan, who had a two-run triple today and finished 2 for 3.

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Wakamatsu had some good things to say about Adrian Beltre, who went 2 for 3 with a two-run double and three RBI. Also about Erik Bedard, who used a pair of double-play grounders to get out of the first and second innings on just 14 combined pitches.

Listen to Wakamatsu's post game audio by clicking here.

"Watching him in BP, he looks great,'' Wakamatsu said of Beltre. "There's nothing in there that's hindering him.''

Don't miss Beltre's appearance on Geoff Baker Live! from earlier today, in the 20th minute, when he drops in for a chat with me and some fans. Look at a video, below, of Beltre's two-run double in his second AB.

On Bedard, Wakamatsu says: "The big thing for me is the pitching, with Bedard starting out and the two double-plays. Just setting the tone with the defense. It was a good day.''

See a video below of Bedard's four-pitch first inning.

A crowd of 4,849 here today. Better than yesterday, but still not great given the attraction of the Dodgers. Maybe the L.A. fans knew what was coming?

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February 27, 2009 2:10 PM

Dodgers at Mariners: 02/27 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Do not adjust your screen. It's now 14-0 for the Mariners, still in the seventh inning, after Mike Carp doubled to the left-field corner with the bases loaded, clearing them all. Only Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald can save the Dodgers now. As long as Big Ben isn't signed by the M's, that is.

Have a look down below at Adrian Beltre notching his first of two hits today, a two-run double down the left-field line. Beltre told us on Geoff Baker Live! today that he'll make his WBC decision after tomorrow's game. He said it will depend largely on how his shoulder feels but that his thumb, at this point, is no longer an issue. Thanks to Bikesman for posing that question to Beltre and allowing us to gain the info.

We've got some Erik Bedard audio for you straight from the clubhouse. His answers were just like his pitching today. Brief and to the point.

"I'm just trying to get the ball over the plate,'' he said. "I'm trying to get the feel of all my pitches early in the spring and gradually try to get better at it.''

Pretty much says it all. He goes on to make a dry joke about how he feels as good as he did in his first game last spring, only "the score's different.''

And given how last spring went for him, this was a cakewalk. Not much else a guy can say this early in spring training.

Have a listen by clicking right here.

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See the video of Erik Bedard's four-pitch first inning down below. By the way, Felix Hernandez is the proud papa of a baby boy, Abraham, born today and weighing 6 pounds, 10 ounces. He also has a daughter, Mia.


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February 27, 2009 11:37 AM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

Sorry about all the technical troubles today. But at least we got Adrian Beltre on the show (20th minute) to answer your questions.

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February 27, 2009 8:40 AM

Hines admits to a little rust

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 10 a.m.

It's been a while since third base coach Bruce Hines last coached third. A decade, in fact. And some of that rustiness has shown in the first two games of spring training, with a handful of Mariners thrown out at home plate by pretty big margins.

I spoke to Hines about it this morning, since I know a lot of you have him on your minds. I don't blame you. I once saw a third base coach lose his job in spring training back in 1999. That's when Sal Butera, a former major-league catcher, could not seem to get a handle on the hot corner and earned the ire of newly imported manager Jim Fregosi. The Blue Jays had just fired manager Tim Johnson for having lied about fighting in the Vietnam conflict, and Fregosi was brought in mid-stream during Grapefruit League play.

Fregosi took one look a Butera, waited a few days, then bumped him back down to, I believe, bullpen coach.

Third base is a tough place to coach.

The Mariners are not about to replace Hines. He was brought in here to work with the young infielders and is highly proficient in Spanish. He has tons of experience in this game and is still getting his feet back under him.

Best of all, from what I gleaned out of our conversation, Hines is fully aware of his early shortcomings and not too proud to admit he needs to get better.

"I've already found, in the last couple of days, I've found myself out of position,'' he said. "I had a feeling I was going to be a little rusty and I know now that that's the case. So, I've got some things to work on.''

One of those will be getting down the third base line more in order to have a better view of the outfielders and the advancing runner. Another will be getting to know his own runners a little better, determining their strenghths and weaknesses so he'll have a better idea whether or not to wave them in.

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February 26, 2009 3:34 PM

Kiss this: a 4-4 tie

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Good job by Mariners pitcher Luis Munoz of escaping a 10th inning jam in which the Padres got a runner to third with only one out. He got Colt Morton to pop out, then fanned Travis Denker on three pitches, the final one in the dirt and seen in the photo above. A 4-4 draw is about what this game deserved as a final score. Lots of mistakes by both teams on the basepaths. Some good outfield defense from Endy Chavez and some all-around mediocre pitching by the Mariners. Too many walks and balls up in the zone. But these are the Padres they're playing and they got away with some stuff.

Chris Shelton, pictured below, hit a home run to open the scoring.

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After the game, I asked manager Don Wakamatsu about the baserunning. There were five Mariners thrown out on the bases today.

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Listen to his post-game audio right here by clicking.

"We're going to make mistakes, we talked about that earlier,'' Wakamatsu said. "But I want these guys going and doing some things. We're going to make some adjustments...we're going to keep tightening it up.''

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February 26, 2009 3:00 PM

Mariners at Padres: Cactus League opener

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Eric Hull, pictured above, had retired the first two hitters in the ninth, then got what looked to be a game-ending grounder from Cedric Hunter. But the ball hit the first base bag and bounced away for a single. Up came Drew Macias, who launched a double to right center that tied the game 4-4.

Jorge Lugo came on and got the inning-ending flyout to send it to extras.

The Mariners had a chance to score in the top of the 10th, but Calix Crabbe got thrown out trying to advance from second to home on an infield single. What else is new? That's five baserunners thrown out today.

On to the bottom of the 10th. This will be the last half-frame, no matter what.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 26, 2009 11:07 AM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

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February 26, 2009 9:20 AM

Lots of work ahead

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 10 a.m.

A shot this morning of Felix Hernandez, who takes the mound later today against the Padres with a pitch-count limit of 35. The Mariners made a lot of mistakes in yesterday's Charity Game loss and they aren't about to shrug their shoulders and walk away. There will be some situational baserunning drills taking place this morning -- and every day after spring training games in which errors in judgement occur.

Even is some scenarios that looked OK yesterday, such as the Mariners drawing a bunch of late-game walks to create scoring opportunities, the ballclub's braintrust was not overly thrilled. I asked manager Don Wakamatsu about it this morning and he told me: "We took a lot of pitches. But I thought we took some pitches early in the count where we should have been swinging.''

Listen to Wakamatsu's morning media session right here.

Wakamatsu went on to explain that the coaching staff wants to see the decision-making process of some players, especially since these spring training games don't count for anything. As an example, he used a plate appearance late in the game by first baseman Mike Carp, a guy known to draw plenty of walks. Carp jumped ahead 3-0 in the count, but the coaching staff still gave him the green light to swing away. Carp wound up taking the pitch for Ball Four and Wakamatsu was pleased, since it was not a fat juicy pitch. But had it been, he would have liked Carp to swing away.

In this case, Wakamatsu was pleased to see Carp make "the right decision.''

Others, though, let some meaty fastballs drift right down the middle in an attempt to draw walks in what was, as we've told you, a meaningless game. So, those are the hidden elements to spring training that don't always show up in boxscores. And those are elements Wakamatsu promised will be worked on in daily situational drills based off results of the previous day's games.

Another change from last spring.

I ran into Ryan Feierabend in the clubhouse and he confirmed to me that there is almost zero chance he can avoid surgery next Wednesday. Feierabend will meet on Tuesday with Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles for a pre-operative exam. Right now, unless Yocum spots something miraculous in the cursory examination, Feierabend will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday to determine the extent of damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. There is a suspicion it might only be scar tissue, since Feierabend did some minor damage to the ligament last fall and had an MRI in September.

If it's only that, then he's been told he'll miss 3-to-6 weeks once it's cleaned up.

But if the damage is more severe, then Yocum will perform "Tommy John" ligament transplant surgery immediately and Feierabend's season will be over.

That's going to be quite a surprise for Feierabend when he's revived from surgery on Wednesday.

"Surprise, Ryan! We just did..."

Anyhow, needless to say, he's crossing his fingers.

"I'm a bit nervous about it, yeah,'' he said.

Adrian Beltre will play in tomorrow's spring training game, not today's. The plan is to play him about four innings at third base, then again on Saturday. Jose Lopez will also make his debut tomorrow, while Yuniesky Betancourt is slotted to go on Saturday.

Ken Griffey Jr. is scheduled to make his debut on Tuesday night in an exhibition against Team Australia. Won't that be a treat for the few baseball players from that country who likely grew up idolizing Griffey in the 1990s?

Here are the lineups for today's 12:05 p.m. game:

Seattle Mariners (0-0):

10 Endy Chavez (L) CF
9 Jeff Clement (L) DH
12 Mike Morse 3B
13 Chris Shelton 1B
69 Greg Halman LF
61 Mike Wilson RF
15 Jamie Burke C
6 Chris Woodward SS
1 Reegie Corona (S) 2B
-----------------------------
34 Felix Hernandez RHP

Extra Pitchers:
56 Jarrod Washburn LHP
20 Denny Stark RHP
33 Tracy Thorpe RHP
53 David Aardsma RHP
54 Jose Lugo LHP
57 Mark Lowe RHP
64 Luis Muñoz RHP
65 Eric Hull RHP
66 Shawn Kelley RHP
71 Chris Jakubauskas RHP
72 Marwin Vega RHP


San Diego Padres (0-0):

33 Jody Gerut CF
8 Chris Burke 2B
24 Brian Giles RF
16 Cliff Floyd DH
49 Emil Brown LF
66 Kyle Blanks 1B
28 Henry Blanco C
18 Travis Denker 3B
1 Everth Cabrera SS
-----------------------------
32 Chris Young RHP

Extra Pitchers:

70 Matt Buschmann RHP
45 Justin Hampson LHP
50 Joe Thatcher LHP
38 Cesar Carillo RHP
64 Edwin Moreno RHP
72 Nick Schmidt LHP
65 Arturo Lopez LHP
59 Chad Reineke RHP

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February 25, 2009 3:49 PM

M's strand 12 in loss

Posted by Geoff Baker

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It really did look like the first spring training game for the Mariners in this one as they left a dozen runners on base in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the San Diego Padres. Rob Johnson hit a tying solo homer in the ninth, but Stephen Kahn yielded the walk-off, two-out single to hefty Kyle Blanks to decide this affair. Blanks just missed taking Kahn over the left field wall on the previous pitch, which wound up being a foul ball. On the single, he actually drove the ball deep to right center for what would have been an extra-base hit had it not ended the contest. See the game-winning hit and post-game celebration by San Diego from down at field level and on the field in the video below.

The game was going to end on the next out in any event, since it was only an exhibition charity affair. The two teams go at it again tomorrow in the official Cactus League opener.

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Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu spoke moments ago down on the field. Listen to what he had to say in the audio clip. Wakamatsu was pleased with some of the things he saw, like the two scoreless innings tossed by Ryan Rowland-Smith and some of the sacrifice bunts by his hitters. Franklin Gutierrez got down a nice one in the second inning to move runners to second and third, then bunted for a single in the fourth inning.

But there were far too many runners stranded in this affair. Shades of last June in San Diego when the Mariners left 18 on base in a weird victory.

Like I said, it really doesn't matter much as players are just getting their feet wet. Randy Messenger tossed two scoreless innings of relief for the M's, while Ronny Cedeno and Russell Branyan each had two hits. One of Branyan's was a little blooper into left field, while the other was hit on a line. Matt Tuiasosopo also hit his second triple in three days -- the other one coming in an intra squad affair. Too bad none of it counts in Cactus League stat-keeping, which begins tomorrow. Other than that, and three double-plays the Mariners hit into, there was not a whole lot to talk about after this one.

Just a note on Ryan Feierabend. The Mariners issued a release today saying that surgery has yet to be decided upon as a treatment option for him. Feierabend will meet in Los Angeles with Dr. Lewis Yocum on March 3 and he will determine the extent of the injury. At that point, if surgery is decided upon, it will happen on March 4. At this point, surgery is looking very likely.

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February 25, 2009 2:43 PM

Mariners at Padres: Charity Game

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A crowd of 5,028 here has seen the Mariners strand 11 baserunners as we head to the ninth with the M's trailing the Padres 3-2. The Mariners loaded the bases in the eighth with one out after a double-play grounder by Greg Halman was botched. The relay to second hit the runner in the back to load 'em up. But back-to-back strikeouts, the final run by Mike Wilson, ended that threat.


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February 25, 2009 11:07 AM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

Let's cross our fingers again on the video quality of this replay.

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February 25, 2009 9:00 AM

Feierabend having elbow surgery

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget to tune in to Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 10 a.m. It's the show where you just never know who will drop on by.

File this one under the "uh-oh!'' category as the Mariners revealed moments ago that left handed pitcher Ryan Feierabend will undergo elbow surgery. Feierabend had soreness in his elbow after throwing, underwent an MRI and some ligament damage was discovered.

"It showed something,'' manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Not a total tear or anything like that but it's going to be a while.''

Indeed it likely will be. Anytime you hear the words "elbow'' and "surgery'' in regard to a pitcher, it's not a good thing.

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February 25, 2009 8:38 AM

Griffey deal not all about baseball

Posted by Geoff Baker

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It usually takes a few days for new baseball contracts to be filed with the MLB Players' Association and when that happens, media contacts put out the specifics. Well, we now have the specifics on Ken Griffey Jr. and can start to understand why Seattle might have been a more attractive landing destination than Atlanta. I'm not doubting for an instant that Griffey wanted to complete the symmetry of moving back to the Emerald City.

But it's also tough to ignore that his contract has the potential to be worth double the money just paid to Garret Anderson by the Braves. Anderson received a $2.5 million base salary deal from the Braves, with no incentives. Remember my source from last week who works for the Braves? The one who told me that team had no more than $2.5 million total to spend on Griffey or Anderson? He wasn't kidding.

Griffey is receiving $2 million base from the M's, which is what I was told the Braves were going to give him, plus another half-million in incentives.

But here in Seattle, the incentives package is a whole different ballgame -- worth up to $3 million. And as long as he stays healthy, he has a good shot at attaining a chunk of it.

The Associated Press, which always gets hold of baseball contracts within days of them being officially filed, was the first to report Griffey's $5 million in potential earnings.

Go to the excellent Cot's baseball salary site, and you will now see the official breakdown on that $3 million.

If Griffey stays on the roster through July 31, he gets $50,000 each for paid attendance of 2.35 million, 2.4, 2.45, 2.55 and 2.6 million.

Should he last the entire season, he gets another $100,000 for each paid attendance of 2.65 million, 2.7, 2.75, 2.8, 2.95 and 3 million.

The M's had 2.3 million fans last season, despite losing 101 games. Yes, a lot of those tickets came from packages bought before the season, when the M's were touted as contenders. There also wasn't a full blown recession on like there is right now. But still, 2.3 million is hardly setting the bar all that high for this franchise. If things remain equal from last year to start, Griffey could earn a few hundred grand just by drawing a handful of sellout crowds after Opening Day. Remember how bad attendance was for the team last April, with record low crowds every other night? That's where Griffey could earn some big bucks this year if he packs the stands before his novelty wears off.

I can't blame him, or the team, for a deal like this. It's a win-win situation. And it's a much better situation than the Braves were offering.

Where Griffey will really make some money is by landing at least 450 appearances, which causes $250,000 to kick in. If he gets 500 PA's another $250,000 goes his way. Those are reachable incentives. Back in 2007, Griffey had 528 at-bats alone, and over 600 PAs.

Last season, even while hurting, he managed 490 at-bats -- and easily made the PA target. So, that extra half-million should be his if he doesn't try anything silly -- like playing the outfield.

There are a bunch of smaller incentives for things like making the All-Star team, winning the Silver Slugger and stuff like this. Point is, this is a better deal than the Braves were offering. As long as Griffey doesn't fall off a cliff offensively, this is easily a $2.5 million deal with room for more.

Not saying it's entirely the reason he came here. It might only be a minor reason. But it's time to tell it like it is:

-- Seattle made a better financial offer than the Braves, tweaking the plate appearances (as his agent told us) in the end to help sweeten the package

-- This isn't purely a baseball decision by the Mariners. Those incentives make it clear the club feels Griffey might sell tickets and be willing to pay him for it.

Nothing wrong with any of that. But now, you have the more complete picture.


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February 24, 2009 5:35 PM

No Beltre decision today

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Despite what some of you may have heard, there has yet to be any decision by Adrian Beltre on whether or not he'll participate in the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic does have him listed on their roster, but that was just a precaution in case he does decide to play. They had to be set by 3 p.m. Pacific time today and had Beltre been left off, he could not have been added later.

Meanwhile, Ichiro helped Japan today in an 8-2 exhibition rout of a Ryan Rowland-Smith-less squad from Australia. Ichiro went 1-for-4 with an infield single and a run scored.

Some of you want to make Beltre's WBC choice into a team leadership issue. Just as some of you want to make Ichiro's choice to play for Japan into a leadership issue. I think they both have a right to play for their countries. If anyone should be questioning their decisions to play, it's the Mariners who did not perform last year and have plenty to prove. Ichiro and Beltre were the team's two best players.

And as long as Kenji Johjima, Carlos Silva and others who did not earn their paychecks last year are allowed to play, I don't see any reason why Beltre should balk over team leadership questions. Put yourself in Beltre's shoes. He's been told that the team doesn't want him to play because of the injuries he played through last season. But he played through them rather well, other than some hitting slumps at times.

Imagine you're Beltre and hearing this. Then, you look and see Silva, who suffered through back pain a good part of last season and had a terrible year. He's off to the WBC.

You see Johjima, a guy who is fortunate to still have a major league job, let alone a three-year contract extension. He's blocking a bunch of young catchers on the Mariners right now and no one knows if he'll make it through the season as the No. 1 guy in Seattle. He's playing in the WBC.

And there's Ichiro. Like Beltre, he was one of the team's top players last year. Like Beltre, he played through injury last year. His hamstring was so bad, he declined to paqrticipate in the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby. Several teammates felt -- and I agree with them -- that his hamstring troubles made it difficult to get to balls in the corner and the gaps that I'd seen him get to in previous years. Also that it's a reason he didn't steal as many bases after the first two months of the season. But he's off to the WBC.

Granted, he isn't coming off surgery. But hurt your hamstring once and -- as any athlete can tell you -- problems can linger for years. The team doesn't seem all that concerned that he's playing in the WBC.

We can argue for hours that Beltre's surgery is more serious than an injury not requiring surgery and go on and on.

But if you really try to look at things from Beltre's point of view, he has to be wondering why he should be the lone guy to stay behind. I'm sure that's exactly what's running through his mind right now,

I'm not going to make this about leadership. Those other guys left to the WBC and I didn't say a word about it reflecting on their leadership abilities.

But those of you who want to make this about leadership, I want to hear your take about why Beltre should have to stay in Seattle's camp while Silva, Ichiro and Johjima get to play for their countries. Not sure I get your point.

By the way, if you missed Geoff Baker Live! this morning, we've managed to get the recording improved somehow today and there should be no problems with it. Be sure to check for an impromptu visit from Josh Fields in the 39th minute and Jack Zduriencik in the 49th. We had some fun today.

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February 24, 2009 1:25 PM

Morrow roughed up intra-nally

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A few more runs in today's five-inning intra squad affair, which saw the "B'' side defeat the "A'' team 4-3. Brandon Morrow started for the winning squad, but got roughed up in the top of the first inning. Morrow lacked command of some of his pitches and fell behind in the count and on the scoreboard. He yielded two runs on three hits and a walk in his two-thirds of an inning of work. Not the best spring debut, but it's only the first live throwing he's done so I wouldn't read too much into it.

Erik Bedard tossed a scoreless inning, yielding a hit and striking out one for the "A'' side.

Among the notable position players in this game, Jeff Clement went 0-for-2 with a walk, while Endy Chavez went 1-for-1 with a walk. All of the nine hits in this game were singles, by the way.

Franklin Gutierrez went 1-for-2, Mike Morse 1-for-1 with a walk and Reegie Corona went 1-for-2 with a run scored.

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February 24, 2009 11:10 AM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

Let's give this replay a try. It seems to be working better today, so many thanks to our technical support staff for all the hard work! I'll have an MP3 audio file uploaded for you in a few moments. Thanks for watching though, and a special thanks to Mariners No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields (39th minute) and GM Jack Zduriencik (49th minute) for being good sports and coming on.

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February 24, 2009 8:52 AM

Beltre urged away from WBC

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget to tune in for Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 10 a.m. We will try to make an MP3 podcast out of it for those of you having problems with the video upload. As for the recorded video version, our tekkies are still working on it. As I said, my job is to cover baseball. I leave the technical stuff to the folks more expert on that.

A look above at Mariners players heading to their dugouts for the start of this morning's intra squad game. An early day today since the team has a golf tournament in the early afternoon.

Adrian Beltre met yesterday with manager Don Wakamatsu and was told, in no uncertain terms, that the team does not want him participating in the World Baseball Classic. Beltre has to make a decision later today because roster lists are due out in the afternoon. WBC training camps open next Monday.

"We've taken the stance all along that we're not going to make the decision for them,'' Wakamatsu said. "We're going to obviously give him our opinion and what we think. And we discouraged him. In the fact, from a health standdpoint, just make sure you're 100 percent. And I think that's what his decision is right now, He feels awfully good and...he's judging whether it's going to help him or hurt him.''

Beltre has already met with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and been told the team's position. Wakamatsu said he prefaced his own meeting with Beltre by telling him its his decision to make, and to make sure he takes his health into consideration with adequate severity.

"I would prefer that he stays in camp, again just because of the injuries he had last year,'' Wakamatsu said. "I think it's important for him to be able to take it a little bit slower.''

With some players, the added pressure of knowing the team's decision might be too much to bear. I doubt it's going to impact Beltre all that much. Frankly, I'd be surprised if Beltre pulls out of the WBC. After all, he knows he's likely to be traded by the July 31 deadline. It's a fact of his contract situation. Beltre also knows that this team desperately needs him. He's arguably the best all-around player on this team, along with Ichiro. It's not like the M's have anyone to take his place.

It's still possible, of course, that Beltre could be guilted into not going. Perhaps out of a sense of not putting the team at risk by going out there still recovering from old injuries. But he says he feels fine. Wakamatsu says the dialogue yesterday was cordial and very low pressure. No animosity. If that's truly the case, that he's healthy and the pressure was slight, I see him going to the tournament. His contract is guaranteed. If the M's are slightly disappointed, they'll get over it.

Wakamatsu said Ryan Rowland-Smith made a "noble'' decision to skip the WBC and focus on competing for a starting job. But Beltre isn't competing for anything.

No further word on Wladimir Balentien and his visa problems yet, The team is now saying Wednesday or Thursday -- maybe. This is getting serious for him. He's already missed a week.

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February 23, 2009 2:31 PM

Lots of coaching going on

Posted by Geoff Baker

Take a look at this video, where third base coach Bruce Hines schools the Mariners on the importance of getting an aggressive jump towards the plate. The Mariners are breaking for home as they see the batter swing away during BP. But the idea is also not to get caught leaning too far off the bag, just in case the hitter swings and misses, or raps one towards third or into a glove without a bounce.

It isn't as easy as it looks on TV when you watch it up close and listen to the thinking behind it. Enjoy! As for the technical problems with the Geoff Baker Live! replay, I'm told our crack technical team is investigating, but it's not our software and we really have no idea why some videos come out smooth and not others. The important thing is the live feed and we've got that down. We're working on it. Of course, I get paid to cover the M's, not handle technical support for our online ventures. But I care that you see things the right way and am doing what I can to make sure the right people look into it.

By the way, the Mariners have re-signed outfielder Michael Wilson to a minor league deal. He'll be back at big league camp tomorrow. Wilson made it through waivers after being released to free up roster room for Ken Griffey Jr.

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February 23, 2009 12:59 PM

Intra-squad: more tempo needed

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Manager Don Wakamatsu just finished watching a rather dull intra-squad affair that ended 1-0 in favor of the "visiting'' team (whatever that means to you). A total of seven hits in the five-inning affair with nine men left on-base.

Wakamatsu paid close attention to bunt drills carried out during the game, between innings. He was pleased with the bunt defense, not so pleased with the offense. Once again, situational hitting is something the M's can always improve upon.

Another thing he wasn't thrilled about? The "tempo'' of the game. Carlos Silva and Miguel Batista, who started for the home and visiting side respectively, took a little bit too much time between each delivery, as did other pitchers. It's normal for this time of year, but also something Wakamatsu wants to get a jump on because of all the mound problems this team had last season -- not to mention its slow start in 2008.

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Remember, a whole lot of players will be leaving for the WBC. There won't be as much time to work on this as there usually is. The team will be meeting with its catchers to go over some things, since catchers have a lot to do with helping pitchers speed up their tempo. It wasn't a disaster of a day. Just about normal for the first game situation of the spring.

Batista threw the ball relatively well, retiring Endy Chavez on a foul ball to left, Jeff Clement on a groundout to first base and Ronny Cedeno on a grounder to shortstop. Silva also pitched well, notching a groundout by Franklin Gutierrez, a flyout to center by Chris Woodward and a groundout to first by Mike Carp. Wakamatsu praised Silva for keeping the ball down lower than he did throughout last season.

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David Aardsma gave up a pair of hits in the second inning and the game's only run. Chris Shelton led off with a single, then scored on a one-out triple by Matt Tuiasosopo.

More news to pass on? Adrian Beltre will meet with Wakamatsu today and could make a decision on whether to play in the WBC. Phillippe Aumont, the team's No. 1 pick in 2007 and who will likely start the year in high Class A ball, has decided he will, in fact, pitch for Team Canada.

As we told you yesterday, Ryan Rowland-Smith will start Wednesday's charity game against the Padres, with Garret Olson going right after him, followed by relievers. Felix Hernandez will throw an inning or two in the official Cactus League opener Thursday against San Diego, followed for an inning by Jarrod Washburn.

Wladimir Balentien had a meeting today at the U.S. consulate (we assume in Caracas, where he lives, but the team is being very tight-lipped about the situation) to sort through visa issues. Wakamatsu hopes he'll be here Wednesday, but no one knows for certain.

And Erik Bedard could get an inning on Friday. He's slotted to throw an inning in tomorrow's intra-squad affait, so the team will see how he feels afterwards.

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February 23, 2009 11:05 AM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

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February 23, 2009 9:39 AM

Betancourt to hit second?

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget the Geoff Baker Live! show, starting at 10 a.m.

This comes up every spring training that I can remember, so let's all try to stay calm as we walk through it. In today's manager session, Don Wakamatsu raised the specter of Yuniesky Betancourt possibly hitting second in the batting order. Of course, it hinges on a whole bunch of factors, as it does every year around this time.

Namely, he can't swing at pitches over his head or a foot off the plate.

Betancourt is the type of guy you would theoretically look at for the No. 2 spot. He's aggressive and knows how to make contact. You want a pure, line-drive type of hitter in the second spot. So, check on that.

In 98 at-bats at the No. 2 position last year, he posted an impressive .848 OPS, with a .358 OBP and a .327 average. Betancourt wasn't even above .300 in OBP batting at any other spot in the order. Small sample size, yes, but check on that as well.

But you also want a guy who knows how to get on base. A guy who isn't going to hit a double-play ball directly at the properly-positioned infielders. Uh, whoops. That's not going to work, At least, not the 2008 version of Betancourt.

The last thing you need is for Ichiro to get on base and the No. 2 guy to hit a hard ground ball right at the shortstop. We saw this all of last year. The book is out on Betancourt from a pitching standpoint. Throw him a pitch in a certain location and he'll chase. Position the infielders adequately and they'll barely have to breathe in getting to his eventual grounder.

Wakamatsu plans lots of work with Betancourt this spring. John McLaren said much the same thing a year ago, but it didn't work out all that well. So, I'd file this under "early spring wishes'' for now and get back to it later on if Betancourt shows signs of having changed.

We've mentioned Franklin Gutierrez as a possible No. 2 hitter, but I'm sure the team would like to take some of the pressure off him by dropping him down to the No. 8 spot in the order. Gutierrez struggled in his first full major league season with the Indians in 2008 and easing him in there to start 2009 might not be the worst idea.

Jose Lopez can also hit second, though the team would probably like to see his power used a little further back.

Adrian Beltre would be the perfect No. 2 hitter for this team. Possibly, with Ken Griffey Jr. "protecting'' him at No. 3. But that would depend on a clean-up guy being around to carry the load. The only other bat with the raw power needed for that spot is Russell Branyan but he's too much of a wild-card at this stage of spring training.

Yes, Junior is wearing No. 24 today.

So, looking at Betancourt for No. 2 isn't totally nuts. He does have the speed, after all.

These are just some of the lineup questions the team is now working through.

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February 22, 2009 8:44 PM

Working the fundamentals

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget to watch Geoff Baker Live! in its new time slot, starting tomorrow at 10 a.m.

The Mariners engaged in some more drills involving fundamental baseball earlier today, chasing down some infield pop flies in which screaming "I got it!'' was just as important as actually catching the ball. In a real game, the shouting part is important because with 30,000 fans yeling in anticipation, fielders can sometimes not hear each other and get caught off guard.

There's an art to this. As the video above shows, it's not just a humble suggestion of catching something that a fielder has to make. Said fielder has to be confident and take charge. Sort of like those signs in New York City that say "Don't even THINK about parking here.''

A fielder has to use the tone of voice that tells another approaching glove man, "Don't even THINK about catching that ball.''

When you call someone off with a less-than-authoritative voice, bad things can happen. Anyhow, the Mariners did reasonably well.

They also did a sliding drill. Sliding is one of the more under-appreciated arts in this game. Not all players participated though. Anyone with ongoing leg issues was exempt.

Someone asked me for my impressions of Ken Griffey Jr.'s batting practice session. I have to say, after years of seeing the same old thing, BP tends to bore me at times. Not that I don't appreciate a good home run ball. It just blends into the background when you see it over and over again. But not today.

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There was something about Griffey's swing that made me stop my video taping for a second and take notice. Just for a second, mind you, but it was enough. Later on, I was chatting in the clubhouse with Mike Morse and he described what it was like watching Griffey shag fly balls.

He described it as "smooth.''

And for me, that's what Griffey's swing looked like. Not all of his swings. But there was one sequence where he sent three or four balls in a row screaming over the fence in right center with what appeared to be an effortless flick of his wrists.

"Wow!'' I went, at least with my inner voice, since I'm supposed to be an objective observer and there were plenty of fans around.

Funny that I've spent over a decade covering major league baseball but I've rarely had the chance to witness greatness up close. At least, with a bat. I saw Mark McGwire take BP once or twice. Saw Barry Bonds do it more than once, including from the bleachers before all seven games of the 2002 World Series. But it wasn't the same as witnessing it on a quiet, spring-like morning in Arizona, with only a small crowd around. A crowd so sparse that you could hear the hitters talking in the cage. But greatness is what I saw today. In BP, everything slows down and hitters can do what comes naturally. They just hit. And that's what Griffey did today. What he's done naturally for so many years, without even thinking about it. I could see, just by watching him in the cage, how he's managed to amass 611 career home runs.

In this business, we tend to focus on what a player has done lately. Obviously, in games, pitchers are throwing much harder than in BP and it's a lot more difficult to launch balls over the fence at age 39. Bat speed gets slower and time catches up.

And while there are bat speed issues in BP for some players nearing the end of their careers, there was none on the sequence of a few pitches I've just described. It was pure greatness. A brief flurry that will stay with me forever. And whether or not Griffey ever does it again in a game, I saw up close today what it is that will have him going to the Hall of Fame in the not-too-distant future.

Not every day you see that in batting practice. And since not all of you could be here, I thought I'd share it.

Speaking of Griffey, Garret Anderson just agreed to a $2.5 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. Anderson, of course, became the consolation prize once Griffey signed with Seattle. We'll have to see how that goes for both.


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February 22, 2009 12:15 PM

Griffey takes his cuts

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget the Geoff Baker Live! show moves to a new time starting tomorrow. We've decided to to it at 10 a.m weekdays., not 9 a.m. like I told you on our special edition show yesterday. This should give you all time to get settled in your offices. The point of the show isn't to dissect every play of spring training games, which is why we aren't doing it at night. It's to talk about the big picture in camp. So, I hope you can join me.

See Ken Griffey Jr. take his first swings in batting practice together with his new Mariners teammates. It's all in our latest video down below. Several of the balls hit by Griffey rocketed over the fence.

Griffey seemed relaxed as he mingled and laughed with other Mariners. In the clubhouse afterwards, he and Mike Morse bantered back and forth.

"I think it's important that he feels comfortable pretty early in here,'' Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said, adding that he was impressed by a number of low pitches Griffey kept driving.

Griffey ripped one foul ball off the padded metal bar atop the cage. The ball ricocheted back and nearly hit him, but he avoided it. The reason they pad those things is so that fouled balls don't come back at a player like bullets. I saw Darrin Fletcher nearly lose an eye while taking BP in an unpadded cage in Seattle back in 1999. Fletcher wound up with a broken orbital bone that sidelined him more than a month.

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Wakamatsu received a birthday gift from players on the field when workouts were done. Mike Sweeney made sure the players gathered around, then Griffey was pushed forward towards Wakamatsu.

"Best gift I ever had,'' Wakamatsu said.

Wakamatsu is in his office meeting with Adrian Beltre, Jose Lopez, Endy Chavez and Yuniesky Betancourt. He's taking time to get to know all of his players and broach a number of topics with them. In Beltre's case, whether he'll be off to the World Baseball Classic next week is one item on the agenda. Lopez and Chavez are already assumed to be going.

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In the shot below, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and GM Jack Zduriencik watch Griffey take BP.

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February 22, 2009 9:33 AM

Griffey works out

Posted by Geoff Baker

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That's Ken Griffey Jr., second from right, going through workouts with his Mariners teammates for the first time since 1999. He's out there as I write this, shagging fly balls in right-center field along with a group of outfielders. The flies are being fed into a machine, allowing them to attain the height and depth they normally would in games. See it all in the video below. By the way, this guy thinks we should have more Griffey coverage, so just for him, I'll be feeding you a batting practice update later. Griffey is scheduled to go about 10:15 a.m.

Manager Don Wakamatsu is celebrating his 46th birthday this morning. Wakamatsu told us that Griffey won't be rushed into action. In other words, don't expect to see him in the intra-squad games on Monday and Tuesday. As for the exhibition season, which starts on Wednesday with a charity game against the San Diego Padres, that's also up in the air for now.

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Wakamatsu wants to "just get him out here, move him around a little bit -- see how he reacts.''

Turns out all that clubhouse leadership stuff Griffey talked about yesterday at his press conference was no accident. The topic was a discussion point between Griffey, Wakamatsu and GM Jack Zduriencik when the three of them met in Peoria a week ago today. The M's let Griffey know they were in need of more than just a hitter. That they wanted him to be a clubhouse presence as well.

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"I think those meetings were important that we had coming in here,'' Wakamatsu said when the clubhouse topic was broached this morning.

Russell Branyan and Tyler Walker are back out there today, but are being limited in what they do for now. Branyan has a stiff back and Walker a sore quad muscle.

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Yuniesky Betancourt is also taking it slow, though he was jogging around with his equipment bag a few moments ago, trying to figure out which field he's supposed to be on.

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February 21, 2009 9:00 PM

Griffey on Seattle, Armstrong, Ichiro

Posted by Geoff Baker

Our final video from today's Ken Griffey Jr. news conference features the man himself, talking about how he views Seattle, his relationship with team president Chuck Armstrong, and finally...Ichiro.

"I plan on having him take me to dinner at least four or five times a week,'' Griffey said. "Being that I haven't been in the American League, I figure that there are some new restaurants he can take me to. As long as he does not dress the way he has. He may have to change his wardrobe. He can't wear skinny ties. Those went out with Duran Duran.

"But no, I'm looking forward to this,'' he added. "I saw him at the All-Star Game when I gave him his inside the park home run, so it will be all right.''

On teammates getting along: "They're going to have to,'' he said. "We're here for one reason and that's to win ballgames. You're going to have your feuding in there. But that is not going to carry over to the field. That's just the way it is. I mean, you're just not going to like somebody and he's not going to like you. But you're going to go out there and play. And you're going to give the other seven or eight guys on that field a chance to win. And that's just the way it's going to be.''

Don't forget to view our two other videos from today, the one below chronicling the moments leading up to the press conference.

And finally, from way back this morning, the video on the team's situational hitting drills. What a day it's been.

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February 21, 2009 7:38 PM

Armstrong on Griffey, ticket sales

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Mariners president Chuck Armstrong (seen above, going on KIRO radio with producer/engineer Kevin Cremin), was a big star of today's post press-conference media scrums, having gotten plenty of mention from Ken Griffey Jr. while the latter was on-stage.

Armstrong believes the two-horse race between the Mariners and Atlanta Braves, which only materialized at the last minute, likely helped his team in the long run.

"I think it's good that he had the choice,'' Armstrong said. "If we had signed him three weeks ago we might have heard 'Well, he had no place else to go.'

"The fact that Ken had a choice and Seattle won...we're isolated, there's kind of an inferiority complex for some of the natives out there,'' Armstrong said of the Emerald City. "So, Seattle won and this is good news. I honestly think that we would not have had the newspaper stories, the media excitement if we had signed him six weeks ago, as now, because Seattle won.''

Interesting take on that subject. Hear it at the end of this audio clip where I start off by asking him whether there is a way to calculate how much of a ticket boost Griffey could bring.

Armstrong had more interesting revelations.

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The team's season ticket sales are not going great.

"Our season tickets...we're down,'' Armstrong said. "We're down substantially.''

It also turns out that 2008 was the first season in which a majority of the team's ticket-buying fans -- 61 percent -- came from outside King County. Prior to that, it had always been a 50-50 split (a percentage point or two in either direction).

Armstrong figures the team was so bad, the locals just chose to stay home and watch them on TV. He didn't seem to believe internal studies that show the economy is more to blame for the ticket downturn than the 101-loss season.

"I don't know if they're just being nice to us,'' Armstrong said.

So far, the team has sold 23,000 total tickets in various packages in the first two days since the signing. On average, Armstrong said, it's about 2,000 per day. So, a net gain of 19,000. We'll see if that translates into more single game ticket sales when those are offered up starting next month.

One of you asked me if we ever got to the bottom of who lobbied who when it came to Griffey and the Braves. I put this question to Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, and got a long answer that said a bunch of different things. Goldberg said Braves GM Frank Wren approached them last Thursday and even used Chipper Jones as an intermediary on one occasion -- with Jones speaking to Griffey and then passing Wren the phone. Goldberg later goes on to say the calls went "back and forth'' so we really have no way of knowing how hard Griffey ever "lobbied'' for the job if indeed he did. Wren may have made the first call, but it appears the M's offered more total package money, so who knows how hard the Braves were pursuing as opposing to Griffey pursuing them? As you said, we may never know.

But here's the audio clip of my question to Goldberg and his answer.

Goldberg also said the Braves never mentioned putting Griffey in a strict left field platoon in Atlanta. My source with the Braves told me a platoon is exactly what was being envisioned. So, who knows? The Mariners still haven't spelled out exactly what they have planned for Griffey -- to him or us. And we all know that plans can change.

The one mystery we have cleared up is why Seattle looked like a done deal for Griffey a week ago Wednesday night. If you remember, all of the big Griffey stories popped up Thursday in the Seattle media because the team had made him an offer on the Wednesday. Well, on that very Thursday, when news about Griffey was exploding across Seattle, the Braves stepped in out of the blue and made him an offer.

Goldberg told me that, up to that point, his conversations with the Braves had been infrequent and their interest-level lukewarm. Goldberg had been told the Braves were focused on landing a righthanded bat. All of a sudden, as my Braves source told us back then, Atlanta reversed direction and figured a lefty bat was best.

That's where the story changed. Instead of flying to Pebble Beach for a little golf and a Mariners signing, the weekend changed into a big decision-making time for Griffey,

That part, we can all agree on. Everyone involved. Wren made the first serious contact with Griffey's camp the Thursday before last. After that, exactly who lobbied who harder and how close Griffey was to signing with the Braves? We may never know. And really, it's all history now.

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February 21, 2009 4:44 PM

The Griffey press conference

Posted by Geoff Baker

Here's some video footage of the moments leading up to the Ken Griffey Jr. press conference today. You'll see the arrivals of Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong. Also of Jack Zduriencik and Griffey. You'll also see the very start of the press conference. I'll have more coming up later.

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February 21, 2009 4:08 PM

Special Edition: Geoff Baker Live! (Replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

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February 21, 2009 2:10 PM

Griffey can "do the little things''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Just got back from the Ken Griffey Jr. press conference, where we cleared some things up about all the confusion of the past week between the Mariners and Atlanta Braves. First off, I was told by Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, that when Junior flew to Pebble Beach, Calif. for a golf tournament and to finalize an offer from the M's last Wednesday, there was no other team vying for his services. In essence, he was going there to play golf -- with team president Chuck Armstrong in tow -- and then hammer out a deal with Seattle.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, the Atlanta Braves called on Thursday and decided they wanted a lefty bat. Up to that point, all preliminary discussions between Goldberg and Braves GM Frank Wren, dating back to before the winter meetings, had seen Atlanta stressing the need for a righty bat. Just as Griffey was set to finalize things with Seattle, the talks with Atlanta having cooled to that point, in step the Braves at the 11th hour.

All of a sudden, there's competition. The Braves actually were the first to pitch Goldberg and Griffey a concrete offer. The Mariners wanted to meet with Griffey first, which they did on Sunday when he took a physical and an offer was presented.

Goldberg told me there was "a little tweaking'' by the Mariners after that, in which some of the incentives in his contract were made easier to reach. At least one of those incentives is tied to attendance. Both sides have agreed to a realistic figure the Mariners could have attained without Griffey. At year's end, if it is over that figure, some of Griffey's incentive money will be forthcoming.

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I'm also told that Griffey can reach most of his incentives if he has a season like he did for the Reds in 2007.

Griffey is not coming in here a shrinking violet. He talked openly about the clubhouse and how he expects people to get along with each other. He spoke of taking an active role and of how he sees himself helping the team.

"I may not hit 50 (home runs),'' he said. "I may not hit 40, I may not hit 30. But I can do the little things to help a team win.''

One of those will be working closely with Ichiro, perhaps serving as a liaison between the Japanese leadoff hitter and some of his teammates who were less than enamored with him last season. Ichiro issued a statement from Team Japan's overseas training camp moments ago, saying: "In 1993, 16 years ago, I bought a Ken Griffey Jr. jersey. This is one of my treasures to this day. He has always been a hero to me, and being able to play with him is like a dream come true. Now we share a dream: and that dream is to work hard together and win a World Series.''

We'll have more photos, info, video, audio and other stuff from the press conference coming up shortly. Also, don't forget to tune in to our special edition of Geoff Baker Live! at 3 p.m. direct from Peoria.

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February 21, 2009 11:41 AM

Situational hitting

Posted by Geoff Baker

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That phrase is more like a four-letter word in this organization rather than two words totalling 18 letters. At least, it has been. The Mariners say they want to change that, to make their players better at moving runners over and doing the little things right when it matters. We talked yesterday about how manager Don Wakamatsu wants to introudce new drills designed to better simulate game situations. Well, we saw some of that this morning.

Using a pitching machine, which can gun balls in there a lot faster than batting practice pitchers, the M's sent hitters up to the plate one-by-one, gave them a situation, and let them do what they were supposed to. In some situations, there was a runner on first that had to be moved over. Or two on, with nobody out. Players only got one pitch to get things right. If they failed, some were asked to do it over again. Some players got bunts down. Some hit the ball to the right side to move a pair of runners into scoring position. Some hit the sac fly with a runner on third.

And some just plain swung away and missed. Have a look at our video down below. Keep an eye out towards the end for veteran first baseman Mike Sweeney (#5). See how he interacts with his teammates -- even speaking in Spanish to some.

By the way, for those wondering who would be taken off the 40-man roster to make room for Ken Griffey Jr., the odd man out is outfielder Michael Wilson, who was put on release waivers this morning. Teams can put in a claim on Wilson for 72 hours. If he goes unclaimed, he's a minor league free-agent and could re-sign with the M's or any other team. The reason he had to be released and not outrighted is because he was added to the 40-man roster after Aug. 15. When that happens, you have to release the player upon taking him off. Players put on before this deadline can simply be outrighted to the minors and are still owned by the team if unclaimed off waivers.

Some more news: Russell Branyan is taking another day off with that stiff back. Relief pitcher Tyler Walker, one of the candidates for the closer spot, has been shut down for one day, having what manager Wakamatsu described as "a little pull in his quad'' earlier today.

Yuniesky Betancourt, nursing a sore hamstring, took batting practice moments ago inside Peoria Stadium, where FanFest is underway.

Lefties Tyler Johnson and Cesar Jimenez are getting closer to throwing bullpen sessions, but are still just playing catch for now as they battle back from arm soreness.

And then there's the Wladimir Balentien saga. Wakamatsu said the team is hoping he'll be up here by Tuesday or Wednesday. He apparently has a meeting with the U.S. consulate next week to resolve what Wakamatsu described as "a minor issue'' that has prevented him from being allowed into the country. No idea what it is yet. We'll try to find out.

The Griffey countdown is on, with the press conference due to begin at 12:30 p.m.


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February 21, 2009 8:23 AM

New blog feature: "Ask a Player''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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As we wait for the arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. this morning, I'd like to announce a new blog feature that will debut towards the end of this coming week.

We're calling it "Ask a Player'' and it's rather straightforward. I'll give you a phone number to call and you identify yourself and ask a question of a particular player, coach, manager or GM from the Mariners. I'll take the best ones and put the question to the person targetted and they will answer you. Then, you can listen to the whole thing in audio format.

So, here's the number to call: 206-464-8286. Wait for the beep, then leave your question in this format..."Hi, this is Kent from Walla Walla, I have a question for Ryan Rowland-Smith. When you say 'G'Day mate!' is it 'G-Day MATE!' Or 'G'DAY Mate!'? Thanks!''

Anyhow, you can get a little more serious than that. Hopefully you will. But no two-minute speeches. No four-pronged questions that require separate answers. Focus your questions. Be concise. Don't ask Jack Zduriencik if he'd consider trading Player X for Players Y and Z. Don't ask insulting questions. Follow those guidelines and you just might get to have your question put to a player and hear it answered.

And remember to identify yourself by name, or we won't use the question. Yes, the questions will also be published in an audio format on this blog. So, no mumbling.

Pretty clear?

Like I said, I expect this segment to run towards the end of next week.

Don't forget today's special edition of the Geoff Baker Live! show coming up at 3 p.m. after the Griffey press conference. Many thanks to the thousands who've tuned in daily to the live broadcasts. Not quite sure what's going on with the replays. We're trying to get to the bottom of it, but it isn't our software. You'll just have to bear with us. Or, listen to the show live. Which is kind of the whole idea and why we're moving it to mornings next week to make it easier for you.

Stay tuned for full coverage of Fan Fest and Griffey.

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February 20, 2009 5:38 PM

Carp makes first impression

Posted by Geoff Baker

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See Adrian Beltre, above, taking batting practice this afternoon.

Mariners first base prospect Mike Carp, one of the players obtained from the Mets in the J.J. Putz deal, is already getting noticed in camp. He took his first batting practice today, after arriving late to camp because of a car crash in California.

"Some of the hitting coaches came up to me and said 'That's a good swing','' Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It's short and compact. It's BP and 50, or 60 mile-an-hour arms, but you look at different swings and you go 'That swing could work in the game.'

"I talked to (Mets instructor) Sandy Alomar Jr. over the winter and he had some good things to say about him. He had a good spring two years ago where he really pushed to make the club two years ago. So, comments like that on a guy make you really want to focus on a guy and take a good look at him.''

Carp told me he escaped the crash, on Interstate 91 near Anaheim, Calif, with only bumps and bruises. He had been driving from the Los Angeles area to Peoria for spring training early Tuesday when the accident occured. His car, a 2003 Mustang Cobra, is still being examined to see if it can be salvaged. But whether it is or not, Carp still seems a little unnerved by it all. He drove here in an old 1995 Sonoma truck he hadn't used since high school. When he first merged on to the highway, some 18-wheeler trucks came roaring up beside him. The vibrations they made frightened Carp so much that he had to pull over to the shoulder and regain his composure.

Like I said, a scary time. But he's here. Now, he wants to make the team.

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That likely won't happen -- yet. The M's have Russell Branyan, Mike Sweeney, Chris Shelton and Bryan LaHair vying for a first base job. Also, Carp has yet to even play at the Class AAA level.

But he's getting close. The M's will take a real serious look at him this spring.

"This last year, I think I figured out a few things,'' he said. "I became a more patient hitter, more selective. Hit by pitch. If they don't throw it to me I'm not swinging at it. I'll take my walks.''

Carp took 79 of them in Class AA last season, posting a .403 on-base percentage. That type of OBP seems almost illegal in this organization, which is why the Mariners see such potential. He's not a deep power threat, though he did hit 17 homers in 478 ABs last season. He's more of a doubles gap hitter, notching 29 of them in 2008.

The knock on him in the past was that he can't hit lefties. But Carp is working on that as well, and said he has an easier time against southpaw starters than relievers.

"The starters, I have a plan in the at-bat,'' he said. "I look for a certain pitch. We the reliever, he's trying to get you out, so he can throw any pitch he wants. I can't go up there with a plan, looking for something because I really don't know what he's going to do.''

Speaking of lefty starters, don't forget to check out our Jarrod Washburn bullpen video from earlier today.

Here's a good batting practice story involving first baseman Sweeney, known to many as The Nicest Guy in Baseball. Seems he was taking BP today and didn't swing at a pitch even though it was pretty good. Sweeney actually stopped and apologized to the coach who was throwing BP for making him waste a pitch.

"He's an adder,'' said Wakamatsu, who he saw in Oakland last year as an A's coach. "He walks into a room and makes three or four people better just by his presence.''

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Wakamatsu (pictured above, with GM Jack Zduriencik) noticed another little thing about Sweeney yesterday. Players were taking live BP -- no swings, but tracking the ball -- against M's pitchers and Sweeney was the only one who Wakamatsu saw turn and ask the catcher beforehand about what type of pitches the pitcher threw.

"Those are the kinds of things we're talking about,'' he said. "Those little details. A lot of them will go 'Oh, was that a slider?' after he threw it, rather than prepping himself and just having that mindset. That's why he's been a great hitter throughout his career.''

Clubhouse chemistry indeed! Let's wrap things up with a word from our new Seattle Times headline writer. Thanks for the advice.


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February 20, 2009 2:30 PM

Washburn throws bullpen

Posted by Geoff Baker

We got some pretty good camera angles on this Jarrod Washburn bullpen session today. Washburn threw some change-ups for the first time. You can hear conversation between him and the catcher. Hope you enjoy it.

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February 20, 2009 1:58 PM

Geoff Baker Live! (Replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

We were going to wrap things up within a few minutes anyhow, but I'm sorry we got cut off right at the end. We had a power failure that disrupted our internet hard line and prevented the show from continuing. We will do another show tomorrow, a special weekend edition, following Ken Griffey Jr.'s press conference. Right now, we're aiming for 3 p.m., but I'll let you know.

After that, we'll be starting 9 a.m. shows next Monday.

Thank you all for tuning in!

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February 20, 2009 10:57 AM

Aches and pains

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot above of Jarrod Wasburn throwing his second bullpen session of spring training.

Spring training has been underway a few days now, and the usual assortment of aches and pains have started to pile up. Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan is sitting out today's drills with back stiffness. Yuniesky Betancourt is also taking the day off, having worked out a bit with his sore hamstring yesterday. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said Betancourt is progressing and that the off day today is merely precautionary.

Cesar Jimenez is on a throwing program, still recovering from tendinitis and bronchitis. And lefty Tyler Johnson , battling some tendinitis in a surgically repaired shoulder, is also on a throwing program. But neither is ready to handle a bullpen session yet.

Then, we have the sorry case of Wladimir Balentien, still having visa issues trying to get into this country. Balentien is going to be fighting for a job this spring, and his security didn't get any better now that Ken Griffey Jr. has been retained and expects to see some outfield time.

I asked Wakamatsu how this delay in getting to camp is going to impact his chances. After all, this is an entirely new coaching staff and front office. Nobody really knows all that much about Balentien, nor do they have much of a personal investment in him.

"If he shows up tomorrow...the later it gets into spring, it's tougher for us to evaluate him,'' Wakamatsu said. "Hopefully, this thing gets taken care of quick. I'd like to see him.''

Some of you may have read my story in today's paper, about the battle for the closer's job. I thought it was interesting to hear Miguel Batista talk about his "broken back'' from last season. Batista talks of what he initially thought was muscle spasms turning out to be a pair of fractured bones in his back. Anyhow, we had to cut some of the story because of all the space devoted to Griffey in the paper.

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I've talked before about how this new online medium presents better opportunities for newspapers and this is one of them. I enjoyed hearing what both Batista and Mark Lowe had to say about the closer battle. Unfortunately, the newspaper story quotes didn't do them justice, so here's a chance for you to listen to the extended audio clips from both pitchers.

Here is Batista in this link.. And here is Lowe in this one.

Hope you enjoy!

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February 20, 2009 8:17 AM

Friday musings

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A couple of former Mariners have checked back in with their takes on the 2008 season that was for their 101-loss team.

Here we see former closer J.J. Putz giving some choice quotes to the New York Daily News. The writer, Bill Madden, describes the Seattle clubhouse this way:

"...the Mariners became the first team in history to have a $100 million payroll and lose 100 games. It was, says Putz, about as miserable a situation as there could be in baseball. Not only were the Mariners a bad team, they were a bad mix. Their best player, Ichiro Suzuki, is reportedly detested by the rest of the team. The pitchers all hated throwing to Kenji Johjima, the team's other celebrated Japanese import who was inexplicably signed to a three-year, $24 million extension through 2011. And lefthander Erik Bedard, the M's most acclaimed offseason acquisition last year, alienated himself from most of his teammates by acting like a total jerk and then blew out his shoulder. And the losses just kept on coming, with manager John McLaren fired at midseason.''

Not very flattering, is it?

Putz then is quoted saying: "The way I look at it, it's a whole lot better not closing for a team that's going to win 100 games than closing for a team with 100 losses.''

In case you haven't seen it yet, Raul Ibanez weighed in on the issue with Larry Stone down in Florida yesterday.

"I really think that last year's club had a problem with accountability,'' he said. "It goes hand in hand -- in crappy situations, people start pointing fingers. That's when I think the character of the people on the team is tested. When you start focusing your energy on what other people are doing, then you're not focusing your energy on what you're doing."

Ibanez goes on to praise Ichiro in the rest of the story.

No matter whose side you take in all this, it looks like Ken Griffey Jr. can't get here quickly enough.

That's what they were saying in Atlanta Braves camp yesterday as finger-pointing and sour grapes ruled the day. Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, in the "get a clue'' moment of the day, actually accused Atlanta Journal-Constitution baseball writer Dave O'Brien of scuttling the deal by reporting that Griffey had chosen Atlanta. Griffey, of course, denied this and eventually picked Seattle.

I think Hudson needs to focus more on his pitching and worry less about the media. After all, the Braves failed to add that veteran bat and now will likely need to keep a few more runs off the scoreboard.

Or, if he really wants to get into analysis of how his team's front office botched this deal, I'd suggest he could look at the three others that GM Frank Wren allowed to fall through in the past four months. He can look at the added incentives on Griffey's Seattle contract, which are better than what the Braves were offering and (I suspect) sweetened towards the end.

Players aren't going to pull out of the most important decision of their careers, in this case one that will impact Junior's legacy, because a reporter leaked the story. Well, at least the ones who aren't flakes.

In cases like these, it helps to look for the obvious. That's why Hudson's a pitcher and not a reporter. Maybe Chipper Jones can explain it to him, because he seemed to have all the answers a few days ago.

Dave O'Brien is one of the best newspaper baseball bloggers in America. Those of you who enjoy reading this blog should appreciate his work as well and what he's doing to help advance online baseball coverage in this country. He made a mistake, as did I when I told you Griffey was going to Atlanta as well. O'Brien's readers should give him a break and stop trying to crucify him for working overtime on a story they were all clamoring for him to get to the bottom of. And I know some of those readers keep logging on here, so pass the word on to your buddies.

If you lose O'Brien, who gives you your daily Braves fix? Get over it. Griffey chose the Mariners, made a whole lot of folks -- including me -- look bad in the process, but it's his right to do it and the sun has come up in the morning. At least, for some of us it has.

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February 19, 2009 4:41 PM

Griffey news conference on Saturday

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Just found out that the Ken Griffey Jr. news conference will be on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time. We'll bring you all of the sights and sounds from that and then immediately cut into a broadcast of the Geoff Baker Live! show.

For some non-Griffey news for a moment, the Mariners play their first intra-squad game on Monday and the pitchers who will be featured are:

One one side: Carlos Silva, David Aardsma, Shawn Kelley, Justin Thomas, Sean White and Randy Messenger.

On the other side: Stephen Kahn, Mark Lowe, Denny Stark, Jason Vargas and Chris Seddon.

Also, don't miss our fun Josh Fields video from earlier today.

The Mariners are reporting that they sold more than 16,000 tickets today after lines opened at 8:30 a.m. That number is for total tickets sold through a variety of package options. Single-game tickets don't go on sale until March 14 at 10 a.m.

Also, some more news for you from FSN, which will feature a weekend full of Griffey content. It;s still being outlined, but on Friday, the network will air the Mariners-Reds game from 2007 when Griffey returned to Seattle for the firts time. That starts at 9 p.m.

At 11:30 p.m., FSN will show the "In my Own Words'' segement from that series in which Griffey tells Angie Mentink he'd "like to retire a Seattle Mariner.''

On Monday, that segment will be repeated at 7 p.m. And then, at 7:30 p.m., the team's final Kingdome game agaimst Texas, from 1999, will be rebroadcast. The game features Griffey hitting a home run and making a leaping catch at the wall.

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February 19, 2009 1:54 PM

Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

Many thanks for all who tuned in today! Here is some more info on the Mike Carp car accident. He was driving to Arizona from Los Angeles on Tuesday when he skidded off the road and into a barrier. Carp was apparently shaken up, but returned home after the accident.

There were no apparent serious injuries. Carp did drive to camp today and will have his physical tomorrow.

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February 19, 2009 12:08 PM

Fields tasting the bigs

Posted by Geoff Baker

A look at Mariners No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields, walking back from throwing his first big league bullpen session. He threw about 40 pitches, none of them really all that hard. As he says in the video, he was just trying to hit some spots. Fields is still getting used to life as a big leaguer. But he has some smarts. When I asked him about perhaps getting to face Ken Griffey Jr. in batting practice, he boasted about getting a chance to be taken deep by a Hall of Famer. Not exactly what Ryan Anderson did way back when, when he told folks he wanted to strike Griffey out. No small amount of practical jokes followed, many initiated by Junior.

Fields did keep taking the long way back to the clubhouse the past few days. So, we showed him a shortcut towards the end of the video. Enjoy!

By the way, in the never-ending quest by the KC Royals to become the Mariners of the Midwest, infielder Tug Hulett was claimed off waivers by them today. So ends the Ben Broussard trade with Texas from just over a year ago. In the end, the Rangers got zilch and the Mariners pretty much did as well.

I ran into Hulett moments ago as he was saying goodbye to some of the clubhouse assistants here. I asked him whether he was excited.

"I am actually,'' he said. "It's a job. I'll take that any day.''

Well put.

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February 19, 2009 10:18 AM

Griffey buzz all over

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget the Geoff Baker Live! show, coming up today at 1 p.m. Pacific time, on-location from the Peoria Sports Complex.

There was one main topic of conversation in the Mariners clubhouse today and it involved the addition of Ken Griffey Jr., who has yet to give an ETA for when he'll show up. Officials don't expect a press conference until Saturday or Sunday, though he could fly out to Arizona as early as tomorrow.

Things are not quite so jovial at Braves camp in Atlanta, where the team feels spurned and everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else.

But the buzz in the Mariners clubhouse was positive amongst players both young and old. Hey, what did you expect them to say? That they hate the guy? But many players spoke of the positive contributions Griffey could make off the field as well as on it.

"He can show people how to play the game and make sure nobody steps out of line,'' third baseman Adrian Beltre, likely the biggest clubhouse leader on the team, said just before taking the field for this morning's workout. "Even if he doesn't say anything to anybody, he's headed to the Hall of Fame. I think the young guys are going to take a look at him and try to be like him.''

Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn said he's excited to be teaming with Griffey.

"I think we'll be a little better,'' Washburn said. "I think he'll help on the field, obviously. Any time you bring in a future Hall of Famer to a club, whether he's past his prime or not, it's going to help. It adds a presence to the lineup. Just the name puts a little extra something in the opposing pitchers' mind and makes the game plan just a little different.

"I think it brings a good presence to the clubhouse,'' he added. "Someone for the young guys to watch and learn from and see how to go about their business, things like that. I think it's going to make for a better atmosphere at the park.''

Continue reading this post ...


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February 18, 2009 11:05 PM

Special Edition: Geoff Baker Live! (replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

Here's a replay from our special, hour-long live broadcast from 10 p.m.-11 p.m. tonight. Glad so many of you participated. Try to get some sleep.

As promised, down below, the video of GM Jack Zduriencik speaking to us tonight, right after the deal went down. He took a call from Griffey's agent, Brian Goldberg, right in the middle of our chat. Goldberg was phoning from Griffey's home in Orlando, Fla.

The fur is hitting the fan in Atlanta, where Braves star Chipper Jones seemed put off that Griffey had "shunned" the team. There have also been suggestions the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is to blame for turning Griffey back towards Seattle after reporting Tuesday that he'd chosen Atlanta.

A bit of a mess down there right now.

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February 18, 2009 8:52 PM

Griffey "one of the greatest''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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NOTE: 9:30 p.m.: We'll have a special edition of Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 10 p.m. So, gather your questions and I will try to have some more answers for you.

That's what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said earlier tonight (see picture above, with his wife Debbie, speaking to a handful of us in the media center) about Ken Griffey Jr., who is returning to Seattle after a decade-long absence.

"He certainly is, arguably, one of the greatest athletes that's ever played in the Seattle area,'' Zduriencik said. "His leadership, his experience and him coming back is a tremndous, tremendous thing for this organization.''

Griffey won't join the team until Friday or Saturday at the earliest. He's now wrapping things up back in Orlando. You have probably all heard the story tonight, from former teammate Harold Reynolds at the new MLB Network, that Willie Mays called Griffey late in the day and may have tilted his decision in favor of Seattle.

Mariner president Chuck Armstrong, reached tonight by Larry Stone of the Times, also played a key role in the stunning reversal by Griffey. Armstrong was the first person in the organization that Griffey called tonight to reveal the news.

I spoke to pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith a little while ago. He hadn't heard the news until coming in from dinner, a couple of hours after the announcement.

"I thought it was a pretty good and pretty cool thing,'' he said. "I ran into Chuck Armstrong earlier in the day and tried to see if he knew anything but he told me he still hadn't heard.''

Rowland Smith said the clubhouse had been buzzing with news of Griffey's pending arrival over the weekend. But the past couple of days, he said, talk had stopped as players began to feel Griffey would head to Atlanta.

"I'm sure tomorrow, it will be a main topic of conversation,'' he said.

You can bank on that.

Zduriencik told me he can't imagine Griffey wearing any number other than 24. He expects him to see some

"We found out the issues and the surgeries, the things like that,'' he said, adding that he took a physical in Peoria on Sunday and passed with flying colors. "As we did the work on our end, we felt more comfortable.''

I asked Zdureincik whether Griffey will play the field all that much.

"That will be a decision that will be made here in spring training,'' he said. "No question. I think the advantage is, coming into the American League is that on certain days, he can DH. And his body will dictate that. So, I'm anxious to see him out here. His knee is rehabbed, if you will. Rehabilitated if you will. And again, that will be dictated by his physical status, for sure.''

No press conference until he arrives here in coming days. We'll get about 24 hours notice.


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February 18, 2009 6:15 PM

Special Edition: Geoff Baker Live! (Replay)

Posted by Geoff Baker

A replay of our live report from earlier tonight, where the Mariners officially announce the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik just came in the room and spoke, telling us that Griffey will see some action in left field as well as serving time as DH. Spring training will have a lot to do with that outcome. Zduriencik also noted that team president Chuck Armstrong played a huge role in convincing Griffey to return.

"This means a lot to this franchise,'' Zduriencik said. "I think this means a lot to us from a baseball standpoint. We have been pursuing it all along thinking of coming up with a lefthanded hitter. And to have an opportunity to bring a guy back like a ken Griffey Jr....is a tremendous, tremendous thing for this organization.''

Zduriencik also said there was no Plan B had Griffey signed with the Braves. He says he was prepared to go with what he already had in camp. It wasn't until Zduriencik got off the phone with me, where I told you that he was not denying the TV report, that he finally got the official call from Groffey's agent Brian Goldberg. What a night. More coming up. Lots of audio and video.

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February 18, 2009 5:35 PM

Griffey returns home

Posted by Geoff Baker

It's now been confirmed that Ken Griffey Jr. is heading back to the Mariners on a one-year contract, reportedly for a base salary of roughly $2 million and incentive bonuses as well. This stunning turn of events comes after Atlanta Braves officials worked yesterday to finalize a deal with the 39-year-old slugger.

"Last I heard, they were expecting him on the field this morning,'' one Braves official told me moments ago. "Seattle must have upped their offer.''

When I spoke moments ago to Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and put the question to him, he hesitated before answering.

"I've still got some work to do,'' he said.

Sounded like he needed to get pen to paper. But when I asked him if he was denying that Griffey had agreed to a deal, he said he was not denying it.

I owe all of you a huge apology for yesterday's story. I don't like saying deals are done when they turn out not to be.

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February 18, 2009 5:14 PM

Griffey to Seattle: Report

Posted by Geoff Baker

Hold on to your socks, but WSB in Atlanta is now reporting that Ken Griffey Jr. has actually signed with the Mariners. We're hearing that Griffey had two money contracts done and waiting to be signed and two physicals that have already been taken for the M's and Braves.

And now, this ABC affiliate TV station in Atlanta says he's chosen the M's.

Just got off the phone with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. He did not deny the report. Nor did he confirm it.

"I've still got some work to do,'' he said. "I have not spoken to Griffey yet. If I do, it's going to happen shortly.''

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February 18, 2009 4:01 PM

First full day done

Posted by Geoff Baker

The Mariners are done with their first full-squad workout of spring training. In the video above, see some of the position players engage in that tortuous 300-yard shuttle run. We focus primarily on Adrian Beltre, Jose Lopez and Mike Morse in their group. The first video of the shuttle run, featuring Carlos Silva and Felix Hernandez, was one of our most-watched ever. This one won't disappoint.

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See new Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez let one rip in the batting cage earlier this afternoon in the photo above. Down below, Gutierrez (right) chats with Jamie Burke.

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We asked Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu what he looks for from hitters taking their first cuts in the cage at this point in spring training. He told me things like the fluidity of a swing, hand strength and comfort level when hitters are swinging the bat. If any of those areas is lacking, the coaching staff can jump on it and bring players up-to-speed quickly, before the games begin.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 18, 2009 2:08 PM

Replay of Geoff Baker Live!

Posted by Geoff Baker

Once again, my apologies for hitting the wrong switch and knocking out the broadcast for a moment or two. Up above, you can view the part of the show before the blackout, then down below, the second part of it after we restored the feed. Thanks for participating! Much cleaner on the comments line today.

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February 18, 2009 9:40 AM

Beltre, Betancourt sore

Posted by Geoff Baker

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By the way, today's Geoff Baker Live! show will begin at 1 p.m. Pacific time. I've heard all your complaints about the live question format but there's only so much we can do. If people want to act like imbeciles, I can't walk into their living rooms and tell them to grow up. Just keep in mind, please, we have people tuning in from all over the world. This is a project never tried before in newspaper sports coverage and many are monitoring to see how it goes. What they see on the question screen will reflect in many ways on the baseball fans of Seattle and their relative intelligence. This city has a great reputation for asking smart questions. Why anyone would want to disrupt folks trying to do so is beyond me. Some people just need to get a life, as many of you have already figured out for yourselves. We'll try to moderate it as quickly as we can, but we're going to keep on doing the live shows. And when you're live, you have to take the bad with the good. So far, the response has been great and could lead to many other such projects around the country. Let's all be patient. And thank you for helping make the show a success so far.

As you can see from the above video, the entire squad is out there warming up as we speak, with the exception, of course, of the Japanese players and a couple of injured Mariners (and yes, Wladimir Balentien is having visa issues). Yuniesky Betancourt, who took ground balls on Tuesday, has a sore hamstring and will be held out of today's drills. And third baseman Adrian Beltre will be monitored closely, as he has a stiff shoulder. Remember, his problems last year involved both his thumb -- since surgically repaired -- and the shoulder. So, with spring training just kicking off, no one is rushing him.

This could, however, impact whether or not Beltre heads off to the World Baseball Classic. Here's what manager Don Wakamatsu (pictured above, watching this morning's workout) had to say on an audio link.

"The thumb seems to be outstanding,'' he said. "The shoulder, he's having a little bit of stiffness in it right now. So, I think in the next week or so, we'll see where he's at and watch him continue to work out.''

By the way, Larry Stone is covering the Ken Griffey Jr. story from Braves training camp in Florida and reported this morning that all signs point to Griffey heading to Atlanta. He spoke with Chipper Jones as well, who seems convinced his good friend is joining the Braves. The interview was fairly extensive and Stone lays it all out for you. A good read. I don't know what else to tell you at this point. I've seen the other denials and rumors floating around the internet, but we'll have to stick to what the folks close to Griffey and the Braves keep saying.

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February 18, 2009 8:08 AM

Chipper Jones on Griffey

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Still awaiting official word that Ken Griffey Jr. has joined the Atlanta Braves. But Braves slugger Chipper Jones, a good friend of Griffey's who has been on top of this whole thing from the start, tried to explain this morning why this process is dragging itself out.

"I think he feels like he owes Seattle their due respect,'' Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which broke the initial story that he was heading to the Braves. "He said he'd talk to the guys out there.''

And Griffey hadn't yet done that on Tuesday when news first broke that he had picked Atlanta. I speculated yesterday that this was probably why he issued a denial he'd chosen anyone. But it was only the Braves that Griffey's camp was finalizing things with all day yesterday and not the Mariners.

As far as I know, nothing has changed. I see no new talks between Griffey and the M's that would lead me to believe any open negotiations are taking place. Like I said, our source told us this Braves deal had been agreed to, gave us the price parameters and said it would be finalized later in the day. I can't control the timeline, folks. Sorry, I know you are all impatient to lay this thing to rest. So am I, trust me. I want to get on with covering spring training in a normal way.

The Mariners are dressing in the clubhouse for their first full-squad workout of the spring. They will be addressed by manager Don Wakamatsu, then hit the field between 8:45 and 9 a.m.

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February 17, 2009 2:24 PM

View replay of Geoff Baker Live!

Posted by Geoff Baker

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February 17, 2009 10:07 AM

Griffey to Braves: Done deal

Posted by Geoff Baker

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UPDATE (11:07 a.m.): Looks like Ken Griffey Jr. is going to torture us all, denying that he's reached a deal with anyone. That would be news to some folks very close to these negotiations is all I will say. For anyone wondering, I did not base my confirmation off the Atlanta Journal Constitution story. I got it from someone working on the inside, which is where the money figures came from. If Griffey changes his mind...I don't know what to tell you...for now, I'll stick to what I wrote. The money he's been offered is roughly the same from both sides. No one is breaking the bank for him. No deal is ever official until a name is signed to paper, but most times, when terms are being worked through, the player doesn't go ahead and sign someplace else. I said most times. There are always exceptions. We'll see if this is one. We'll see, but I doubt it. Realistically, though, his denials are based off that Journal Constitution report, not off our independant confirmation. It's highly possible he's finishing off the nitty-gritty details of a contract with his agent and the Braves and has yet to tell the M's officially that they are out. Such a thing would be a breach of professional politesse and slightly embarrassing. So, you say you're mulling over the decision until the deal is signed off on and make a quick call to the M's before announcing it to the world. That would be my guess about what's going on.

Just got it confirmed that Ken Griffey Jr. is off to the Atlanta Braves for a package worth between $2 and $3 million in total compensation. They are still finalizing the contract details as we speak. But his base salary should be up close to the $2 million mark.

The M's put in a similar offer, but the lure of playing closer to his Orlando home proved too much for Griffey.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me moments ago that he still had yet to hear anything. Zduriencik also was not going to comment on the possibility of bringing in another free-agent bat, like former Angels slugger Garret Anderson. But he's certainly out there and now will become more prominent.

So, there it is. In the end, fans will just have to come to terms with the fact that the past is the past where Griffey is concerned. In the end, he just didn't want to play in Seattle badly enough. It happens.

Should make for an interesting Geoff Baker Live! today at 1 p.m. Pacific time.

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February 17, 2009 9:56 AM

Wetteland on closers

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Awaiting word on Ken Griffey Jr., and whether or not he is indeed going to the Atlanta Braves. Yes, I've seen the Atlanta Journal Constitution report saying that he is. I'm trying to get it confirmed through my own sources. Once I do, I will let you know, as always. Until then, I can't tell you that I know the answer because I don't.

"I haven't heard a thing,'' Mariners GM Jack Zdureincik said moments ago. "I'm standing here on the field (watching workouts) and I haven't heard a thing about anyone.''

In the meantime, I had an interesting chat today with new bullpen coach John Wetteland, (pictured above), a former star closer for the World Series champion New York Yankees in 1996 and the Montreal Expos before that. Wetteland had some very interesting takes on the mentality of becoming a closer (he used to be a starter in the Dodger organization before transitioning to the role). He talks about stuff you can't measure. Some of the techniques he used to shut out nerves on the mound. Have a listen.

In this audio clip, he talks about the need to summon key words or phrase mechanisms in specific situations.

"If I felt like I really needed to throw a great fastball, what's the first thing that most people do? They try to throw hard,'' he said. "Sandy Koufax told me something when I was very young. The line was 'See how easy you can throw the ball hard'. And so, i just kind of said that to myself and it made me relax.''

There's more where that came from. Listen to the clip.

In this next clip, Wetteland talks about "stuff'' and how, for a closer, it doesn't always mean throwing 98 mph.

The Mariners have a whole bunch of closer candidates this spring, beginning with Mark Lowe, and moving on down the line to include Tyler Walker, Miguel Batista, David Aardsma and Roy Corcoran. Their "stuff'' will have something to do with who gets chosen, but how they handle pressure situations -- each in their own unique way -- will have just as much to do with it, if not more.

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February 17, 2009 7:45 AM

Geoff Baker Live! at 1 p.m.

Posted by Geoff Baker

Don't miss our next installment of Geoff Baker Live!, a live webcam broadcast from spring training, starting today at 1 p.m. Pacific time. We'll be on-location at the Mariners' spring training facility, ready to update you on Ken Griffey Jr.

There will be plenty besides Junior to talk about, namely Ichiro, J.J. Putz, Adrian Beltre, Jim Riggleman and position players reporting for their mandatory physicals. Jarrod Washburn is due in today as all.

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February 16, 2009 5:15 PM

Fields signs for $1.75 million

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Here's the video of today's press conference (if it doesn't come up right away, it's still uploading. Give it a few minutes.) By the way, Larry Stone has a Ken Griffey Jr. update on his blog. No, he hasn't made up his mind yet. Griffey, not Larry.

It took a while for the second part of his physical to get done, not to mention paperwork that held things up yesterday, but Josh Fields is now a Mariner -- both sides splitting the difference between the $2 million he's wanted and the $1.5 million Seattle had offered.

Fields is on a minor league contract but will be invited to major league camp. He should be out on the field tomorrow. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says he has some ground to make up, having sat out since being drafted with Seattle's first selection last June, but his power arm could get him up to the majors more quickly than it takes most prospects.

Fields was the closer for the University of Georgia.

"I realized that there was a business to it and that to get things done was going to take some time,'' Fields said.

Zduriencik added: "Our desire to get him into camp was important as was his desire to get going.''

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February 16, 2009 4:04 PM

Josh Fields arrives

Posted by Geoff Baker

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ADDITIONAL NOTE (4.39 p.m.): For those of you asking, the media center here had a direct view of the folks talking, albeit with that lame tree in the way. They weren't out there long, so we had to grab any photo op right away. I'll admit, it does look stalker-ish. Oh well. I asked Jack Zduriencik why the parking lot meet. Turns out, Fields still hadn't finished his physical and was waiting in the car with his dad before heading off to the medical center. His agent was meeting with the team inside, so Zduriencik and the brass decided to run outside to say hello to everyone. There were paperwork delays and confusion at the medical center, which is why it took several hours after to make this announcement. But he's signed for $1.75 million.

Two days after his physical, the Mariners appear finally ready to sign first-round pick Josh Fields. The two sides met in the complex parking lot, of all places, here this afternoon. Not sure why the reason for all the cloak and dagger stuff. It's possible he wasn't allowed on the team's premises if unsigned. Fields is on the right. On the left, you see GM Jack Zduriencik, assistant Lee Pelekoudas, Fields' father and presumably a representative of his agent.

Just got word that Fields signed as I type this. We'll be meeting with him shortly.

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February 16, 2009 10:18 AM

Beltre talks of clubhouse tensions

Posted by Geoff Baker

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UPDATE (1:08 p.m.): Larry Stone just posted large excerpts of his interview with Jim Riggleman today on his The Hot Stone League blog, in which the former manager talks about the problems a group of players had with Ichiro. Riggleman said he took players into his office and tried to get them to work through their complaints and feels some progress was being made before his dismissal. Interesting stuff. For those wondering, I was asked by Stone to keep linking to his blog this long weekend because our technical staff did not provide online links to it before the holiday period began. Hopefully, by tomorrow, they will provide links and you can reach his stuff on your own without having to hunt for it. Anyway, here it is again.

Might as well get all this out in the open at the very start of spring training. Adrian Beltre walked in today, looking in great shape and eager to start camp. Right off the bat, Beltre was asked about J.J. Putz's comments about divisions in the Mariners clubhouse last season. Beltre is one of the team's best players and one that teammates tend to follow with a fervor. As he walked in the room, he was immediately seranaded by one player after another, then congregated in a corner with Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Carlos Silva and Felix Hernandez.

So, his words mean something. And here is how he responded to Putz's comments when surrounded by reporters this morning. Listen to the entire audio file right here.

"There were some things last year that...some players played differently than how we played and how you're supposed to play,'' Beltre said. "I cannot myself say that (they) are not team players, they might be. But I think probably, it was not the way that probably people should play the game. But it's something that happened last year, I think this is a new year. We have to look forward and try to make it work.''

Beltre was asked what he could do -- as one of the team's most obvious leaders -- to change this problem.

"It's not what I can do,'' he said. "It's whoever was the guys that didn't play the game right that should join the other guys that want to play and want to do the little things to win. I try every year to do my part. It's not just what I can do out there on the field. I try to guide the guys, how, even if we're struggling, how we can score some runs, how to play the game and try to win as a team. Not just as individuals.''

Beltre was asked for his definition of playing the game "the right way."

"My understanding is, you do the little things,'' he said. "If you have a man at second, you move him over. Give up the at-bat. If you're losing by two or three runs, don't go up there and hack. Because if you hit a home run, you're still going to lose by a run. Play the situation game. If you know you're winning by two or three runs and they have men at first and second and you're sure the guy is going to score at home plate, don't throw home because you can try to cut the other guy off. Just the little things you can go over.

"Just do the little things. Take a walk if you need it. If you need a guy on base, bunt if you can run. Just the little things like that, where the team can see that you're playing to help a team win. Not just numbers or your stats and stuff.''

Sounds familliar, no? There are only a handful of guys he can be talking about when he mentions hitting cutoff men from the outfield and I know it isn't Raul Ibanez because Beltre was an admirer of how he plays the game. I also don't think he's picking on Jeremy Reed or Wladimir Balentien, guys still breaking into the majors in many respects.

I've talked to a few people -- not players -- who worked higher up in the organization the past few seasons, and they spoke of lingering tensions between Beltre and Ichiro the past few years. The issue, they say, has been a problem the team tried to address in group settings because players follow Beltre's lead.

I wanted to put the question to Beltre directly rather than begin speculating on it this past winter without offering him a chance to respond. This was the first opportunity to ask Beltre face-to-face about Ichiro, so I did.

I told him Putz had said he felt Ichiro could do more, then relayed it to Beltre's comments about some guys not doing what it takes to win. Putz, by the way, is a huge Beltre fan, which you can read about in today's The Hot Stone League blog from colleague Larry Stone.

I asked Beltre: "Is he (Ichiro) one of those guys you think can do more?''

Beltre initially said he didn't have issues with any one player.

"I don't single out anybody,'' he said. "You're never going to hear that out of my mouth. I think that it's wrong to single out your teammate. If I'm a good teammate, I'm going to support everybody here. Even if he is, or he's not (playing the right way) I'm not going to tell you. Because I think that should be addressed in the clubhouse, not outside.''

Hardly a ringing endorsement. But if Beltre wants to keep all such commentary in-house, that's his right. Ibanez, a player Beltre says he's going to miss for his leadership qualities, operated in identical fashion. But the question had to be asked. It's been talked about for years in this organization and now it's out in the open.

I asked Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu whether he was made aware of any specific Beltre-Ichiro tension and what he planned to do about it. First off, Wakamatsu said he was not caught off-guard by any of Putz's comments. He said he had done his homework prior to interviewing for the Mariners job, had spoken to players who were here and had a pretty good idea of what had transpired. Beltre, by the way, feels too much is being made of the tensions, but a whole lot of people -- like Wakamatsu -- seem to have been made aware of them and Putz (no longer employed by the organization) feels they were a big deal.

So, we'll give you what everyone is saying and let you decide.

By the way, I'm told former manager Jim Riggleman weighed in with some choice comments down in Florida today, where he now is in spring training with the Washington Nationals. We'll update you on those quotes later today, but it's worth noting that Riggleman, who played down the tensions last fall, is also no longer drawing a paycheck in Seattle.

Back to Beltre-Ichiro specifically, Wakamatsu said: "I've heard a lot of rumblings. Again, I don't want to comment on anything in the past. There's a lot of new guys here. And I just want to focus on creating an environment where maybe we bring a lot of that favoritism closer to equality. I think it's important that that 61st guy in camp, that he feels we're there for him.''

I asked him whether Beltre can help get that message across.

"You're looking for leadership but...I'm not going to make anybody a leader,'' he said. "What I'm trying to do is get them to understand their actions. Some guys are vocal, some guys aren't. But younger players are going to look at veteran players and say 'What's he doing?' Or 'Is he getting away with that?' So, it's our job to try to make sure and bring that to those guys' attention and say 'Hey, set the example.' ''

Wakamatsu said he had "a great conversation" with Beltre over the winter and that "he cares and he wants to win.'' He did text message with Ichiro briefly, but hasn't spoken to him since he saw him in Seattle.

So, once again, back to Beltre-Ichiro.

"When I get both those guys in camp, we'll see if we have a problem,'' he said. "But for now, I don't forsee anything.''

Fair enough. We'll see what happens going forward.

Wakamatsu was asked whether winning can change everything. "Absolutely, it helps,'' he said.

Then again, the team won 88 games in 2007, but tensions were still there. Enough to call a team meeting at Tropicana Field that season. And those tensions lingered around long enough over the ensuing winter for the clubhouse to fall into disarray the moment the team started losing the first few weeks in 2008.

Wakamatsu said it goes beyond mere winning and that he and his coaches have to lay out a process of communication to let the team know what's expected. Things like wearing numbered uniforms on the field during spring training instead of mere pullovers -- something several players did the first day here but were quickly told was not acceptable.

Beltre told us he felt the 2008 team was talented enough to win. So, I put this question to him: "What was the biggest reason you didn't win last year when you had all that talent?''

"That's a good question,'' he said. "That's a good question because we had a good lineup. We had a good lineup one through nine. We had five solid starting rotation guys and we had a good bullpen. We probably didn't have a veteran presence in the eighth inning , a set-up man, in the beginning. But we did have a good team and I don't really understand why we did so badly. I think it's just baseball. Sometimes, maybe we didn't click right, or we didn't give ourselves enough time. A couple of guys were released early after a couple of weeks and maybe we started panicking. I don't know. It can be so many different things but I can't point my finger and say what it was. I still can't believe that we lost so many games last year.''

Let's see whether the Mariners figure some things out this spring.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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February 15, 2009 3:33 PM

Putz on clubhouse, Ichiro

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Wish I could take credit for this interesting interview, but instead it's the new Hot Stone League blog by my colleague, Larry Stone, down in Florida that got hold of former Mariners closer J.J. Putz. Stone asked Putz about the team's clubhouse problems last season.

"There were just some guys that just aren't really team guys,'' Putz said. "There's a lot of guys that are team guys in there. There was definitely some butting heads on certain things. What the hell can you do? Some guys are just stubborn.''

Putz would not name anybody specifically.

"I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus. But I think everybody knows who everybody is talking about. It is what it is. Hopefully, it changes for them over there."

Stone then asked him to comment specifically on Ichiro. I'll refer you to his blog if you want to read the rest. It's pretty honest stuff.

And no, Putz was not my "clubhouse insider" source from last fall. Didn't have to be. There were plenty of insiders to choose from. He's just telling you folks what really went on last season once the television remotes were clicked off.

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February 15, 2009 12:44 PM

Bedard throws: Hulett DFA

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot above of Erik Bedard throwing a brief bullpen session today. Haven't seen Bedard throw at all since July, so it was a welcome sight.

In other, somewhat surprising news, infielder Tug Hulett has been designated for assignment. The team now has 10 days to trade or release him, or assign him to minor league camp. Hulett had been expected to compete with Ronny Cedeno, Reegie Corona, Chris Woodward and others for the backup infielder job.

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But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik (pictured above with CEO Howard Lincoln watching Bedard pitch) saw that pitcher Luis Pena had been DFA'd by the Milwaukee Brewers and grabbed him off waivers. Pena was a top-20 prospect for the Brew Crew, a 26-year-old right hander from Venezuela who throws a fastball-curve ball combo and fanned 69 hitters in 68 1/3 innings in High A and Class AA ball two years ago. Last year, he fanned 49 batters in 49 1/3 innings in Class AAA (sorry about the initial stats and age confusion there, folks.)

What hurt him most in 2008 was the 47 walks he threw over the same number of frames. We'll see if he can get his command under control.

This also shows you what can happen when a new regime takes over. Hulett was acquired by former GM Bill Bavasi in the Ben Broussard deal of 14 months ago. He got called up last summer by the M's, but now appears ticketed for the minors unless a deal is made.

Anybody want to see a shot of J.J. Putz working out with the Mets today? Just click on the Hot Stone League, the great new blog from Times colleague Larry Stone.

Back to Bedard, he started off camp on the right foot, agreeing to meet with the media after his throwing session to answer questions about how his shoulder is coming along.

Here is the audio from part of that session.

Bedard began throwing off flat ground in a garage at his new Ontario home -- which he had built last year -- about the second week of December. He said it took a bit of time before he could confidently unleash his pitches without feeling the after-effects of his shoulder surgery last fall.

"Probably a couple of weeks after I first started throwing,'' he said. "At first, it was a little stiff. That's normal because of the scar tissue and stuff like that.''

Later, he began throwing off a plastic mound in the same garage.

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By the way, Miguel Cairo just signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies. I guess Sam Perlozzo, his former infield coach in Seattle and now with the Phils, must have put in a good word for him.

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February 15, 2009 9:25 AM

Rowland-Smith skips WBC

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Another cool, but sunny day here in Peoria, Ariz. as Day II of spring training workouts are officially underway. Many of you loved our video of Carlos Silva and Felix Hernandez doing the 300-yard shuttle run yesterday. It's becoming an instant YouTube classic. They actually both had their first throwing sessions yesterday as well, so I've included a new video for you down below.

Erik Bedard will throw for the first time today.

Ryan Rowland-Smith, as you may have gathered from the headline of this entry, has decided not to play for Team Australia at the World Baseball Classic. Rowland-Smith (pictured above with a less-queasy Brandon Morrow) wants to compete for a job in the starting rotation, even if he's unlikely to begin there as long as Jarrod Washburn is still with the team. But Rowland-Smith feels it's best to show the new coaching staff what he's got. So, he's sticking around.

An injury update on Tyler Johnson, the lefty signed as a minor-league free-agent after being cut by the St. Louis Cardinals: he's got tendinitis in the shoulder he had surgery on last season and is unlikely to throw at all this week.

"We're going to hold him out for five to seven days at least,'' manager Don Wakamatsu said this morning. "Just calm him down. We think it's some inflammation.''

Team doctors feel Johnson may have aggravated the shoulder simply by throwing more than most pitchers do this time of year. He had a series of throwing auditions in trying to land a major league job.

The other sidelined lefty reliever, Cesar Jimenez, just walked past me in the parking lot on his way back home from the park. He's still got the remnants of bronchitis -- I told him to get away from me -- and won't be back on the field until tomorrow at the earliest.

No Ken Griffey Jr. updates yet. Still in a holding pattern on that.

By the way, Times colleague Larry Stone makes his blog debut today! It's about time the paper gave him a blog. The Hot Stone League can be found right here by clicking the link. I'm told he'll have a J.J. Putz photo up shortly from spring training with the Mets.

For those who missed it yesterday, here's the already-classic Silva-Hernandez shuttle-run video. Please enjoy!

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February 14, 2009 8:33 PM

The scoop on Griffey

Posted by Geoff Baker

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I've been working the phones the past little while and can now tell you that the Atlanta Braves did indeed make a late push for Ken Griffey Jr. and are serious about taking him away from the Seattle Mariners.

How serious?

Well, less serious if the Mariners start throwing money around.

My sources tell me the Braves -- who only began their pursuit of Griffey this past week -- have no more than $2.5 million in wiggle room. That's in base salary and total compensation they could throw Griffey's way. Keep in mind, please, that "sources'' within the game will sometimes underestimate these figures because they know full well they will end up in the newspaper and don't want to outbid themselves in a public auction.

In other words, if they're prepared to go $3 million, they want the player thinking $2.5 million is the limit.

I think it's safe to say, though, that previous reports Griffey would earn up to $5 million have been greatly exaggerated.

One source told me he doubts the Braves could offer Griffey a base salary higher than "a million or two -- at the very best.''

The same source quipped: "If Seattle wants Junior that badly, they should just pay him.''

In the past, the M's might have thrown money around a la Jose Vidro just to get Griffey's name on a uniform. But as I told you in the previous blog post, the M's are being more budget conscious than usual this year in light of the economic downturn.

Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln did tell me this year's budget isn't carved in stone and that there could be a little room to move around and add a player. But not like last year, when Erik Bedard and his $7 million salary were added at the last minute.

Remember, Lincoln told us he bases much of the budget on forecasted ticket sales. The Mariners have obviously done some numbers crunching to see how many added millions Griffey could generate in ticket and merchandising sales. But it's unclear whether that would be enough to justify going up all that much higher in any financial offer.

Nostalgia can be a tricky thing to sell. It doesn't always work out the way people think it will.

That said, it would appear that, if the Mariners desperately feel they need Griffey to appease a fan base that felt he was on the verge of coming here, they can probably still do so. My sources tell me the Braves (no matter what Atlanta GM Frank Wren said earlier today) are only looking at two outfielders -- Griffey and Garrett Anderson -- and aren't all that wedded to one or the other.

Griffey has told Braves officials that he really wants to play there. His daughter plays AAU basketball there, as was mentioned in an Atlanta Journal Constitution report today. But yes, Griffey did cite her as a reason for wanting to play in Atlanta. That city is also a short plane hop to his Orlando, Fla. home. We're talking an hour or less.

But the Braves' scouting department is apparently not convinced that either Griffey or Anderson could hold up physically while playing left field -- even if platooned. That means they don't feel either could face right handers in the full three-quarters of situations the Braves would be squaring off against such pitchers.

Atlanta only decided to go after Griffey this week because the Braves felt they needed a veteran bat that could be a positive clubhouse presence. But again, not a bat that was going to play as much as even a full-time lefty platoon player.

That's why the salary offer to Griffey -- we're still not 100 percent sure that an official one has been made -- won't be going all that high.

In other words, if the M's want him, he could probably be had for a slight "Griffey premium". That's the impression I'm getting.

The real question, I suppose, is the one folks have been asking for years. How badly does he really want to play here?

Because from what I'm seeing and hearing, neither team appears ready to engage in an all-out bidding war. And to the "loser" in this sweepstakes, obviously, will go Anderson. It will be interesting to see their comparative numbers at season's end. For Seattle fans, though, this is obviously about more than mere numbers.

We'll see. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik can always call the bluff here. Zduriencik can wait and see how serious Griffey is about going to Atlanta. And then, if it really is more about the money, hope the Braves balk on price and go for Anderson instead.

It takes a stomach of steel to do that with a rabid fan base bleating for action. I wouldn't want to be part of a game like that too often.

Whatever happens...Lincoln had better fire up the "Hot Seat'' and be prepared to strap himself in for the ride.

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February 14, 2009 5:22 PM

Griffey this, Griffey that...

Posted by Geoff Baker

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What do I think about the latest news that the Atlanta Braves have made a last-minute push to land Ken Griffey Jr.? I think you should all settle down and take a tranquilizer or two. I also think it's time to play you the conversation I had with CEO Howard Lincoln, in the photo above talking to Brandon Morrow this morning. Lincoln talks a lot about the global economic downturn and why the Mariners are sticking more tightly to their 2009 budget (which will obviously be lower than last year's $120 million at season's end) than they did a year ago when Erik Bedard was added at the final minute.

The Griffey deal had the potential to be a good one as long as the Mariners were the only bidders. With another team now entering the fray, it could get complicated. Especially since the Braves truly would have to be prepared to let Griffey play the outfield. I don't think the Mariners should try to match an offer like that. I wouldn't like to see Griffey play in left field at Safeco. As a DH against righties? Sure. But only if the cost is reasonable. Now that two teams are involved, the price could climb. We'll see.

But today's developments make hearing what Lincoln has to say important.

Lincoln talked about the economic crisis, which hit just two months after team president Chuck Armstrong nixed a deal that would have shipped Jarrod Washburn and his reamining millions in salary to Minnesota. Instead, Washburn is now owed $10.3 million by the M's this season and they're nearly out of budget room.

Listen to Lincoln's words right here by clicking the link.

"I don't think anybody expected what was going to happen,'' Lincoln said. "I think...no one expected we were going to have an economic crisis. So that when decisions were made in terms of the trading deadline or just right after the trading deadline, things have completely changed.

"For example, how many people would have told you that, say, in September or October, some of these veteran free-agents would be going for what they're agreed to accept? That is what this economic crisis has done. So, it's really impacted everyone.''

And Lincoln's team can't go after some of those bargain free-agents, like Bobby Abreu, because they are out of budget room. So, in other words, if he had to do it all over again, Lincoln surely would have dumped the salary.

"I wish we could predict the future,'' he said. "No one could predict this. That's reality.''

But that's also why gambling unnecessarily at times can come back to bite you. When the entire baseball world was screaming at the Mariners to make the Washburn deal, the Mariners gambled they could play their hand out a bit longer. They've since been brought down to earth and are now living with the consequences.

Lincoln did talk about how budgets are based on ticket projections and things can change. That leaves more room to sign Griffey, if the team anticipates ticket sales going up significantly. After all, 200,000 more tickets at $30 a pop would be another $6 million in revenue.

But there's a limit to how much flexibility the team would have with that, No one knows for sure how big a ticket spike would result from signing Griffey. So, a second team entering the bidding and driving up costs would present a problem.

"Everybody always wants more money, that's reality,'' he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's the baseball business or any other business. But you've got to go with what you've got.''

As for Griffey, we'll see how deep his "love'' for Seattle truly is, or whether it's more about money and playing time at this stage. I won't begrudge him if he does take more money and playing time and head off to Atlanta. That's his right. It's also why I tend to not jump in with both feet when I hear about tales of undying love between fans and players. Baseball is a business. First and foremost.

If the Mariners bring Griffey back, you'd better believe that business will play into it. The business Lincoln talked about today.

And if Griffey balks for business reasons of his own, you move on and let memories of the past stay exactly that. Memories. We're a long way from 1998, folks. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.

So, for the reader who asked if I'm "still solid'' with information the Mariners and Griffey were nearing a deal? As solid as I ever am before a deal is signed. Teams step in at the last minute and sign guys away all the time. It happened this off-season when the Dodgers re-signed Rafael Furcal after the Braves thought they had a deal on the table.

This Griffey thing wasn't nearly as close as that Furcal-Braves situation was before it changed.

Some of you will like it, some won't. Some of you think I can't wait to see the Griffey talks collapse, while some of you...think like this dude here.

Just as I suspected. When emotions and memories are involved, somebody always gets ticked off in the end.

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February 14, 2009 3:32 PM

Fields "raring to go!''

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Just chatted briefly with Josh Fields, who completed his physical with the team.

"I'm raring to go!'' he said.

The Mariners should announce, no later than tomorrow, that Fields has been invited to their major league camp. Fields was advised by the Mariners not to speak about his status until the team gets the complete physical results and finalizes the deal.

You never know about these things, after all. I don't want him getting in trouble before he even puts on a uniform, so we'll just leave his comments at those.

Fields struck me as someone who can't wait to get back on a mound. He hasn't pitched in anger since being drafted last June. He's a lot more slender than I thought he'd be. But as they say, it's the size of the fight in the dog. Not the dog in the fight.

Then again, make that dawg not dog. He did, after all, pitch for the University of Georgia. Expect the team to get around to the official announcement shortly.

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February 14, 2009 2:41 PM

Josh Fields agrees to terms

Posted by Geoff Baker

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By the way, for those asking, the next Geoff Baker Live! broadcast will be this coming Tuesday. We'll inform you of the time as the workout schedule here gets finalized, but we're looking to do regular weekday broadcasts. Only reason we're waiting until Tuesday is because Monday is a holiday.

I'm here to confirm to you all that Josh Fields has indeed agreed to terms with the Mariners. How do I know this? No inside sources needed. His father is sitting 10 feet away from me as I type this, waiting for his son to finish up the physical he's taking inside the training room. I'm told that the No. 1 draft pick from last June, a reliever out of the University of Georgia, will indeed be coming to major league camp.

We'll assume he passes the physical and all this becomes official.

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February 14, 2009 12:19 PM

Pushing the limit

Posted by Geoff Baker

Watch this video of Carlos Silva (left) and Felix Hernandez (right) completing a pair of 300-yard shuttle runs. The first one is relatively easy. The second one is pure torture. Players have to finish it in under one minute. Brandon Morrow, who you'll see talking to trainers at one point, actually threw up during the drill.

Moments later, Silva leans over to Morrow, who is off-camera at this point, and tells him: "That's at least one pound less!''

Morrow quips: "I'm 181 now.''

This run is only done once, at the start of camp.

"It's kind of a way to motivate guys to come in -- in shape,'' Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.

"The first one's easy. It's that second one.''

I spoke to Hernandez afterwards. He's slightly lighter this year, coming in at 212 pounds compared to about 220 a year ago. And he can't wait to compete in the World Baseball Classic, where he will be one of Venezuela's top starters. Don't forget, Johan Santana has pulled out and Carlos Zambrano is also unlikely to pitch.

Hernandez had been dying to play winter ball in front of his native Venezuelans the past few years, but the M's prevented him from doing so. So, he sees this as his chance to shine internationally for his homeland.

Silva pitched in relief for Venezuela in the last WBC and is eager to participate this year.

"I have to make the team first,'' he told me.

In other news on Venezuelan pitchers, lefty Cesar Jimenez did not participate in today's drills. He is recovering from tendonitis suffered in winter ball and has also now contracted bronchitis. Not a great day for lefty relief candidates, given the Tyler Johnson update from earlier.

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February 14, 2009 9:53 AM

Two walking Slim-Fast ads

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot this morning of Carlos Silva, this year's spring training weight loss story, fielding grounders along with Felix Hernandez, the weight loss story of 2007. Silva is the guy on the left. Like I said, he's no supermodel. Neither of them is. But Silva has pared down considerably from 2008.

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In case you had forgotten what Silva used to look like, check out the photo to the left (Photo Credit/AP) of him pitching for the Mariners last season. Now, for the bad news. Tyler Johnson, the situational lefty signed by the Mariners last week, is already having shoulder problems. Remember, Johnson, who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals prior to being released this off-season, missed all of 2008 with a shoulder bursitis problem that required surgery. The good news is, the team does not have a fortune invested in him, since he's on a minor league deal.

We keep waiting for word that No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields is on his way to camp for a physical. Fields and the M's have apparently reached an agreement in principle, but the deal has yet to be finalized. Once that is done, he could come to major league camp, though that's up to the team.

By the way, I spoke to Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln this morning and asked him about the team's approach towards free agents this year and specifically, about its decision on the Jarrod Washburn front and whether -- in hindsight -- there are moves the team might have made differently had it known the economic environment that was coming. I've been very harsh on Chuck Armstrong for nixing the Washburn-to-Minnesota deal back in August. And he deserves criticism because he took too big a risk in gambling that Washburn could attract better value in the winter trade market.

In all fairness, though, the stock market plummet and global economic meltdown did not occur until October. That money crash did change the baseball marketplace in a dramatic way and made Armstrong's decision look even worse. Do the M's regret it now? I'd say they do. I'll play you the audio of what Lincoln told me shortly.

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February 13, 2009 6:02 PM

View replay of Geoff Baker Live! from today

Posted by Geoff Baker

Here are the results of our poll taken during the show:

Which Mariners player will hit the best?

Ken Griffey Jr. -- 42 %
Franklin Gutierrez -- 26 %
Russell Branyan -- 22 %
Wladimir Balentien -- 11 %

By the way, I just got off the phone with GM Jack Zduriencik, who assured me that Josh Fields has yet to be officially signed.

"I don't comment on players who haven't signed,'' Zduriencik said. "And I don't comment on players I have an agreement in principle with who haven't signed. The only time I would offer a comment is on a player who has signed a contract with us.''

Now, this could be code for Zduriencik saying a deal has been reached but he's going to wait until after the physical to announce it. The big question here is whether Fields will be invited to major league camp.

The timing of the agreement in principle, if indeed one has been reached, would seem to suggest that's possible. Minor leaguers don't have to report for a while, but pitchers and catchers invited to major league camp take the field tomorrow. Though I should also mention, the team's winter conditioning program is going on right now as well and it's possible the team could want Fields -- who hasn't pitched since June -- to get a head start in his workouts.

In other words, don't expect to see Fields take part in tomorrow's workout. The two sides might be close, but it's yet to happen. Though, if an agreement has been reached, he could be out there by Sunday.

We'll see.

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February 13, 2009 3:48 PM

Don't miss Geoff Baker Live!

Posted by Geoff Baker

The show begins at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. Lots of stuff to talk about today, including Ken Griffey Jr., "Slim Shady" Silva, the mysterious freeing up of a corner locker in the clubhouse, Don Wakamatsu's first spring training media session and the arrivals of several pitchers whose job titles are up in the air.

And no, Wakamatsu did not name an opening day starter.

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February 13, 2009 12:24 PM

Locker moved: clearing Griffey space?

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Not saying this means anything specific, but veteran hitter Mike Sweeney, in camp with the Mariners, just had his locker moved today. Sweeney was in a corner locker that used to be occupied by Raul Ibanez. Today, he's been moved three stalls down, to the left of Russell Branyan.

It was Branyan who pointed out the move to me and asked, rather cryptically, whether that's where Ken Griffey Jr. was going to be. Branyan knows Griffey from a previous two-year stint with the Reds. He actually spoke with Griffey at the latter's home in Orlando a month ago when he played host to a dinner of players attenting a charity golf event.

"I asked him 'Are we going to be teammates again?' '' Branyan said. "He seemed very open about it.''

The locker stall to Branyan's right, next to the corner stall, is also empty. Branyan has his footwear in there for now but expects it to be filled soon. Two lockers for Griffey? Who knows?

By the way, I asked the head equipment manager about the locker move and his response was that he didn't know the reasoning behind it or whether Griffey was coming or not.

So, stay tuned.

By the way, everybody is arriving at camp as expected, with the exception of Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. Bedard got delayed by a snowstorm -- but is expected to make it prior to the 6:30 p.m. cutoff for physicals -- while Washburn received permission several weeks ago to attend to a prior engagement. He will arrive for his physical next Tuesday and take the field on Wednesday.

Also, non-roster invitee Luis Munoz, a Dominican pitcher, is having visa issues

Also, don't miss our first spring training video, of Jeff Clement taking batting practice earlier this morning. Enjoy! And remember, today's edition of Geoff Baker Live! runs this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. You can write in questions to me on a live video broadcast from down here in Peoria, Ariz.

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February 13, 2009 10:53 AM

Clement takes batting practice

Posted by Geoff Baker

Our first video of the spring shows Mariners catcher Jeff Clement in the batting cage this morning in Peoria, Ariz.

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February 13, 2009 9:11 AM

Slim Silva

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Don't forget the Geoff Baker Live! show, this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time right here on the blog. I will answer all your questions about today's day of physicals for Mariners pitchers and catchers via live video hookup from Peoria.

No, that's not Carlos Silva in the photo, it's actually Adam Moore -- the Mariners' so-called catcher of the future. But Carlos Silva is indeed slimmer as advertised. He was the first guy I ran into here this morning, as pitchers and catchers take their physicals. Silva's is at noon Pacific time. He's no supermodel, but indeed does appear to have lost 30 pounds. He was tipping the scales at a whopping 285 pounds when last season ended and now says he's in the mid 250s.

"I feel great,'' he said. "It's easier to work out because I'm not as heavy as before.''

So, I guess I win the U.S.S. Mariner official poll as to who will be the first beat writer to write a weight loss story from camp. But seriously, this one is important. No one realizes more than Silva how much he let fans and the team down last season.

"They don't know anything about me,'' he said of the fans, and not in a bad way. "I didn't show much. Right now, physically I feel really good and now I've got to start building my arm and getting ready for the season.''

The secret to his weight loss, besides eating smaller portions of his usual foods?

Yoga.

Hear some Silva audio on that by clicking the link.

Silva took private yoga lessons three times per week at an hour each session.

"I can't do that,'' he said. "My wife, she does it easy, but for me...it's (hard).''

The workouts strengthened his core and improved his flexibility and balance.

Now, he says, he has to go out and pitch the way he can.

"I knew as soon as they signed me here that they had very big expectations,'' he said. "I didn't cover those expectations at all. But as soon as the season ended, I went back home and the only thing I had on my mind is what I've got to do.''

Silva only flew here from his native Venezuela yesterday. He and his wife put on an annual Christmas fundraiser for underprivileged children in that country. He was to get here earlier, but his son, almost 2, contracted infections in both ears and a doctor recommended he not fly. So, the Silvas cancelled their tickets and waited several more days before headed back to the U.S. (they reside in Minneapolis).

Last week, Silva launched the Venezuelan portion of his charitable foundation for needy children. He already runs one in the U.S. and last year started a Little League near his hometown of Puerto Ordac in Venezuela. So, now, he's got an official foundation there, too.

Yes, he's saying and doing all the right things. In fairness, he was doing the charity work well before he imploded in 2008. But he knows he's got a lot of PR rebuilding to do in Seattle. And the real repairs will start on the mound.

No, Ken Griffey Jr. hasn't signed with the Mariners yet.

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February 12, 2009 3:14 PM

Griffey-palooza!

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Thanks to the thousands of readers who tuned in to our live web broadcast today. There were hundreds of you on at any given moment of the hour-long show and that certainly exceeded expectations considering the short notice we gave. I have a feeling we can double those numbers easily. Our next broadcast will be tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. That way, we can wrap up the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. Stopped by the field today and had a nice chat with new bullpen coach John Wetteland, who I watched as a fan when I lived in Montreal. But the real action starts tomorrow morning. I will be there to recap it all for you, then will take your questions live on camera.

So, it seems the only story worth following today for Mariners fans has been the pending arrival of Ken Griffey Jr. back into the Mariners fold. My guess is, he shows up here on Monday, passes his physical, then hits the field on Tuesday. But he is coming. Make no mistake about that.

In our poll segement of the Geoff Baker Live! show today, 40 percent of you said you thought Griffey would receive a base salary of $3 million. That sounds a bit high to me. I see his base being at $1 million or $1.5 million, but no higher. Maybe I'm wrong. But here is an important question the team will have to answer: At what point will the team have to part ways with this nostaligc kick and start focusing on the future?

That's not meant to be a shot at Griffey. But if he comes here and puts up an OPS of under .750 as a DH, should he be receiving ABs once the season reaches, say, June or July? At what point will Griffey's nostalgic moment wear thin for some of you? Obviously, plenty of you have a soft spot for him. After all, a majority of our poll readers answered that he should receive the highest salary choice posted.

So, does he get a week? A season? A half-season? At what point does Ken Griffey Jr. kept kept on this team at the expense of, say, Wladimir Balentien? If Balentien struggles, should Griffey take ABs away from him?

Let's remember, Griffey is here for one season -- tops.

Balentien is only entering his second full season as a major-leaguer. Actually, last year wasn't even a full season for him.

For now, the pair could be used as a DH platoon. Balentien bats right, Griffey hits left. But then, what does that mean for the loser of the Kenji Johjima-Jeff Clement battle? Clement also bats left, so if he's the DH most nights, does Griffey take ABs away from his progress? Lots of questions, as I said. Food for thought.

My take is, Griffey should stay in the lineup as long as he hits. If he shows signs of having a slow bat, or his production dips down in to the low .700s OPS-wise, it's time to forget nostalgia and go with the future. I saw nostaliga at work as a fan when Gary Carter came back to play for the Expos and as a writer when Tony Fernandez returned to the Blue Jays. Both were all-stars and members of playoff teams in their heyday. In Fernandez's case, it was a worthy return in terms of hitting -- for a while. Carter's return was all nostalgia.

In both cases, neither move resulted in any long-term attendance increases.

Your take?

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February 12, 2009 12:25 PM

View replay of Geoff Baker Live!

Posted by Geoff Baker


This is obviously a replay and not a live chat. You won't see the poll results here, nor will you be able to see the comments.

By the way, our final poll results on how much base salary Ken Griffey Jr. should get:

$3 million -- 40 %
$1 million -- 28 %
$2 million -- 24 %
$500,000 -- 8 %

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February 12, 2009 11:05 AM

Geoff Baker Live!

Posted by Geoff Baker

Thanks for joining us today. You can watch the replay in the blog post just after this one. Thanks!

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February 12, 2009 11:00 AM

Live webcam broadcast

Posted by Geoff Baker

We promised you something new this spring and are about to deliver. In 15 minutes, at 11:15 a.m., we'll be doing a live webcam broadcast from down here in Peoria. You will have a chance to write in your questions on the screen and I will be able to answer them live here. Think of it as a call-in show where you see me, and I see your questions and comments. This will be a regular feature on this blog all spring long. So, I will see you in 15 minutes.

When the show is about to start, you will see a TV box with my face in it. Don't click on it before the broadcast. If you do, nothing will happen.

Yes, it will be saved for later viewing.

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February 12, 2009 8:57 AM

Where's Griffey?

Posted by Geoff Baker

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UPDATE (9:27 a.m.): Actually, Griffey is golfing, just not in Orlando. Nothing is going to happen until next week, But yes, the two sides have exchanged figures and Griffey will be coming back for one more year if all goes well. Meaning, if he doesn't fall off a golf cart first. But terms have yet to be agreed to. Conversation is still ongoing. That's it. I'm done. Promise.

Still at home, would be my guess. Golfing? Perhaps. It's been nice and cool in the Orlando area lately, perfect golfing weather. The point is, for those of you emailing to ask, or flooding our newspaper "tip line'' last night, I'm not going to keep updating every "development'' in the Griffey situation as if it's a horse race. To paraphrase Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman: He ain't got no place else to go!

And so, the next "development'' you will see from me will be when he actually agrees to a deal with the club. Yes, there are rumors out in the blogosphere that Griffey has agreed to terms and only has to pass a physical to be a Mariner. Remember how long that took in the Erik Bedard trade last year? I'm not going through that again. And besides, considering the situation and the removal of Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn from the market, it would not take any concrete knowledge for the blogosphere to guess that a Griffey deal is close. Don't need inside information on that. So, those rumors? Just that for now. But yeah, there's probably something to them. Given the situation, you would expect the two sides would be close on a deal. But anyone could guess that based on logic.

I know you're all excited and want to treat every Griffey whisper like it's "news''. But just because ESPN tells you things are "heating up" doesn't make it news. What does heating up mean, exactly? Nothing is heating up. There are no other free agents out there for the Mariners to pursue. Griffey isn't going to get a better offer than he will from Seattle. What remains now is to dot the "i's'' and "q's" the "p's'' or something like that. So, barring a last-minute trade for a bat, I figure something will happen within the next few days.

But that's it. I'm not going to treat this like an ongoing saga that's full of twists and turns. There are no twists and turns here. Griffey has nowhere else to play, and the M's need a bat and have skipped all the better alternatives. All that remains now is to either pull off a trade or sign Griffey. If either happens, I will let you know. For now, return to your regularly scheduled program. Actually, get ready for today at 11 a.m. and our new blog feature, which, given your chatty moods, should prove interesting.

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February 11, 2009 6:54 PM

Sights of spring

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot of the Mariners' spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz. this afternoon. Kenji Johjima had already left by the time my plane touched down. But I ran into manager Don Wakamatsu in the parking lot. He's aware of some of the feelings generated by his comments that Johjima would be his No. 1 catcher when he arrives in camp after the World Baseball Classic is done.

He wanted to clarify a few things today.

"Nobody's saying he's guaranteed anything,'' Wakamatsu told me. "We'll just have to see how it plays out.''

In other words, it's Johjima's job to lose. And if he plays the way he did last year, he could very well lose it. But Jeff Clement, as I mentioned earlier, still has his own things to prove this spring. An OPS in the .650 range, while much better than Johjima put up last year, is still not enough to win anybody a major league job -- let alone someone just breaking into the majors. Clement also has to start throwing some runners out from behind the plate and is still learning how to call games in the majors.

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If Clement shows improvement in those areas, as I said, this battle with Johjima could become very interesting.

Speaking of which, we've got a new blog feature we're going to unveil tomorrow at about 11 a.m. Pacific time that I hope you will all find very interesting. Might change a lot of the interaction between us. So please, mark that time down and be sure to log on.

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February 11, 2009 9:44 AM

Abreu and other vets

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Bobby Abreu has signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Angels, meaning Los Angeles just got a pretty good bargain over the type of money the outfielder had initially been looking for. This doesn't mean the M's could have had Abreu for that price. A bidding war with the Angels would have driven the cost up.

But it's hard not to think of this as an opportunity missed by the Mariners. You can't boast about not being anxious to dump salary -- as M's president Chuck Armstrong did last fall -- then saddle your new regime with cost restrictions just when the prices of some decent veteran hitters are coming cheaper than expected.

Anyhow, one more name out of the way, starting with the letter G. and ending with Anderson, and Ken Griffey Jr. will be a Mariner again.

By the way, how smart does Raul Ibanez now look for grabbing that three-year deal from Philly at $10 million per? Getting out of this game early truly did prove beneficial. That's some good work by his agent.

Some of you are getting hung up on this whole "is Kenji Johjima the starting catcher?'' deal. Of course he's the starting catcher, at least heading into this spring. Believe it or not, you still have to win jobs in the majors. Meaning, you have to take it away from the incumbent. Johjima is the incumbent. And despite having youth on his side, Jeff Clement did not exactly go out and win the job last season. For all the bad Johjima did at the plate, Clement wasn't all that much better and still has plenty to learn about catching at the major league level.

So, I see nothing wrong with Don Wakamatsu stating the obvious: that Johjima is still the incumbent until somebody takes the job away from him. Clement will have to earn the No. 1 job. Why else should he get it? Because he's younger? He has to show that he's better. He can start by doing it at spring training. At least this year, Clement seems a good bet to make the team. That wasn't the case a year ago. So, his prospects are looking up. Don't forget, he's coming off knee surgery and has to show he's 100 percent.

If Johjima goes out this spring and picks up where he left off last year -- both at the WBC and in the final 10 days or so of camp -- then Clement has a shot at taking the job away from him. But Johjima at least has a major league track record for the team to go off of. Clement's is very short and not all that great. He has a chance to add to it this spring. I'm very interested in seeing what he does because this is a catching competition that could very well continue deep into the regular season.

For now, the world keeps on spinning as it always has. Want someone's job? Take it away from that person.

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February 10, 2009 4:37 PM

Ichiro to pitch in WBC? Nope

Posted by Geoff Baker

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This is one of those pre-spring training stories that fans get all revved up about for five minutes and then turns into nothing later on. When news broke yesterday that Ichiro had thrown 56 pitches on Saturday in a bullpen session for Team Japan ahead of the upcoming World Baseball Classic, talk surfaced about how his manager might use him in an emergency situation.

That is, until the boss at his day job saw photos of Ichiro pitching.

"He's not going to pitch,'' Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik told me within the hour.

Zduriencik first heard about Ichiro's bullpen session, like the rest of the world outside of the Japanese squad, on Monday afternoon. He was shown some photos as well.

His first reaction, he said, was that Ichiro "looked like he was out there having fun.''

And Zduriencik says he sees nothing wrong with that. But it isn't about to carry over into a game. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd also say the bullpen sessions stop here. Let's not forget, Ichiro's arm is a key part of his defense. Probably also needs it working right to get those 200 hits per year. Now probably isn't the best time to start changing up his workout routine, no matter how cool some might think it would be to see him pitch.

"He isn't going to pitch,'' Zduriencik repeated.

End of that story.

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In other Mariners news, catcher Kenji Johjima arrived in Arizona last night, then met in Peoria with new manager Don Wakamatsu in his office for over an hour today. Johjima and Wakamatsu then headed to the field, where Johjima took some throws and took batting practice. He'll work out again tomorrow, then head back to Japan for the start of the WBC.

Wakamatsu told me after today's workout that Johjima is being very serious about his approach to this year's camp. It's one reason he wanted to get in early and meet the new manager, knowing he'll miss a lot of time with the WBC looming.

Part of what the Mariners will do differently this year, compared to last, is plenty of individualized instruction with players before and after the regular team workouts. There was a bit of that done a year ago, with Johjima in particular, but this year will see just about every player in camp targetted for added instruction at one point or another.

Relations between pitchers and catchers, especially signal-calling -- a big issue early last season -- will receive plenty of attention this year. Hitters will also be given individualized work on pitch selection, on-base ability and bunting, more so than in the past.

Bench coach Ty Van Burkleo will run the camp day-to-day, as Eddie Rodriguez did last year. Weigh-ins and physicals are Friday, with the first workout for pitchers and catchers on Saturday.

Photo Credits: Sanspo

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February 9, 2009 8:15 PM

Worst sports scandals of all-time

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Seems that my comment earlier today about A-Rod's positive drug test pehaps turning into the biggest sports scandal of all-time has drawn lots of interest in the blogosphere. The New York Times, of all places, linked to the comment earlier this afternoon. Well, it's one thing to make a hyperbolic statement. Quite another to back it up. I've compiled a list of what I think are the greatest sports scandals of all-time in terms of their impact on the sports themselves from a global perspective, how people view those sports afterward and the longevity of the black mark they carry with them.

For this reason, you won't find any mention of Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan debacle from the 1994 lead up to the Winter Olympics' figure skating competition. While that was a nice little "Made-in-the-USA" soap opera, it reflected more on the personalities involved than the sport of figure skating itself. I'd argue that all of the Olympic ice dancing fiascos that occured with judges in the years since were a lot more hurtful to their sport overall. And besides, neither Kerrigan nor Harding even won a gold medal. In fact, it can be argued that Harding-Kerrigan actually helped figure skating in terms of boosted TV ratings. No, we'll look at the real ugly scandals here and leave Harding-Kerrigan for reality TV.

For the worst of the truly awful scandals, those with long-term impact, I nominate:

1. Steroids Era as defined by A-Rod's positive test

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This gets the nod because of what it will mean to the overall context of the so-called Steroids Era of the past 15 years. As Jayson Stark of ESPN mentioned earlier today, we're getting to the point where baseball records have been forever tarnished. And records are the foundation that helped elevate MLB to a position of being a part of Amercia's very fabric. The stuff that great novels were written about. That inspired movies. You rarely hear people talk about NFL records the same way they did Hank Aaron's career home run total, Babe Ruth's mark before that, or Lou Gehrig's consecutives games streak (since eclipsed by Cal Ripken Jr.). Take away baseball's records and their sanctity and the sport loses its soul. I believe that this is the fundamental reason why fans seem to care more about steroids in baseball than they do in football. Baseball's drug culture has caused the game's very foundation -- it's individual records as measured over the past century -- to crumble. It made a mockery of the career achievements of baseball legends whose on-field feats have transcended time.

A-Rod was supposed to help restore some sanctity to those records. He was the "clean" player who was going to eclipse the Barry Bonds career home run mark, which was recently snatched away from Aaron under a shroud of steroids accusations. Now, that plan lies in ruins. A-Rod is just as tainted as all the rest of the biggest names the game has seen this decade and in the 1990s. A generation of baseball fans has grown up watching a lie. This is not a scandal limited to any one particular year. It's one now going on two decades, ensnaring the biggest names the sport has known during that time. And some of the biggest names to play in any era of the sport's history. It has rattled the trust placed in the sport by fans. Part of what made baseball great, made it endure for as long as it has, was the ability to reference records of the past and measure them against the present. Now, that's gone forever.

If A-Rod can no longer carry that torch, who can? How many more decades will it take? And how many fans of the game itself will the sport lose? Perhaps, baseball is now destined to become like any other team sport, with fans whose loyalties remain to individual teams and their efforts at winning championships. Not to the beauty of the game itself and all of the elements that go with that. cheering a team to a championship can still be fun stuff. But it's rarely what gets great novels written.

So, that's my reason I nominate this A-Rod debacle as having crystalized the Steroids Era as the worst sports scandal of all-time.

Here are the rest of my nominees:

2. The Ben Johnson Olympic Steroids Scandal of 1988

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Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson taking on American icon Carl Lewis in the 100-meter final at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, was one of the most globally-watched sporting events of all-time. Johnson shattered the world record by clocking in at 9.79 seconds, but the aftermath of his positive test for the anabolic steroid stanozolol nearly ruined track and field.

The Johnson scandal cast a cloud over those Olympics and became symbolic of Olympic drug problems in general. Results of previous medal winners were thrown into disrepute. Organizers of track and field events throughout the world reported a downturn in fan interest and loss of revenue for years to come. In Canada, the government held an official inquiry into drugs in sport that took years to play out and which became a model for other countries to follow. But the trust that fans had placed in the sport of track and field was lost. Each new world record became the subject of cynicism. Sure, the Soviets and East Germans were doping long before Johnson stepped into his starting blocks. But if you want to find the flashpoint for an Olympic doping crisis that has lasted decades, look no further than Johnson's mad dash against Lewis in 1988. The fact that nearly the entire finalist field from that event was later caught taking one banned substance or another tells you all you need to know about how rampant track and field's drug problems were in 1988. And while progress has been made, we've seen from Marion Jones and others that the sport still, in many ways, has yet to recover.


3. 1919 Black Sox Scandal

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It's because of the Chicago White Sox throwing their World Series in 1919 that baseball now has a commissioner and Pete Rose is not allowed into the Hall of Fame. Indeed, for pure longevity, this scandal has all other beat. It has inspired movies like Eight Men Out and novels like Shoeless Joe. There are still organizations dedicated to clearing the names of players like Buck Weaver, said to have been innocents in the whole affair. If not for the home run hitting feats of Babe Ruth in the 1920s, the baseball betting scandal may have toppled the sport for good. Let's not forget, just like A-Rod and Barry Bonds are the flashpoints for their sport's scandal, and Ben Johnson was for his, the 1919 "Black Sox'' were only one major element to a betting problem that went beyond their one team. Fan confidence in the sport was becoming eroded daily as new accounts of the thrown World Series continued to emerge. I'd argue that, in today's internet age, basbeall might not have survived 1919. But back then, with news coming out a lot more slowly, it bought the game time to right itself. The strict, anti-gambling rules that emerged help ruin the legacy of Pete Rose decades later when he was found to have bet on baseball. But Rose was just the continuation of what the Black Sox started. Had he ever been found to have bet against his own team, the way the 1919 Black Sox did, his own scandal might have been just as damning. For now, it remains a pretty big element of one of the worst sports scandals of all-time.


4. Olympique Marseille 1993 soccer match-fixing scandal

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Imagine actually winning a World Series and then having to give it back the next year while your team gets banished to Class AAA. That's exactly what happened to Olympique de Marseille (Photo Credit: Getty Images), which defeated AC Milan in 1993 to become the first French team to ever win a European Champions League title. That's huge stuff over in Europe, where arguably the world's best soccer leagues are located. But Marseille had to forfeit its French title the following year (it got to keep the European crown, but was banned from defending it in 1994) and its owner, Bernard Tapie, headed off to prison when it was found one of the team's opponents had been paid to lose. At the heart of the case was that three players from the second-division Valenciennes team in France were bribed by Marseille players and officials to throw a regular season game and not injure any Marseille players. In soccer, the regular season and "Champions League'' playoffs from the previous year always overlap. Like playing last year's World Series in the middle of next May, surrounded by a bunch of regular season games for 2009. It sounds weird, but this is how soccer is. Marseille wanted Valenciennes to go easy on its squad so it could be better prepared for the upcoming Champions League final against AC Milan a week later.

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Marseille won that European final, then went on to claim a fifth straight French League championship. The whole plot nearly worked, until some folks started chirping. As a result, Marseille was stripped of its French title from 1993. I mean, when's the last time you saw that happen to any squad winning a championship? Not only that, but Marseille was relegated to second-division soccer for two years. Ouch! That'll kill some reputations and leave wounds that are tough to heal. Marseille has never again reached the same on-field heights it once did. The Italian soccer club, Juventus, had a similar scandal a few years back. But unlike Olympique Marseille, the Juventus team was not the defending European champ, so I'll give Marseille top billing on my scandal rank meter.


Continue reading this post ...


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February 9, 2009 12:14 PM

A-Rod did it: Now, about that Mitchell Report...

Posted by Geoff Baker

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So, Jose Canseco got me thinking the other day...no, I never thought I'd admit to that in print, either, but things can change. The day the Mitchell Report on performance enhancing drug use in baseball came out just over a year ago, Canseco was incredulous that Alex Rodriguez's name wasn't on it. Fast forward to this past weekend, when we find out that A-Rod was one of 104 players who failed a secret steroids test in 2003.

A-Rod, by the way, just admitted that he did indeed get nabbed in that 2003 testing. Said he used steroids between 2001 and 2003, so that gets the Mariners off-the-hook -- for now, anyway.

I know that Mariners spring training begins this week, but let's face it, this story is not going away. This might be the worst scandal in the history of sports. Jayson Stark of ESPN feels that A-Rod has destroyed the game's history forever. So, I'm not going to make like an MLB PR thingy today and shove all this in a dark corner so we can focus on the merits of Ken Griffey Jr. vs. Garrett Anderson as a Mariners "washed up vet" signee. That will have to wait.

This stuff is more important. And for me, the whole Mitchell Report angle has sort of gone untouched in the initial fallout.

When Sen. George Mitchell's report came out, naming more than 80 past and current players linked to PEDs in some way, there was vast criticism about the lack of evidence put forth. I was then and today remain in favor of the report, but this whole A-Rod thing now brings up some disturbing questions I'd like to see answered.

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First off, how much did MLB Commissioner Bud Selig (seen in the photo alongside Mitchell) know about the 104 names in the so-called secret test of 2003? Did he know which individual players had failed the test? It's now clear that baseball union officials knew the names. So, I'd have to imagine Selig would have some inkling as to who they were.

Some of you may now see where this is going.

If Selig knew that A-Rod and 103 others failed a steroids test in 2003, then how does he go about appointing Mitchell to conduct a thourough "independant" inquiry into steroids two years later? I mean, does Selig, or someone else in MLB, give a little "nudge-nudge'' and "wink-wink" to Mitchell about some of the people named in that secret 2003 steroids testing? Do they encourage him to go out and find his own, corroborating evidence, to nail some of those folks on the list?

Or, worse yet, do MLB officials deliberately steer Mitchell away from any of those 104 names who failed the secret 2003 test? Do they steer him away from A-Rod, but maybe whisper 10 other, lesser names, to Mitchell in the hopes he can round out his report? Or, do they simply steer Mitchell away from any of the names on the list? Answering any of those questions will prove difficult if MLB officials knew the names of the 104 players who failed that 2003 drug test. I mean, how do you allow a supposedly legit investigation to be carried out by Mitchell when you know that his final list is missing names of players caught red-handed while taking steroids? After all, A-Rod's name wasn't on Mitchell's list. Canseco was outraged. You all should be very skeptical.

Or, maybe, as I've suggested, MLB did throw a few names Mitchell's way, other than A-Rod's. We know Mitchell could never legally have used the 2003 test results as "evidence" in his report, but who's to say someone didn't tell Mitchell: "Joe Blow failed a steroids test in 2003, so ask Kirk Radomski or Brian McNamee if they ever had any dealings at all with them.''

Motivations for this? Well, this Mitchell Report was a glorified PR exercise by MLB in order to convince the world it was "cleaning up" drugs in baseball. In order to pull this off, the report was going to need plenty of names. It got a real big one in Roger Clemens, but he was on his last legs as a regular major leaguer and there had already been some quiet, though mounting whispers he'd used performance enhancing drugs. Yeah, his name was still a huge sacrifice for MLB to make. But it had to make at least one. A-Rod, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. He was Phase II of MLB's efforts at image rehabilitation. The guy who was going to pass Barry Bonds on the all-time home run list and show baseball to be a "clean" sport where honest players can thrive.

So, while Clemens was a hard hit for the sport to endure, he did give the Mitchell Report needed credibility. A-Rod, on the other hand, is a PR disaster for the sport.

Again, my question is: did Selig know A-Rod had failed a drug test in 2003 when he appointed Mitchell to head up his inquiry? And if he did, what steps to he take to ensure Mitchell had the full-scope of what was going on? Or, did Selig send Mitchell blindly on his way, hoping he'd never discover the truth that one of the game's biggest stars, present and future, had already been caught in a testing net?

For me, even if Selig, or whoever in MLB knew the 104 names (and we have to assume somebody did, since the union was all over it), kept quiet and watched Mitchell go about his work, this raises a disturbing moral dilemma.

How exactly can Selig and MLB allow Mitchell to tarnish forever the names of 80-plus ballplayers in his report, some with evidence as vague as having written a check to a clubhouse attendant, while knowing all along that A-Rod and 103 others actually failed a steroids test and are getting off scott free? Sure, there was probably duplication between Mitchell's list and those who failed the 2003 test. So, in the end, some players did pay for their PED usage. But not all.

I mean, at the very least, you'd think that -- knowing a double-standard was in-place -- Selig and MLB would instruct Mitchell to limit the scope of his investigation to the year 2004 and beyond. How could anyone, in good faith, allow the names of some players to be trashed on often-flimsy evidence from 2003 and before that, while knowing that 104 players were nabbed with the goods in 2003 but are not going to face reprecussions?

It's a terrible ethical quandry to be sure.

But I can see how such an issue could be easily cast aside by MLB. After all, this wasn't about fairness. It was about getting names on to Mitchell's list. Had he limited his probe to 2004 and beyond, he might have come up with a half-dozen names. For MLB to appear serious about this probe, the scope had to date back to before 2003. And that meant standing up there with a straight face a year ago, hearing Mitchell read off the names on his report and knowing that A-Rod -- as guilty as any other on that list -- was going to get away with something others were not.

The whole thing fails the smell test. And you can bet that MLB's problems are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

Photo Credits: AP

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February 7, 2009 9:11 PM

McLaren: A-Rod won't tarnish M's legacy

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Spoke earlier today with former Mariners manager John McLaren, who is at home in Arizona, preparing to begin a new job with the Tampa Bay Rays that will primarily involve scouting in the United States and working at the team's international camps in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Brazil. McLaren was the bench coach and confidant to Lou Piniella during the M's "glory years" of the mid-to-late 1990s and earlier this decade, He was there when Alex Rodriguez was a part of playoff teams in 1995, 1997 and 2000 and insists he was unaware of any steroids activity taking place amongst players.

"In my years in Seattle, I had no indications people were doing any kinds of steroids,'' McLaren said. "Usually, you hear it. Later on, once we got into 2000, then you started hearing about people and names getting mentioned (around the game).''

But with the exception of David Segui and Shane Monahan, who both admitted to using steroids, McLaren insists he knows of no other Mariner who was involved in it.

"I don't know,'' he said. "I know some guys were doing greenies -- I'd heard that through the grapevine,'' he said of the M's. "But greenies had been around the game a long time before then.''

Again, McLaren said he'd only heard in general terms that some M's were using amphetamines. He did not, he added, know the specific names of who was using.

McLaren feels it's "unfair'' to many players that they are seeing their names and reputations tarnished as the result of leaks and allegations by former trainers and clubhouse attendants. He feels many of them are being convicted in the court of public opinion without a proper chance to defend themselves.

Some players, like Roger Clemens, have chosen to fight to prove their innocence. But Clemens -- like Barry Bonds -- seems to keep digging himself into deeper legal trouble with each new revelation about him that comes out.

The allegations against A-Rod are that he failed a drug test in 2003, three years after leaving the Mariners. But if the allegation proves true, there will be those who suspect this wasn't a one-time occurence and that his drug use may have started while with the Mariners.

"I don't see it being a factor on (how people perceive) any of those years at all,'' McLaren said. "It's something that baseball needs to put behind us. It just seems that some things keep coming out every few months and each time it does, it hurts the game. I think baseball has addressed what had to be addressed and done the best it could.

"I think just the education for everyone, the awareness. Players are more aware now of the damage they can do to themselves by using steroids.''

Monahan made headlines just over a year ago by suggesting the clubhouses he was a part of in 1998 and 1999 were rampant with steroid and amphetamine use. And while Monahan wasn't part of any playoff teams, it would seem naive to believe that -- if his allegations were true -- the widespread usage was contained to just those two years.

I asked Edgar Martinez about Monahan's allegations last spring (hear the audio by clicking the link) and he challenged the veracity of what the onetime Seattle outfielder had said.

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"I don't know why he said that,'' Martinez said. "I was there for a long time, and I didn't see what he saw. I don't know why he made those comments.''

Neither do I, but I can certainly guess. We know Monahan used steroids while with the M's. And now we have one of the most prominent players in team history accused of failing a steroids test in 2003. Maybe all of this doesn't tarnish the M's in any way, Many of you have suggested that today. After all, the Yankees team that beat the M's in the ALCS in 2000 did so largely because of that masterpiece thrown in Game 4 by accused PED user Clemens. Maybe it doesn't mean anything in the long run. All I know is, it just doesn't feel like a very good day for those glory years.

You know who I thought of first today when I heard of the A-Rod allegations? Bill Bavasi. Yes, that's right. Let me explain.

A lot of the subtext of what's come out in today's report is that all those 104 players caught in the 2003 drug-testing sweep were essentially told they had a year to get themselves off drugs before the punishments became more severe. In other words, by 2004, a lot of those players "juicing up'' likely got off their steroids and played the game clean. (Some may have gotten on to HGH, but we'll assume some were clean).

Then, along comes Bavasi to run the 2004 Mariners. All of a sudden, a 90-plus win playoff contender from 2003 plummets to a 99-loss season. The offense drops off a cliff. Is there a connection between those drops and the stiffer drug testing? We'll probably never know for certain. All I know is, Bavasi inherited a team that -- for whatever reason -- fell off the planet. I've never heard him complain about it. But I have heard other GMs talk about how much tougher it became to sign free agents and plan your team around the past performance of hitters starting with that spring of 2004.

Just more food for thought. There were potentially lots of people -- other than the players themselves -- whose careers and reputations were harmed by individual decisions on whether or not to use steroids. And the reverberations throughout the game are still being felt.

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February 7, 2009 11:40 AM

A-Rod named in steroids leak

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Thought Alex Rodriguez had a few image problems before this weekend? Guess again. A-Rod's relationship with Madonna, visits to strip clubs, breakup with his wife and problems with Derek Jeter are all going to seem trivial compared to the allegations put forth by CNNSI today that he was one of 104 players who were caught taking performance enhancing substances back in 2003 -- before MLB began imposing punishments for such infractions. The names had been sealed under court order. But somebody is now leaking them.

Yes, A-Rod is "innocent" until proven guilty and all that. So's Roger Clemens. That won't help his image problems and the threat now posed to his legacy in baseball. Hey, if it's good enough to harm Barry Bonds and Clemens, what are these revelations going to mean for A-Rod?

And what to they mean for the legacy of the Mariners and their 1990s glory years? We've already heard, last year, from Shane Monahan, who suggested much of the M's teams he played on were juiced up on something. Now, we hear that perhaps the biggest player from those teams in 1995, 1997 and 2000 was caught in a drug-testing sweep in 2003.

Does this change the way any of you will think of those teams? Or is it irrelevant?

Photo Credit: AP

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February 6, 2009 9:53 AM

Competing for jobs

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Can't remember ever going into a spring training like the one the Mariners will soon experience. The addition yesterday of left handed reliever Tyler Johnson only reinforced the idea that making this team will no longer be a cakewalk for the mainstays of the club.

I mean, how many teams out there have a $9 million starting pitcher like Miguel Batista with almost zero chance of making the rotation?

Or a No. 1 draft pick like Jeff Clement, who has to wonder whether or not he's trade bait just a few years after being selected? What about Wladimir Balentien (Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson/AP), considered a top prospect just 12 months ago, who may have to fight for a backup job just to stay in the organization?

This is exactly what was missing from the Mariners squad of last year. True competition. I mean, yes, the M's were coming off an 88-win season in 2007 and had just added Erik Bedard in what they thought was the missing piece to contending. I can understand them not wanting to change too much. But to have no competition at all in spring training? In hindsight, that now seems to have been a fatal mistake.

We talked a bit yesterday about John McLaren's worries in the final two weeks of spring training about how his team wasn't playing "clean baseball". Haunting words, to be sure. How many times, once the season actually started, did we hear the exact same lament? Then again, why should the M's have been playing clean ball? Not one of them, outside of the backup infielders and outfielders, had to be fearful of not landing a job. Let me correct that, since Willie Bloomquist had his job nailed down. The only folks who had to worry about anything were the backup outfielders.

And even with just that one, simple call to make, the M's still messed it up. I mean, how on Earth does a team decide to keep both Charlton Jimerson and Mike Morse, at the expense of an innings-eating reliever like R.A. Dickey? Remember please, that the M's entered the season with both Brandon Morrow and Arthur Rhodes in the minors making injury recoveries. This is not hindsight. We ripped the M's at the time for keeping the Morse-Jimerson-Bloomquist speed clones on the same team. Two of them, maybe. But three?

Oh yeah, they did it so Cha Seung Baek would not have to be put through waivers and lost for nothing. That sure worked out well come mid-May, didn't it? Maybe the M's messed up Korean names and thought Baek was really Chan Ho Park, and that it was 1998 instead of 2008? Again, this is not second-guessing and hindsight. The team was called out on this decision the day the moves were made. Looking back, it seems a small wonder the M's quickly imploded. Between the zero competition factor, where Miguel Cairo merely had to breathe to make the team as a glorified "coach" for Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt, to the insane decisions made by the squad's brain trust at the end of camp, the M's did everything they could to position themselves for a setback.

That latter part, linking the spring training reality to what happened next, does represent some hindsight on my part. After all, I still thought the M's would contend once opening day came around. Let's all consider ourselves a little better educated.

So, where is some of the better competition going to be?

CATCHER

A year ago, it was Kenji Johjima and Jamie Burke guaranteed jobs with the squad. No way Jeff Clement was going to make it, no matter what he did at spring training. This was confirmed early on by McLaren for anyone who listened. Of the two guarantees, only Burke earned his keep. This year, neither Burke nor Johjima is guaranteed to still be in their same spots by spring's end. Clement will get a real chance to land the everyday job this spring. If he does, and Johjima plays semi-decently, then Burke could be out of a backup job. Or, all three could be kept on the team. That leaves Rob Johnson out of luck. Or, perhaps Clement gets traded and Johnson makes the team as a backup until Adam Moore is ready to boot everyone out of the catching position in a year or two. As I said, there is a little competition here. Actually, there's a whole lot. This is going to be interesting. Especially if Johjima can't bounce back and the team is ready to eat lots of money to make him go away.

FIRST BASE

This job is wide open for anyone who wants it. Russell Branyan and Chris Shelton would be long shots with any organization, not favorites to be the starting platoon on opening day. If Bryan LaHair figures out how to hit for power, he could land the job. Mike Sweeney was one of the top first basemen in the game not too long ago, and if he somehow rediscovers his stroke, he could be the starter. Mike Morse? Have a spring like last year's and he could be the guy. None of these folks is considered an everyday player. Heck, even Jeff Clement could find himself at first base one of these days. I'm curious about seeing that Mike Carp kid acquired in the J.J. Putz deal. No matter what any of the other names does, Carp could find himself fighting for the opening-day first-base job come 2010. To the losers of this battle, the DH spoils could go. Look for whoever isn't given the first-base job to get a crack at the DH assignment. Or, for those manning 1B and DH to be rotated around once the season begins. You won't see any Cairo types manning the corner infield this year. (By the way, I liked Cairo a lot. Just thought he was miscast all too often. Not his fault).


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February 5, 2009 2:08 PM

Mariners sign Tyler Johnson

Posted by Geoff Baker

tyler.jpg

Fresh off the presses, the Mariners just inked former Cardinals lefty reliever Tyler Johnson to a minor-league contract.

"Tyler is an experienced, left-handed reliever that gives us another option to look at for our bullpen,'' Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said in a release. "He's had success at the major league level, especially against left handed hitters.''

Well, if he's a lefty option, you'd certainly want that, wouldn't you? At least there will be lots of competition this spring.

Johnson, 27, missed all of last season with bursitis in his left shoulder. He later underwent arthroscopic surgery to address inflammation and repair some slight rotator cuff damage. During the Cards' 2006 championship run, he led all St. Louis pitchers with 12 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of post-season work.

Mariners special assistant Duane Shaffer has been watching Johnson throw the past couple of weeks, so presumably, Johnson is over the arm troubles that have plagued him up to now.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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February 5, 2009 9:34 AM

One week to go

Posted by Geoff Baker

Picture 150.jpg

Greetings all. It's great to be back from an extended trip through South America, where I paused for a moment on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro to watch my Pittsburgh Steelers (Jack Zduriencik's team, too) take out Arizona in a thrilling Super Bowl. Fun to be sitting around a hotel lounge with dozens of American ex-pats watching an English ESPN feed of the big game with a view of Copacabana Beach looming in the backdrop. Anyhow, a huge thanks to Larry Stone for filling in with some extensive and interesting posts while I was away. Enjoyed reading them. Larry should start his own blog, don't you think?

felixx.jpg

Seven days from today, the Mariners' pitchers and catchers report to the team's Peoria training facilities for their annual weigh-ins and physicals. That's when my season, and yours, will officially begin on this blog. Yes, we will take breaks from time-to-time, as many of you never tire of noting, but our full-time coverage begins seven days from now. For me, it will be my 11th spring training. And while the players and officials (even teams) sometimes change, a few things remain the same. They are part of what makes spring training fun. Let's face it, much of spring training is a glorified PR exercise. You could knock it down to three weeks and likely get just as much pratical use out of it, provided pitchers began their own throwing regimens a bit early. So, the point is to have a little fun with it. Nobody seriously analyzes a player's or pitcher's ability in the first couple of weeks. In fact, coaches usually tell players not to blow themselves out the first few weeks of camp trying to win a job. So, what are some of the fun things I look for every spring? Here are a few, starting with the theme of the photos shown above.

1. Biggest weight fluctuation

Felix Hernandez dazzled everybody in 2007 when he arrived at camp having dropped anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds from the previous season. The photos above show Hernandez in October 2006, when I visited him at home in Valencia, Venezuela, compared to the following January (Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/AP) right before spring training. Quite the turnaround and exactly the type you look for as a Mariners fan. The kind you don't want is what Andruw Jones (Photo Credit: LA Times) brought to the Dodgers last year, ballooning up from his previous seasons with the Braves.

andruwjones.jpg

Anyhow, the obvious candidate for this spring's feel-good weight story should be Carlos Silva, who we've heard has dropped down about 30 pounds from last year. Can't "weight" to see that.

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February 3, 2009 9:40 PM

Griffey, Abreu, Washburn, Fields et al

Posted by Larry Stone

junior.jpg

As I wrote in this story that will be published in Wednesday's Seattle Times, the Mariners will very soon have to make a yea-or-nay call on Ken Griffey Jr.

From their standpoint, it's a real conundrum. And also for their fans, apparently. Just look at the comments after my story to see the divergence of opinion. Half the people think bringing back Griffey would be the greatest thing ever, and half think it would be the stupidest thing ever -- the same debate raging elsewhere on this blog. There are compelling arguments each way. I can understand fans wanting to have one last stand with the greatest player the team has ever produced. I can understand fans saying that ship has sailed, and it's time to move on. That's why I used the word "conundrum."

What's clear now is that Griffey really, really wants to play here. In the story, I quote Harold Reynolds, a close friend of Griffey's, as saying: "He's personally told me he'd love to be in Seattle.''

My sense is that Mariners' GM Jack Zduriencik is playing out all other trade and signing possibilities, and if nothing that he deems better comes to fruition, the Mariners will re-evaluate the Griffey scenario and make their call. That's the way I see it, anyway. My hunch -- and it's only a hunch -- is that the lure of Griffey will ultimately prove irresistible.

Speaking of trade and signing possibilities, this blog in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune from the reliable Joe Christensen shoots down the Jarrod Washburn-to-the-Twins possibility. As a Twins' source told Joe, "They missed their chance." The reference, of course, is to the Mariners pulling back Washburn last August after the Twins had claimed him on waivers.

Abreu remains a valid Mariners' target, I believe, but they'd have to find a way to make it work in their budget. That would apparently require some sort of salary dump, which will test Zduriencik's creativity. Meanwhile, the report in the New York Daily News that the White Sox had offered Abreu a one-year, $8 million contract was countered by an ESPN report that the talks have stalled. People with connections to the White Sox told me today the same thing that ESPN said -- the White Sox can't move on Abreu unless they trade Jermaine Dye. And his $11.5-million contract isn't easy to peddle.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, could take a look at Abreu -- or Adam Dunn -- if their negotiations with Manny Ramirez fall through. But I've felt all along that the Dodgers will ultimately sign Manny, once all the whining and dining is done. Who else is going to pay him anything like $25 million a year? There's going to be some gamesmanship in the upcoming days, but I'd still wager that Manny ends up back in L.A.

The point is that Abreu remains open to the Mariners -- and I hear that he is quite intrigued by the possibility. We'll have to see how this plays out. As you can see, they're all entwined -- Griffey, Abreu and Washburn (I'm assuming that Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva, the Mariners' other potential salary dumps, are untradeable. Washburn, I believe, still has value as a back-of-the-rotation starter, though the Mariners would no doubt have to eat part of his $10.35-million contract). At any rate, the end game is nearing. Who knows? Zduriencik might pull a surprise trade out of his hat that wraps this all up into a neat bow.

On another front, Zduriencik said he has had recent discussions with Scott Boras, agent for relief pitcher Josh Fields, last year's still-unsigned No. 1 draft pick.

"I don't think we ever closed the door,'' Zduriencik said. "It's always been open. Our conversations have been cordial.''

Photo credit: Al Behrman/AP

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February 3, 2009 9:36 AM

Griffey followup

Posted by Larry Stone

OK, since I quoted an unnamed talent evaluator yesterday who disparaged Ken Griffey Jr. in Buster Olney's ESPN column, it's only fair that I provide the followup. Seems the evaluator didn't realize that Griffey played much of last season with a bum left knee (a fact that we covered at outset of the free-agent period). Napoleon, there's no cover-up going on; I just saw Olney's piece a few minutes ago.

Here's Olney's follow-up column, in which he concludes that Griffey could end up being a free-agent bargain now that his knee has been repaired.

I get the sense that the Mariners are exploring all their other options -- Bobby Abreu, Garret Anderson, trades -- before making a final call on Griffey.

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February 2, 2009 4:55 PM

Less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers...

Posted by Larry Stone


So now that we got that little football game out of the way yesterday, I declare today the official start of baseball season.

The sport will return in all its glory in less than two weeks, when spring training opens. But why wait until then? With the Bowl of Supe having been consumed on Sunday, baseball now has the professional sports floor to itself. The NBA? Dead to us here in Seattle. The NHL? The name vaguely rings a bell. Major League Soccer? I'm trying, I swear, but I don't quite get it yet.

So to kick things off, on a day that I am recuperating from a mean weekend bout with the flu -- a work in progress, sad to say -- here are 10 questions I'm especially looking forward to have answered as the Mariners launch into their latest new era:

1, How will Jack Z. round out the Mariners' roster? Will he find a way to manipulate the payroll to afford Bobby Abreu, or will he swing a deal for one of the Yankees' expendable outfielders, Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady? Or will be pull off something -- a signing or trade -- that none of us see coming? Will he bow to public will and sign Ken Griffey Jr.? Or, will he stand pat?

Speaking of Griffey, ESPN's Buster Olney quoted an anonymous talent evaluator for a major-league team on Junior:

"He doesn't have power anymore; he can't defend anymore. For me, he's a spare outfielder. He can't catch up to a good fastball anymore. The only ball he can hit over the fence now is a breaking ball that comes into him. Even if he's cheating, he has trouble catching up with a good fastball. But he's a good person, and maybe you'd want him around your young players. One of the questions you'd have to have about him is this: If you bring him in and he can't play anymore, how messy would it be to release him?"

2, What will 2009 bring for Erik Bedard? One would think that he would be highly motivated for a big season, coming off the disappointment of last year, and headed for free agency. A healthy, productive Bedard would be a huge boost for the Mariners -- and perhaps pave the way for a productive trade at the deadline that could salvage the Orioles' deal.

3, How's the catching going to sort out? It's going to be a weird situation, because Kenji Johjima will be with Team Japan at the outset of camp -- and if Japan advances to the championship game of the World Baseball Classic again, the Mariners won't get him full-time until after the title game, March 23 at Dodger Stadium. That leaves an opening for Jeff Clement to get a lot of Cactus League playing time and make his case. Not to mention Rob Johnson, Jamie Burke and Adam Moore.

4, Who is going to close? There's so many different ways that new manager Don Wakamatsu could go here. I hope he resists the temptation to pull Brandon Morrow from the rotation, but I could see a Jonathan Papelbon situation develop. A couple of years ago, the Red Sox went to camp with the notion of giving the closing job to Joel Pineiro and using Papelbon in the rotation. But as the season neared, they realized that Pineiro simply wasn't going to get the job done (I could have told them that in January). Papelbon became the closer, and saved 37 games. The Mariners have a lot of options, but I think it will come down to Roy Corcoran, Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista or Tyler Walker, with Ryan Rowland-Smith a darkhorse and Morrow the fallback.

5, Who is going to start? Another wide-open situation, or is it? You can pencil in Felix for Opening Day, and Bedard, if healthy, for the No. 2 spot. After that, it gets interesting. Morrow has been promised a crack at the rotation. Carlos Silva still has three very expensive years left on his contract, and I can't see him working out of the pen. Jarrod Washburn, if he's not traded, presumably has a spot assured. So that leaves no room, on the surface, for Ryan Rowland-Smith, who was impressive as a starter last year (3-2, 3.50 ERA in 12 starts). Not to mention lefty Garrett Olson, picked up in the Aaron Heilman trade. I suspect this situation will take a lot of surprising twists and turns before it's resolved.

6, What's up with Ichiro? After all the insinuations last year of a clubhouse rift, it's incumbent for Wakamatsu to deal with the issue head-on. But that's going to be tricky, because Ichiro, like Johjima, will be tied up with the World Baseball Classic. I, for one, always get a kick out of watching Ichiro go through his paces in spring training. Last year, it was especially amusing to watch him deal with his 0-for-20-something start to Cactus League games. He knew it meant nothing and seemed to gain keen amusement from watching the concern start to grow.

7, What will become of Wladimir Balentien? I haven't given up on him becoming a productive player, but last year was not impressive. Yes, he's out of minor-league options, so he'll either make the team or get traded. The Mariners need someone like Balentien to surprise.

8, How will first base/DH sort out? Russ Branyan, Mike Sweeney and Chris Shelton will all by trying to make their case. I'm a sucker for the classic "veteran desperately trying to hang on" spring story, I admit it. Throw Chris Woodward into that category, too.

9, How will the new staff be different? The Mariners have a new manager (Wakamatsu) and entirely new coaching staff (Ty Van Burkelo, bench; Rick Adair, pitching; Alan Cockrell, hitting; Bruce Hines, third base; Lee Tinsley, first base; John Wetteland, bullpen). That means a whole new dynamic, including an entire different way of running spring training, which will be interesting to see.

10, How will this team come together? That's a rather broad category, but I think we'll start to at least get a feel in spring training if the Mariners are going to be markedly better this year. Then again, I've been fooled by teams in spring before, in both directions -- ones that turned out to be better than anyone thought in spring (2001 being the classic example) or worse (pick any recent Mariners' season).

Can't wait to get it started. What are you looking forward to most this spring?

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