Here are my thoughts on some of your recent inquiries. And fire away with new questions and we'll get to another Inbox next week.
At this point, the Mariners' only pitching addition has been bringing back Erik Bedard. Why should we believe Bedard will finally be the answer this time around and why does [Jack] Zduriencik keep gambling on the same broken-down pony?
-- James L., Seattle
Admittedly the Mariners didn't get their money's worth in Bedard's first two seasons when he was owed nearly $15 million and produced a combined 30 starts and 164 innings due to ongoing arm problems in '08 and '09. And Zduriencik took a $1.5 million shot last year that the lefty could recover from surgery quickly enough to provide a second-half boost, which didn't happen.
But this is a different deal that Zduriencik struck now. The contract Bedard signed is non-guaranteed, a rarity for a Major League veteran, which means he'll only get a small fraction of the $1 million base salary if he doesn't make the team out of Spring Training.
This contract is almost entirely built on performance bonuses based on how much Bedard pitches. MLB.com has learned the incentive package could reach as high as $5.6 million if he throws as many as 190 innings and makes 30 starts, in addition to his $1 million base.
The incentives begin at 50 innings and eight starts, with incremental bonuses for varying innings pitched and start levels graduating up to the max numbers.
The deal also includes $750,000 of similar incentives for games pitched in relief in case his role changes and a potential of $450,000 more for bonuses for things like an All-Star appearance, Cy Young Award, Gold Glove, etc.
So, yeah, the Mariners are gambling on Bedard being able to fill a rotation spot. But this time their risk is reduced by the structure of the contract. If Bedard pitches like he did for Baltimore in '06 and '07 when he went 28-16 and averaged 30 1/2 starts and 189 innings, they'll have a big-time quality starter who'll be worth the $6.6 million or so he could earn.
And if he pitches less, they'll pay less. Simple as that.
What ever happened to Josh Fields, the reliever the Mariners drafted from Georgia [in '08]? I don't ever see any news about him.
-- Wally K., Bird Island, Minn.
Fields has spent his two seasons in the Mariners' system with Double-A West Tenn and showed considerable improvement last year when he posted a 3.14 ERA and six saves in 28 2/3 innings before going on the disabled list in June with a forearm injury. He struck out 28 and gave up just 19 hits with a .190 batting average against, though his 18 walks were a continuing concern.
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That was a big step forward from '09 when he had a 6.48 ERA in 33 1/3 innings with 33 hits, 36 strikeouts and 22 walks. And he appears fully recovered now, having thrown well in the Arizona Fall League [nine games, 11 2/3 innings, 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA, eight K's and five walks.]
Fields, 25, isn't quite up with the top young arms in the system now like Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke, but I suspect he'll make the jump to Tacoma this season and get the chance in Spring Training to show how close he is to being Major League ready.
With Dustin Ackley opening many eyes in the organization, would it be possible the Mariners trade Chone Figgins? It's rumored the Angels want him back and the Braves need a solid leadoff hitter. If they did trade him, would they get any significant pieces in return?
-- Dallas B., Seattle
At this point, the likely scenario is for Ackley to spend a few more months in Tacoma before getting the call. The acquisition of Brendan Ryan from St. Louis gives Seattle a second baseman, though, and should allow Figgins to be moved back to his comfort zone at third.
The Mariners seem to want to give Figgins a chance to show he's what they thought they were getting last year after investing heavily in him with a four-year, $36 million contract. He did hit better down the stretch last season and was a quality player for the Angels, so it makes sense to be patient instead of selling low.
Lyle Spencer, my MLB.com compatriot who covers the Angels, has suggested Anaheim offer younger -- and cheaper -- third baseman Alberto Callaspo and left fielder Juan Rivera -- to get Figgins back, given their dire need for a leadoff man.
That deal could make a lot of sense for both sides, but I don't know if Zduriencik and Angels GM Tony Reagins are going to listen to us.
Why was Cliff Lee only worth prospects in a trade, while the reports about 23-year-old Justin Upton centered on Major League-ready players in return? Why would Upton have higher stock than Lee, a more proven commodity?
-- KSL, Tacoma
It's all about the contract situation of the two players. Lee was going to become a free agent at the end of last season, so he was a one-year rental when Seattle traded for him and a three-month rental when the Rangers acquired him from the Mariners.
Upton, on the flip side, has five years remaining on his contract at a relatively reasonable $49.5 million. So the D-backs weren't going to give up a rising, young star -- and indeed appear now to have shelved all trade talk -- unless they got blown away by a huge offer.
It's not that Upton is more valuable than Lee. It's that five years of Upton is more valuable than a few months of Lee.
Will the Mariners have enough payroll to acquire one big free agent this offseason?
-- Taylor V., Spokane
You've probably already seen this answered by how things played out at the Winter Meetings. But, no, Seattle wasn't a player in the big-money pursuits of top-tier free agents. Both Zduriencik and Chuck Armstrong have openly acknowledged the club has limited payroll flexibility this offseason for the simple reason that it has six veterans already under contract for nearly $60 million, which doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room to fill out the rest of a 25-man roster and make things work with a budget similar to last year's $94 million.
Armstrong says the team expects to lose money this year, but will not reduce that payroll budget. And the Mariners expect to be bigger players in the free-agent market next offseason after some of their current guaranteed contracts -- including $12 million for Milton Bradley and $5 million for Jack Wilson -- come off the books.
What is your fondest Dave Niehaus memory?
-- Ken M., Olympia
Initial impressions can tell you a lot. About 15 years ago I was asked to do a big feature story on Niehaus during Spring Training. I was naturally apprehensive, wondering how much time he'd give a new guy who was working at the time at a small newspaper in Bellevue, Wash.
Turns out, we sat in the press box in Peoria for nearly an hour and a half that afternoon, just talking and laughing and listening to his tales. It was exactly as much fun as you'd imagine and over the ensuing years he always treated me -- as he did everyone in the media -- like life-long friends.
That was the thing about Dave. He was larger than life as the unquestioned face and voice and soul of the Mariners for all those years. But he always treated everyone around him as professional peers and pals. And, yes, he could tell a story.
I think it's worth noting that his broadcast partner of 25 years, Rick Rizzs, is also one of the biggest-hearted guys you'd ever want to meet. First-class gentlemen, the both of them.