Jack Zduriencik would like to be a busy man at next week's winter meetings in Orlando. The Mariners' general manager knows his team needs a lot of help after going 61-101 last season, a drop of 24 wins from its 85-77 record of 2009. However, as a veteran baseball man, Zduriencik fully understands that it will probably be hard to fix all his team's ills during four days at Disney World.
"You can go in a lot of different directions at the Winter Meetings and you can never predict what is going to happen there," Zduriencik said. "You just have to acquire talent. As you move forward, you win with good players regardless of when and where you acquire them. You may go into the Winter Meetings with a game plan of wanting to do X, Y, and Z to fill your needs, but once you get there you always have to adjust. You may find you cannot go down a certain path but you can go down another path that will help you. I know what I'd like to accomplish. Whether we can or cannot remains to be seen, but we'll try."
While Zduriencik declined to say what he wants to do to improve his club, it is quite obvious the Mariners need as many bats as they can find after scoring the fewest runs in the major leagues last season. Their average of 3.17 runs per game were the least by an American League club since the implementation of the designated hitter rule in 1973.
Ironically, the Mariners traded a hitter on Thursday night when they shipped third baseman Jose Lopez to the Rockies in advance of the midnight deadline for tendering contracts to players. Lopez had a .226 TAv last season and the Mariners planned to non-tender him, which would have made him a free agent.
The trade of Lopez could open the door for Chone Figgins to be moved from second base to third. Figgins was a disappointment in 2010, posting a .261 TAv in the first season of a four-year, $36 million contract he signed as a free agent. Figgins was said to be unhappy about being shifted to second base in a flip-flop of positions with Lopez early in spring training, so perhaps a return to the hot corner will reignite his bat.
A shift of Figgins to third base could also open second base for prospect Dustin Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft from the University of North Carolina. However, Ackley's translated TAvs last season were .195 at Double-A and .217 at Triple-A.
"What Dustin Ackley does in spring training will dictate some things," Zduriencik said. "I have my own personal opinions about it, but you leave the door open and give a chance for a player to be rewarded for what he achieves. We'll do what's best for his best interest and the organization's best interest."
First baseman Russell Branyan has expressed a strong desire to re-sign with the Mariners. The Mariners reacquired him in a trade with the Indians last season after allowing him to leave as a free agent in the 2009-10 offseason.
Branyan had a .288 TAv in 238 plate appearances following the trade. To illustrate how awful the Mariners' offense was, Branyan's 9.4 VORP ranked second on the team among hitters behind only right fielder Ichiro Suzuki's 30.9.
"The perception there … you might assume people didn't enjoy Seattle last year with all that went on," Branyan told the Tacoma News-Tribune. "But it's a great town to play in, a great ballpark to hit in, and I think there are some good players there. There's been a lot of change with (new manager) Eric Wedge and a new staff."
The Mariners have an influx on youth on their 40-man roster, as they added 10 players last month to protect them from being selected in next Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. However, Zduriencik isn't ready to go with a total youth movement in 2011.
"We have talented young players but they are inexperienced or have limited experience," Zduriencik said. "It would be nice to land a few pieces who are veterans who could provide some leadership and give some of our young guys more time to continue to grow."
New Mets manager Terry Collins cut right to the heart of the matter during his introductory press conference with a smile. He tried to dispel perceptions that have developed about him.
Collins' reputation took a beating during his two previous stints as a major-league manager with the Astros and the Angels in 1990s. He clashed with superstars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio with the Astros, and he resigned from the Angels in 1999 after a near mutiny by his players, who felt star first baseman Mo Vaughn was getting preferential treatment from the organization.
The Mets need some edge, though, after finishing under .500 and fourth in the National League East in each of the past two seasons. While the 61-year-old Collins says he has softened over the last decade as he has closed in senior citizenry, he is also quick to say he remains intense.
"I didn't ask—I demanded—because of the respect for the sport itself," Collins said. "This game has brought to myself and every player that has ever played it great rewards. I wouldn't have done it for 40 years if I didn't love it. So I think it deserves a payback and part of that payback is the way the game is played. So my intenseness comes with I think there's a way to go about playing this game, and some guys, when they don't like it, or if you say something about it, especially at the major-league level, you become 'too intense.' But I will tell you something. I have been around Tom Lasorda, Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland, and excuse me if they're not intense, because you better be focused. They may handle things differently than me, but I believe to manage this game you've got to have some intensity and desire."
New general manager Sandy Alderson is hopeful that Collins' competitiveness will rub off on a team that often played lackadaisically under former manager Jerry Manuel. And while the Mets still look like the fourth-best team in the division, ahead of only the Nationals, Collins is optimistic things can turn around quickly.
"I love this job and I love this game," Collins said. "I will do whatever it takes to bring success to the New York Mets and win more ballgames. And we want to be the last team standing next October."
The Dodgers were a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to volume of stolen bases last season as they tied for eighth in the 16-team NL with 92 swipes. However, the Dodgers stole at just a 65 percent success rate, which ranked 13th in the league.
There is a good chance the Dodgers will be more efficient in that department next season, though, after hiring Davey Lopes as their first-base coach. The Phillies were one of the baserunning teams in the game under Lopes' tutelage, and he stole bases at an 83 percent clip as a player during a 16-year career spent primarily with the Dodgers.
"First of all, you've got to have talent," Lopes said. "There's a lot of talent on this ballclub. Two years ago, they could have gone to the World Series just as easily as (the Phillies) did. We—I mean the Phillies—just got the hit at the right time. Then the players have to buy into it. All they have to do is listen. If they do, I guarantee they'll be successful. It's 100 percent about reading keys, knowing tendencies. I was pretty successful as a player, and I was blessed in Philadelphia to be asked to control the running game. It worked well for us."
New Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says plans to be aggressive in calling for stolen bases with Lopes on the coaching staff.
"Everyone I've talked to about baserunning says this guy is the cream of the crop," Mattingly said. "I'm not going to be someone to hold this guy down."
Lopes could also have a big impact on Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp in two ways. One is that he could help him become a better basestealer after he was just 19-of-34 last season. Secondly, Lopes could become a confidant to Kemp, who had problems with the coaching staff in 2010.
Kemp snapped at bench coach Bob Schaefer in the dugout during a game in June and was benched for three days. Third-base coach Larry Bowa later criticized Kemp in a newspaper article. Both Schaefer and Bowa were fired at the end of the season and Kemp's agent, former Dodgers pitcher Dave Stewart, considers Lopes to be his best friend.
"It's a thrill to come back," Lopes said. "I started with LA, and hopefully I'll finish with LA. It's a great organization. Hopefully I'll help bring it back to where it wants to be with championships and a World Series. That's our goal."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Red Sox will make a quick strike in an effort to sign catcher Russell Martin, who became a free agent Thursday night when he was non-tendered by the Dodgers. … The Padres are closing in on re-signing right-hander Kevin Correia, who wants to stay as he is a San Diego County native, and have also talked to the Cardinals about trading for shortstop Brendan Ryan. … Free-agent first baseman Lance Berkman may be pricing himself out of most teams' range with his request for $9 million for one year. … The Nationals would prefer to part with left fielder Josh Willingham rather than highly sought shortstop Ian Desmond in a trade for a starting pitcher.