The Mariners are coming off an active winter in which they added Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, but those moves will not have an impact on Justin Smoak’s job security at first base. At least not immediately.
According to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said today that Smoak will begin the season as the primary first baseman barring “something drastic.” His reasoning is that he would prefer to stay away from making a decision based on spring training performance.
“I think you do,” he said. “Spring training is a part of it, but it’s by no means the biggest part of it as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got to look at everything. With guys that we’ve already had, the history helps us. Because there are so many indicators, both good and bad, that you can work off of.”
While it’s true that too much can be made from the small sample of spring training games, it can also be argued that Smoak has already had his fair share of chances. The 26-year-old owns a lousy .223/.306/.377 batting line over his first three seasons in the majors. Still, the Mariners appear intrigued by his strong finish last season, especially with the fences moving in at Safeco Field.
Assuming the Mariners hold firm to their plan, Morales will open the season as the primary DH while Morse will play left field, Michael Saunders will start in right and Ibanez will bounce around a bit. Of course, that dynamic could change pretty quickly if Smoak struggles out of the gate.
After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.
According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.
Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.
Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.