I'm heading to Dallas on Sunday for the Winter Meetings, so wanted to squeeze in an Inbox with some of your questions before the action gets going in Texas. Should be a lot more questions -- and maybe even some answers! -- after the Meetings next week.
Do you think the Mariners will try and trade Brandon League for a decent bat?
-- Paul S., Portland, Ore.
The idea of trading League is an interesting one since the market for free-agent closers is both active and expensive this winter, with Heath Bell's three-year, $27 million deal with the Marlins the latest chip to fall.
Joe Nathan (Rangers), Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies) and Jonathan Broxton (Royals) have also signed healthy deals, which makes League -- who figures to likely double last season's $2.25 million contract in this final year of arbitration -- a reasonable option for teams still looking.
And there is a big market for late-inning specialists, with the Orioles, Red Sox, Twins, Blue Jays, Padres, Reds, Mets and Dodgers all still searching. But would -- and should -- Seattle part with League coming off an All-Star season when he converted 37 of 42 save opportunities with a 2.79 ERA?
As with all cases, it depends on the return. Certainly if some team offers a young, quality hitter who can be a difference maker, it could make perfect sense to trade a closer who will become a free agent next year.
The Mariners do have some late-inning prospects, with Tom Wilhelmsen and Chance Ruffin among the top contenders, but League is the only experienced veteran in their bullpen at the moment. It would be risky for the coming season to deal him with their current roster configuration, but things can change in a hurry.
My guess -- and it is just a guess -- is that League will stay in Seattle for now, but would be a prime contender to be dealt in midseason if the Mariners aren't in the race in late July.
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Will the Mariners wear a special patch or something in memory of Greg Halman?
-- Matthew W., St. Peters, Mo.
The club has not made a decision yet on how it will honor Halman, but rest assured that the subject is being discussed and something will be done to recognize him in the coming season. I will let readers know as soon as that decision is finalized.
Is there a chance we could see Ichiro Suzuki move out of the leadoff spot in the next couple of years? It sure seems like we have several prospects (Trayvon Robinson, Dustin Ackley) that could fill the role?
-- Trevor D., Puyallup, Wash.
There's certainly a chance Ichiro's role will change, particularly if he doesn't bounce back after last year's decline. Manager Eric Wedge considered dropping him down in the order midway through last season, but Wedge didn't have a suitable alternative given that Chone Figgins was struggling even more than Ichiro.
I'm sure Ichiro will be given every opportunity to show where he's at this spring and I'd be surprised if he's not the leadoff man again, but you never know. Ichiro's current contract expires at the end of this coming season, so beyond that there are a lot more questions to be answered.
Are any teams in the Mariners' organization, including the Mariners, looking for batboys for next season? And how would I find out about becoming a batboy?
-- James C., Fullerton, Calif.
According to the Mariners, all Minor League teams have their own hiring policies for non-player staff members, so you'd need to contact whatever team you're interested in. As for the Mariners themselves, they have two programs -- the Ball Girls for females and Clubhouse Assistants for males.
Ball Girls are chosen through tryouts each March, even for those with prior experience. They are all high school or college-age girls and must have college, Select or high school softball experience. Clubhouse Assistants -- which include Bat Boys -- have to be 18 or older due to the late work hours.
What is the possibility that the Mariners take a run at Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish if he gets posted?
-- Jarrett H., Seattle
Darvish will be one of the overhanging storylines at the Winter Meetings, but he still hasn't decided if he's going to test the Major League waters by being posted in Japan. Reports are he's going through a divorce that is complicating that decision.
Should Darvish become available, I don't see the Mariners throwing the kind of money that will be needed to first outbid the Yankees and others for the posting rights and, secondly, to sign him. They have greater needs than pitching and Darvish would come at a huge cost. With their wealth of young pitching prospects, better to use their resources elsewhere.
In what way does the new Collective Bargaining Agreement affect the Mariners? Is this a positive or negative agreement in the Mariners' eyes?
-- Bryson, Honolulu
Interesting question and one Jack Zduriencik said the club is pondering itself as it continues sifting through the new rules. Some have theorized that new spending limits on international free agents will hurt the Mariners, who have been very active in that market in the past.
But there also is conjecture that a club with good international scouts and leadership, as the Mariners have with Bob Engle, could actually be better off now with greater need for finding the hidden, cost-effective gems. Players like Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda didn't come through big international bidding wars, they came from smart scouting. Given that all the teams are going to be playing by the same rules, I don't think the Mariners will gain or lose from the CBA. They just need to figure it all out, like everyone else.