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News » Mariners' plan in place, but it's easily changed 2009-01-30

Mariners' plan in place, but it's easily changed 2009-01-30

Mariners' plan in place, but it's easily changed  2009-01-30
In place of a printed program, the Mariners might want to sell blank sheets of paper on game days this season. Or dry-eraser boards. Anything that allows for swift corrections would be nice.

Their roster isn't just fluid. It's as retractable as the Safeco Field roof. Everything about them is open to fresh interpretation, thorough revision, or even incineration.

New general manager Jack Zduriencik just traded pitcher Aaron Heilman, formerly of the massive, three-team, 12-player J.J. Putz trade. Six weeks later, Heilman is off to the Chicago Cubs, and coming to Seattle are Garrett Olson, a young lefty who has yet to make his mark, and Ronny Cedeno, a young infielder who has yet to make his mark.

If Heilman didn't get the chance to visit Pike Place Market, well, maybe his new manager, Lou Piniella, can tell him about it.

For now, the Mariners have turned into Prospects R Us. They're fun to watch in this sense, even though they haven't played a game. And short of an outburst of miraculous performances, the shuffling figures to be the primary intrigue during the 2009 season as the new leadership plays with ingredients.

Such is required for resuscitating a 101-loss team, and such is the nature of Zduriencik, a former super scout. Though this process will be tedious, it doesn't have to be painful. If the Mariners aren't operating at maximum competitiveness on the field, perhaps the competition inside the clubhouse can stir enough passion to make the year entertaining.

Unlike previous seasons, in which mediocre, high-salary veterans clogged the lineup, the Mariners will be a less privileged team. Management isn't as wedded to as many players. Sure, Felix Hernandez is at the top of the rotation, and Ichiro is in right field, and Adrian Beltre is at third base, but beyond those three, the Mariners are refreshingly flexible.

Players will have to earn their spots. In many cases, it will be young players competing against young players, or young players competing against veterans who haven't had the opportunity to play big roles (think Russell Branyan, the penciled-in starter at first base).

For a team that seemed terminally aloof last season, Zduriencik has done a good job setting the agenda for change. He and manager Don Wakamatsu talk often about the attitude they want to instill in the players. They mention pride and character and fan appreciation. They never mention the travails of last season's disaster the clubhouse turmoil, the zombie-like performances, the rampant uncertainty but they don't have to do so. Change has arrived.

"We want this organization to move forward," Zduriencik said last week. "We owe it to the fans, the people who are putting their heart and soul every night into this club. It's important our players understand that. The promise I'd make to them is we're going to put a product on the field they're going to be proud of. Is it going to happen overnight? It's going to take a little time.

"If we're lucky, and some things fall into place, and some people have exceptional years, then it could happen sooner rather than later. But I can't sit here and look people in the eye and say, `Get ready because we're going to be playing in October.' I hope that happens. I'd love to see that happen, but there has to be a certain amount of patience. There is a plan in place."

Right now, the plan is to push all the underperforming talent on the major-league roster to play to its level and improve the overall talent of the organization.

Right now, the hope is that Cedeno can come in and provide enough competition for second baseman Jose Lopez and, especially, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to play better. The hope is that someone will break away from the pack of good players the Mariners have at catcher. The hope is that competition will solve the designated-hitter dilemma, as well as the uncertainty in the outfield and at closer.

The Mariners have too many question marks to be good, but too many movable parts to be uninteresting. So the rebuilding starts with sweat equity, an appropriate place.

Small expectations aside, spring training can't come soon enough.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: January 30, 2009

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