Wakamatsu waits for dominoes to fall
Each signing at Winter Meetings affects the next move
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Mariners have needs to address, a roster to fill and an enthusiastic manager ready to watch it all unfold.
Seattle's second-year skipper, Don Wakamatsu, fresh off a 24-game improvement in his debut season that saw the Mariners win 85 games, has entered these Winter Meetings full of excitement at what his club's general manager, Jack Zduriencik, could pull off here at the Indiana Convention Center and beyond.
Already, the club has reached a preliminary agreement with versatile Chone Figgins, who will be announced as the newest member of the team as soon as he passes a physical, which he was slated to take part in Monday. Figgins would start at third base if free agent Adrian Beltre declines the team's arbitration offer by midnight. If Beltre accepts, Figgins could occupy left field or second base if the club decides to trade Jose Lopez.
After that, it's a big Mariners mystery, with one potential move -- Jason Bay in left? Nick Johnson at first base? Rich Harden in the rotation? -- depending on another.
"I think this morning we started off the Winter Meetings with a meeting, and obviously tried to formulate some kind of game plan," Wakamatsu said during his scheduled half-hour meeting with the news media in a ballroom at the Marriott hotel in downtown Indianapolis.
"But I think as I mentioned to a lot of people out there, it's kind of the domino effect, when you make a move, then I think several will follow. It's kind of hard to plan for that right now. We're out there. I think Jack is doing the best he can. It's exciting for me to be here. I watched [Zduriencik] work his magic last year, and not only him, but I know the staff is out there working their tail off to try to get us some new players."
In addition to the just-about-signed Figgins, the rest of the available talent Seattle has been linked to before and during these meetings -- including Bay, Johnson, Harden, starters John Lackey, Joel Pineiro and Edwin Jackson, and catcher Miguel Olivo -- offer many permutations of a potential 2010 Mariners lineup and defensive alignment.
Wakamatsu said he can't wait to take the pieces of that puzzle and fit them together.
"I think for me, as a manager, you kind of get the pieces when you come out of here, and even as we go forward into Spring Training and then start to formulate at that point, I think nothing is really ... set in stone until I get there and start to work a little bit," he said. "It's exciting for me to be able to know that we're out there looking for a lot of talent right now that can help us."
With the expected addition of Figgins, who drew an American League-leading 101 walks in 2009 and compiled a .395 on-base percentage as the leadoff man for the Angels, it would be tempting for some managers to keep Figgins in that slot and move Ichiro Suzuki lower, perhaps to the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
Although he was not asked about the possibility of such a maneuver in regard to the imminent arrival of Figgins, Wakamatsu did say considering something like that is hardly a new revelation for the Seattle staff.
"I think we thought about him last year," Wakamatsu said. "If guys remember a little bit, we juggled the lineup quite a bit in Spring Training. ... Depending on the players we have, we'll probably do that again this spring, and knowing that opening day is our 'D-Day,' we'll do what's best for the ballclub.
"I think Ichiro would do, in a sense, just about anything for the Seattle Mariners. I think he proves that by the way he plays. Again, I think those are things that would have to be discussed with him in private first."
One thing the Mariners might have to address is the position of catcher, where incumbent starter Rob Johnson is coming off multiple offseason surgeries and rookie Adam Moore, 25, is unproven after only six games and 23 at-bats at the big league level. Seattle has been linked to veteran backstops who might add guidance and offense, but Wakamatsu indicated that while Johnson was on track to be ready for Opening Day, Moore might be ready for more playing time, too.
"The intangibles [are] what impressed me the most, how he handled the pitching staff, his game-calling," said Wakamatsu, a former Major League catcher himself. "The physical part of it, whether it's the offense or whether it's blocking balls or throwing runners out, I think those are areas where he's going to continue to get better.
"But the maturity for a young guy was awfully impressive and his relational skills, he fit right in, and obviously it opened a lot of doors and gave us a belief system if we have to go that route we will."
Otherwise, Wakamatsu said he's looking for major improvement on offense and that the team would begin to address that by stressing a team-wide improvement in on-base percentage. Seattle ranked last in the AL last year with a .314 OBP.
"There's got to be a plan, and an individual one, because I think everybody is a little bit different," Wakamatsu said. "But I think we set the focus, and we'll continue to do that. I think [hitting coach] Alan Cockrell has talked to just about every offensive player we have with us right now and is going to get together with several of them prior to even Spring Training to hone that in."
Figgins figures to inject more speed and small-ball options into the Mariners' offense, but acquiring a player such as Johnson or Bay would help the offense not only with on-base percentage but also in slugging and run production. Wakamatsu said he would welcome any impact bat Zduriencik might add to the roster.
"I think any manager wants power in their lineup," he said. "There's different ways to produce runs, obviously. You look at, for me, a Bobby Abreu, the impact that he had on Anaheim, and I don't know the statistics, but they ended up scoring 100 or so more runs than they had in the past because maybe they're patient. Speed helps.
"So I think if you can't get one then you look at the other. But power never hurts."
Nor does the advantage of having $50 million in expired contracts off the books and the means to pursue talent aggressively at this year's Winter Meetings. Wakamatsu said it's something he's very thankful for during this holiday shopping season.
"I think it's a credit to Jack," Wakamatsu said. "That goes with work. I mean, if he's out there looking and trying to look under every stone, we're going to be involved in a lot of different deals. He did it last year, so it doesn't surprise me.
"But yes, I'm extremely happy to be a part of that."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.