Have the Mariners considered moving the fences in at Safeco Field to improve their offense?
-- Dave D., Tigard, Ore.
Outside of Prince Fielder's status, this has been the most persistent question this offseason from readers. So I posed it to the Mariners and was frankly surprised when I was told it has been a topic of discussion -- not just this year, but in the past -- and that nothing has been ruled out in that regard.
That doesn't mean change is imminent, but it does mean the Mariners aren't adamantly opposed to the idea. I was told that since moving into Safeco Field in 1999, club officials have regularly discussed the topic and explored it with both statistical analysis and discussions with various field managers, coaches and baseball operations staff.
The team's stance is that if and when such a change would benefit the club, it would be open to moving in the fences -- just as the Mets did this offseason at Citi Field and the Tigers did at Comerica Park in '03. But these things aren't quite as simple as saying, "Hey, we'll score more runs if we move in the fences, so let's do it."
Right now, the team's primary strength is young pitching and the ability to attract quality veteran hurlers, in part, because of the park. Meanwhile, the offense has been built largely around young, left-handed hitters, who generally fare better at Safeco Field. To bring in the difficult-to-reach left-field fence in the current scenario would offset moves the Mariners have made toward fielding a team best suited for their own park. If that changes in the future -- and the addition of right-handed power hitter Jesus Montero might be one step that direction -- then the Mariners will be willing to consider restructuring the spacious Safeco outfield at that time.
Who is most likely to appear in the Mariners' rotation this year -- James Paxton, Danny Hultzen or Taijuan Walker?
-- Martin G., Guaymas, Mexico
Of that trio of rookies, Walker clearly is the longest shot, given his age (19). Very few pitchers make the jump to the Majors at that age. But Paxton and Hultzen might be in a dead heat heading into camp, and it wouldn't surprise me if both get a shot in the rotation at some point this season.
Paxton, 23, pitched very well at Double-A Jackson last year, and at least has 95 innings of Minor League ball under his belt after sitting out nearly a year and a half due to his initial holdout after being a first-round Draft pick of the Blue Jays.
Hultzen, 22, is a very developed college pitcher, and the No. 2 overall Draft pick last year. There's no question he's a top prospect and will be on a fast track. But his only pro experience is 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
A youngster you didn't mention, Erasmo Ramirez, might actually have as good -- or better -- of a chance initially. The 21-year-old right-hander from Nicaragua has a more extensive Minor League background to date, and finished up last year at Triple-A Tacoma before pitching well in the Venezuela Winter League. The Mariners are very interested to see all those youngsters in camp next month.
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Why isn't Ichiro Suzuki ever mentioned as a trade asset for the Mariners?
-- Chris M., Lakewood, Wash.
For one, as a 10-and-5 guy (10 years in the Majors, five consecutive with the same team), Ichiro can't be traded without his consent. That is true of all players in that situation. Secondly, he has been the Mariners' best and most consistent player over the past decade -- a 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer -- and teams don't just trade those kind of franchise players away without considerable thought. Finally, he has a large contract ($18 million for one more year) and would have to be worth that for a team that wanted to acquire him, even assuming Ichiro agreed and the Mariners were willing to move him.
I am going down to Arizona in late February. Can I go to the Spring Training practices? If so, do I need to purchase tickets, and where do they work out?
-- Riley V., Gig Harbor, Wash.
You can indeed watch the Mariners practice for free at their Peoria Sports Complex. Pitchers and catchers report this year on Feb. 11, with the first workout Feb. 12. Position players will report Feb. 17, and the first full-squad workout follows on Feb. 18. They are on the field from about 9:30 a.m. MST to noon every day, usually spread around several practice fields.
The only tickets required are if you want to attend Cactus League games. Those begin this year on March 2, and single-game tickets went on sale Jan. 7 and can be purchased online on Mariners.com at this link.
Eric Wedge said that rather than rely on second-hand reports, he was going to have Franklin Gutierrez, Justin Smoak, Casper Wells and others come to Seattle in early January to assess their conditioning. Did that happen, and can you share the results?
-- Gary B., Surprise, Ariz.
Indeed, nine position players came in to work out at Safeco Field and then had dinner together at Wedge's house on Mercer Island two weeks ago, so he could monitor their health and get a feel for how they were doing. In addition to the guys you mentioned, the gathering included Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo and new catcher John Jaso.
I'm told that Smoak has lost quite a bit of weight, Gutierrez has put on nearly 20 pounds and some needed strength and all the players were healthy and ready to roll, with Wedge saying he was very pleased with the entire group's appearance and approach.