With the offseason now underway, we'll try to keep the Reader Inbox going regularly over the coming months on Mariners.com. So keep those questions coming!
What is Hisashi Iwakuma's future with the Mariners? I think another team would pay a good amount of money for him after the 2014 season. Will the Mariners spend on him, or will the potential rise of all the young pitching prospects make Iwakuma expendable?
-- Jarrett A., Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Iwakuma is under contract through 2014 at $6.5 million, but the Mariners also have a club option to keep him for '15 as well, at $7 million, or let him go for a $1 million buyout. If he stays healthy and pitches anything near what he did this past season, it'll be a no-brainer to exercise the option for 2015.
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It's premature to speculate on anything beyond that. Iwakuma will turn 35 at the start of the 2016 season and there's no way of knowing now how his arm holds up the next two years. But it's fair to say that any team would love having an experienced pitcher of Iwakuma's caliber in its rotation if he's strong and healthy, no matter how many young guns are coming up.
When opposing teams put drastic shifts on certain players, why don't those players try bunting into the weak spot of the shift?
-- Ron P., Thorp, Wash.
I've wondered that myself, especially against a team like Tampa Bay that shifts constantly against left-handed hitters. Much of the reason is that players don't want to dramatically change their approach at the plate based on the defense, as that is part of the reason managers like Joe Maddon apply shifts -- to get hitters out of their comfort zone. And with power hitters who rarely or never bunt, trying to lay one down against a shift is a good way to find themselves in a quick 0-2 hole without even putting a good swing on a ball.
That's another good reason for all hitters to put in a lot more work on bunting in the Minors and in Spring Training. And good contact hitters should be able to beat shifts enough to make the opposing defenses think twice about loading up one side of the infield. Kyle Seager attempted a couple of bunts against the Rays this season, and occasionally you'll see hitters go that route, but it does seem like that strategy could be employed more often to pick up pretty easy singles down the third-base line.
Why don't the Mariners carry two batting coaches like a number of other MLB teams?
-- Doug T., Helena, Mont.
About a third of the teams in the Majors have tried two hitting coaches in recent years, and that does seem to be a growing trend, given the time demands on the position. Hitting coaches spend long hours in the batting cage every day working individually with players, which sometimes conflicts with when other players want to study video or work on other aspects of their game. So an extra set of hands and eyes can be helpful, though it could also be argued that having one consistent voice on hitting is important, instead of confusing players with different approaches.
Former manager Eric Wedge considered going with two last year, but he decided to stick with one in Dave Hansen's first year at the job in order to give Hansen a chance to establish himself in that role without any confusion. Now that Wedge has opted out, the Mariners will likely be replacing all or most of their coaching staff, and it will be up to the new manager to decide whether he's interested in two hitting coaches.
Any idea yet on the dates for FanFest 2014?
-- Julie N., Salem, Ore.
You can mark your calendar for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 25-26 at Safeco Field.
Do you see a former (or current) player being the next Mariners' manager? Like Dan Wilson, Dave Valle or maybe Raul Ibanez?
-- Danny R., Tacoma, Wash.
I assume you mean will a former Mariners player be the next Mariners manager, since every Major League manager is a former player of some sort. As far as former Mariners in the mix, Joey Cora is one who gained considerable coaching experience at the Major League level as Ozzie Guillen's bench coach with the White Sox and Marlins, and he's currently unemployed after Guillen and his staff's dismissal in Miami a year ago.
Wilson and Valle are both former catchers regarded as good leaders and are well known to local fans as players and broadcasters, but neither has coached or managed at any level, and it's rare for teams to hire a skipper with zero experience in that role. I've seen Ibanez mentioned by some fans as a potential replacement, but he's still hopeful of playing another season and also has no experience in a bench role. Contrast that with Cora, who spent four years coaching and managing in the Minors before getting a Major League coaching job and now has nine years of MLB duty on his resume, as well as some Winter League experience as a manager and general manager.
There are a lot of very good coaches around the Majors who are just waiting for a shot at the next step, as well as some experienced managers. For me, it's far more important to get the best person for the job than to find someone with previous ties to the Mariners.
Will the Mariners consider trading for David Price?
-- Trevor D., Vancouver, Wash.
I don't see Seattle as being one of the primary contenders for Price for the simple reason that if the Mariners are willing to pay such a steep price in young prospects to make a big trade, it would make far more sense to pursue an impact bat. The M's could well add another pitcher this offseason, but I'd imagine more of a mid-rotation veteran than a top-end ace. Price soon will be commanding Felix Hernandez-type money, and not many teams can afford to double up at that salary and still field a balanced roster. If the Mariners go big, it would make more sense to help Hernandez than to replicate him.