Nautical Twilight

Lookout Landing was quiet today, but it wasn't quiet due to anything worrisome, or out of some sort of protest. Rather, it was quiet because Matthew's out of town and I was invited to attend the Mariners' annual pre-spring training conference and luncheon. I considered it something of an honor. Then I parked without getting ID'd. Then I entered without getting ID'd. Then I helped myself to lunch without getting ID'd. So it turns out today's event was effectively open to anyone from the president to the homeless.

You've probably already read about what was discussed. Larry Stone posted his coverage. Shannon Drayer posted her coverage. Greg Johns posted his coverage. And so on. There were also real-time tweets, and the conference was broadcast on Mariners.com. Unsurprisingly, nothing earth-shattering was revealed. Jack Zduriencik didn't pull back any curtains to show Joey Votto standing behind. It was basically a two-hour State of the Mariners address, given by a number of people representing the Mariners.

But there were a handful of interesting nuggets. I'll get to them in no particular order because I forgot to take notes. First, Rick Griffin confirmed that Franklin Gutierrez has added about 14 pounds since the end of last season, and that those are 14 pounds of muscle. Justin Smoak apparently worked himself into terrific shape as well, but Gutierrez is the bigger story, because one senses that Gutierrez's performance was more directly tied to his physical condition. Last season, Guti was practically frail. Now he's not frail. Griffin said that Guti hasn't experienced any symptoms in several months and has his diet under control, so hopefully our comments section is done hearing from the armchair naturopaths.

Eric Wedge isn't just thinking about removing Ichiro from the leadoff slot - it sounds like he's probably going to remove Ichiro from the leadoff slot. If you're a reader of Internet blogs, you're probably smart enough to know that by and large lineup arrangement doesn't make much of a difference, but this is at least psychologically significant just because Ichiro has been entrenched up there for so long. Other leadoff candidates were named. Dustin Ackley was one of them. It's going to be Ackley. It's totally going to be Ackley. I mean, it has to be Ackley, right? Wedge mentioned Chone Figgins which made me want to laugh, but it wasn't an appropriate venue.

Figgins' hip is all better, by the way, in case you were worried. You can stop sending all those cards and gift baskets. And Casper Wells is over his balance problems, although I'm still not convinced we have a good explanation for where they came from in the first place, and there's nothing more reassuring than mysterious neurological pathology.

In the surprise to end all surprises, Zduriencik didn't go into any detail with regard to Prince Fielder. You might think that he could open up now, since the sweepstakes are over, but opening up about how those sweepstakes went could work against him come the next opportunity. It doesn't sound like any other transactions are imminent, although I guess the team's interested in adding some kind of veteran position player. If you were wondering who's going to be this year's Adam Kennedy, there's a good chance he's not yet in the organization. Kevin Millwood will be this year's Adam Kennedy for the pitchers. So I guess that makes him this year's...Jamey Wright?

Jesus Montero's going to catch. The team loves his opposite-field power. Duh. Miguel Olivo's still going to catch more, at least for the first while. Trying to think of other things...Figgins can expect to play pretty much everywhere in a super-utility role. It's what he used to do, so maybe that'll make him comfortable. Of course, another thing he used to do is hit. Eric Wedge is a prolific blinker. In a side conversation, Tony Blengino told me about what Dazzy Vance used to do. Look at this Baseball-Reference page, about 1924. Look at the strikeouts. Vance led the National League in K/9, at 7.6. In second place was Burleigh Grimes, at 3.9. There were eight teams in the NL that year. There were a total of 3,381 strikeouts. Vance was responsible for 8% of them.

Anyway, back on topic, the theme of the day was basically growth and development. So much emphasis was put on how the team is doing things the right way, or in the way that the team believes is the right way, by building from within. Zduriencik was very adamant about this. I guess he has to be. Something he said that stuck with me was that baseball isn't like basketball or football. You can't turn a team around with one guy. (He cited Andrew Luck.) I knew that already, and most of you knew that already, but it's worth keeping in mind. It's so critical to understand the limited impact that individual players can have in this game.

Wedge was optimistic. Wedge has always been optimistic. Zduriencik was a little less optimistic, as far as 2012 is concerned. His big quote that people kept talking about was "This is going to be a challenging year at the big league level. Let's not kid ourselves." As Mike Salk pointed out, it lends itself well to a team slogan. Mariners Baseball: Let's Not Kid Ourselves.

But as much as people are bracing for 2012 to be another development year, it should be an exciting development year, and there's no question that things are looking up. The organization has made tremendous progress, as hard as that might be to believe if you just look at the surface. The Mariners' day will come. The day brings no promises, but it'll be brighter.

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