Jesus Montero's best position, Hisashi Iwakuma's future and the state of the broadcast team are among the topics in this week's Mariners mailbag.
What position should Jesus Montero play going forward?
-- Patrick L., Milwaukee, Wis.
The easy answer here is that Montero should play somewhere in the middle of the Mariners' batting order. He was acquired primarily because of his impact right-handed bat, and while he didn't overwhelm with his .260/.298/.386 production this season -- along with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs -- those are solid numbers for the 22-year-old to build upon and he figures to be a big part of the offense next season.
What defensive position Montero plays gets a little trickier. He started 56 games at catcher this past season and 78 at designated hitter. And while he hit much better when he was catching (.310 vs. .226), he clearly still has a ways to go defensively to warrant playing there full time.
I'm not among those who think Montero will never be a decent catcher. He didn't embarrass himself there last year, and he should get better with experience. But if it were up to me, knowing 2012 first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino isn't far away, I'd at least work Montero some at first base as well this coming spring and see how he looks.
If he can play some combination of catcher, first base and DH, it will provide more options to keep that bat in the lineup and perhaps provide a fallback if Justin Smoak struggles again.
What do the Mariners plan to do with their broadcast team next season? Are we going to see the continued rotation of sidekicks for Rick Rizzs, or will they finally bring in a permanent replacement for Dave Niehaus?
-- Alex D., Lakewood, Wash.
Randy Adamack, the Mariners vice president of communications, is currently leading a search for a new radio voice to team with Rizzs for next year. That means an end to the two-year rotating booth of Ken Wilson, Ken Levine, Ron Fairly, Dave Valle, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner and Mike Curto alongside Rizzs, who will return for his 28th season.
Adamack says the club has received nearly 100 applications for the position, and that high level of interest means the decision will likely be pushed into January, instead of the initial hope of concluding the process prior to the Christmas holidays.
Dave Sims and Mike Blowers will return for their seventh season in the television booth.
If the Mariners were to part with any Minor League stud in pursuit of a blockbuster trade, who would it be and why?
-- Aaron H., Seattle, Wash.
Nobody expected Michael Pineda to get traded last year, but indeed he was dealt to the Yankees to bring in Montero to help the offense. It wouldn't surprise me to see general manager Jack Zduriencik go the same route again this offseason and use some of his Minor League pitching depth in a deal for a veteran bat.
Given that the free agency pool isn't deep, the trade route might make more sense -- and this time Seattle is in position to take on a proven veteran, given its payroll flexibility with Ichiro's departure.
Which pitcher or pitchers might be part of such a package is impossible to say, but one of the Big Three of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton might need to be moved in order to get a real impact bat, if the Mariners do go that route.
I always wondered who takes care of the housing when a player is traded to another team. Example: Ichiro?
-- Diana C., Pasco, Wash.
According to Mariners traveling secretary Ron Spellecy, when someone is traded, the receiving team is responsible for seven days of lodging while the player is looking for housing. So in Ichiro's case, the Yankees would have helped set him up for the first week. During the Trade Deadline period in July, if the Mariners swap players directly, they often offer the incoming player the chance to take over the lease of the property the leaving player used, if that works out for both parties.
As for moving costs, the Collective Bargaining Agreement spells things out there. The team that trades a player will pay $850 in moving expenses for any trade between teams located less than 1,000 miles apart, $1,150 for teams located between 1,000-2,000 miles apart and $1,450 if the distance is more than 2,000 miles. So for Ichiro going from Seattle to New York, he would have received $1,450 in moving expenses.
And, again, just in Ichiro's case, he already had a "housing allowance" of $36,000 in his 2012 contract, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. So in addition to his $17 million base salary, he should have been in pretty good shape for the move. Very few MLB players have that sort of housing allowance, however.
What do you think the chances are that Hisashi Iwakuma is back with the Mariners next year? As one of the best pitchers in Japanese baseball, was he offended by how little work he got for the first half of the year? Was his coming to Seattle partly predicated on Ichiro's presence?
-- Robert G., Erie, Pa.
Iwakuma declined to talk about his thoughts on returning to Seattle after his final start, but he did indicate earlier that he liked Seattle and would be interested in coming back. As a pending free agent, it would be smart for Iwakuma to not limit his options, so it's not surprising he didn't want to talk much about that publicly.
Iwakuma did seem surprised by being put in the bullpen coming out of Spring Training, but readily acknowledged later that his relief role helped him transition to Major League ball and it all worked out very well with his strong second half. I don't think Ichiro's situation affects Iwakuma. He's a strong family man and I sense the most important thing for him is having a good situation for his wife and two kids, and that is a factor that weighs in Seattle's favor, along with a pitcher-friendly park that played well for him.
The Mariners won't be the only team intrigued by his 8-4 record and 2.65 ERA in 16 second-half starts, but I do think they are in good position, based on Iwakuma's comfort level with Seattle, and will make a strong push to get him back when free agency begins the day after the conclusion of the World Series.