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: August 31, 2011 8:35 pm
Jack Zduriencik, who one year ago was an embattled general manager, now is an extended general manager.
No longer is he on a short leash in Seattle, where the Mariners clearly think 2010 was an aberration.
The club awarded Zduriencik a "multi-year extension of his existing contract", declining to announce terms, which really isn't necessary anyway. The deal alone speaks volumes.
One year ago, the Mariners suffered through one of the most agonizing seasons in club history. Not only did they lose 101 games, but they acquired a relief pitcher at the trade deadline who a year earlier had faced rape and sodomy charges and later pled no contest to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence.
At the time, Zduriencik said he did not know of Josh Lueke's ugly past, which meant one of two things, neither of which were admirable: Either the Mariners didn't do nearly the homework they should have done before the deal (which sent Cliff Lee to Texas and also brought back first baseman Justin Smoak), or Zduriencik simply wanted Lueke so badly he lied to the front office about his lack of knowledge.
The Mariners embarrassed themselves on the field, and off. It was a total train wreck, and a classic case of an executive going from genius to dunce in the blink of an eye.
Because, see, nobody in the game appeared smarter than Zduriencik during his debut season as GM in '09. Thanks to a flurry of moves in the winter of '08-'09, the GM dragged the Mariners out of the depths of -- yes -- a 101-loss season in '08 to an 85-77 record in '09.
That the Mariners have regained their balance from last year's 101-loss debacle to extend the GM not only is a good thing for Zduriencik, but for Seattle baseball. This is a smart man, with a sound plan, who knows players. The best way to position yourself for long-term success in this game is with continuity, and if the Lueke incident or more cost Zduriencik his job and moved the Mariners off course from his plan, it would have been disruptive for the next several seasons.
The Mariners are 20 games under .500, really not awful considering the freakish 17-game losing streak they endured earlier this season and given the fact that 12 of the 25 players on the current 25-man roster are rookies (and that 10 players have made their major-league debuts for the Mariners this summer).
No, things aren't anywhere close to perfect yet in Seattle. But in kids like Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Trayvon Robinson, the foundation has been set. Keeping Felix Hernandez remains smart, despite what several armchair GMs in the national media might think.
Somehow, Zduriencik has got to find some bats, or this will be the last contract extension he receives. But I'm sure he already knows that. And I think he'll figure out a way to accomplish it.
Hey, one of the best draft picks he made as Milwaukee's scouting director is headed for free agency this winter.
Prince Fielder, anyone?
Posted on: August 21, 2011 9:39 pm
The Angels suddenly are on a roll: Not only have they won four straight to crawl back to within four games of first-place Texas in the AL West, they also struck a multi-year contract extension Sunday afternoon to keep Cy Young-candidate Jered Weaver in Anaheim through at least through the end of the 2016 season.
The Angels and Weaver have agreed to a five-year, $85 million deal, according to sources with knowledge of the agreement, that also includes a full no-trade clause. The club has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The deal came unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon, unexpected because as a client of agent Scott Boras, Weaver was expected to play through the 2012 season and then jump into the free agent market. But Weaver, a Southern California native (Simi Valley), has made his preference for staying at home clear.
While Boras probably could have scored an even bigger contract on the free agent market assuming Weaver remained healthy, the full no-trade clause is evidence of Weaver's desire to extend his career in Anaheim.
The deal Weaver reached with the Angels is comparable to the contracts Felix Hernandez reached with the Seattle Mariners last year (five years, $78 million) and Justin Verlander signed with the Tigers before the 2010 season (five years, $80 million).
Verlander and Hernandez each had two more years of arbitration available to them when they signed, Weaver would have had just one.
Undoubtedly, the deal will be a load off of Weaver's mind in what already is shaping up as a career year. At 14-6 with a 2.10 ERA, Weaver is on pace for a career-high in wins and a career-low in ERA. Weaver's ERA currently is the best in the AL, and he ranks third in opponents' batting average (.207), fifth in innings pitched (188 1/3) and seventh in strikeouts (158).
The contract is said to also include significant award bonuses for Weaver for winning the Cy Young Award, MVP and earning an All-Star berth, among other things.
Posted on: November 19, 2010 3:12 pm
Some excellent and very well-reasoned responses to my defense of Felix Hernandez's AL Cy Young award this week. In fact, this is the best batch of letters in a long time. Nice to hear from everyone. ...
From: Henry H.
To answer your question, Hernandez did not start against Tampa Bay this year. And in my heart, I agree with you: Pitchers SHOULD BE paid to win. Some are. But anymore, most are paid to keep their teams in games and eat innings. I don't think it was sportswriters thinking they're smart. I think this vote was sportswriters trying their best to get it right. I think they did because, as I pointed out in the column, this was a very unique year for Hernandez. But I'm with you in hoping this is an aberration rather than the coming norm.
From: Jay T.
Though your opinion on the matter has merit, I cannot support it. The pitchers that finished second and third respectively both were better candidates. Felix pitched in the AL West, which was the Rangers then nobody else, where as Price and CC both had to deal with three definite powerhouses of the division. Did Felix have a great year? Yes. But I am sorry to say that 13 wins, when most of your games are against weaker opponents, should not get you a Cy Young.
Tough call. And I'd say your opinion has merit as well.
I have no problem with Felix Hernandez winning. My problem is with CC ending up third. The Yankee Love has got to stop. He had a worse season than a handful of other pitchers -- Trevor Cahill, Clay Buchholz and Jered Weaver all had better ERAs, and better WHIPs. All CC had was wins, which are easy to come by when you are a Yankee. Further, somehow he basically got the same point total as Price, which is a joke. Price's ERA is almost a 1/2 a run better than CC's, and CC did not have to pitch against the best team money can buy. Plain and simple, there were several pitchers better than CC in the AL, so people have got to stop handing the Yankees everything.
I take it you don't own a copy of Sinatra's New York, New York.
FROM: Jack H
Given the same sabermetrics Felix Hernandez had, would he win the Cy Young if he were 0-25? Now that I think about it, I would vote for Price. Very good W-L and a good ERA, etc. I could just as well argue that Hernandez lost seven in a row early in the year before his team was eliminated, and demoralized his team and although he pitched great, the team basically packed it in. We have now said that for Cy Young, wins mean nothing.
I hope that's not what we've said. I really do. And if it is, then we need to veer back in the other direction.
Posted on: September 15, 2010 9:00 pm
DENVER – "Believe", read the T-shirts the San Diego Padres are wearing around the clubhouse and underneath their jerseys these days. And this is how much faith All-Star Adrian Gonzalez has in the Padre pitching staff:
"If we score four or five runs a game the rest of the way," Gonzalez said after the Padres won two of three in Coors Field, "we're going to win the West."
Runs always have been at a premium for the Padres, but never so much so as over the past couple of weeks, when they fell into a 10-game losing streak and struggled to pull themselves out of it.
Until they scored six runs in Monday's opener here, they had gone 16 consecutive games scoring four or fewer runs.
But they continue to lead the majors in pitching (3.22 ERA). The Padres top the majors in bullpen ERA (2.78), and they're third in starters' ERA (3.64), just behind Oakland (3.52) and St. Louis (3.54).
"We're going to win this division with our pitching," Gonzalez said, emphasizing that the onus is on the hitters.
Taking two of three games in Colorado from a team that was riding a 10-game winning streak and owns the second-best home record in the majors (51-24), Gonzalez said, allowed the Padres to regain their breath.
"We're in good shape," he said. "I like the fact that we've got C.Y. [Chris Young] back, the pitching staff still doing what they're doing ... offensively, Luddy [Ryan Ludwick] is coming around, Miggy [Miguel Tejada] swung the bat well this series.
"We're going to score runs. We're going to be good."
Likes: Coors Field is hell on pitchers, but it's a pretty park. ... This NL West three-way with the Padres, Giants and Rockies is great stuff. ... The division might have tightened significantly over the past week, but you'd never know it from talking to Padres manager Bud Black. Calm and cool, he's living up to his old nickname, Mr. Freeze. ... Great run along the Cherry Creek on a hot day in Denver. It's been in the 80s all week. Beautiful. ... The AL Cy Young debate. You take CC Sabathia's workload and success? Or Felix Hernandez's singular dominance? It's going to be a good one. ... Southwest Airlines. One of the few airlines that treat you like an actual human being. ... Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
Dislikes: Legendary scout Al LaMacchia passes away at the age of 89. Among many, many others, he signed Cito Gaston and Dale Murphy.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"The rain kept drivin' but the Caddy kept on burnin' rubber
-- Bob Seger, Get Out of Denver
Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:37 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:08 pm
As colleague Danny Knobler chuckled when we talked not long ago, not bad for a pitcher with a 9.64 ERA. That's where Beckett's stands now after the Yankees clubbed him for five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings Sunday night.
In all seriousness, though, the larger meaning of this beyond New England's boundaries is that it continues to emphasize the most important thing in today's game: You'd better build your team with young pitching, because less and less of it is available on the free agent market. At least, fewer impact pitchers are getting out there.
Beckett and Roy Halladay each was supposed to be a free agent next winter. Not now: The Sox have locked up Beckett, and the Phillies over the winter acquired Halladay from Toronto then signed him to a three-year, $60 million deal.
Two other key pitchers had their free agency delayed over the past several months, too, with Detroit signing Justin Verlander to a five-year, $80 million extension and Seattle signing ace Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million deal in January.
Posted on: July 14, 2009 6:37 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2009 8:14 pm
ST. LOUIS -- As American League manager Joe Maddon said the other day, it's difficult to "choreograph" the All-Star Game when it's played in a National League park without the designated hitter.
But while plans may eventually unravel, here's the way Maddon and his NL counterpart, Charlie Manuel, intend to begin tonight's 80th All-Star Game:
Maddon has told starter Roy Halladay that he will pitch two innings. Halladay will be followed in order, according to Maddon, by the White Sox's Mark Buehrle, Kansas City's Zack Greinke, Detroit's Edwin Jackson, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, Minnesota's Joe Nathan and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera.
If Rivera pitches with a lead in the ninth inning, he will have a chance to claim his fourth All-Star save, which would be a record. Currently, he is tied with Dennis Eckersley for the record with three.
As for Wakefield, making his first All-Star appearance at 42, and holding him back?
"It's all about this game matters," Maddon said. "It does matter, and he's the perfect guy if there are extra innings to carry us the rest of the way."
As for the NL, attempting to win its first All-Star game since 1996, Manuel, following consultation with San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, has told starter Tim Lincecum to plan to pitch two innings.
Depends if Lincecum pitches two full innings, and it depends on whether the pitcher's spot is coming up in the next inning, Manuel said. That will determine whether he uses a starter or a reliever to follow Lincecum.