By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
NASHVILLE — Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn’t quite have the same intensity he does during the season. But it only took a few moments into his official winter meetings press conference for it return to the surface.
It doesn’t take much. He remains steadfast in his belief that his team is on the right path to winning.
“I have too much faith in what we do,” he said. “For me, if we do what I feel we’re going to do here, the rest takes care of itself. Regardless of who we have and or what kind of talent or how it looks on paper, it’s those kinds of things. It’s the tangibles versus the intangibles. It’s the way you go about your business and how you build your team.”
So while fans and media focus on the big-name signings of the Angels and Rangers last year and this year, Wedge is not.
“We’re not looking to be a team that wins with one or two guys or try to win with one or two ways,” he said. “We want to win whatever fashion we can. And we want to make sure we have the depth and the system that we can continue to do that. We’re not just building it to get there. We’re building it to get there and sustain a championship level play. No guarantees you’re going to win when you do that, but what we’ll be guaranteed is you can compete to win when you do that.”
But beyond the big picture and direction of the organization, Wedge knows there are some questions surrounding his current team.
With the Mariners not having signed anyone to a new contract, he’s basically returning with the bulk of the players from a team that went 75-87.
Still, Seattle played over a dozen players with less than three years of big league experience last season. Wedge expects significant improvement from each of them.
“They’re all establishing what type of big league players they’re going to be,” he said. “It takes at least two or three years to figure out what kind of big league player you’re going to be, and we’ve got a lot of people on that path. But I do feel like, from one to two is big, and from two to three is even bigger in regard to being able to take that experience for a drive and just really being a better performer.”
On the more specific notes, Wedge still believes first baseman Justin Smoak could be a contributor. After getting sent down midseason, making major swing changes and returning for a solid September, Smoak might be on the last of his chances with the organization.
“We really felt the last five weeks or so it was real,” Wedge said. “He really made some positive changes with his hands, with his approach, and with his swing that allowed him to drive the ball from both sides of the plate the way you like to see him drive it. I’ve got a great deal of belief in Justin and feel this kid is going to be a strong contributor for us.”
He also believes second baseman Dustin Ackley will have a bounce back season. Ackley struggled last season, hitting just .226. After the season, it was made public that Ackley had battled foot issues all season and had offseason surgery to correct it.
“I think being healthy is important. I think some of the experience he gained will be equally, if not more important,” he said. “I was so proud of this guy. He went up there 600 times or whatever it was, he played every day — fought through the pain because he needed to. He needed to experience what he experienced. And it’s going to help him. I expect him to come here and have a solid year for us.”
Rumors and more rumors
The market for Nick Swisher seems to be dwindling. The Cleveland Indians and the Mariners seem to be the two frontrunners. The Orioles had been rumored, but general manager Dan Duquette said that Swisher wasn’t really an option. The Red Sox would have to trade center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to make room for Swisher and that likely isn’t going to happen. Swisher would like to go to the Giants, but San Francisco’s signing of Angel Pagan to a $40 million contract would make it difficult. … Nationals first baseman/outfielder Mike Morse is likely available for the Mariners re-acquire him. The Nationals are on the verge of signing Adam LaRoche to a three-year contract. If that happens, Morse becomes expendable. The Nats have shown interest in Mariners relievers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor and might take one of them for Morse. … Super agent Scott Boras said he plans to have more talks with the Mariners about his client — Michael Bourn. … The Mariners were linked to free-agent pitcher Mike Pelfrey. The veteran right-hander would be viewed as a fourth or fifth starter candidate.