Mariners notebook: Burke passes on backup job to remain with Mariners

Jamie Burke had opportunities to play elsewhere in 2009, including one offer from a team that said he would be their backup catcher.

The Seattle Mariners wanted him back, although their offer of a minor league contract carried no guarantee that he would leave spring training with the big-league club.

Still, Burke’s familiarity with the Mariners after playing for them the past two seasons, along with his own confidence that he’s still a capable backup, were enough to convince him where to play.

The Mariners announced Tuesday that Burke had signed a minor league contract.

It’s not an ideal situation, especially on a team with three catchers on the 40-man big-league roster. But Burke’s career is filled with making the most of major challenges.

Burke, 37, spent the past two full seasons with the Mariners after a 14-year pro career spent mostly in the minor leagues.

“There were several teams interested, and a couple of situations were really good for me,” Burke said Tuesday night from his home in Roseburg, Ore. “But I felt that with the comfort level I have with the organization and some of the people I know on the coaching staff, it was a better opportunity to come back here.”

Burke played 48 games — starting 44 — in 2008 and batted .261.

He’ll go to spring training behind Kenji Johjima and Jeff Clement on the depth chart, although the Mariners’ catching situation is fluid and it may not be fully sorted out at spring training.

That’s because Johjima, who needs to have a turnaround season as a hitter to keep his starting job, is expected to spend most of February and March with the Japanese team in the World Baseball Classic.

Clement had knee surgery late this year and is expected to be at full strength by spring training, but his defensive struggles have the Mariners considering him for as much or more time at DH as behind the plate.

There’s also Rob Johnson, who has spent most of the past three seasons playing at Class AAA Tacoma and is considered major league-ready.

Assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas told Burke he would get plenty of playing time in spring training because Johjima will miss so much of camp because of the WBC.

“One of the main things to me was when he said I would get a lot of opportunities because of Kenji,” Burke said. “I’ll be able to play a lot, and we’ll see what happens.”

Pelekoudas said Burke gives new manager Don Wakamatsu a solid option at catcher in addition to Johjima, Clement and Johnson.

“Don has to see how everything plays itself out with Jeff and Kenji,” Pelekoudas said. “We’ll see how the DH situation plays itself out.”

Burke became friends with Wakamatsu when he played in the Angels’ system in 2001 and again with the Rangers in 2006.

“He was the guy who kind of helped get me over the hump (to become a big leaguer),” Burke said. “He’s a teacher who can help keep a guy’s career going. He’s been good to me and we’ve stayed in contact.

“But that’s in the past. What I did this past year and the year before doesn’t matter. I need to come in and prove myself.”

Burke has rarely gone to spring training with a guarantee that he’d break camp with the team.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m on the team or not, I’m going to go about my work the same way,” he said. “I’ve never had anything actually handed to me and I look forward to the competition.”

Dickey update: Knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey spoke with the Mariners on Tuesday and said he was close to making a decision on whether to accept their offer. Dickey also has offers from two other teams.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at

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