Commentary: Hot Mariners having better spring than Angels, Rangers

March 6, 2013 

The Seattle Mariners’ bats finally were silenced Tuesday, but only because the schedule provided a day off for, um, what to call this juggernaut team that’s tearing up the Cactus League? The Peoria Power Co.? The New Bashers of the Purple Sage? Wedgie’s Wallbangers?

Aside from an offense that’s connected for 24 homers in 11 games, the best news of the Mariners’ camp has been how smooth things seem to be going. No worrisome injuries. No agents grousing on behalf of their clients. No rumblings of front-office discord.

The Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — the American League West’s big spenders and, by extension, presumptive challengers to wrest the division crown from the Oakland A’s — haven’t been so fortunate.

Take the Angels, who lured free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton from Texas over the winter with a five-year contract worth $125 million. Because the team’s third-place finish in 2012 could be blamed on a pitching staff that mostly underwhelmed, the deal for Hamilton appeared to be more a public relations coup than a move to address a glaring need.

“Look at us,” was owner Arte Moreno’s message to the rest of Major League Baseball. “A year after we picked up Albert Pujols, we’re still swimming in money!”

Except whatever PR points were scored with the acquisition of Hamilton were surrendered the other day when the Angels pitched a low-ball contract to Mike Trout. The outfielder, fresh off a rookie-of-the-year season

that vaulted him into a Most Valuable Player candidate — he finished second to Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera, baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967 — received the equivalent of a gift-certificate bonus for his sensational work.

The Angels didn’t have to pay Trout more than MLB’s minimum salary of $490,000. They decided to pay him $20,000 more, and if Trout, who can’t file for free agency until the end of the 2017 season, wasn’t thrilled with the raise, well, he can always occupy himself in another line of work for the next five years.

Nobody should be grieving over a 21-year-old earning $510,000 to play a game he obviously loves. Besides, if Trout stays healthy and avoids any scandal less sensational than participation in a strong-armed robbery, he figures to command a free-agent contract in the gazillions at the age of 26.

But if the Angels are swimming in money, why go cheap with a kid already established as a superstar? Why plant a seed of discontent in the back of Trout’s mind?

The seed has been planted, by the way. Although Trout didn’t complain about the skimpy raise he got, the reaction of his agent, Craig Landis, suggested the Mike Trout Era in Anaheim could be bumpier than necessary.

“During the process, on behalf of Mike, I asked that the Angels compensate Mike for his historic 2012 season, given his service time,” Landis said last week. “In my opinion, this contract falls well short of a fair contract.”

Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto explained the team’s motives in a tone so dispassionate it was close to creepy.

Said DiPoto: “What we’re doing contractually with Mike is within the parameters of the agreement collectively bargained between players and the league.”

Sounds like a boss who inspires his employees to go the extra mile, huh?

Meanwhile, in Texas, a boss whose sheer presence inspires employees might be looking to bolt. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, the Rangers’ CEO and driving force behind the team’s back-to-back American League championships in 2010 and 2011, has reason to wonder if he’s still wanted.

The Rangers on Friday gave GM Jon Daniels the additional title of president of baseball operations while appointing Rick George president of business operations. All of which leaves Ryan in charge of … what?

According to Fort Worth Star-Tribune columnist Randy Galloway, Ryan’s association with the Rangers won’t make it through the spring. Galloway cited only anonymous sources, but if Galloway insists he’s got sources, trust him: The guy was cultivating sources in Dallas years before the Rangers arrived, and they arrived in 1972.

The instability within the Rangers’ front office could explain all that went wrong during the winter, when they traded Michael Young to Philadelphia for two minor leaguers. Young is 36 and long past his prime, but think of him as Texas’ version of Edgar Martinez: Not only is he a seven-time All-Star atop the team’s leader board in nine career hitting categories, but also Young was “the heart and soul of the Rangers,” as former Texas pitcher (and current Phillies teammate) Cliff Lee called him.

The Rangers whiffed on their attempts to sign free agent pitcher Zack Greinke, and to work out a trade for Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, and to keep Hamilton. Gone, too, is catcher Mike Napoli, who signed as a free agent with Boston.

Sustaining the crummy karma, Martin Perez, competing for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, suffered a broken left forearm on a liner off the bat of the Mariners’ Brad Miller on Sunday. Perez will be out two months.

And then there’s shortstop Elvis Andrus. He spent a day off this past Wednesday in a tattoo parlor where an elaborate design was imprinted from his shoulder to his elbow. Andrus had to be scratched from the lineup for the Thursday game as he was ailing with “tattoo soreness.”

The Mariners, I should point out, are not averse to the idea of tattoos. But their tattooing during this excellent adventure of a spring has been different, and quite remarkable for a team whose power struggles convinced management to make Safeco Field’s fences more forgiving.

They’re tattooing baseballs.


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