Mariners believe work isn't done
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said the team hopes to add a right-handed hitter before the start of the season.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
The Mariners on Thursday revealed "Believe Big" as their 2010 slogan, which won't lead to nearly as many snide jokes now that Carlos Silva has been traded.
It's a paean to the amplified ambitions that pervade this team in Year Two of the Zduriencik/Wakamatsu feel-good era. After 101 losses in 2008, the slogan last year might well have been "Feeling Tiny."
However, following a turnaround of massive proportions last season, buoyed by an active winter that netted Cliff Lee for at least one year and ensured Felix Hernandez for at least five, M's optimism is running amok.
Here's a switch: General manager Jack Zduriencik was actually tamping down the hype a bit Thursday at the Mariners' annual spring-training luncheon.
Many pundits have been effusive in their praise of Zduriencik's winter maneuverings. He's landed Lee, Casey Kotchman, Brandon League and Milton Bradley in trade (the latter for the remains of Silva); brought back Ken Griffey Jr.; signed Chone Figgins as a free agent; and worked out extensions for Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez and shortstop Jack Wilson.
"At this moment in time, we haven't proven a thing," Zduriencik countered. "It's nice to have had a successful winter, if you will, but as I look at it, we are still the third-best club in our division, and it will be very, very competitive ... I sit here as a general manager, and I don't feel like we're where we need to be.
"We were challenged in some areas of our game last year, and I think we have helped ourselves in some areas of our game. But the game is not played in the newspapers, not played in the Hot Stove League. It is played on the field."
And, as Zduriencik acknowledged Thursday, the Mariners are an imperfect team. Not nearly as imperfect as they used to be, but still possessing potential trouble spots that could derail the happy train.
Zduriencik is addressing one of those, the need for another right-handed bat to figure in the mix at designated hitter, left field and/or first base.
"That's something I think we need, and we'll continue to pursue that in the next few days and weeks, depending on how long it takes," he said. "We're playing with a few things right now we're reasonably comfortable with that might happen."
The Mariners were last in the American League in runs scored last year, a deficiency they hope they've addressed with Figgins' addition, and dreams of an awakening by Kotchman.
But with Russell Branyan's 31 homers removed from a lineup that produced just 160 last year, "I think we're a bit challenged, as we speak, power-wise," Zduriencik acknowledged.
He also cited the back-end of the rotation — the portion not occupied by Hernandez and Lee — as a question mark heading into spring.
"We need those guys to step up," he said.
Yet Zduriencik talked about the "noticeable buzz" he feels around town, and reiterated his faith in manager Don Wakamatsu and his staff.
"I'm excited about what they're going to do this year," Zduriencik said. "The fact they were able to mold a group of guys together like they did, and with a lot of injuries last year and a club that was challenged offensively, there were some remarkable things that happened. The bonding of this club was, I think, a tremendously integral part of the success of this club."
Wakamatsu, rest assured, is still preaching the power of "belief systems." It might sound corny, but he made it work. In the spirit of Believing Big, I asked Wakamatsu if he viewed the M's as bona-fide AL West contenders.
"From a personal standpoint, yeah, you have to have some confidence in that," he replied. "But on the same note, I'm down in Texas in the winter and I get to see what they're doing firsthand. I got on the plane to come here and I find out Oakland's signed Ben Sheets. They are all trying to do the same thing.
"Not to be old hat, but we have to worry about what we can do. That's going to be our M.O. in spring training. I don't have control over the Angels. They're going to be a good club. Oakland is going to be strong and maturing. Texas has made some good moves to bolster their bullpen, and they got a big bat.
"That's not what our focus is going to be. It's going to be every player on our team trying to have a career year. The critical thing is, are we continuing down the right path? Are we getting better every day? I'm not going to look at the end of the rainbow until we get there."
But at least there's now a rainbow in sight.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.