SEATTLE – The off-season settled upon Safeco Field on Monday, and there were no visible signs of Ken Griffey Jr.’s tears or the spirited postgame celebration of less than 24 hours earlier.
Upstairs in a suite overlooking the field, building a team that can compete into the postseason was the focus of an important organizational meeting that lasted from morning until late in the afternoon. General manager Jack Zduriencik with his executives and manager Don Wakamatsu with his coaches discussed what went right with the Mariners and what needs attention.
Before Zduriencik begins his dealing this off-season, his task list could be long.
Despite the 85-victory success of this year, only two positions in the field truly are spoken for on the 2010 team – right field with Ichiro Suzuki and center field with Franklin Gutierrez.
There are uncertainties or options at every other position, ranging from potential free agent losses to the Mariners simply deciding that some players don’t fit their plan.
•How do they pump up an offense that scored the fewest runs in the American League?
•Do they re-sign first baseman Russell Branyan, who hit 31 home runs but was plagued by back problems, including a herniated disc that wiped out his final month?
•Does Jose Lopez return to second base? He drove in 96 runs but the Mariners, who operate with a defense-first approach, aren’t thrilled with his lack of range in the field.
•Should they bring back shortstop Jack Wilson at the $8.4 million club option, try to negotiate a longterm deal with him or let him go after leg and foot injuries led to a disappointing two months since his trade from the Pirates? Josh Wilson may not be the final answer at shortstop, but he played a better defense and batted .250 in 128 at-bats, and he could be a stop-gap until touted minor leaguer Carlos Triunfel is ready.
“I think we’ve probably seen Jack Wilson at his worst, simply because of the injury factor,” Zduriencik said. “What we know when we acquired him is that this guy can play shortstop. What he brings with the bat, that’s fine. He’ll end up getting back to what he was. As a result, I think we’ll have some discussions with him and his agents.”
•Who plays left field? Endy Chavez’s injured knee won’t be well until midseason, and neither veteran Bill Hall nor rookie Michael Saunders showed enough offense to win the job.
•With Adrian Beltre becoming a free agent, it would be difficult – if not impossible – to replace his defense at third base.
“There’s a lot to be answered with this ballclub as we go into the winter,” Zduriencik said.
The front office and coaches will be “evaluating, looking at, discussing … trying to get everybody’s vision and … thought.”
There’s also the not-so-small issue of whether Ken Griffey Jr. fits into the plan for next year.
Griffey batted only .214 but hit 19 home runs, and along with veteran DH Mike Sweeney, made sure the young players behaved like professionals and that everyone had a good time win or lose.
“What he did in that clubhouse, and what he did with his presence, I think goes beyond what any of us expected,” Zduriencik said. “I tip my hat to the effort he gave to us on and off the field this year.”
Ichiro Suzuki, criticized by teammates in what was a dysfunctional clubhouse last year, was perhaps the greatest benefactor of Griffey’s presence this year. He wants Griffey to return.
“The time we got (together) even now seems like a dream,” Suzuki said. “I believe that time with him will continue.”
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