Given the chance to talk to general manager Jack Zduriencik at the Casey Kotchman press conference, I asked him if he thought the Seattle Mariners today were a better team than the one that headed to spring training last February.
"Yes, because there aren't as many unknowns for us," Zduriencik said.
"Heading into camp a year ago, we didn't know that David Aardsma would emerge as the closer. We didn't know what Russell Branyan would do. We didn't know what Franklin Gutierrez could do," he said.
"And the biggest difference? We were coming off a 101-loss season."
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The team didn't yet have Ken Griffey Jr. Yuniesky Betancourt was the starting shortstop. Wladimir Balentien and Endy Chavez were the left fielders. Carlos Silva was in the rotation.
"The biggest thing is the team is coming off a successful season," Zduriencik said. "That equates to a degree of trust. If I'm a player, I can't wait to get back. They had fun last year. They built a lot of confidence.
"That said, we were the third best team in our division. We've got a big challenge ahead, but the players should be excited."
Zduriencik did his part putting that 85-win team together, and he's been at it again this winter. The team lost free agents Adrian Beltre, Russell Branyan, Erik Bedard, Miguel Batista, Mike Sweeney. Kenji Johjima returned to Japan.
Zduriencik traded Brandon Morrow, Silva, Bill Hall.
He acquired Chone Figgins, Cliff Lee, Brandon League, Milton Bradley, Yusmeiro Petit and Casey Kotchman.
"We have a great one-two punch at the top of our lineup in Ichiro and Chone, a great one-two punch at the top of our rotation in Felix and Cliff, and I think our bullpen is stronger," Zduriencik said. "We're a better defensive team than last spring with Jack Wilson at shortstop and Casey Kotchman at first base.
"That said, we shouldn't be favored over anyone. You don't win games in the newspaper, in an interview. We're a better team than last spring, but we haven't played a game yet."
- A few days ago we linked to Part One of Shannon Drayer's interview with Ichiro. Here's Part II.
- Melvin Mora's agent said last week three teams were interested in the free agent and Mora says those teams are the Rockies, Cardinals and Angels. Former teammate Aubrey Huff, meanwhile, said no team has made him an offer yet.
- Oakland re-signed Jack Cust and saved money in the process. Last year Cust made $2.8 million, then was released when he became arbitration-eligible. The Athletics resigned him for $2.65 million.
- When Boston signed Adrian Beltre, writer Nick Cafardo recalled talking to Mike Lowell in 2007 and asking who was the best third baseman in baseball. “Tools-wise, Adrian Beltre is the best one,’’ Lowell answered. “He’s very, very quick. He comes in on the ball incredibly. I see some balls he gets down the line where I really have to concentrate on setting my feet to make a good, strong throw and he’s off-balance throwing from the side and it’s a rocket that comes out of his arm."
- Commissioner Bud Selig is saying he's open to a U.S. vs. Japanese World Series before he retires in 2012.
- Philadelphia has extended spring training invitations to 13 players - including ex-Mariners prospects Phillipe Aumont and Tyson Gilles.
- Scott Podsednik is close to signing with Kansas City, where former Mariners go in droves. He'll join Betancourt, Jose Guillen, Gil Meche and Willie Bloomquist.