Inbox: Will LoMo become full-time first baseman?
Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from Mariners fans
Here's the latest in our Reader Inbox series. You can submit a question of your own.
Are you surprised there wasn't more talk about Lloyd McClendon for American League Manager of the Year after how well the Mariners did in his first year?
-- Ed H., Bozeman, Mont.
Given the 16-win improvement to 87-75, with a club nobody expected much from, I am a little surprised McClendon isn't one of the three finalists for the award that will be announced on Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. That will come down to Mike Scioscia of the Angels, Ned Yost of the Royals or Buck Showalter of the Orioles.
I felt all along that Showalter was the clear favorite, winning 96 games with a team that lost Matt Wieters and Manny Machado for much of the season to injuries and wasn't projected to contend in the AL East coming into the year. Yost seems like a better choice now after getting his Royals to the World Series, but the vote is taken on the final day of the regular season, so he obviously got the nod from a lot of writers for getting his team into the postseason for the first time in 29 years, even though K.C. only improved by three wins from 2013.
Scioscia is an interesting case as his club did improve by 20 wins, the most in the AL, to 98-64, but did so after an underachieving 2013 and with a payroll of about $155 million. McClendon might have been hurt by the Mariners going through a rough road trip at the end of the season, right when writers were making their final decision, before they won their last four to finish with 87 victories. Not making the playoffs probably was the deciding factor, but I definitely think he deserved to be in the conversation.
With free agency underway, why aren't we hearing about any signings yet? In the NFL, teams sign players right away. Why don't the Mariners or other teams get the jump on the competition instead of waiting until the Winter Meetings or whatever?
-- Frank R., Bellevue, Wash.
In the NFL, a firm salary cap tends to speed up the negotiating process. Free agents know teams have a limited amount to spend, so it's smart to sign quickly before that available pie gets eaten up by others. Baseball is different since there is no set limit on how much teams can spend. Thus, clubs could start making offers on Monday, but there's no huge incentive for players to agree yet. Most players -- or their agents -- will just take their first offer to other teams and see if they'll match or exceed or play the waiting game to see if they can get more. So it's more of a chess match. But at some point free agents will start signing and the market will become more established for others and the pieces will start falling into place. It always works out, it just seems to take a little longer in baseball.
Now that Justin Smoak was claimed off waivers by Toronto, do you see the Mariners signing a first baseman, converting Logan Morrison to a full-time first baseman, re-signing Kendrys Morales and splitting time with him and LoMo, or using Jesus Montero more?
-- Michael L., Chelan, Wash.
You've certainly covered most of the options there. At this point, Morrison clearly is the frontrunner to assume the permanent first-base role after his strong second half. And I suspect young prospects D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan will be given a good look in Spring Training. If Montero has a future, I think it's more at DH. I don't see Morales coming back and the only significant first-base option in free agency seems to be Adam LaRoche, who doesn't fit well with Seattle's needs, given he's a lefty who hasn't hit right-handers very well.
With the Mariners thin at first base and DH, do you think a trade could be made for Ryan Howard from the rebuilding Phillies?
-- Luke K., Ephrata, Wash.
While I'm sure the Phillies would love to unload Howard, the Mariners aren't looking to take on a 34-year-old whose health and production have declined dramatically in recent years, and is still owed $60 million over his next two seasons. Howard would be an improvement at DH from the Corey Hart-Morales duo in 2014, but that's not saying much and certainly isn't worth that contract. Not to mention, the Mariners are looking for a right-handed bat to balance the lineup, not a lefty. So, no.
Any chance Michael Morse could be brought back strictly as a DH? He can certainly hit, he is a great personality, and in the AL he would seem a perfect fit for the Mariners.
-- Fred P., Donald, Ore.
On paper, Morse would make sense for the Mariners as a right-hander with pop, except that's a match that didn't work out well when they traded for him in 2013. Morse didn't seem to relish being at the center of the offensive hopes in Seattle and did better in a complementary role with the Giants this year. Neither side seemed particularly happy by the time he was traded from the Mariners to the Orioles in late August 2013, so I don't see Morse returning to Seattle for a third time in his career.
Not hearing Blake Beavan's name mentioned in any of the pitching plans. I know he had some injury issues last year. Is he still regarded as a starting prospect or relief candidate by the Mariners?
-- George C., Bellingham, Wash.
Beavan became a Minor League free agent earlier this week, along with other "six-year free agents" like outfielder Xavier Avery (the player acquired in the Morse trade in 2013), infielders Gabriel Noriega and Nate Tenbrink, along with pitchers Nick Hill and Logan Kensing. Players not on the 40-man roster who accrue a certain amount of service time or fulfill a number of complicated scenarios are free to sign with any club. This happens every year and some players re-sign with their previous organization, others opt out.
Beavan went 11-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 26 starts for Seattle in 2012, but he spent the majority of the last two seasons in the Minors and didn't appear to be part of the future after getting hit hard in one spot start for the Mariners last April in Texas. I'm guessing he'll pursue a fresh start elsewhere.