There is probably no better gauge of the state of the Seattle Mariners than the fact that during Thursdays two-hour pre-spring training press gathering, Ichiro Suzukis name didnt come up until the final 30 minutes.
The man with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons and 10 consecutive Gold Gloves in right field isnt being overlooked by the Mariners. Neither is Felix Hernandez, he of the Cy Young Award, whose name was similarly missing from the first 90 minutes of talk concerning the 2011 club, which has its first spring training workout Feb. 14 in Peoria, Ariz.
The reality is that for all Ichiro and Hernandez do in their Seattle uniforms, they cant come close to carrying the Mariners. After all, Ichiro had his glove work and his record for consecutive 200-hit seasons and Hernandez had his Cy Young in 2010 and the Mariners still lost 101 games.
Seattles two name players need lots of help. And when looking at the task ahead of them, the Mariners are obligated to focus on the non-Ichiro and non-Felix parts of the equation.
And the club can only wonder what the future holds. There are 20 non-roster players who have been invited to the camp. There are a half dozen players who were rookies last year who could make the roster. There are another half dozen who have never been in the big leagues who could make it this time, either in April or later in the season.
So when big league teams start measuring their imponderables and unknowables entering the spring, no team has more of each than Seattle.
So when general manager Jack Zduriencik and some of his lieutenants talked about the Mariners without mentioning Ichiro or Hernandez FYI, their names were finally brought up by manager Eric Wedge it was no accident.
“I didnt bring up Ichiro, I didnt bring up Felix, Zduriencik said. “I also didnt mention Franklin Gutierrez. These are players we know, players who we have expectations about what they will do.
“I talked about the young guys, because there are going to be lots of opportunities for them to make their mark. Thats what this spring training is going to be about opportunity. Were going to see a lot of our young kids. We saw a glimpse of some of them in September. Young guys will be given opportunities.
The fact is that some of the second-year players left fielder Michael Saunders, catcher Adam Moore, first baseman Justin Smoak, reliever Dan Cortes have a chance to have more of an impact this time around. And some of the never-beens starter Michael Pineda, second baseman Dustin Ackley, reliever Josh Lueke seem to have the stuff to do the same.
“Im more excited today than the day I got the job, Wedge said as he started to talk about the team hes been charged with handling. “Were going to be better this year.
One would certainly hope so, given that Seattle could hardly be worse in 2011 than in 2010, which, Zduriencik said, “last year was a disappointing year. But its behind us. Its over.
Well, not quite. There are residual problems from 2010. Aardsma, who battled injuries last year, had hip surgery earlier this month and is going to be on crutches for 8-10 weeks, according to trainer Rick Griffin.
“Hes doing a lot of therapy work, Griffin said of Aardsma. “And he is doing shoulder exercises. The doctors are saying that he should be ready the second week of the season.
Bradley, who needed time off last year because of anger-management issues, apparently is still fighting those demons. He was arrested after being accused of making a felony threat against a woman on Jan. 19. And he, too, is coming off surgery.
Then there is setup reliever Kelley. He needed a modified form of Tommy John-style surgery in which the ligament was reattached rather than replaced. Hes out until June 1, and the Mariners will consider themselves lucky if hes back by then.
So the club is looking at lots of non-roster pitching to fill in the gaps. Chief among them is another pitcher recovering from surgery, Chris Ray, who was the Orioles closer before getting hurt in 2006-07, was brought aboard as the clubs 11th (and perhaps not last) pitcher in on a minor league contract.
“His arm is getting stronger all the time, Tony Blengino, the special assistant to general manager Jack Zduriencik said of Ray. “At his peak, his slider was his out pitch. And often after surgery its that kind of pitch that is the last to come back.
If he makes the team and if hes healthy he should Ray and holdover setup man Brandon League might wind up sharing the closing duties until Aardsma returns. Griffin, the trainer, said the second week of April is the projected time for Aardsmas return, but those projections are always up in the air, so Seattle needs to keep its options open, and somebody who was 5-0 with a 3.72 in a 2010 season split between the Rangers and the Giants indicates Ray is a good option.
If the starting rotation currently consisting of Hernandez as the lone definite and Erik Bedard, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas as probables needs help, another minor league free agent, lefty Nate Robertson, might be a good fit. He was 6-8 with the Marlins last year before being dealt to the Phillies late in the season.
“Nate could wind up helping us in the rotation or in the bullpen, Zduriencik said. “Hes a good character guy, too.
The Mariners, as always, are trying to stock up on those. It has yet to be determined if they are winners, however.