Tag: Jesus Montero

Cano mashes while Paxton Crashes

Robinson Cano
Seattle Mariners’ Robinson Cano singles in a run against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, May 26, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Yesterday the Mariners beat the Chicago Cubs 12-9 in  Cactus League play on the Cubbies’ Mesa home field.  Robinson Cano hit three home runs in a four hit/one walk day to drive in seven of the Mariners runs.  Designated hitter Adam Lind and shortstop Ketel Marte each chipped in a couple of hits on the day.

Cano is having a fabulous spring.  Following a year in which he struggled between the lines and with injuries, he’s slashed .370/.408/.848 with six home runs. It’s spring training and the Cactus League, but in an off season in which pundits have suggested his decline period has begun, and former coach Andy Van Slyke melted down on radio and questioned his clubhouse influence, his desire, and his ability to continue playing the game, no Mariner player has more to prove than Cano.  Ryan Divish and Bob Condotta have a great article about the Mariners second baseman in this morning’s Seattle Times

On a day that saw Cubs pitchers chased out of their bullpen and into the Mariners’ by a swarm of angry bees, Mariners starter James Paxton was likewise stung by Cubs hitters.  In only four innings, Paxton allowed nine hits and seven runs.  More telling, Paxton also allowed three walks and struck out nobody.  Paxton is in competition with right-hander Nate Karns for the fifth starter spot. In his last two major league starts, sandwiched around a minor league start, Paxton has allowed 14 runs on 15 hits in only six innings. In those games he’s struck out only two.

The battle for the fifth starter spot was to be one of the key competitions of Mariner spring training.  That Karns has likewise struggled at times has not made manager Scott Servais’ and general manager Jerry Dipoto’s jobs any easier.  Karns pitches today and then each will have one more start before the regular season begins. Hopefully the M’s won’t have to throw their hands in the air and count “eenie, meenie, miney moe . . .”

Roster Moves

Though Chris Taylor remains in camp, it seems pretty clear that Luis Sardinas has won the utility job as the Mariners sent Shawn O’Malley to minor league camp.  Citing O’Malley’s excellent hitting and base running, Servais also shared the Mariners need for shortstop depth.

“That’s the one position he’s probably not quite at the same level as some of the other guys at this time, we feel,” said Servais.

Sardinas leads the team in at bats with 54 and has slashed a surprising .333/.379/.556.

It appears the battle for the right-handed platoon is shaking out as well.  Rumors yesterday had Jesus Montero cleaning out his locker and spending time with family, while Dae-ho Lee was added to the 40 man roster.  Sunday was the opt-out day for Lee if the Mariners didn’t make this move. Montero, out of minor league options, has struggled this spring, hitting .237/.259/.289.  Lee, the big Korean signed from the Japan League, has at times struggled with major league pitching, but not been overpowered.  He’s also shown that despite his size he is nimble around first base and is a good base runner. Though Lee is still competing with Stefen Romero, the latter has been slowed by a back injury after getting off to a hot start. Both players have minor league options. News Tribune’s Bob Dutton suggests this morning the Mariners may begin the season with an 11-man pitching staff, allowing them to carry Romero as an extra right handed hitter.

Finally, the M’s continue to shrink the pile of pitchers in camp.  They signed veteran Joel Peralta to the 40-man roster. This was not a surprise as they cope with a plethora of bullpen injuries.  Joe Wieland was sent to the minor league camp to work on becoming a starter.  Wieland is on the 40-man roster. Relievers Justin DeFratus and Casey Coleman were outrighted to minor league camp. Dutton reports the M’s have interest in one of three Padres right handed bullpen hands.

Adam Lind’s dance partner

Lee
Dae-ho Lee crushes a pitch for the Fukuoka Soft-Bank Hawks.  Could he do the same for the Mariners in April?

As I stated before, the Mariners know who will be playing where with a few exceptions. The last rotation slot and the bullpen mix are two areas we’ll be playing close attention to. But likely the most intriguing battle will be for Adam Lind’s right handed platoon partner.

The M’s will be looking for a player who can hit left handed pitching, with an eye to someone who can fulfill the “control the zone” approach to hitting, can play first base, some DH, and if they offer some roster flexibility by playing other positions, so much the better. But let’s be clear, this player will likely face some right handed pitching as well, so someone who simply can’t hit right handers will not wash.

The four most likely candidates competing for that job are Jesus Montero, Gaby Sanchez, Stefen Romero and Dae-ho Lee.  Let’s take a look at each.

Jesus Montero

Entering spring training in February 2014, General Manager Jack Zdurencik said about Montero “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.” There is no getting around the fact that Montero has been a tremendous disappointment since the Mariners traded for him in 2012.  Despite losing weight and performing very well in Tacoma in 2015, he’s been unable to translate that into success at the major league level.   His career numbers against left handed pitching is .292/.341/.429 with a wRC+ of 115.  He is not a very good first baseman, has no speed and can only play first base and DH. Out of minor league options, Montero is gone if the M’s don’t keep him with the big club or trade him.

Gaby Sanchez

Sanchez has a seven year major-league career split between Florida/Miami and Pittsburgh as a first baseman. Sanchez had some good years, making an All-Star appearance with the Marlins in 2011. But he stumbled in 2012, and his career never was never quite the same.  He was traded to the Pirates in 2012, watching his career averages, and especially his power numbers decline. His final year in Pittsburg was .229/.293/.385. in 2015 Sanchez played in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he hit .226/.329/.392.  Over his career, Sanchez has been a .291/.382/.481 against left handed pitching. Sanchez pencils out to about average at first base with a career DRS of -5 and UZR/150 of 2.5, though his defense took a nosedive after 2012. Sanchez signed a minot league contract on January 22nd.

Stefen Romero

Romero hasn’t played first base.  The former Oregon State Beaver has had a hard time latching on to the big league team.  He’s put up some good number in Tacoma, but in his 214 major league plate appearances, Romero has not been impressive–though this three run homer off Gavin Floyd in 2014 was pretty eye-catching.

Romero is one of those bat guys, without a clear position.  However he’s performed creditably at second, third and in the outfield.  More athletic than guys like Vinnie Catricala or Alex Liddi, it remains to be seen whether he can impress enough with his bat, or pick up playing first base quickly to stick with the big club.

Dae-ho Lee

Lee is the plus-sized right handed hitter who has played most of his 14 year career in the Korean Baseball Organization. But for the last four years Lee has been very good in the Japan Pacific League for Orix and Fukuoka. A big guy at 6’4″ 280-300 lbs, Lee has shown a the ability to get on base and hit with considerable power.  Last year with Fukuoka, Lee slashed .282/.368/.524 and smashed 31 home runs.  He’s a really big guy, and though he plays first base, it’s unclear how well he plays first base.  He’s really a man-mountain and makes the 6’1″ 235 lb. Sanchez look like a fence rail.  Jeff Sullivan wrote an interesting piece about Lee at FanGraphs and how his power, OBP and relatively low strikeout numbers clearly align with Jerry Dipoto’s effort to get guys on base and reduce strikeouts. Be sure to take a look at the home run videos.  To be fair, however, Lee’s strikeouts increased in his four year Japan stint from 85 in 2012 to 109 in 2015.  Compared to Nelson Cruz, not so many, but at age 34, a 20% increase in K’s is something to pay attention to.  Lee’s accomplishments in Asia mean nothing.  It’s what he can do for the M’s in the major leagues that count.  He may be the most interesting of these four players, but it is far from certain he is the one who can best do the job. Lee is signed to a minor league contract, but could make up to $4 million if he makes good and meets incentives. The Mariners had competition for his services, and it’s clear the M’s offer the best path for the big man to reach the major leagues.

So here is something to chew on.  I don’t see a clear favorite here, and all have fairly serious warts.  However, adding serious hitting depth could solidify the M’s position in what is clearly going to be a competitive AL West.

The Curse of Dan Wilson

danwilson

It’s Christmas Day.  I hope you are having a fabulous holiday with your families.  It’s most appropriate to start with a Christmas story and it just so happens I have a Mariners story go with the season.

I’ve been married for 36 years, and for almost all of them buying something for Christmas for the missus has been something of a crapshoot.  Whether through procrastination or lack of effort, I’m simply pleased to emerge with all digits intact. Sometimes its just a matter of being a little less tone deaf and connecting the dots that can make a Christmas gift special.

During the Mariners glory years, my wife was as big a fan as I was.  We went to the Kingdome, were present for the opening day game at Safeco, watched the games on television and jeered Bobby Ayala together.  All the important stuff.

My wife’s favorite player is, to this day, catcher Dan Wilson. Lorri is a believer that Dan the Man should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame and was the best ballplayer ever. Not Ruth or Williams, not Mays or Griffey, Dan Wilson. Oddly, she’s not alone, I’ve spoken to many men with wives of a certain age who believe the same.

About the time of Dan’s retirement it was announced he would be autographing Christmas ornaments for a charity donation at University Village–a mere 50 miles from my home.  Knowing an opportunity when I saw one, I didn’t hesitate, drove to the U.District and waited in line for my turn.  I shook hands with the charming Mr. Wilson and met his lovely daughter, who must have been about twelve. Let’s just say that the gift was well received and is hanging on our tree today.

But Dan Wilson‘s greatest gift was that he is without question the best catcher in Mariners history.  Wilson never got as much attention as Ivan Rodriguez or Jorge Posada.  He was a decent hitter-in 4616 plate appearances he had a slash of .262/.309/.382 slash in an offense-dominant era. He never had I-Rod’s cannon arm, but he did throw out would be base-stealers at a higher rate than league average-32%>30%.

But Wilson’s real genius was the relationship he had with pitchers, coaxing  trust and great seasons out of guys as idiosyncratic and polar opposite in their stuff as Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer. That and blocking balls at the plate.  The former Golden Gopher hockey goalie allowed only 42 passed balls in 1,270 career games as a catcher. Just as a basis for comparison, Rodriguez, who will likely go into the Hall of Fame, caught twice as many games as Wilson, but still surrendered 127 passed balls. Wilson allowed passed balls at a lower rate than Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench.

When Dan Wilson retired in 2005, the Mariners opened a revolving door in search of a replacement for this man of solid if unspectacular catching ability. They are still lookin’, but let’s recap the past ten years, because that’s always fun and very humbling.

2002-2004 Ben Davis. Recognizing Wilson was in decline, General Manager Pat Gillick traded the woefully underachieving Jeff Cirillo to San Diego for catcher Ben Davis. Davis was a physical specimen. But he was never able to fully assume Wilson’s role.  His offense wasn’t good enough to match the fact that he couldn’t work effectively with pitchers. Others have been much less complimentary in their evaluation. Davis was traded with Freddy Garcia and brought back our next catching candidate.

2004-2005 Miguel Olivo v.1.0. The 25 year old Olivo joined Wilson as a catching team.  He played 50 games in 2004 and 54 in 2005 before being traded to San Diego.  He was known for a lousy work ethic and was an offensive black hole. He was replaced by a combination of the 41-year old Pat Borders and 42 fairly promising games by Yorvit Torrealba, who fled to the Rockies through free agency.

A Jeff Clement Interlude: In 2005 Bill Bavasi used his considerable scouting acumen to draft Jeff Clement out USC with the third pick in the first round. Clement was a left-handed hitting catcher and considered the best bat in the draft. Clement was to be the catcher-of-the-future, but mostly turned into a big fat nothing. Derailed by ineffectiveness and injury in the minors, Clement played exactly 36 of his 152 big league game career as a catcher. Clement was gone from the majors in 2012, arthritic and not good at major league baseball.

2006-2009 Kenji Johjima was signed from Japan to catch for the Mariners. Johjima brought a modicum of stability to the position. His 2006 slash line of .291/.332/.451 was so impressive that at age 30 he was fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting. His 2006 season he was a 2.8 WAR season, and 2.3 in 2007. The wheels came off in 2008, with 0 WAR, but Bill Bavasi extended him for one more season.  By the time he left for Japan after the 2009 season, Johjima was no longer popular with the fans or Mariners pitchers who seemed to have difficulty working with the former Japan League star.

2009-2010 Rob Johnson came up through the Mariners system and was very good in Tacoma. When the M’s brought him up to share time with Johjima, the M’s thought they’d be preparing their catcher-of-the-future. Pay attention to this term, you’ll be hearing it a lot. Johnson was never able to hit major league pitching with the Mariners (or anybody else.) Not only that, in 141 games with Seattle, he was a passed-ball machine, allowing 18.

2010  This was the year Adam Moore, another Mariner catching phenom and catcher-of-the-future joined Johnson to become the dueling passed ball duo.  Moore added his seven to go with Johnson’s seven to equal more than a third of all those allowed in Dan Wislon’s 14 year career. Moore couldn’t hit a lick.  The less said, the better.

2011-2012  Miguel Olivo was a 0.1 WAR catcher between his full time duties in 2011 and 2012 when he split his season with rookie Jesus Montero. The version 2.0 Olivo was definitely an improvement over 2005.  He actually led the team in home runs in 2011 with 20, which ain’t saying much about that team.

In 2012 Jesus Montero was obtained in a heralded trade that sent Michael Pineda to the Yanks for Montero, widely considered the best right-handed hitting prospect in baseball. Montero was a lousy catcher, though his rookie season he showed he was a decent hitter. His career came off the rails after the season ended.  Much more in a future blog post.

2013-2015 These years ushered in the Mike Zunino era, the latest edition of the Mariners-catcher-of-the-future. Zunino, a 2012 first round draft pick was rushed to the majors in 2013 after fewer than 300 minor league at bats. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the Montero PED suspension and Kelly Shoppach’s untimely release, Zunino was forced to be “the guy.” Zunino demonstrated good defense, considerable pitch framing skills and the ability to work effectively with pitchers, but was an offensive black hole.  As a rookie he showed tremendous power, but his 32.1 % K rate is appalling. The M’s hope to get something back when Zunino figures things out at AAA.  He will only be 25 when the season starts. While Chris Ianetta and Steve Clevenger will cover for Zunino while he hopefully charts a path back to the big club, they are strictly placeholders.

Since Dan Wilson retired in 2005, the M’s have had a multitude of “talents” most of whom couldn’t carry his glove. After all the the glory years of guys the fans could count on-Wilson, Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, even pitchers like Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer, the Mariners have boasted little stability at any position-perhaps Felix and Ichiro are the exceptions-catcher is simply among the most egregious

 

Who’s on First?

First Base

Though it feels like we’ve been elbow-deep in the Hot Stove League for months now, things are just warming up as we head for the Winter Meetings Dec. 6-10 in Nashville. It’s hard to know exactly what GM Jerry DiPoto and his staff will get done, or try to get done, during their sojourn in Music City. They’ve looked at the outfield, deepened pitching both in the rotation and the bullpen, and they’ve found at least a temporary solution at catcher.

But first base is another big question mark. The Mariners ended the season with bushels of first basemen, and the list of likely candidates been narrowed a bit. Logan Morrison‘s trade to Tampa Bay leaves fewer contenders for the job, but the question remains whether they are the right guys for DiPoto’s philosophy.

Mark Trumbo has to be considered the leading candidate for the first base job if the Mariners don’t look outside the organization for another answer.  Trumbo came to the M’s with pitcher Vidal Nuno in a trade with the Diamondbacks that sent catcher Welington Castillo and pitcher Dominic Leone to Arizona on June 3rd.

Mark Trumbo
Seattle Mariners’ Mark Trumbo in action in a baseball game Friday, June 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Trumbo has lots of complications, including cost, contract status and performance.

He’s in his last year of arbitration eligibility. Last year Trumbo made $6.9 million, which seems like a lot for your basic 1.1 WAR player.  But last season’s cost of a win was about $8 million. Projected arbitration costs for the big right-hander in 2016 are estimated north of $9 million, and the cost of a win are also likely to increase.  2011-2013 Trumbo had season of 1.8, 2.2, and 2.4 WAR, so strictly by the numbers, his projected salary wouldn’t be out of line, but on a team with a fair number of big contracts, the M’s might have to make some choices in order to fill their other holes.

With his last year of arbitration, Trumbo will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.  Unless he has a breakout year, it’s hard to imagine the M’s hang on to him past this season.  Perhaps with Kivlehan in Tacoma, and D.J. Peterson likewise heading north, the Mariners will think of 2016 as the bridge to a younger more controllable player.

But really it all comes down to performance. The Mariners haven’t had a quality above league average performance at first base since Russell Branyan in 2009. Yes, we’ve had glimmers from Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, but neither put together a solid season of good. But the same could be said of Mark Trumbo. He finished last season with a combined .263/.310/.449 slash and 108 wRC+.  His first month with the Mariners was absolutely terrible, with hitting only .134 with one home run in June.  But he hit much better than his season average for the rest of the year. Trumbo will hit his home runs, but he is also a veritable strikeout machine; his 24.2% K rate is pretty much in line with his career numbers and adds to a long list of high-strikeout Mariner hitters.  Though he is wretchedly terrible in the outfield, Trumbo is somewhat above league average defensively at first base.

All in all, it’s easy for me to see Trumbo gone, either as part of a trade or simply non-tendered to get back some working cash.  But I could just as easily see him as the starting first baseman for the Mariners on Opening Day.

Montero

Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero was the dream that shattered into a million pieces.  Sent to Seattle by the Yankees prior to the 2012 season for pitcher Michael Pineda, it seemed the M’s got the better part of the deal. Pineda spent two years dealing with arm miseries and Montero was touted as one of the best right-handed hitting prospects in baseball. Montero got 553 at bats in 2012, and he wasn’t terrible at the plate, at least not Mike Zunino terrible.

You know the rest–out of shape, torn meniscus, Biogenesis PED suspension, ice cream sandwich tossing, and finally a degree of redemption as Montero reported to spring training in 2015 in the best shape of his life.  He was rewarded with a superb minor league season batting .355/.398/.569 in Tacoma.  Though he also had 116 plate appearances with Seattle, they were less successful: .223/.250/.411.  Though Steamer projects somewhat higher for Montero in 2016.

If the Mariners decide to jettison Trumbo, could Montero be a guy who could take over at first base?  Maybe, but it’s a crap shoot.

Montero hasn’t approached his minor league offensive numbers in the majors. He has minimal time playing the position at the major league level, and defensively last year he penciled out as a below average first baseman.  The sample size is very small.  Perhaps for a year that’s good enough.  Based on his outstanding AAA numbers, and that he’s out of minor league options, perhaps the best thing to do is deal Montero while his successes are fresh in everybody’s mind.  Montero is one of those guys I’d love to see do well, and given his struggles he’s definitely a feel-good story.  But somehow I have a hard time seeing this happen.

Robinson Cano

Cano 3

Fascinating story by Luke Arkins at Prospect Insider Nov. 29th about the inevitability of a move to first base for Robinson Cano.  Citing his defensive decline last year, Arkins suggests the M’s begin to play Cano at first sooner rather than later, allowing the left-handed All-Star some games as the Mariners prepare for Trumbo’s departure after this year. While recognizing that 2015 was an illness and injury-plagued season for Cano, it does also confront that unfortunate reality that he is on the wrong side of 30, and the Mariners should be considering a soft landing for him sooner rather than later, an idea shared by Tacoma News Tribune writer Bob Dutton.

Maybe, but not likely for more than a handful of games this year. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see number 22 over at first base well before the expiration date on his contract.

D.J. Peterson

D.J. Peterson

I’m just going to put it right out now that I’m not big on D.J. Peterson.  First round pick in the 2013 draft, is another one of Jack Zdurencik’s all or nothing guys. He was a terrible third baseman and has been a first baseman chiefly as an afterthought.  He’s likely going to be in Tacoma, and could be called up in an emergency, but he also strikes me as one of those guys who doesn’t fit DiPoto’s model and could be traded.

Somebody Else

There are a fair number of free agent first basemen available, though none that jump right out and say sign me.  DiPoto, if he feels like first base is a priority could make a trade for a first baseman.  Honestly, unless a deal reaches out and grabs him by the neck, I think it’s likely to be Trumbo.  That means he’ll be traded next week.

Out of Options: The Bus Stops Here

Ramon Flores celebrates after homering for the Tacoma Rainiers.  Flores, an outfielder, is out of minor league options, posing important questions to Mariner managment.
Ramon Flores celebrates after homering for the Tacoma Rainiers. Flores, an outfielder, is out of minor league options, posing important questions to Mariner management.

As the Mariners begin to assemble their 40-man roster and ultimately their big league club heading to, through and out of spring training, they will be mindful of this group of players who are out of minor league options.  By baseball’s rules they can refuse to accept a minor league assignment and become free agents. It’s an interesting list that include the following.

  • OF Ramon Flores
  • LHP Lucas Luetge
  • LHP Danny Hultzen
  • 1B/DH Jesus Montero
  • LHP Mike Montgomery
  • LHP Edgar Olmos
  • RHP Jose Ramirez

Some of these players are potentially quite valuable to the M’s, but making room for them may be difficult.

Ramon Flores-Flores is a talented outfielder, though likely a fourth outfielder on many teams. Flores came over from the Yankees in the Dustin Ackley trade, and was immediately impressive in Tacoma.  In his cup of coffee with the Yanks Flores penciled out as a plus defender.  He lacks power.  Steamer projects Flores as .261/.327/.396.  In an organization with few outfield options, Flores seems like a keeper.  Of course nothing is that easy.  Flores suffered a nasty ankle injury in August and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready for spring training.  The signing of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with Seth Smith may suck up an the extra outfield spot, or perhaps Flores can play himself on to the roster.  Flores is a potentially valuable piece the M’s would hate to lose.

Danny HultzenThe former first round draft choice (2011) is in his second year of recovery from catastrophic shoulder surgery.  His comeback effort in 2015 was pulled after only 8 innings pitched.  It’s unclear whether Hultzen will continue with his efforts to return to the field, or how the M’s figure into his future.

Lucas Luetgewas acquired from Milwaukee in the 2011 Rule 5 draft.  Pretty much your basic LOOGY, Luetge has had difficulty staying on the major league roster after his 2012 season.  The M’s have plenty of Luetge-like minor league options in David Rollins, Rob Rasmussen and the recently acquired C.J. Riefenhofer–hopefully more effective ones.  It seems unlikely the M’s would bring him back.

Jesus Montero-Montero is a player emblematic of the Zdurencik regime.  Pitcher Michael Pineda, penciled in as a regular in the Yankees rotation was traded for Montero one of baseball’s best-rated right-handed hitting prospects.  Without delving into the minutiae of Montero’s checkered past, the former catcher had a tremendous minor league season in Tacoma in 2015, but didn’t quite put it altogether in his 116 Mariner plate appearances.  With the trade of Logan Morrison, the two most likely players to replace LoMo at first base are Mark Trumbo and his $9+ million salary, or Montero.  It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Montero gets one last chance to show all the early hype was justified.

Mike Montgomery-Montgomery was called up for his first major league start June 2nd, when James Paxton went on the DL.  His first seven starts were absolutely tremendous, but the league seemed to catch up with him in his remaining nine starts.  One wonders if Montgomery has a little more to work on before becoming something special, or if he is simply a AAAA pitcher.  I feel the M’s need a little more time to find out the real answer, and they just don’t have any more time. It is clear the M’s will need pitching depth, but if they are counting on Montgomery clearing waivers, I just don’t think that’s likely.

Edgar Olmos-Olmos was a 2014 waiver claim from the Marlins.  He pitched 14 innings worth of bad baseball for the Mariners, including a pair of starts August 30 and September 4th.  They weren’t good.  Olmos just isn’t a very good pitcher.  Edgar, the bus is waiting for you.

Jose Ramirez-Ramirez is the other minor leaguer that came over from the Yankees in the Ackley deal.  Amazing, two minor league players with only one year of eligibility left. Nice work Jack. In this case, Flores is the more desirable of the two.  Ramirez is a hard throwing righty wild in and out of the strike zone.  With 7.2 innings in the 2015 season split between New York and Seattle, Ramirez walked 10, allowed 15 hits and 14 earned runs.  No homers though.  Jose I think your bus is here.

It seems clear that some of these seven players the Mariners won’t miss. Others, like Flores, Montero and Montgomery will get a very long look.  The M’s clearly have needs in the rotation and in the outfield.  First base is problematic, and unless I’m way off base that position will be filled by Trumbo or Montero, as the M’s expend resources trying to get more athletic in the outfield and add pitching depth.  It will take some careful scouting and roster juggling to insure these fragile resources aren’t wasted.

Montero comes clean; Mariners sign Joe Saunders

Jesus Montero reported to camp yesterday at 230 lbs.  Last year, coming off a PED suspension he weighed in 275. lbs.  Exiled to the PCL, the last month of the season he was suspended for an ugly incident in Boise involving a scout, an ice cream bar, and adolescent behavior by both parties. At 24, the player considered the best right-handed hitting prospect in baseball in 2011 was looking at the end of his major league baseball career.

Ryan Divish tells the story of yesterday’s press conference with Montero, The big right hander essentially apologized for all of his past failings, and pledged to reclaim his career. It must have been a humbling experience as he faced the press, took responsibility and answered questions. Check out the Divish article for some great backstory on Montero’s training regimen and level of commitment to his redemption.

The resurrection of Jesus Montero is a great story.  I’m not sure what it means, if anything, in the long run.  Somehow it would have to mean he is more than just a big right-handed bat that is equipped to be more than a designated hitter.  That position is taken by $57 million worth of Nelson Cruz. The M’s also plopped down $2 million on right handed bat Rickie Weeks, who figures to be pressed into service in lots of different positions. That might leave room for Montero as a back up first baseman, but is that enough?  I’m excited to see how this all plays out.  I love rooting for an underdog and a redemption story.

******

In speaking of redemption, the Mariners signed left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders to a minor league deal.  Apparently they are not satisfied with the left-handed options they have to join Charlie Furbush in the bullpen.  Of course you remember Joe, a fixture in the Mariners rotation in 2013.  Brought in to replace the traded Jason Vargas, made 32 starts, went 11-16, and was frequently carried off the field on his shield, pelted by 232 hits in 183 innings.  That’s a BABIP of .332. Yikes.

After being signed by Texas last year, Saunders spent most of last season in the minors searching for the magic.  He may still be looking.  The Mariners may hope that they can work the same sorcery on Saunders they did on Oliver Perez.  Doubt it. They’re different kinds of pitchers, but it didn’t cost much and it’s worth a try.

Is it time to rescue Jesus Montero from the seventh level of hell?

Christina Kahrl  wrote a pair of articles for ESPN.MLB: Breakout hitters of 2015 and a similar article on pitchers. Included on the list are three former Mariners-outfielder and Blue Jay Michael Saunders; Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda, and reliever Carter Capps with the Florida Marlins.  You remember these guys, right?  I’ve already made my case against the angst-driven exile of Saunders to Upper Canada.  Carter Capps has the all arms and legs delivery that looks like he might explode in a rain of falling limbs at any moment, and went to Florida in the trade that netted Logan Morrison. Michael Pineda was the piece that brought that paragon of hitting virtue, Jesus Montero, from New York to Seattle before the 2012 season.

When Pineda left Seattle, he’d spent a year as the real deal.  Went 9-10, pitched 171 innings, WHIP of 1.099, struck out 173, was number five in Rookie of the Year voting. You remember him, right?  Then we kind of snickered when the 2012 season began because Pineda was found to need major reconstructive surgery on his labrum and he disappeared the 2012-13 seasons. But he magically reappeared for 76 innings in 2014 and looked every bit the new and improved beast we feared he would when he was traded.

And then there is Montero.  I don’t know if any Mariner has had a more embarrassing history than Jesus Montero. Hailed as the best right-handed hitter in the minors, Montero, a catcher, was from 2010-2012, rated between the #3-#7 prospect in all of basefall by both Baseball America and BaseballProspectus.com. He was a can’t miss hitter with average and power, and a few defensive warts to go along with the package.

Montero has not turned out to be that player. In his one, mostly complete season with the big club, 2012, Montero hit an uninspiring .260/.298/.386 with 99 K’s to with with his 15 homers in 553 plate appearances.  Though it was his first full season, it became apparent Montero’s catching ability was terrible and he would have to learn to do something else. The M’s planned on converting the Venezuelan to a first baseman, but an injury and 50 game suspension due to participation in the Biogenesis scandal destroyed 2013.  When he reported to Spring Training in 2014, the big man became the really big man, reporting to Peoria 40 lbs overweight, earning the ire of Jack Zdurencik.  Montero eventually played himself back into shape, having a respectable, if not superlative season with Tacoma with a .286/.350/.489 slash line and 16 homers and was the July Mariners minor-league player of the month. But his humiliation was not quite complete, Montero was involved in an incident with a scout sending him ice cream as a taunt about his weight.  Montero lost his cool in front of the Everett crowd (where he was coaching/rehabbing an injury) and was suspended for the rest of the season.

When Montero came to the Mariners, he was 22.  Now he is 25. It seems like he should be 35. Greg Johns reported in a MLB.com story December 9th that Mariners brass were pleased with his off-season workouts.

“We should tip his hat do what he’s done,” Zduriencik said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s worked a lot of days to the point of absolute exhaustion. It was designed that way, to try to get him in a position where he went above and beyond anything he’s ever done before. I think that goal has been accomplished. Everything they’ve told me about how he’s approached this has been extremely positive.”

Perhaps his years in the wilderness have helped create a better Montero, aware of his limitations and understanding that he has no more chances.  Perhaps there is a role on this Mariners team for a home-grown right handed hitter, able to pinch hit and spell Logan Morrison against tough lefties. Don’t dismiss Jesus Montero, because believe me he hasn’t forgotten the allure of the major leagues and he’s working to get back. Trust me, Jack Zdurencik and Lloyd McClendon haven’t forgotten him either.