Should We Read Into Wedge’s “Player Only” Meetings?

** Two of these guys are even still on the team.  It’s been interesting to follow Eric Wedge since he up and left the team, middle fingers high.  I wonder if there has been a more dysfunctional team in baseball the last 10 years. **

Originally published January 27th, 2012 

There are going to be a ton of opinions and feedback from today’s Mariners Media Day.  Most of it will certainly be centered around Jack Zduriencik, “This is going to be a challenging year at the big league level. Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve got a young club, no matter how you shake it. We’ve got young players.”  Refreshing and daring honesty, but hardly news to anyone that’s watched the team’s offseason.  It is going to be a challenging year, but I’m also expecting some exciting baseball.  Last year’s team as a whole was fun to watch.  You could see players develop, and you could see flashes of some real talent from some of the team’s younger players. 

The true headline from today were meetings that Eric Wedge had w/9 players on the team 3 weeks ago in Seattle.  The meetings sounded like an afterthought during radio and media interviews, but there’s a lot there to talk and speculate about.  Larry Stone was the only one that I saw really touch on the meetings in the Seattle Times

The meetings are news because of who was there, as much as for who was not there.  According to Eric Wedge’s interview on SportsRadio KJR, Chone Figgins was one of 9 players he’d met with in Seattle 3 weeks ago.  Wedge had individual meetings with all 9 players before having them over to dinner with his family.  Who were the players?  After trading tweets with Shannon Drayer and Larry Stone (before he posted his story), it came down to Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Casper Wells, Miguel Olive, Franklin Gutierez, John Jaso, Brendon Ryan, and Chone Figgins.  How did Eric Wedge decide on the list, and what was discussed during the meetings is between Wedge and his players, but I think it’s interesting to look at each player individually.  Just as importantly, what kind of message does this send to players that weren’t invited in regards to their long term future and/or value to the team? 

Let’s start by breaking down the players that were at the meetings:

Justin Smoak:  Smoak was a near lock.  After underperforming in 2011, Justin Smoak is looking to have a rebound and defining year in 2012.  There were a number of things going against Smoak in 2011, from his father’s death, to numerous freak accidents, to not being in the shape the Mariners wanted to see him in.  According to Wedge, Justin is in shape and more defined than last year.  If there was a message that Eric Wedge had for Smoak it had to be urgency.  Justin has been a relative disappointment in his year and half with the team, shuttling between Seattle and Tacoma and finishing with a .234 average in 2011.  The Mariners need to see the Justin Smoak from the first half of the year last year, and not the last half.  With the trade for Jesus Montero and Mike Carp’s emergence as a power-threat, time could be running out for Justin Smoak to produce and prove he was worth trading for from the Rangers.

– Dustin Ackley:  There’s “near lock” and then there’s lock.  Dustin Ackley is the future of the Mariners franchise.  The Mariners drafted a key component in Ackley and have high hopes that he could develop into a Troy Tulowitzki style player.  Dustin will have to put on some muscle to develop into the kind of power numbers that Tulowitzki has, but the potential is there.  Leadership seems like a key development opportunity for Ackley in 2011.  If Dustin is going to become a face of a franchise, he needs to develop into a Pedroia type leader both on and off the field.  Coming into his first full year in the Major Leagues expect Ackley to settle in sooner at the plate — He has a ton of upside and has the opportunity to really develop on the field.  Expect some good things from Ackley in 2011.

Kyle Seager:  Seager is one of those head-scratcher players.  What made Wedge single out a rookie in Seager?  One of the things that Ian Furness and Jason Puckett talked about this afternoon was that Seager looked like he was comfortable playing at a Major League level.  At .258 and 3HR over a small sample of games I didn’t see anything that really looked “spectacular” out of Kyle Seager, but he didn’t look overwhelmed either.  He looked like the kind of player that could play a utility role on a team, but he didn’t look like the future at 3rd base.  The only thing I can see here is that Wedge likes his fundamentals.  Seager came to play, did his job, and was flexible to the situations he was called to play in. 

Casper Wells:  Wells is another odd choice.  It’s pretty clear that Eric Wedge is calling on Wells to be his starting Left Fielder, but where does that put a player like Mike Carp?  At .276 and 12HR, I expect Carp to see more playing time in 2012, but his absence is notable.  Casper Wells is a hustle player, the kind of player that Wedge likes, but he’s going to have to hit a helluva lot better than .236 if he’s going to stay the kind of player Wedge likes.  Wedge’s message to Wells had to have been “Hit and you’re in.”

Miguel Olivo:  Miguel Olivo is an enigma.   He hit .224, but hit 19HR.  He was the worst catcher in the Major Leagues for passed balls, but he threw guys out at 2nd like an All Star.  One thing that Olivo did bring to the Mariners last year was leadership.  If Eric Wedge went to Dustin Ackley and said “I want you to be a better leader on the field and in the clubhouse”, then it was followed by “like Olivo.”  Miguel Olivo added a ton of value to the team last year.  Don’t get caught up in the things he had a hard time with, the Mariners were better with Miguel Olivo than without him in 2011.

Franklin Gutierrez:  I hope I’m wrong, but part of me thinks that Guti may be in a make or break year.  It’s easy to blame last year’s performance woes on his IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome – which is no laughing matter), but for anyone that says that Guti’s .224 average in 2011 was just a hiccup, I give you 2010:  .245, 12HR, 25 Doubles.  Not exactly CF-quality numbers.  Gutierrez’ .256 lifetime average and less than 60HR is the kind of thing that will get you shipped out, Gold Glove or not.  Wedge’s message to Gutierrez had to be execute.  (Remember, this isn’t Franklin’s first rodeo with Eric Wedge.)

Brendan Ryan:  You have to think that Eric Wedge invited Brendan because he didn’t want to hear about it if he didn’t.  Brendan Ryan seems like one odd dude.  At the same time, Ryan has produced and was a welcome distraction for the team.  He seems like the kind of player that keeps everyone on their toes because he’s just not all there.  He’s a serviceable stopgap while we wait for Carlos Triunfel or Nick Franklin to develop.

Chone Figgins:  I almost feel like Chone Figgins is Wedge’s pet project.  It just seems that if Wedge went to Jack Z tomorrow and said “Release this guy” he’d be gone.  Wedge sees something in Figgins that he wants on this team, and like you, I don’t know what it is.  Chone Figgins is a long ways removed from his time with the Angels both in performance and attitude.  If you haven’t heard the saying, failure comes down to two things:  Attitude or Ability.  Does Chone Figgins lack the ability to hit a fastball, curveball, or any kind of ball?  Or does he have such a poor attitude that he can’t get over.  Or both?

John Jaso:  If you’re like me, you had to check his reference page to remind you where he came from.  Oh, a Catcher from the Tampa Rays.  Right on.  Jaso hit .224 in Tampa over 89 games.  I have no idea why Wedge would have invited Jaso to the party other than to set the culture of the team.  Any manager that brings in a new player is going to set the expectations early, but with the addition of Jesus Montero, you have to question whether Jaso will be here for the long haul.

Why were these guys left out?  And is there a message there?

Mike Carp:  Carp played a serviceable Left Field and showed flashes of power and patience at the plate, but he’s been one of the bus riders between Seattle and Tacoma.  Carp looked like a completely different player last year, he’d lost a noticeable amount of weight and lost a lot of the soft look he had the year before, he seemed destined to start the year on the Major League roster, but for some reason just isn’t a “Wedge Guy”.  Listening to Wedge’s interview with Ian Furness, I didn’t sense a real vote of confidence for Carp’s long term future with the team.  I wonder if we won’t see Carp get traded — I just hope he doesn’t turn into another Mike Morse.

Michael Saunders:  Haven’t we seen enough of Michael Saunders?  I don’t see patience at the plate, I don’t see hustle in the outfield, and he just doesn’t look like a Major Leaguer, but for some reason people keep waiting for him to arrive.  Clearly Michael Saunders is off the radar, I don’t care if he was at the media day, he’ll be gone before the All Star break.

Adam Moore:  Bad breaks happen.  The problem for Adam Moore is that he didn’t produce or set the world on fire before his injuries.  Now that the Mariners signed Jaso, traded for Montero, and have Catching talent in the Minor Leagues, I expect Adam Moore to be sent down to build up some value before being traded for some A-level reliever.  It’s too bad, Moore has a great “look” as a ballplayer, but the stars just haven’t aligned for him.  It’s time for a change of scenery.

Felix Hernandez:  No message here.  There isn’t a single doubt who’s team this is.  Enjoy your vacation, we’ll see you in 3 weeks.

Ichiro:  Wedge isn’t going to “summon” Ichiro to Seattle in the Winter.  And even if he could, I don’t think Wedge would want to.  Everything Wedge has said since he’s come here has a similar and indirect tone to it:  If Ichiro wasn’t here I would be A-OK.  I don’t know who is more anxious for Ichiro’s contract to expire this year, Jack Z or Eric Wedge.  Ichiro is not in the long term plans for this team, moving him out of the leadoff is just the start of the transition we’re going to see this year.  (And enough with moving him to the 3-hole.  Ichiro is good for one of two things, grounding out to second base and hitting a single.  In that order.  That’s not a 3-hole hitter.)

The Mariner’s Media Day just started what could be a very interesting season.  I’m excited to see what kind of impact Wedge’s meetings had with the players that were there, and just as importantly, the impact it has on those players that weren’t.  Let’s “Play Ball!”

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