SEATTLE — Familiarity can also breed contentment. That’s Austin Jackson’s view as he prepares for his first full season with the Mariners after two disappointing months last year following his July 31 arrival.
Jackson batted just .229 in 54 games after the Mariners acquired him from Detroit in a three-way trade on July 31 that sent infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.
Throw in a .267 on-base percentage and a .260 slugging percentage and — let’s face it — Jackson was an absolute flop in terms of providing the spark the Mariners anticipated at the top of their lineup.
So what happened?
“A lot of things,” he said between FanFest appearances at Safeco Field. “Not making excuses, but I think getting traded and trying to get used to the (longer) travel and the sleep — those things affect your play on the field.
“When you’re going from an hour (flight) to a losing three hours; that kind of plays with your sleep schedule. Trying to get used to a different team and all that, I had a lot of distractions, I think, that crept into my head a little bit.
“Hopefully, getting started here and staying here, those distractions won’t be there.”
But it was more than that.
“Offensively,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “he’s doing some things mechanically that we need to clean up. It’s nothing major. We’ll work on that in spring training.”
Jackson acknowledges McClendon knows his swing as well as anybody from their time together in Detroit, where McClendon served as hitting coach before getting hired prior to last season by the Mariners.
“My first four years being with Lloyd,” Jackson said, “he was able to iron out some of the problems I had in my swing — he knew the key things we can go back to, to get me locked back in. I didn’t have that last year.
“It was kind of tough to make adjustments on the fly…Last year, I would try to find it, but I think I created some bad habits, and it was kind of tough to get out of them.
“This off-season, I tried to work on those things as much as I can. Hopefully, when spring training starts, we can get some good work in.”
That work, in one area, is already under way. Jackson wore down last season in the closing weeks, which prompted a revamped off-season conditioning program.
“I think it will be a little better this year,” he said. “I was able to put a little weight on and get some strength back. Hopefully, I can maintain that throughout the season.”
Jackson’s time in Detroit suggests his two-month struggle after joining the Mariners was an anomaly; he posted a .277/.342/.413 slash over four-plus seasons with the Tigers.
The Mariners would take similar production this season in a heartbeat.
“Two years ago,” McClendon said, “Austin Jackson was probably the fifth-best center fielder in all of baseball. He struggled a little bit last year. That goes to show you that he’s human.
“He made a transition from the Tigers to the Mariners, and it was a tough transition. I suspect this young man will be pretty good for us. I think he’s settled in. He’s happy to be here.”
But for how long?
Jackson, who turns 28 on Super Bowl Sunday, is entering his free-agent walk year. Even if he remains open to staying with the Mariners, club officials face a tough decision: He is already making $7.7 million.
If Jackson produces a bounce-back year — the type of year that would make the Mariners interested in exploring a long-term deal — that would likely create significant interest in him on next winter’s free-agent market.
That looms, potentially, as one doozy of a distraction…right?
“It just doesn’t really bother me that much,” Jackson argued. “I enjoy coming out and competing. I think that’s what keeps my mind focused on what I need to do. Trying to win. Everything else will take care of itself.”
The Mariners, at this point, want nothing more.
LINING IT UP
That would place the Smith/Ruggiano tandem behind Jackson and in front of the All-Star trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
The Mariners ranked 30th (i.e., last) among all clubs last season in on-base percentage from their No. 2 hitters at .260. No other club was lower than .279.
Smith had a .367 OBP last season in 136 games for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Chicago Cubs.
HEARING LIKELY FOR WILHELMSEN
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen appears increasingly likely to be the first Mariner to undergo an arbitration hearing to determine his salary since pitcher Freddy Garcia in 2003.
Club officials show little inclination to continue negotiations after the two sides exchanged formal bids at the Jan. 16 deadline. Wilhelmsen, 31, is seeking $2.2 million, while the Mariners countered at $1.4 million.
Wilhelmsen, 31, made $528,800 last season when he was 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 79 1/3 innings over 57 games.
The hearing will be scheduled between Feb. 2-20. Baseball’s labor agreement requires the player be in attendance when the two sides present their arguments.
A negotiated agreement is permissible until the arbitrators render a decision by choosing one of the two submitted figures.
The Mariners reached deals prior to the exchange deadline with their five other arbitration-eligible players: reliever Charlie Furbush, first baseman Logan Morrison and outfielders Dustin Ackley, Jackson and Ruggiano.
Garcia won his case in February 2003 by getting a raise from $3.8 million to 6.875 million after going 16-10 with a 4.39 ERA in 2002. The Mariners had offered $5.9 million.
Veteran outfielder Endy Chavez is returning to the Mariners after reaching agreement on a minor-league deal that includes an invitation to big-league camp.
Chavez, 36, batted .276 last season with two homers and 23 RBIs in 80 games after a May 30 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma. He is a 13-year veteran who has played for seven clubs.
This marks the third straight year that Chavez signed with the Mariners as a minor-league free agent. He also opened 2013 at Tacoma before batting .267 in 97 big-league games.
Chavez also played for the Mariners in 2009.
AND GUTIERREZ, TOO?
The Mariners are also moving closer to a reunion with veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who is seeking to make a comeback after missing all of last season while dealing with severe gastrointestinal issues.
Gutierrez, 31, drew interest from several clubs after playing 10 games in December for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he indicated a preference to return to the Mariners if he continues his comeback.
Any deal with Gutierrez would likely be a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp. Privately, club officials say Gutierrez would almost certainly open the season at Tacoma to measure his recovery.
Gutierrez is a nine-year veteran who played for the Mariners from 2009-13, although various injuries and ailments limited him to 173 games over the final three years.