By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There was a new, but familiar face in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse on Sunday morning. Outfielder Endy Chavez was unpacking his gear and preparing for batting practice.
The 35-year-old outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners early in the morning, but will be in major league spring training for the next few days. Chavez was released from his contract by the Royals on Friday.
“I’m glad to have this opportunity,” he said. “I just have to go forward and work hard and be healthy. I believe this opportunity is better for me. It’s more clear for me. And I feel more comfortable.”
Chavez got into the game for the Mariners in the 8-4 loss to the Diamondbacks at Salt River Field. Pinch hitting in the ninth inning, Chavez lined a double off the right field wall.
The signing of Chavez is really about adding depth to the outfield. It seems strange considering Casper Wells and Jason Bay are vying for the last spot on the 25-man roster.
However, this is about depth beyond the big league level. The Mariners don’t have much at the Class AAA level. Right now, Tacoma would have to use Abe Almonte — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — or recent outfield convert Francisco Martinez, in center field. Adding Chavez gives them some depth at the position. He will start the season with the Rainiers.
“I’m not expecting anything crazy,” he said. “I know I have to start in Triple A. That’s good for me. I’m getting the opportunity to play baseball and that gives me a good chance to get back to the majors.”
Does this signing have some deeper meaning for the future of the slumping Wells, who is fighting to make the 25-man roster? It’s difficult to tell. If the Mariners decided to keep Bay over Wells, they do run the probable risk of losing him. They would likely try to trade him and get something in return instead of losing him for nothing on a waiver claim. Chavez gives them an emergency outfielder, who can play center field, if or when Franklin Gutierrez gets hurt.
Wells’ numbers this spring are poor. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch on Saturday, dropping his batting average to .188 (9-for-48) with 17 strikeouts. Wells is just 2-for-25 with 10 strikeouts after missing a few days with stiff neck. Of his nine hits this spring, five of them came in back-to-back games right before he was injured.
But his defense and ability to play all three outfield spots at a high level is his major value. Chavez, despite being older, is on par with Wells defensively.
Chavez played in 64 games with Orioles last season as a bench player. He hit .203. Obviously, he’s not an every-day player. But when used properly he can be effective. In 2012, he played in 83 games with the Rangers, batting .301.
“In Texas, I started in Triple A and I showed them I could still play the game,” he said.
Chavez played 54 games with the Mariners in 2009 and was the opening day starter in left field. But his season came to an abrupt end when Yuniesky Betancourt collided with him on a blooper at Safeco Field, tearing Chavez’s anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on June 19.
It was long road to recovery, but he said he’s fully healthy.
“The knee is good,” he said. “It took almost two years, but I did it.”
Montero feels fine
Jesus Montero came strolling into the Mariners clubhouse smiling and laughing and in a very good mood for a guy who less than 24 hours before had been hit in the head with a bat.
Montero left Saturday’s game in the second inning after the backswing of Francisco Lindor struck him in the side of the head. It was a scary play that left Montero with an egg-shaped lump on his head.
“I feel good,” he said. “Thank God nothing happened. It was a scary moment.”
There were barely any remnants of that lump thanks to the healing power of ice.
“I iced it for three hours in the training room and more when I got home,” Montero said.
More important than the lack of a knot was the lack of a concussion for Montero. Though he was not in the lineup, he was active on Sunday, catching bullpen sessions and taking batting practice and traveling to the game in Scottsdale.
“You gotta be tough,” he said. “Catching is not easy. But you gotta enjoy it. It’s our job.”
Montero did say he may position himself back slightly from where he normally sets up behind the plate to avoid more incidents like Saturday’s.
Jon Garland was unemployed for just under 48 hours. After exercising his opt-out clause in his minor-league contract with the Mariners on Friday and becoming a free agent, Garland signed a major-league deal with the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. The pitching starved Rockies gave Garland a $500,000 contract — if he makes the team — with incentives that could push it to $2 million.