Let the grind begin. After reopening day for the Mariners on Thursday, there’s been a reopening of the Twitter mailbag after its initial start in our Times’ special section. By the way, those were my LEGOs they used for the cover. And I expect them back soon, so I can rebuild my LEGO fort.
As always, these are real questions from the kaleidoscope of personalities that are my Twitter followers.
The Mariners’ corporate slogan remains “True to the Blue” — with or without the hashtag. Manager Scott Servais does have a mantra each year for the team, which is supposed to serve as a reminder of their purpose and responsibility. Last year’s was “Good,” which was adopted from a saying that was used by Navy SEALs.
This year, Servais chose a Japanese word: Kaizen.
An avid reader, Servais got it from a book by Masaaki Imai called “Kaizen: The key to Japan’s competitive success.” He seems to read many self-improvement and coaching books.
Loosely translated, kaizen means a philosophy of continuous improvement. Servais had shirts and posters made up before spring training with the word in English and in Japanese Kanji.
“You are always looking for things, themes to grasp on to,” he said during spring training. “I didn’t really know what kaizen was until a couple of months ago. It makes sense. We are trying to get better. It’s a daily process to continue improvement. It’s something from the Japanese culture and we are going to Japan and we have Japanese players so why not? We’ll talk a little bit about it today, but it will be ongoing. It’s where we are at as an organization. We are not afraid to try some new things. Certainly we’ve had a lot of change with our roster and our coaching staff and how we are going about it. So we are going to have a little fun with it.”
The Mariners’ kaizen is doing much better than my personal kaizen.
That’s an interesting question. The young prospects the Mariners have acquired such as Justus Sheffield, Shed Long, Justin Dunn or even Mallex Smith aren’t really in a position to where the Mariners would lock them up. They are still trying to prove that they are consistent major league players worthy of an extension. The two most likely candidates are the two players that the Mariners are building around as part of this step back plan — Marco Gonzales and Mitch Haniger.
But how realistic is that possibility?
Obviously, Haniger would be viewed as a priority for Mariners fans. He was an all-star last season and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. But remember, he was a late bloomer. He turned 28 on Dec. 23 and doesn’t reach arbitration eligibility until next season. That means he won’t be a free agent until the 2023 season where he will be 32 years old. If we’ve seen anything this season, it’s that teams don’t want to pay major dollars for players after age 30.
The Mariners might want to avoid paying massive dollars in arbitration if Haniger continues to put up numbers. So they could look at perhaps buying out his arbitration and first year of free agency with a four-year extension. A total dollar figure would be dependent on if Haniger backs up last year’s all-star season with another big season in 2019. My educated guess is they’ll offer $65 million over those four years, which would be an average annual value of $16.25 million per season.
Gonzales is a year younger than Haniger, having just turned 27 on Feb. 16. While he was the Mariners’ best pitcher last season, he didn’t produce at an all-star level. Still, given the organization’s lack of starting-pitching depth, keeping him in the organization isn’t a bad idea. But at what cost? Gonzales signed a two-year deal worth $1.9 million to offset some service-time discrepancies. But he doesn’t reach arbitration eligibility until 2021 and free agency until 2024 when he’ll be age 32. So similar to Haniger, the Mariners aren’t really under any impetus to extend him beyond that first year of free agency.
Ichiro returned to the U.S. two days after the team did. He’s been in the Seattle area for the last week and even met with the Mariners’ front office and ownership, presumably about a role with the team.
It’s difficult to know what he will do. In the immediate future, I would expect him to try and adjust to retired life, which isn’t going to be easy for him. Think about how regimented his life has been as a baseball player. Always obsessive about his daily routine and preparation; what is he preparing for now?
I think he’ll take on a role with the Mariners as an ambassador of sorts and possibly a guest instructor, similar to Ken Griffey Jr. I also imagine that Ichiro may have some role with Samurai Japan — his country’s national baseball team — with the Olympics set for Tokyo in 2020 and baseball returning to the games.
Think of the Mariners as bargain shoppers. Any reliever that they would add to supplement their bullpen will come off a minor league contract, a waiver claim or maybe a minor league trade. Yes, Craig Kimbrel is out there. But how would he fit into their plans? The only way he would be feasible for the Mariners is if he lowered his contract demands, and the Mariners signed him with the sole purpose of flipping him for prospects at the trade deadline to a contending team. But even that sort of thinking has logical flaws.
- If Kimbrel were to lower his asking price to make himself more attractive, it would also make him attractive to other teams that are trying to contend this season. He’s also got a qualifying offer attached to him. And a team in a step back doesn’t usually want to give up draft picks to sign a pitcher on a deal. If he was willing to settle for a one-year contract, multiple teams would be interested.
- Kimbrel is throwing on his own to stay ready. He missed spring training and will need some time getting ready to pitch in big league games. The recent history of pitchers that skip spring training and sign late hasn’t been great. The most similar to this situation is right-hander Greg Holland, who led the NL in saves in 2018. He signed with the Cardinals on opening day last season and struggled all season. So you run the risk of signing him to a deal and then not being able to move him at the deadline due to poor performance.
Mmmmm, food. I only have one go-to restaurant in Chicago — Velvet Taco. A few years ago, through the magic of Yelp and another place being closed, we happened on this place and their eclectic mix of gourmet tacos. They have brisket, rotisserie chicken, shrimp and grits, a breakfast taco with bacon and Tater Tots and many more. It’s a small chain that started in Dallas and branched to Fort Worth, Chicago and Houston. And it stays open late every night which is a big plus.
As for KC, there’s nothing but BBQ and clogged arteries for me during that trip. I usually hit Joe’s (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s) for lunch one day. Housed in a gas station, it’s one of the best in the city. The Z-man sandwich is my go-to meal. We also hit up Q 39 for lunch. It’s considered upscale barbecue and it’s fantastic. We also try to add Fiorella’s Jack Stack for dinner — three words: cheesy corn bake. It’s cheese, corn and bacon. Also, that place has the coldest Boulevard beers on tap. And there is usually a trip to the staples of LC’s for burnt ends, Gate’s for ribs and Arthur Bryant’s.
Some advice: Never take your annual physical after a KC road trip, and embrace the meat sweats.
That’s my default position and disposition.
That’s a question for someone who covers the Astros or the Red Sox.