With Kenji Johjima at catcher, how do the Mariners feel about Jeff Clement right now? -- Gilliland, Marshalltown, Pa.
Some fans raised questions in November when the Mariners inked Johjima to a three-year deal only months after the team used its first-round draft pick on Clement, a left-handed hitting catcher out of USC. Of course, these concerns were unwarranted because, at the time, Clement had just finished his first Minor League season and the Mariners were in desperate need of stability at the catching position.
You might remember that in 2005 Seattle used seven different catchers (by the way, did anyone notice that Miguel Olivo hit 16 home runs for Florida this season?) Anyway, I don't think the Mariners' feelings regarding Clement have changed at all, even with the emergence of Johjima, who hit 18 home runs and drove in 76 runs this season.
Clement continues to move quickly through the Minor League system. He hit .288 in 15 games at Double-A San Antonio and .257 in 245 at-bats with Triple-A Tacoma. Clement -- who had a combined six home runs -- hasn't displayed the power many thought he would but, as is often the case, players may not develop power until later on. Clement will likely begin the season at Tacoma, where he'll be given a full season in a veteran league to hone his skills.
I have followed Mike Morse's travels between Tacoma and the Mariners. I think that he has great talent and work ethic. What are the chances he can land the right-field job in 2007? -- Richard B., Edmonds, Wash.
When Ichiro informed the Mariners, specifically manager Mike Hargrove, that he would continue to play center field next season, it opened up the opportunity for the Mariners to fill right field with ... Well, that's the big question: Who will play right field?
There's a chance they could stay in-house and look at candidates like Chris Snelling and Morse, who hit .372 in 43 at-bats after a promotion from Tacoma. However, as general manager Bill Bavasi said, it's easier to find a left fielder or right fielder -- through trades or free agency -- than it is a center fielder. This means that if the Mariners are looking to beef up their offense in 2007, they'll likely find a player who can play either left or right field. Of course, this doesn't preclude Morse from winning the starting job. But you have to remember that Morse is a converted shortstop who is still learning the position.
Morse played some outfield in Tacoma and did so again in Seattle, where he worked on his defense with first base coach Mike Goff. He's getting there, though the Mariners might feel that Morse's best strength is his versatility. He can play anywhere in the infield and both corners in the outfield. And his bat has played well at the Major League level, hitting .293 over his first 273 Major League at-bats. With a good showing this spring, Morse could well win a roster spot.
Now that Ichiro has moved to center field, what will become of Jeremy Reed? He has some really great defensive skills and his swing was improving before he got hurt. Will he be back in a Mariners uniform next season? -- Jay Y., Vancouver, BC, Canada
What do you think the Mariners will do with Jeremy Reed? It seemed like he was just starting to turn the corner in hitting during the California road trip before he was injured. -- Vickie B., Caldwell, Idaho
While Ichiro's decision to embrace center field will help the Mariners on several fronts -- like if they choose to add a corner outfielder in the offseason -- the move certainly didn't help Reed, who played the position until he broke his right thumb diving for a ball in the outfield in June.
At the time of the injury, Reed was hitting just .217 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. In his first 758 Major League at-bats, Reed has hit .255. He started to make some changes to his swing and approach with first-year hitting coach Jeff Pentland last season, which partly accounted for his career-best six home runs. That said, Reed still did not hit consistently enough.
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The good news is that Reed's thumb is fine and he'll be ready for the start of Spring Training. What happens after that is anyone's guess. One thing that Reed has working in his favor is his left-handed bat, which could improve his chances of making the roster as a reserve outfielder.
With pitching at the forefront of general manager Bill Bavasi's priorities in the offseason, what are the chances of signing Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt? Do the Mariners have the money to go after either one? -- Jason H., Sandy, Ore.
The Mariners said before the season ended that starting pitching would be their priority in the offseason. How they go about that and who they acquire is anyone's guess. That said, the Mariners certainly have shown they're willing to spend big in free agency -- see Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and Jarrod Washburn. It's good thing, too. Pitchers like Zito and Schmidt don't figure to come cheap.
I think landing Zito is a real stretch, not because of a lack of interest but because he will command a huge contract -- Scott Boras is Zito's agent -- and the Yankees and Mets, among others, have already shown great interest. As for Schmidt, he might be a better fit in Seattle since he's from Kelso (about two hours south of Seattle) and is believed to be interested in playing for the Mariners.
Schmidt was 11-9 with a 3.59 ERA and 180 strikeouts for the Giants in 2006. He'll be 34 in January, and giving him a four-year contract could carry risk. The guy is a workhorse, though, having thrown more than 200 innings in three of the past four seasons.
What are the chances that relief pitcher Rafael Soriano will have a complete recovery from his scary injury? And what about Mark Lowe? Will he recover fine as well? -- Corey S., Harleysville, Pa.
As everyone likely remembers, Soriano was hit on the right side of his head on Aug. 29 by a line drive off the bat of Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero. Soriano suffered a concussion but was released from the hospital the next day. He didn't pitch again, but mostly because he was still experiencing minor headaches.
In talking with reporters in September, Soriano said he was excited about returning to pitch. He even indicated that he wants to be a starting pitcher again like he was in the Minor Leagues. It's not known how excited the Mariners are about this, since Soriano fared so well as the setup man to closer J.J. Putz this past season.
As for Mark Lowe, the rookie right-hander had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in September. He's expected to be ready for Spring Training as well. Lowe was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 15 relief appearances after being called up from Tacoma on July 7. Lowe threw a club-record 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career. That streak ended on Aug. 17, when he gave up two runs against the Los Angeles Angels.
Sure, it's the offseason, but feel free to talk Mariners baseball or anything else on Corey Brock's blog.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.