Posted on: February 21, 2012 6:56 pm
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The game's worst-kept secret finally was uttered publicly -- and definitively -- by the Mariners here on Tuesday: Ichiro Suzuki, leadoff man extraordinaire for most of the past decade, will be bumped down in the lineup in 2012.
Suzuki, at 38, is coming off of his worst season in the majors. That, combined with the Mariners' persistent failure to score runs over the past two seasons, made it impossible for Seattle to justify keeping Ichiro atop the lineup.
Eric Wedge will begin the season with Ichiro hitting third. The manager envisions Chone Figgins, who was an All-Star as the Angels' leadoff man in 2009, returning to the top of the lineup in what likely will be a last-ditch grab at past glories for Figgins. Though it is not cast in stone, Wedge said second baseman Dustin Ackley likely will hit second.
Wedge said he and Ichiro talked on Monday before the Mariners made their decision public a day later.
"I sat down and explained to him the whys and wherefores," Wedge said. "This wasn't out of left field.
"He's on board with this. I was very clear with him, and he was very clear with me. This is all about the team. ...
"You look at the impact he can have in the middle of the lineup, it's greater than the impact that he can have at leadoff. It's that simple."
Suzuki, a lifetime .326 hitter, batted a career-worst .272 in 2011. It was the first time in 11 seasons that his average dipped below .300. The 2001 AL MVP's .310 on-base percentage also was, by far, a career low.
"I came in prepared mentally because there was a possibility I'd be hitting elsewhere," Ichiro said through a translator following Seattle's workout Tuesday.
Asked if it will be strange to not hit atop the lineup, Suzuki said: "Anything can happen in this game. It's not just leading off. That's the fun part of the game. Like I fell you guys all the time, I'm ready to pitch."
That likely will not be happening anytime soon. Though some Mariners' fans might swear at this point that Ichiro will take the mound before Figgins will bounce back.
Part of Wedge's thinking, he said, is to get Figgins back into his comfort zone. A colossal disappointment after signing a four-year, $36 million deal before the 2010 season, Figgins bottomed out last season at .188/.241/243. He suffered while doing so, managing what was thought to be a sports hernia through much of the season's final four months but what turned out to be a torn labrum in his hip.
"I'm happy to be healthy," said Figgins, who was married in the offseason. "We talked about what might happen [with the lineup], but I'm just happy to be healthy."
It's no secret that Figgins has been a fish out of water during his two years in Seattle, from having to adjust to a different (non-leadoff) spot in the batting order because of Ichiro to failing to figure out a way to fit his offensive game into Safeco Field.
Clearly, the Mariners are hoping that no small part of this move will result in a boost to Figgins' confidence.
"I'm going to give Figgins first shot at," the leadoff role, Wedge said. "I'm confident that Figgy can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter. He got on base, scored runs, and really was a pain to opposing teams when he led off in Anaheim."
While the Mariners sort through the top two spots in their order and hope Figgins and Ackley can produce solid enough springs to solidify their roles, the heat will be on Suzuki, who has one year and $17 million left on his current Mariners' deal.
His slugging percentage has been below .400 in each of the past two seasons, and in three of the past four. His OPS has been below .800 in three of the past four seasons. He tweaked his batting stance over the winter, and now is utilizing a more wide-open stance this spring.
"I want to perform better," Suzuki said when asked why he made the changes. "We all make changes to perform better. That's one reason. That's the only reason."
He said he does not view the three-hole as requiring him to hit for more power, though that view likely will be at odds with other folks' expectations (starting with his employer). His career-high is 15 homers, in 2005. He had five last season. In his view, situations dictate some actions at the plate.
"I've always performed when wanting to hit a home run," he said. "Even when leading off, you want to hit a home run when it's the right time.
"That will not change."
His once jet-black hair now dotted with flecks of gray, Suzuki, according to Baseball Prospectus, saw his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) drop 100 points on line drives and 40 points on ground balls. Some of the former is attributable to luck (bad), while some of the latter likely is because of his age (getting old).
"I want him to make it his own," Wedge said of Ichiro and the three-hole in the lineup. "He's as smart a baseball player as we have in there. He wants to do what's best for the ballclub."
Said Ichiro: "I was always prepared to do what's best for the team."
Sunblock Day? Best day of the week so far. Temperature hanging in the mid-70s. Warm sun. Life is good.
Likes: Carlos Guillen, trying to stay in the game with the Mariners, intently watching the clubhouse television after practice. What was he watching? Footage of Prince Fielder joining his old Tigers teammates in Lakeland. ... Padres bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds staying strong while batting pancreatic cancer. He underwent off-season surgery to determine whether his tumor could be removed, but doctors said it could not be because it was entwined with surrounding arteries. But the good news is, it hasn't grown since last year and Akerfelds is back in uniform for San Diego this spring. ... Mariners general manager Jack Zdurencik has put together quite a front office, including relatively new additions Ted Simmons, Joe McIlvaine and Chris Gwynn. ... Gwynn says his brother, Tony, is doing great after last week's surgery to remove a cancerous tumor inside his right cheek. The brothers spoke over the telephone, and Chris says Tony, who had a nerve removed from his cheek and another transplanted from his neck/shoulder area to replace it, sounds "normal." ... Best scene Tuesday: A father leaning over close to his young son while Felix Hernandez was throwing a bullpen session and telling the boy, "Listen to him pop that glove." ... One heck of a story from Thomas Lake in the current Sports Illustrated looking at Wes Leonard, the Michigan high schooler who made a winning basket and then died on the court last winter, and the Fennville community. ... The sesame swordfish with orange chile salsa at the newly opened Richardson's in Phoenix. Fabulous meal the other night.
Dislikes: Manny Ramirez signing with Oakland. More on that later in the week.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone
-- We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce Springsteen
Posted on: October 15, 2010 8:40 pm
Who's the next manager of the Seattle Mariners in three or four seasons? Manny Acta?
For the second time in six years, the Mariners have dipped into the Cleveland discard pile to hire a skipper. Mike Hargrove in 2005, and Eric Wedge, according to several reports, on Friday.
Following a bitterly disappointing 2010 season, the Mariners could not have made a more uninspiring hire.
Last time anybody checked, the Indians weren't exactly overstocked with World Series-winning managers.
But it goes beyond what surely will be an avalanche of Cleveland jokes.
Wedge is a good teacher and a fine organizational person.
As a manager? His 2007 Indians team blew a 3-1 advantage to lose the ALCS to Boston, then they largely underachieved over the next two seasons. Which, much as he didn't want to, pretty much forced general manager Mark Shapiro's hand to fire him.
Wedge had his moments in Cleveland, but he never could get the Indians past that certain point. The roaring 93-65 season of 2005, when the Indians nearly overtook the White Sox in the AL Central, was followed with a crash-and-burn fourth-place finish in '06.
He comes across as uptight, and he's a zero as a personality. Which, is no small thing in today's game. The manager is the face of the organization. Hiring Bobby Valentine, now that would have given the Mariners personality.
Wedge just leaves them knee-deep in anonymity and, largely, irrelevant. And if they don't win, that will include in their own town.
(On another note, guess this means Milton Bradley does not fit into the Mariners' plans for 2011. The Indians were forced to trade him in 2004 after Wedge removed him from an exhibition game for not hustling and Bradley went ballistic. The volcanic explosion was spectacular, complete with Bradley dressing and leaving the ballpark during the game via cab ... even though his SUV was in the parking lot. He came back to retrieve it the next day).
Posted on: September 30, 2009 1:24 pm
Eric Wedge's dismissal Wednesday as manager of the Cleveland Indians wasn't so much a firing as it was a mercy killing.
The Indians are not going to win next year, and general manager Mark Shapiro tacitly acknowledged that in trading slugger Victor Martinez and ace Cliff Lee this summer even though both players had affordable 2010 options.
Wedge had presided over the American League's most disappointing team for two seasons running and, amid Wednesday's developments in Cleveland, what's more important than who will run the club next summer is what it says about where the Indians are now, period.
Shapiro has steadfastly stood by Wedge since hiring him in 2003, insisting from the beginning that theirs was more a partnership than anything else.
What's changed now is that it's clear that Cleveland ownership is growing more and more impatient amid the mounting losses and declining attendance.
Shapiro was under pressure to remove Wedge, and now that pressure will mount squarely on the GM as he rolls up his sleeves in the midst of another rebuilding project -- this one unforeseen as recently as a year ago.
Shapiro was considered one of the game's brightest young GMs back when he replaced John Hart, and maybe he's part victim of his own success. Nobody expected the Indians to contend as quickly as they did following the Manny Ramirez/Roberto Alomar/Jim Thome years, but Shapiro rebuilt them so adeptly that, after the last remnants of that group won 91 games in 2001, a retooled Indians team won 93 games just four years later.
Whomever is the next manager of the Indians will not have Martinez, Lee, CC Sabathia or Casey Blake. What Shapiro and his baseball people are banking on is that in some of the prospects they've acquired for the latest dispatched band of Indians stars -- like outfielder Matt LaPorta, right-hander Chris Perez and Jess Todd, catcher Lou Marson -- can become the next generation's Martinez, Sabathia, Lee, et. al.
The Indians acquired 11 prospects during a whirlwind, midseason trading spree, each of whom is 24 years old or younger, nine of whom are pitchers.
Shapiro has excelled on the trading market far more often than not in his eight seasons in charge.
Now, after one of their most disappointing seasons in decades, the GM really needs that magic to continue. Probably more now for his own sake than for the sake of whomever they find to replace Wedge.
Likes: Michael Young back in Texas' lineup this week for the first time in nearly two weeks. He's a class act and the unquestioned face of the Rangers, and it's been weird not seeing him in the lineup this month while he was recovering from a strained left hamstring. Before he missed 11 consecutive starts with the injury from Sept. 2-14 (and 11 more in a row after he came back too soon on Sept. 15), he had not missed more than two consecutive starts at any time since the beginning of the 2002 season. ... Have there been any more dramatic moments than what we've watched in Coors Field this year? Chris Iannetta's game-winning homer against Milwaukee on Tuesday night adds to the list. ... The song is old and corny, but it's still become a cool moment when the Angels blast The Foundations' insanely catchy Build Me Up, Buttercup during the seventh-inning stretch. Maybe it's because the song never fails to bring a smile thanks to memories of the end credits in There's Something About Mary. ... This Tom Gage column in the Detroit News. He's right.
Dislikes: That is one ugly Chuck Knoblauch story.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
-- Jackson Browne, Running on Empty
Posted on: September 24, 2009 8:03 pm
• Don't underestimate the different look Brett Gardner's wheels give the Yankees into the playoffs. The guy can flat-out fly. Comparing Gardner with some of the American League's fastest players, like Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury and his own Chone Figgins, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said gave the nod to Gardner. "He's one of the fastest guys we've seen," Scioscia said. "Put them all in a race and he might win by an eyelash."
• Damon, of course, can run -- though not like he once could -- and Robinson Cano and even Mark Teixeira make this Yankees team more athletic than some clubs in the past, especially when Jason Giambi was manning first. "We don't want to be one-dimensional, whether it's home runs or all small ball," Teixeira said. "Gardner gives us another option."
• Not surprising that the only form of celebration from the Yankees after clinching a playoff spot against the Angels the other night was a few handshakes and smiles. As Damon said, "Winning the division would make us a little happier. Unfortunately, this doesn't seal the deal for us like winning a World Series." Ah, how Johnny has grown from his Kansas City days.
• If Milton Bradley's apology was sincere, then why did Cubs players not even find out about it until the statement was issued? Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat Twittered that the players knew nothing of an apology until the statement.
• Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has been fiercely loyal to manager Eric Wedge, but with the Tribe having lost 10 in a row into Thursday night's series finale against Detroit and showing little sign of life -- combined with the fact that they're finishing a second consecutive disappointing season following high expectations -- he likely will have no choice but to make a change. The Indians have been outscored 65-25 during the losing streak and had scored three or fewer runs in seven of the 10 games. Indians starting pitchers were 0-9. When they took a 2-0 lead Thursday against Detroit, it was their first lead in 69 innings. Ugh.
• Talk about blowing up a disappointing team: As Wedge waits to learn his fate, only 10 of the current 30 Indians on the active roster were active with the club on opening day.
• Jim Fregosi, now scouting for Atlanta, would love to manage again. One dark horse candidate for openings this winter: Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, who is very good and deserves a chance to interview somewhere.
• Closest thing to solid evidence of significant changes this winter for the White Sox: General manager Kenny Williams had some strong things to say to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times this week. "I know who's quit and who hasn't, who's willing to sacrifice," Williams said. "It's hard to win. Winning and success, whether it be baseball or any other facet of life, if you are not willing to sacrifice, you're not willint go put in the work, you're not going to be successful. You're just not. ... If you are not willing to do that, I can't have you here and I will send you to a better place for you."
• Loved the fact that it was Strike Out Violence Day two Sundays ago at San Francisco's AT&T Park ... and then the game was followed by a Bob Arum press conference promoting a fight between Manny Pacquiao and another guy I've never heard of. It was almost as good as the Dodgers giving away Manny Ramirez Bobblehead Dolls on Drug Prevention Night at Dodger Stadium.
Likes: The Panda Cam, as they refer to replays on San Francisco telecasts that feature Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval. ... Bobby Cox back managing Atlanta next year. Say what you will, and I know there are detractors out there who diminish his streak of winning division titles because the Braves only won one World Series, but he's a Hall of Fame manager. ... Glad X-rays were negative after Yankees catcher Jorge Posada fouled a ball off of his foot the other night. You hate to see injuries to significant players at this time of year, especially for teams headed to the playoffs. ... My Weber grill. ... I mentioned James Maddock's disc Sunrise on Avenue C the other day. It's great. Especially great is the cut When the Suns Out. ... Entourage has been especially well-written and acted this year. Last summer, I feared it had jumped the shark.
Dislikes: There were a couple of chat-room comments on the last Bull Pennings disparaging David Letterman after I gave him a shout out for the show earlier this week when President Barack Obama was a guest. Memo to you who wrote the comments: Glad you're reading. Thanks. But sorry, you're dead wrong on Letterman. He's sharp, and it's not even close at 11:30 p.m. -- and hasn't been for a long, long time. Conan is likeable and funny. But Jay Leno? Come on. He's one of the top 10 exhibits for the dumbing down of America. ... My wife has enjoyed the first few shows of Glee, and the critics love it, but I just can't go there. If I wanted to watch pseudo-Backstreet Boys videos, I'd ... well, come to think of it, I absolutely, positively don't want to watch pseudo-Backstreet Boys videos.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I ain't got much sense
-- Bruce Springsteen, Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Posted on: September 20, 2009 10:27 pm
The next baseball team that takes a chance with Milton Bradley is, unquestionably, the stupidest team in the game.
There comes a day when a guy has to look in the mirror.
For Bradley, that day should have been, oh, like sometime back in 2002 or 2003.
Five down, 25 to go.
He got into it with manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland. Engaged in a bitter public spat with Jeff Kent in Los Angeles. Turned on Oakland general manager Billy Beane. Ripped up his knee when Padres manager Bud Black tried to keep him away from an umpire (in that one, the umpire, Mike Winters, crossed the line in baiting him).
He behaved so badly in Chicago that manager Lou Piniella chased him into the clubhouse and called him a "piece of s---" earlier this summer. Then Cubs general manager Jim Hendry suspended him for the season on Sunday after his me-against-the-world comments to a suburban Chicago newspaper.
"You understand why they haven't won in 100 years here," Bradley told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights in what should be his farewell comments to the game. "It's just not a positive environment. I need a stable, healthy, enjoyable environment ... It's just negativity."
The next time anybody attaches the words "stable" and "healthy" to Bradley will be a first.
He is an intelligent, articulate man.
But on good days he needs professional help, and on bad days he is a reprehensible human being.
He's out of excuses. Those chips on his shoulder? At times in the past he's expressed bitterness that he's always having to prove himself.
Well, the Cubs took that last excuse away when they signed him to the three-year, $30 million deal. It was his first multi-year contract. No more proving himself. He was valued and loved. What he owed them was hard work and gratitude.
But he couldn't even do that. And now another team is burned.
No way the Cubs can bring him back now. He's embarrassed the organization, made enemies in the clubhouse, backstabbed teammates who had his back for far too long and essentially flipped Chicago fans the middle finger.
Worst free agent contract of the year.
Now the Cubs are going to have to eat all or part of the $23 million remaining ($9 million in 2010, $13 million in 2011).
Part of it if they can find another team stupid enough to welcome a toxic player into their clubhouse.
All of it if they can't.
Good luck with that.
Likes: Playoffs starting, two weeks from Tuesday.
Dislikes: Looks like the last part of Tiger Stadium is going to be torn down on Monday. Man, that and Ernie Harwell's illness is almost too much to bear.
"You see the world through your cynical eyes
-- Styx, Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Posted on: July 6, 2009 8:17 pm
While Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro announced the other day that manager Eric Wedge definitely will be retained through the rest of this season (Wedge is signed through 2010), another manager is close to landing some security of his own.
San Diego and manager Bud Black, whose deal expires after the 2009 season, are having ongoing conversations about a contract extension, and the two sides are hoping to reach an agreement sometime this month. There are still significant details to be worked out, such as length of the extension and salary. But there is desire on both sides to get it done, leading to the current optimism that it will get done.
"They should," veteran outfielder Brian Giles said. "We've got a lot of young guys, and that comes with a lot of growing pains. I think he's done a good job with the team they've put together."
The economically downsizing Padres weren't expected to contend this season. But they've played far better than expected following last year's 101-loss disaster. And handed a roster far more versatile than last summer's slow-footed, non-athletic group, Black has been able to expand his managing chops.
"I've seen him grow as a manager," said Padres closer Heath Bell who, like Black, arrived in San Diego in 2007. "He's gotten a little better with strategy each year. I've seen him do a little more each year."
Bell especially complimented Black's style of privately asking veterans for input at times and keeping them apprised of what he's thinking. Padres management was especially impressed when the normally low-key Black blistered his team following a sloppy, 0-6 trip through Houston and Chicago in May.
Following that, the Padres responded with a season-high 10-game winning streak and won 12 of 15.
"I think it would be good for the organization," if Black is retained, Bell said. "I think it would be pretty positive."
Likes: Eric Wedge mostly is getting killed by Cleveland fans right now. But I will say this: Whether he eventually stays or goes, it is nice to see an organization (and by that, I mean general manager Mark Shapiro, especially) take some of the responsibility for what's gone wrong instead of simply blaming it all on the manager. Fans love to see skippers get the ax, and often it's warranted. But it's rarely that simple. ... Very classy move by the Chicago White Sox in dedicating a memorial at U.S. Cellular Field to the late, legendary baseball writer Jerome Holtzman. The case, in the lobby area of the park, even includes a cigar among the typewriter and assorted other artifacts from the career of Holtzman, who passed away a year ago this month. ... Netflix the two-disc DVD from the old Johnny Cash Show and, if you like music, you will not be disappointed. It's a greatest-hits sort of collection from Cash's old television show that ran in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and among the guests are the Creedence Clearwater Revival (you sure don't get a chance to see them perform every day), a very young Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong (he seems like he was a very sweet man), a very young James Taylor, Glen Campbell, Kris Kristofferson, Derek and the Dominos, Ray Charles and many, many more. Very enjoyable. And I didn't realize how eclectic that show was back in the day when it came to various musical styles.
Dislikes: Really, really bad news: Sean Penn is out of The Three Stooges movie. Awwww.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long
-- Kid Rock, All Summer Long
Posted on: September 23, 2008 8:06 pm
MILWAUKEE -- They did it the way you knew they would, with pomp and ceremony, and by blasting Frank Sinatra's New York, New York 6,000 or so times. That's not a knock. In that city, in that stadium, I could listen to Sinatra's New York, New York 60,000 times.
From what I saw on television, the whole night was nearly perfect.
Except for one thing.
The snubbing of former manager Joe Torre was awfully small for such an outsized organization.
The fact that they blew off Roger Clemens wasn't surprising, because that's apparently the way we're going while emerging from the Steroid Era. You see it in San Francisco with Barry Bonds -- or rather, you don't see anything in San Francisco with Bonds.
For years, baseball's official position on performance-enhancing drugs was to pretend they didn’t exist.
Now, baseball's official position on players who pumped up and set records and won World Series is to pretend they don't exist.
Is it right?
Of course not.
But is it right when you bump into an ex-girlfriend at a party that you hem and haw and avoid her?
It's just the way it is with awkward circumstances.
Mostly, we just avoid dealing with them.
Clemens helped the Yankees win two World Series, but if there's anybody now who believes some of his career numbers aren't vastly inflated with PEDs, I'm a part-owner of the new Yankee Stadium.
Having Clemens there in person, or even unspooling highlights featuring him on the scoreboard, would have been a huge distraction for an historic evening. Given the way Clemens even threw Andy Pettitte under the bus, I don't blame the Yankees for conveniently forgetting about him.
The snub of Torre, though, was classless.
Esepcially on an evening in which the always classy Derek Jeter delivered an eloquent final address that ranks right up there with some of the great ones in Yankees history.
Likes: Teams that are out of it right now that still play hard. Case in point: Cleveland, which had won seven consecutive games heading into Tuesday night's contest in Boston. I've always thought that's one way you can identify a good manager, if the players keep playing hard when there's nothing to play for. And the Indians' play speaks very well of manager Eric Wedge. ... Same for Trey Hillman, with Kansas City winning eight of 10. ... Maybe it's because I live in Southern California and spend half my life trapped in freeway gridlock, but I always enjoy driving through the Midwest, where traffic generally is light and population bases are few and far between. I also love some of the sights, such as a couple I passed while flying across I-94: Signs for the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum and the Mousehouse Cheesehaus. I only wished I had time to stop. Especially at the cheese shop. ... Really enjoyed the Chrysler Sebring convertible rental and the Sirius satellite radio on the trip, too. It's beautiful right now in this part of the Midwest, right around 75 and no humidity. Crisp, clean days.
Dislikes: Aw, I'm going to be working during the first presidential debate Friday night.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
-- Paul Simon, Mrs. Robinson