John McGrath: Mariners’ new-look roster says volumes

Staff WriterMarch 31, 2014 

Despite the shakeups of their roster and the coaching staff, the Seattle Mariners decided to keep one thing intact for 2014.

Their marketing motto remains “True to the Blue,” and while a more accurate slogan might be “True to the Blues,” it’s catchier than “Don’t Believe Anything You’ve Read About Front-Office Dysfunction,” or “We May Not Be Lots Better, But At Least We’ll Have Some New Faces.”

Will they ever. When the Mariners are introduced before their regular-season opener Monday night in Anaheim, Calif., their 25-man roster will include 18 players who weren’t introduced before last year’s opener at Oakland.

Although some of the attrition can be explained by the fact starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and reliever Stephen Pryor are on the disabled list, the real reason for the turnover is that many guys on the Mariners team introduced a year ago were either not ready for the major leagues or were incapable of staying there.

Take, for instance, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer, two of the five pitchers in Seattle’s 2013 season-opening rotation. Both are headed for Tacoma. (Joe Saunders — the veteran who took the mound for the Mariners’ third game in Oakland and blamed his control problems on a batch of slippery baseballs — is slated to begin 2014 as the Rangers’ No. 4 starter, which tells you all you need to know about the state of Texas’ star-crossed rotation.)

Meanwhile, reliever Lucas Luetge was optioned to the Rainiers the other day. Former Mariners reliever Carter Capps, sent to Miami in the trade for Logan Morrison, also is in Triple A, along with Josh Kinney, who’s now with the Pittsburgh organization.

Oliver Perez qualified for Arizona’s 25-man roster, which is more than can be said for fellow reliever Kameron Loe, released by the Giants on March 22.

On to the position players: Jesus Montero, a year removed from his disastrous audition as the Mariners’ regular catcher, is attempting to reinvent himself in Tacoma as, uh, something. Backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, released by Cleveland after short stints with Washington and Pittsburgh, is waiting for his phone to ring.

So is Kendrys Morales, though all that prevented the designated hitter from suiting up this spring was a contract more enticing than the $14.1 million qualifying offer he turned down from the Mariners.

Morales’ career still has legs — especially if you ignore the reality he can barely run — but I’m not sure about center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, who’s taking 2014 off to deal with lingering health issues. And it appears outfielder Jason Bay, who was released by the Mariners in August, is retired.

Utility infielder Robert Andino relocated to the Pirates’ farm system. Shortstop Brendan Ryan had been penciled in as Derek Jeter’s backup with the Yankees, but then, the benefit of pencils are their erasers: Ryan is on the disabled list because of an abdominal strain and pinched nerve in his neck.

Raul Ibañez, who looked ageless before the 2013 All-Star break but every bit his 41-year-old self after it, hooked up with the Angels, and Mike Morse found a job with the Giants. Morse, whose spring-camp work was curtailed by a calf injury, made his left-field debut in San Francisco during a weekend exhibition game against Oakland.

It went like this: He overran a double hit into the corner, dropped a routine fly ball and attempted a diving catch of a line drive that got behind him for a triple.

On the bright side, Morse can serve as DH for the Giants’ interleague games on the road.

The manager and his staff also are introduced on opening night. Gone is former skipper Eric Wedge, whose stinging critique of the Mariners’ front office on his way out likely assured he’ll never return to a big league dugout but paved a new career as a baseball studio analyst for ESPN.

As for Wedge’s brain trust, it’s all gone. Hitting coach Dave Hansen is the Angels’ assistant hitting coach. Bullpen coach Jaime Navarro has been reassigned as pitching coach in Tacoma. First base coach Mike Brumley will earn a paycheck as an assistant hitting coach for a Cubs team that needs more coaches, psychologists and lucky-charm yell leaders than can fit on a bench.

But bench/infield coach Robby Thompson, who filled in last summer when Wedge was recovering from a stroke, and third base coach Jeff Datz, who took a leave of absence for cancer treatments, and pitching coach Carl Willis, who interviewed but was denied the same job in Baltimore, are not affiliated with any major league team.

Summing up: Among the 25 players and seven coaches who participated in the introductions preceding the Mariners’ 2013 opener, 25 of those 32 will not participate in a similar ceremony Monday night.

Conclusions? That seven of the 25 players are back in the minors suggests general manager Jack Zduriencik was incompetent last season. That three others are all but retired underscores the suggestion.

But there’s another way of looking at it: Zduriencik’s farm system produced the likes of budding-star shortstop Brad Miller, catcher Mike Zunino and starting pitchers James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Roenis Elias. All were thought to be at least a year or two away from the majors in 2013, and all but Elias ended up contributing in ways that ranged from competent to intriguing.

The Mariners appear to be a much better team than the one that spent only four days over .500 last season, losing 91 times. Aside from an eight-game winning streak around the All-Star break, they went six months without winning more than three in a row.

Remaining intact was not an option for Zduriencik, and remaining True to the Blue is not a requirement.

But what the heck, opening night only comes once a year. Enjoy it. Embrace it. If nothing else, the 2014 Mariners will be different, and maybe that’s the best marking motto of all.


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