Originally published February 18th, 2012
The next month of baseball is going to determine a lot for this year’s Mariners team. You could make the argument that there isn’t a more important Spring Training for any team in Major League Baseball. The Mariners are coming off of another near-100 loss season, and an offseason that saw them trade their star rookie, Michael Pineda. Jesus Montero is certainly the top acquisition of the offseason, but outside of Montero, the Mariners haven’t made a lot of moves that anyone would call a “gamechanger” in the American League (contrary to Texas and Anahe — er, “Los Angeles”.) This spring is going to set the tone for the Mariners year, but not in wins and losses.
Spring Training isn’t about wins and losses, it’s about observation and coaching. Which players are coming in to work hard and earn their spot? What have players done to make themselves better in the offseason? What are players doing now to make themselves better and more valuable to the team or their position? How are they working with their coaches and with each other to get better and earn their spot on the team? Like it or not, the Mariners are a team with a lot of question marks on the lineup card, and it’s up to the players to separate themselves from the pack and earn their spot. There are about 6 sure names on this team: Felix, Ichiro, Ackley, Smoak (to start), Montero (to start) and Guti. If one of those names isn’t on your jersey, you’re going to be challenged in Spring Training.
It’s been a week since Pitchers and Catchers reported in Peoria, but yesterday was the first day the entire squad was at camp. Reports are that Mike Carp has come into Spring Training looking like someone out of the movie 300 — I hope he keeps his shirt on. Ha-ha. Carp is getting a lot of attention to start the spring, he’s in shape and physically sounds like a different player. Carp showed he could hit at the Major League level last year and it will be interesting to see how he improves with added muscle and another year of experience. For as much attention as Mike Carp has gotten the first week in, Jesus Montero is at another level completely. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t watching Montero’s batting practice videos on Geoff Baker’s blog. The press has Montero fever, and it’s well deserved if Montero is truly destined to become a face of the franchise.
For as excited as the first week has been, there have to be questions leading into the spring. We’re a week into Spring Training and we just now have the entire squad? I’m disappointed it took that long for everyone to show up. Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro, Carlos Guillen, Casper Wells, Luis Rodrigues and Johermyn Chavez were the last 40-man players to arrive, and if I were there, I would ask a few of them “Why?”. It’s important to backtrack on this one. I wrote about Eric Wedge’s player meetings a few weeks back. There were only 9 players invited to January’s meetings with the Manager, and only 7 of them were at Spring Training before Friday’s deadline. I have an issue with that. Everyone knows that Ichiro is going to be the last player to come to camp, it’s a given. But, it’s also a given that Ichiro will come to camp prepared and in shape. A veteran with his experience, even though his production in 2011 certainly didn’t sync, gets a pass on coming to camp early. Carlos Guillen is coming off of injuries and is another veteran player. I think he understands his role coming into camp, he’s not here to start in the field. Luis Rodrigues and Chavez are players coming in that you know are going to start the season in AAA. Is having them at camp the week early really going to make a difference? Franklin Gutierrez and Casper Wells are in a completely different situation.
Why weren’t Guti and Casper Wells there to start the camp with the rest of the team? I expected Gutierrez, who’s coming off a disappointing 2011 season (and it could be argued disappointing 2010 season as well,) to come in ready to show the team he was ready to go. I know Guti was here in January and judging from reports yesterday, he looks great. I look at a player like Gutierrez and wish he’d been here, but at the same time I understand that A) He’s coming from another country and B) The guy has obviously worked hard on offseason conditioning. I would have liked to have seen him here, but Guti gets a pass. But what about Casper Wells? What was it about Casper Wells’ .237 average and 11HR last year that had him thinking “You know what? I’m good.” Was it his lifetime .263 average and 131 games at the Major League level? Was it the lack of competition? Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders, and Mike Carp were all there. If I’m Eric Wedge I’m wondering why I had him here in January if he wasn’t going to show the commitment to a developing team. I argued in my blog that maybe Mike Carp just wasn’t a “Wedge guy”, but I’d be willing to bet he’s going to turn into a Wedge guy really quick after coming in ripped, ready, and hitting home runs off cars in the parking lot. So when a player like Casper Wells waits until Friday to come in, I would ask him one thing. “Isn’t it a little early to feel entitled?” Casper Wells didn’t cement his spot on the roster, let alone Left Field last year. He better be ready to work.
It feels good to be in Spring Training mode. I love that my Twitter feed stays busy with Mariners news. I find myself checking Twitter more often than I should, on the off chance that Shannon Drayer or Larry Stone has an update. If Geoff Baker isn’t at his hotel swimming pool, I know I can count on him for some solid coverage, and Greg Johns has a constantly refreshing and inside perspective. If that isn’t enough, and it isn’t, I know I’m up for hours of sports radio. If you’re a baseball fan, and if you weren’t you wouldn’t be here, you know what I mean. We have a full season in front of us, and this next month will help determine what kind of season it might be.