Spring Training notes: Walker, Smoak, Ackley, Miller, Jimenez

 Spring Training 2014 is officially under way in Peoria, Arizona as the Seattle Mariners have begun their first sets of workouts. We’re still about ten days out from official Cactus League games taking place, but the anticipation for the start of the regular season has can officially begin as all thirty clubs start with a clean slate and visions of October baseball filling their heads. The Mariners are no different.

Pitchers Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker threw their first bullpens of the spring today; Felix tossed around 30 pitches while Walker threw 25. The Mariners’ top prospect said his shoulder felt fine after the session, alleviating most of the concern over the soreness he felt in the first few days of camp. As it stands, Walker will throw his next session on Thursday and won’t require any more precautionary work as he’s back on schedule. Pitching coach Rick Waits praised the young righty’s composure so far in camp, mentioning that he hasn’t had to ask Walker to slow himself down so far.

The Mariners avoided arbitration with Justin Smoak who agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Saturday. The first baseman will earn $2.63 million in the upcoming season and has a vesting option worth $3.65 million for 2015 that becomes guaranteed at 525 plate appearances on the year. If that plateau isn’t reached, Seattle can still exercise it, or buy the option out for $150 thousand. It’s a little unusual for a player to have an option year with a buyout attached while he is still arbitration eligible, so the deal did raise a few eyebrows. Smoak had 521 plate appearances in 2013 and 535 in 2013 so it’s entirely possible that regular play could cause his option to vest. The first baseman considers the starting job, “his to lose” despite the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison this offseason. Seattle has now agreed to terms with all of their arbitration eligible players.

Former No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley is set to become a full-time outfielder this year now that Robinson Cano has second base claimed for the foreseeable future. After starting 54 games in the outfield in 2013, 46 in center field, the soon to be 26-year old has spent much of the offseason preparing to be the team’s everyday leftfielder. Ackley struggled with consistency agian this past year and finished with a .253/.319/.341 line in 427 plate appearances. Since Franklin Gutierrez will be out for the entirety of the season, Ackley and Michael Saunders appear to be locks for starting jobs in the outfield to start the year at least. Hart and Morrison are also likely to see a little bit of time in the outfield if their bodies can handle it; currently Hart is the most likely to spend time in right field.

Nick Franklin figures to see significant time at shortstop this spring as manager Lloyd McClendon stated he’ll be competing with the incumbent Brad Miller for the starting job.

Over at LookoutLanding, Scott Weber questioned how legitimate this “battle” at shortstop really is. Weber argues that Miller deserves to be the starting shortstop in 2014, but if the organization emphasizes small sample sizes, Franklin may be a solid spring away from getting serious consideration for the job. Miller could be a fixture at short for the next several years instead of Franklin struggling to be average defensively at the position. Many thought Nick would find himself shipped to another organization in a trade for a starting pitcher or an outfielder, but nothing of the sort has materialized yet.

It’s possible McClendon is simply posturing to some extent in order to play up the club’s desire to keep the displaced second baseman who appears more likely to start the year with Tacoma than on Seattle’s bench. Also, it’s not uncommon to see coaches play up position battles in order to push players that extra little bit. There’s very little reason to think Saunders won’t have a starting outfield job, but of course McClendon is going to say there’s plenty of talent that could potentially fill the positions. We know Saunders is the closest thing on the roster to an actual everyday outfielder at the moment, although Abraham Almonte and Ackley could possibly change that, and McClendon knows that too.

The remaining big name free agents are slowly starting to find themselves new homes as Ubaldo Jimenez  agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles today. The deal is still pending a physical, which is far from a sure thing in Baltimore these days, and stands to be worth $50 million over four years with some money deferred. Jimenez was believed to be looking for a deal in the five year, $75 million range at the start of the offseason, but that quickly became unlikely as his market was incredibly slow to materialize and Matt Garza signed a similar contract last month with the Milwaukee Brewers and didn’t require his new club to give up a pick. Jimenez will cost the Orioles their 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, which Prospect Insider will provide plenty of coverage on in the upcoming months.

With Jimenez and Garza both off the market now, Ervin Santana finds himself standing alone on the free agent starting pitching market. The Orioles were believed to have some interest in Santana previously, but it’s likely that has evaporated now that they’ve signed Jimenez; provided of course, that his physical is successfully passed…

Seattle may still be interested in Santana’s services, although given the contracts given to his two free agent counterparts, it’s likely he’ll also receive a fourth guaranteed year on a deal. The Toronto Blue Jays were allegedly willing to offer three-year contracts worth $27 million to Santana and Jimenez, but those reports haven’t been confirmed. It’s hard to see Santana signing for that little considering the deal Ubaldo received, but anything is truly possibly at this point in time. At four years and $40 million Santana would make an excellent No. 3 in the Mariners’ rotation.

Heck, he would still look pretty good at four years and $50 million for what it’s worth.

 

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Tyler Carmont

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23 Comments

  1. Unfortunately that decision isn’t Felix’s ha ha. I could see a scenario where both Paxton and Walker are in the rotation, but I have a feeling the optimal scenario is both starting the year at Triple-A for 6-10 starts and then being promoted. Far more likely one of the pair starts in MLB rotation and the other makes an appearance midseason. A lot can change if a Santana or Capuano comes on board though.

  2. I’m coming to like Mac the Manager myself. No singular reason but I feel inclined to trust him. Being Jim Leyland’s recommendation is enough for me. As the Aussies would say, I’ve got a lot of time for a bloke liked by Leyland.

    BTW I agree the rotation is the weak link in this team’s chain of evidence of proficiency. They are filling some holes though, won’t be so many to deal with next off-season.

  3. Unfortunately, Franklin is so bad as a RHB that he might have to give up switch hitting. Hopefully he can improve his splits, but right now he’s Brendan Ryan as a RH hitter.

  4. I have to agree. I hope it all works out, bur I certainly like the way he deals with problems so far. And, I enjoy that he doesn’t use the “kids” tag that Wedge loved to use. They stopped being “kids” at last season. It’s time to be major league players.

  5. Just out of curiosity, when you say the Mariners have six starters already, are you counting Ramirez and Maurer as legitimate rotation candidates? Personally I think they’re stretching to say that they have a legitimate rotation of five guys, let alone more. After Felix and Iwakuma it’s literally all question marks. I’m not down on the potential of Walker and Paxton at all, but to consider them legitimate major league starters at this point isn’t entirely fair. I’m more or less fine with a rotation of Felix, Kuma, Walker, Paxton, Baker if that ends up working out, but I’ll have to be convinced that this is the rotation of a playoff contender.

  6. If Santana was gonna settle for a 3/27 kind of deal, he’d probably be well into his Spring Training routine with a new team. He’s held out this long for his money, there’s no reason to suggest he’s going to suddenly settle. Jimenez holds more upside than Santana does, but as crazy as it sounds, Santana has more of a track record. Jimenez can be an ace, and he can be a mop up duty reliever, all in the same month. Santana is a No. 3-4 on a good team, and a No. 2 on a bad team. No reason to start thinking that their contracts won’t be similar by the time it’s all said and done.

  7. Franklin also offers a right-handed (switch-hitting) bat in a left-handed heavy lineup. Miller, though, appears to be a good option to lead off, but I’m guessing Ackley has that covered.

  8. I have to say I really like Lloyd McClendon. His interview on this whole Cano vs Long deal was awesome. I don’t think I’ve liked an M’s manager this much since Pinella.

  9. I doubt that it has. If he can swing an MLB ready bat, they will find a place for him to play. Seattle isn’t flush in hitters.

  10. Have to agree with Edman for a change. Toronto and the Yankees likely involved and with Garza and Jimenez going for 4 years and big bucks, Santana will get it too. I would pass…

  11. Capuano would be a great add and from the way Felix see’s it I guess Walker and Paxton are “in” the rotation. Which I love. And really who knows more then The King 😉

  12. Well the ball club feels the same way as you do, that is why Franklin is getting a shot this spring at SS. If anything it will add value to him, having a prospect like Franklin that can now play SS and 2B is a lot better then having a prospect like Franklin that can only play 2B. I honestly think Franklin will look great at SS this spring, maybe not win the job, but look great, enhance his value and be moved for a very solid player.

    This is the only way to handle the Franklin problem.

  13. I remember when Miller was first drafted, there was some thought that his best position might be CF. Has that ship completely sailed?

  14. On the other hand, Miller was essentially flawless last year (considering only a partial rookie year introduction). Franklin was not; his second time around the league was not pretty.
    Thus, the mistake would seem to me to believe that spring training erases that recent history.

  15. Agreed. I think Capuano is a perfect solution. It gives us seven starters, thus a cushion for the inevitable. And he does not lock us down to effectively give three or four years of starts by Santana, who, like Jimenez, is a very expensive lottery ticket.

  16. That’s what spring training is supposed to be about, sorting out the wheat from the chaff. I must admit that spring training last year lead me to what proved to be unwarranted optimism when the season started. I think I’ll be a little more cautious with my evaluations this year.

    See the team is reportedly talking to Capuano, which is a good idea. He made $6 million last year and supposedly wants a two year contract. That sounds reasonable to me and not overly risky. Should leave them enough to resign Kendrys, which I think I would prefer to Cruz. Hopefully they won’t sign Santana to a deal like Jimenez got, I don’t think he’s worth it.

  17. Miller has always been a better defensive player, but I agree with your overall point.

    Why not play him at SS? Its not like Miller is a lock to perform (remember Ackley’s first taste of ML play???), and its not like Franklin has any chance of playing 2B outside of a Cano injury.

    And playing him at SS will only improve his value to both the M’s and other clubs. He’s got a lot of upside, and could help the team, but could also raise his value if the M’s find a trade match. And even if he’s just mediocre or worse at SS, they can always just move him back to 2B.

    I also like the idea of depth and competition. I think the sabermetric dismissal of spring training as worthless is silly. The team can look at both guys this spring beyond the small sample sizes and go with whoever looks best. Spring numbers may not have much predictive value, but it gives the new coaching staff and scouts a chance to evaluate players. And having multiple young players is never a bad thing.

  18. He’ll probably have to. There was a pretty good deal of consensus that Jimenez is the better pitcher.

    Santana’s inconsistency is due to HR problems: when he’s good, the ball isn’t leaving the park, when he’s bad, it does. His K rate and BB rate have been pretty consistent. He’s not likely to change. He’s consistently inconsistent, and the team that gets him should expect half the seasons of his contract to be below average.

    Jimenez is also inconsistent, but the inconsistency could reflect actual changes in the way he pitches. He seems to have turned the corner last year, and has great stuff. There is some reason to think that Jimenez could actually be better going forward, or at least sustain the success he’s had over the last part of 2013. Plus, Jimenez is the type of pitcher who will be less impacted by parks, which creates a larger market for him.

    I’d expect Santana to sign for less than Jimenez.

  19. I can’t see Santana settling for any less than Ubaldo got. Not in money or years.

  20. I agree with you. I don’t think Franklin is the liability that some think. He has the tools, he just needs to refine them. Miller has more refinement in his game, but It’s pretty hard to pick between the two. As was said above, it’s a good problem to have.

    I don’t think any decisions should be made right now. That’s how mistakes are made.

  21. Why not Franklin at SS? Are his liabilities at the position that much worse than Miller’s? Seems to me Churchill has said they’re fairly comparable defensively at this point. I think he’s also said that Miller could be a very good CF as well.

    A year ago, they were both SS with question marks defensively, but Franklin was the better prospect. Has that changed so much in a year? If Ackley hadn’t struggled out of the gate, wouldn’t Franklin have supplanted Ryan at SS (since Miller was blocked in AA while Franklin was in Tacoma) and wouldn’t we be talking about Miller challenging Franklin for the job?

    I’m just saying it may be a closer battle than people think.

  22. That deal for Ubaldo is a hell of a deal for the Orioles, even considering the price of that 1st round pick, it would have looked even better for the M’s since they wouldn’t of had to give up a 1st round for him.

    Santana at 9 million per year for only 3 years makes sense, maybe even at 10 million per, but I wouldn’t go another year or dollar more. But I don’t see Santana signing for that.

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