PEORIA, Ariz. — The Mariners, after taking a St. Patrick’s Day break, are about to enter the serious part of camp. The starters will play longer in games, and the competitive battles will draw keener attention.
Tuesday’s editions of The Tacoma News Tribune will offer a marvelously insightful story about what to expect in the coming days. It will be posted online, I assume, once our crack copy desk makes it marvelously insightful (i.e., readable).
UPDATE: Here's the link: http://bit.ly/1kFfymn
In the interim, we’ll offer our latest long-form twitter question-and-answer exchange.
@bryan_smith666: can you see anyone outside of Cano cracking 300 this year?
Manager Lloyd McClendon likes to say, “Check the book. The book doesn’t lie.”
By that, he means check a player’s history. (It used to be, “Check his baseball card.” In the old days, it was “Check his bubblegum card.” The cigar cards were before even my time.)
The “book,” or whatever you want to call it, says probably not. But…if you’re asking for a best bet, I’d say Dustin Ackley. He batted .304 last year after the All-Star break and has made solid contact all spring.
@shawnhodgins21: When do you see Iwakuma and Walker making their 2014 MLB debut?
Quick answer: The Mariners, all along, have said mid-to-late April is the best-case scenario. I think we’ll have a better answer by the weekend, though.
Taijuan Walker has already thrown two bullpen workouts in his recovery from shoulder soreness. He should be moving this week to live batting practice (where hitters take swings), and then to a couple of simulated innings (15-20 pitches, sit down, repeat).
After that, if all goes well, he should be ready for game action. That could — could, mind you — be prior to the end of spring training. After that, barring setbacks, it’s a matter of building his endurance to 90-100 pitches.
Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled for an examination Tuesday to gauge his recovery from a strained ligament in the middle finger of his pitching hand. It will be a major disappointment if he isn’t cleared to throw.
Once cleared, his progress should be more rapid than Walker’s program.
@steve_kinsella1: Is 2014 the year that Jack Z has to show vast improvement in wins? What's the GM seat temp - cool, tepid, hot?
When ownership spends $240 million on a player, as it did on Robinson Cano, it’s usual to expect measurable on-field improvement. So I don’t think Zduriencik survives another 91-loss season.
Where, precisely, is the bar? I don’t know. Owners can unreasonable expectations — sometimes higher, sometimes lower than fans.
My view, for what it’s worth, is .500 represents a reasonable goal for this club. That doesn’t meant they can’t be better. The rotation, in particular, could come together in a big way. (It also might flop.)
But .500 would represent a 10-game improvement over last season. That would be a definite step in the right direction.
@charlie_fahlman: Could you see Mariners trading for Tigers' Austin Jackson?
Could they use Austin Jackson? Absolutely. He would fill that need for a right-handed hitter who can play center and bat leadoff. I’ve heard nothing to suggest it’s likely.
@forecasterpeter: Do you think Mariners and Morales will eventually meet somewhere in the middle and sign?
It’s possible, certainly, that Kendrys Morales eventually returns to the Mariners. But I think it become less likely each day.
The Mariners show no inclination to re-extend the $14.1-million offer that Morales rejected in becoming a free agent, and the ongoing demand by agent Scott Boras for a big multi-year deal is simply a non-starter.
Two other points to note:
No other club appears to be showing any interest in Morales at any price. A major injury could change that overnight but, right now, there’s nothing out there.
And, two, the Mariners effectively moved on once Morales rejected their qualifying offer by signing Corey Hart and acquiring Logan Morrison in a trade. They also insist they believe Justin Smoak can become an impact bat in the middle of the lineup.
Look…you might disagree in their assessment of Smoak. A lot of fans do.
But if the Mariners are committed to giving him another big chance, then that — combined with the Hart and Morrison additions — really leaves no place for Morales.
@mattorourke: do you really think Miller and Franklin are still competing or is that just org. talk to boost Franklins value?
Everyone continues to insist that’s the case, and all signs — at least outwardly in terms of playing opportunities — say yes, it's been, and continues to be, a legit competition. Further, their performances have been pretty comparable.
That said, the sense I get is Brad Miller gets the job by holding serve. He’s the incumbent shortstop, and there’s little argument that he’s the better defensive player. He’s made several sparkling plays this spring.
But, Nick Franklin has made strides, too.
Nearly all opposing scouts, when asked early in spring, doubted his ability to play shortstop on a full-time basis. The general view has shifted; many now believe he can be serviceable.
“He still won’t wow you,” one scout said, “but I think he can play there and not hurt you. Remember a few years ago when Arizona went to the playoffs with (Willie) Bloomquist at short? Franklin can give you that.”
There’s probably a drive-by shot at Bloomquist in there, but the Diamondbacks did reach postseason with him as their everyday shortstop for the closing months in 2011 following an injury to Stephen Drew.
@pfitterer: I feel the sacrifice bunt is poor percentage baseball. Any idea of McClendon's thoughts on bunting? Hit & Run?
Lloyd McClendon often cites Abraham Almonte’s ability to bunt as a factor in considering him for the leadoff role.
@stevejackman: Bob who do you envision 1-9?
Really hard to say until the Mariners settle on a leadoff man, a center fielder and a shortstop. But two through five seem fairly set with Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, Corey Hart and Justin Smoak.
After that, it gets tougher, although Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino will be in there. Logan Morrison should get a lot of DH time unless the Mariners believe Hart can’t play right field on a regular basis.
Abraham Almonte is getting a long look in the leadoff role, but it’s not his job yet. Michael Saunders could still end up in center.
Brad Miller spent a lot of time last year in the leadoff role, but manager Lloyd McClendon is disinclined to put three lefties atop the lineup. That doesn’t mean he won’t; just that he’d prefer not to do so.
Nick Franklin is a switch-hitter, like Almonte, and could fill that leadoff role if he’s the starting shortstop.
Shorter answer is this: Other than the two-through-five spots, your guess is as good as anyone’s.
@2legend4: Where does Lloyd stand on a 7-man pen?
That’s his preference.
I’d be surprised if the Mariners opened with eight relievers because that would mean a three-man bench. This roster needs more versatility, not less.
Some clubs open with eight relievers, but that’s usually due to open dates in the early schedule permitting the brief use of a four-man rotation. The Mariners play seven straight days to open the season.
I’d be stunned if they went with six relievers.
@mlancetaylor: why haven't Robinson Canoe been given the 2014 MVP award yet???
Cano has a .609/.654/.696 slash this spring (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) for a 1.349 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
He does that, he'll win the MVP.