As the Mariners hit a much-needed off-day Thursday coming off an entertaining 5-4 road trip that included series wins over division rivals Texas and Anaheim, what better time to stop and answer some questions? So here we go ...
Do you see Kyle Seager ever getting playing time at shortstop? Then you could put Alex Liddi at third and have Seager replace Brendan Ryan for his better bat.
-- John M, Portland, Ore.
I've learned never to say never in baseball and life, but Eric Wedge has made it very clear he doesn't consider Seager an option at shortstop. And I understand that decision, since Seager didn't look particularly comfortable or show great range at short when he started eight games there at the end of last season when Ryan was hurt.
Seager is an excellent second baseman and has been very good at third this year as well, but he's not a natural shortstop. Putting him there instead of Ryan would rob the defense of one of its absolute strengths. Too many fans underestimate the value of having an outstanding defender in that spot. Yeah, it would be nice if Ryan were hitting better, but there's a reason ESPN just voted him the Defensive Player of the Month for May in the Majors.
Who is the best third baseman in the Mariners' system between Seager, Alex Liddi, Vinnie Catricala and Francisco Martinez? Is moving Seager to the outfield a possibility?
-- Ryan B., Kennewick, Wash.
This question dovetails with the previous one in that Seager may indeed be asked to change positions next year to open up third for one of the other young bucks. At this point, he clearly is the best third baseman in the organization. Catricala struggled initially adjusting to Triple-A pitching, but seems to be coming around. Martinez was doing fairly well at Double-A, but he is still developing and just hurt his ankle on Tuesday.
Liddi surely is an intriguing prospect as a big, athletic youngster with some pretty good power, but he's still learning how to hit big league pitching after he was exposed to a steady diet of right-handers. In another year, it could be a wide-open battle between those youngsters.
But no, I don't see Seager being moved to the outfield as any part of the long-term plan. A more likely scenario would be for Seager to move to second base next spring and have Dustin Ackley shift to the outfield, which is where he was drafted by the Mariners. No one in the organization has suggested that possibility, but it might make sense on a lot of levels. So we'll see.
How soon can we expect to see new first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino in Seattle?
-- Frank M., Sammamish, Wash.
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The highly regarded catcher from Florida will come to Safeco Field for an introductory news conference once he signs a contract, which is a good bet to happen shortly before the July 13 deadline. But if you're talking about when he'll crack the Major League roster, that's a different story.
He'll likely get a month or so in the Minors if he signs in July, play in the Arizona Fall League and then be invited to Major League camp as a non-roster invitee next spring. After that? I suspect he'll be handled like Dustin Ackley and Danny Hultzen, sent to Double-A to start and then given a chance to progress within a year or so.
One thing worth remembering, Zunino is 21 years old. (Jesus Montero is 22.) He'll need some time to adjust to pro ball, but he should move up pretty quickly.
What are the options for Ichiro's contract going forward? Could he receive an extension, or would he have to have a new contract, and would he possibly step away from the game if his performance continues to decline?
-- Patrick M., Federal Way, Wash.
Unless he works out a new deal with Seattle during the season, Ichiro becomes a free agent at the end of this year. The Mariners have indicated they'll likely wait until then to sit down and see where both sides are at, which seems wise given Ichiro's age (38) and declining offensive production.
Ichiro isn't one to talk about such things, so it's anybody's guess as to whether he'll want to continue playing for Seattle after 12 seasons at what certainly should be a reduced contract after making $18 million for the past five years. It remains to be seen what role the Mariners' Japanese ownership has in the situation.
What happened to former first-round Draft pick Josh Fields? Is he still in the organization?
-- Rebecca L., Renton, Wash.
No, the Georgia closer never made much progress in the Mariners' system and was included in the Erik Bedard trade to the Red Sox on July 31 in the deal that brought Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang to the Mariners.
Fields, 26, is pitching for the Red Sox's Double-A team in Portland, Me., and is 1-2 with a 4.12 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances this spring.
What ever happened to the Greg Halman shirts that Mike Carp made during Spring Training? Are those ever going to be available for fans?
-- Riley C., Seattle, Wash.
Carp just met with his friend who helped design the original shirts when he was in Anaheim and is close to having some ready to go on sale in Mariners Team Stores. It's been a harder process than he expected, but he's intent on getting the shirts to fans who want to honor Halman's memory, with proceeds going to a charity in Halman's name. There should be some final word on that soon.