Valencia looks to carve out niche with Mariners

New acquisition likely to be part of first-base platoon, but can also play third, right field

Valencia looks to carve out niche with Mariners

SEATTLE -- Danny Valencia has proven one thing over and over in his seven-year Major League career. He can crush left-handed pitching.

But the 32-year-old has greatly improved against right-handers the past two seasons as well, and one of the challenges facing Mariners manager Scott Servais this spring will be figuring out where exactly the versatile Florida native fits after being acquired from the A's in one of general manager Jerry Dipoto's many offseason trades.

Valencia figures to split time initially in a platoon with rookie Daniel Vogelbach at first base. But Valencia could also see time in right field, as well as backing up Kyle Seager at his natural third-base position. And if he hits, the Mariners could definitely use his right-handed bat somewhere in what has long been a lefty-leaning lineup.

Valencia provides versatility

Valencia has a career .321/.373/.500 line in 845 plate appearances against lefties, which is why you can rest assured he'll be penciled in every game against southpaws. His career line is just .246/.288/.394 in 1,595 plate appearances against righties, but he hiked that to a healthy .275/.330/.412 last year for the A's after putting up similar numbers the previous season in Toronto and Oakland.

"Going and playing in Toronto was probably one of the best things that's happened to me," he said. "I was able to work with hitters that I could see myself wanting to hit like. Jose Bautista helped me out a lot.

"I watched him day in and day out, picked his brain and some things I took from him -- his preparation, his mechanics -- that I tried to implement in my own swing. And luckily enough, I've seen the results. It's enabled me to step my game up and show I can play against lefties and righties as well."

The Mariners are intrigued by Vogelbach's potential and will give him every opportunity to earn time this spring, but Dipoto acknowledges that Valencia offers a nice insurance policy at that spot should the youngster struggle.

"Danny is there as a veteran guy who effectively can play every day," Dipoto said. "He's been excellent against left-hand pitching. He's also been very good against righties for the last couple of years, and we're confident that first base will be an easy transition for him defensively."

Valencia comes to Seattle looking not only to find a position, but a more permanent home. The Mariners will be his seventh team in eight years and he'll be a free agent next season. Servais reached out to the well-traveled veteran this offseason, traveling to his home in Florida to spend some time, and hitting coach Edgar Martinez made a similar introductory trip.

The effort was appreciated, as was Servais' message that he'd like Valencia to be part of the team's veteran leadership group.

"Yeah, I thought that was really nice of him," Valencia said. "I was completely on board with that and think it was amazing. It was great for him just to come down and have dinner with me in my hometown. And it was great for Edgar Martinez to come and work with me this offseason one time. So far it's been first class, and I'm just really excited to get to Spring Training and play hard for these guys."

Servais on adding Valencia

Valencia says Seattle has always been one of his favorite cities to visit, so he's eager to take up residence this year. He's open to whatever defensive position is needed and is ready to put in the work at first base, where he started 15 games for the A's last year.

"I feel like that is most likely to be my primary position here, so I'll work hard just like I would if I was playing every day at third or every day in right or wherever it is," he said. "I take it seriously. I take a lot of pride in being a pretty good defensive player. I think last year my hamstring injury hurt me a little bit moving around at third base, but this year I'm fully healthy and I've had a really good offseason. I'm just excited about getting going."

Valencia, whose parents are Jewish, is on the preliminary roster for Israel's World Baseball Classic team, but he hasn't decided if he'll play in next month's tournament or stay put at Mariners camp.

"I'm considering it," he said. "I'm not 100 percent. I haven't committed yet either way. It's a huge honor to be asked, but it's also a huge commitment at the same time."

And for a guy who has bounced around all of his Major League career and is now looking to transition to a new position as well, staying in one spot could be the primary motivation this spring.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.