SEATTLE — Finding a way to boost the worst offense in baseball was the offseason goal for the Seattle Mariners.
Based on what management had to say Wednesday at the team’s annual pre-spring training luncheon, the Mariners think that goal was accomplished with the additions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. They also hope Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez still have some pop left in their bats.
The additional benefit is that Seattle added some veterans who manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik believe will bring more help to the clubhouse than previous veterans provided for a team trying to build around a young core group.
Last season, many of those young players were put in positions they weren’t ready for and the Mariners finished last in the AL West for the third straight year. Wedge thinks it will be different this season thanks to the veteran influx.
“It wasn’t really fair to them because with where they were and are in their careers they weren’t able to be protected, they weren’t in the best possible position to succeed,” Wedge said. “But I’m more of an optimist. Because they had to sink or swim on their own they’re going to be tougher for it. Because they had to lean on each other and didn’t really have that veteran presence in the clubhouse to lean on and help them through it, they’re going to be stronger and they’re going to be the type of player, both tangible and intangible, that much quicker.
“Even though it was painful at times, for them first and foremost, they didn’t give into the fight. They didn’t complain about it. If you look at the veterans we had in the clubhouse last year versus the veterans we have in the clubhouse this year, it’s night and day.”
Wedge didn’t mention the veterans he felt were lacking last season by name, but it’s noticeable that the Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki last July, cut ties with infielder Chone Figgins and decided to let catcher Miguel Olivo walk in free agency. Those moves allowed Seattle the flexibility to make the additions it did in the offseason, although the Mariners failed in their attempt to land free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton.
Instead, the Mariners went the trade route by sending pitcher Jason Vargas to the Los Angeles Angels to bring in Morales, and shipping catcher John Jaso to Oakland as part of a three-team deal that brought Morse back to Seattle.
Combined with the signings of Ibanez and Bay, the moves give Seattle a veteran presence that takes some of the strain off youngsters Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak.
“We had to go through that to get these kids experience,” Zduriencik said. “But just the fact you got a young kid sitting in the on-deck circle, someone like Raul Ibanez gets up and puts his arm around the kid and says, ‘I’ve been in this situation before.’ That’s a whole lot different than coming from a hitting coach or a manager.”
When the Mariners arrive at spring training next month, they will be a healthy group. Only two players underwent offseason surgery and both Ackley (ankle) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (elbow) have been cleared for all activity.
But there are still areas for Seattle to address between now and the time pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12. The rotation took a hit when Vargas was sent to the Angels, leaving the Mariners without a true No. 2 starter behind ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners brought back right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and have Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramriez as other likely rotation options, but both Wedge and Zdruiencik expressed a desire to add one more arm.
Seattle has among the best pitching depth of any team in baseball in the farm system, but the most prized of those prospects — Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Brandon Maurer — are all likely to start the season in the minors short of spring training performances that make it impossible for them not to be on the opening-day roster.
The Mariners also need depth at catcher. Montero is the only one on the 40-man roster after the trade of Jaso. Wedge said he thinks Montero has the skills to handle being an everyday catcher, but there needs to be depth behind the plate.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind he can handle it from a talent perspective, that he can handle the role fundamentally,” Wedge said. “But being so young and inexperienced, the mental grind — we ask a great deal out of our catchers here — and then the physical grind that goes with it, that is pretty real. But he knows he’s coming here to catch.”