Inbox: How will Seattle divvy up time at first base?
Beat reporter Greg Johns fields questions from Mariners fans
Do the Mariners see Kendrys Morales as a replacement for Justin Smoak at first base?
-- Mike D., Laramie, Wyo.
Mariners skipper Eric Wedge seems to prefer Smoak as his first baseman and Morales primarily in the designated hitter role going into camp, though he's made it clear that Smoak has to play well enough to keep that role. I expect the two will split time at first base this spring, with Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Mike Carp also getting some reps there.
If Smoak hits, he'll keep playing. If he struggles, the Mariners have options this year. It's worth remembering that Morales is a free agent next year, while Smoak is under team control for four more years, so obviously they'd love to get Smoak going and have him be part of the long-term plan if possible.
How many at-bats will Ibanez get this upcoming season and what will be his main position?
-- Garrett N., Seattle
A lot of factors will determine that, including the health and performance of Ibanez and others. But in an ideal world, I think the Mariners would like to use him for occasional starts in left field, first base and DH and have him available the rest of the time as a left-handed pinch-hitter. He got 384 at-bats last year with the Yankees, and that number likely will be slightly less this year unless some other players get hurt or don't perform.
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Where does Carp fit in with the addition of Morales, Ibanez and Jason Bay as his main competition?
-- Joe G., Port Angeles, Wash.
Carp's situation is cloudy with the addition of Morales and Ibanez, who can both play first base, as well as Morse. Since Wedge is indicating Smoak is the frontrunner heading to camp and Morales clearly is going to make the team, Carp would seem the odd man out at this point. And he is out of options, so the Mariners can't send him to the Minors without exposing him to waivers.
Carp was the team's starting left fielder going into last season, but a sprained shoulder in the opener cost him that job and now apparently restricts him to first base in the team's eyes. I like Carp's bat and still think he could help, but it's hard to see how he fits in right now unless a lot of things change this spring.
How is young catcher Steven Baron faring in the Minors? Can we expect to see him in the Majors in the near future?
-- Masato Y., Irvine, Calif.
Baron, a late first-round Draft pick out of a Miami high school in 2009, received a lot of attention the last two springs when he had some nice moments in Cactus League play and in an intrasquad game against Felix Hernandez. But he has struggled to follow that up in regular-season play for Class A Clinton, though he did improve from .197 in 2011 to .241 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 64 games last year.
It's worth noting that Baron isn't one of the six catchers who'll be in the Mariners' big league camp next week, so it's clear he's not close to the Majors. But he just turned 22 last month and has plenty of time to keep working his way up the ladder.
I haven't heard anything on Adam Moore. Is he ready to make it back?
-- Ed M., Lewiston, Idaho
You haven't heard anything because Moore no longer is with the Mariners. He was claimed off waivers by the Royals last July and played four games with the big league club later in the season. He's not on the Royals' 40-man roster, but has been invited to their camp and will be one of seven catchers competing for jobs with Kansas City this spring.
Since Ichiro Suzuki has signed on for two more years in New York, what do you think the chances are of him returning to end his career in Seattle, get his 3,000th hit and protect his legacy, similar to what Ken Griffey Jr. did three seasons ago?
-- Mike B., Coleville, Calif.
I'd be surprised if Ichiro returned to the Mariners, but I've been wrong before. He needs 394 more hits to reach 3,000 and likely will need more than two seasons to get there, so he well could be seeking a new (or old) team in 2015 –- at age 41 –- to reach that milestone. Ichiro isn't the veteran clubhouse presence of a Griffey or Ibanez, so he'll need to convince a team he can still help them on the field and at the gate. And that's hard to predict without knowing how he'll perform the next two years.
With the glut of outfielders now in camp, what do you see as Michael Saunders' role? Please don't say trade bait.
-- Brian D., Parksville, B.C.
No worries. Saunders should be an integral part of the Mariners' plans this season. If Franklin Gutierrez stays healthy, Saunders figures to play right field. If Guti goes down for any reason, Saunders would be back in center. The Mariners love what Saunders did last year, and Wedge feels he's just scratching the surface of his athletic talent as a big man who runs well, hits with some power and is an excellent outfielder.
Do you think we need more experience in the starting rotation?
-- Javier B., Seattle
Without question, the Mariners are looking young at the moment with just Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma bringing much experience now that Jason Vargas is gone. General manager Jack Zduriencik talked of trying to add another veteran prior to camp, even if it's a non-roster invitee like Jeremy Bonderman, who is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery. But with camp now just a few days away, nothing has been finalized.
That seems risky, but the flip side is that youngsters like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Brandon Maurer need the opportunity at some point to be more than just prospects. Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez made the jump last year, and maybe it's time to see what more of the kids can do. The A's were starting five rookies at the end of last season and won the AL West, so hey, there's that.