ARLINGTON, Texas — Having returned to one former home this week when the Mariners opened the season at Texas, center fielder Leonys Martin can’t help but wonder whether he’ll ever be allowed to return to play for his homeland.
It’s not at the front of his thoughts, certainly.
Martin, 28, is still fitting into his new club, and he’s yet to enter the home clubhouse at Safeco Field. Even so, the past pushed in hard this week when he returned to Globe Life Park for the first time as a visiting player.
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It was Martin’s two-out RBI double that broke a tie in the seventh inning Tuesday (VIDEO LINK) before the Mariners turned the game into a 10-2 rout that saw the benches nearly empty when things grew tense in a six-run eighth inning.
Martin was among the first out of the dugout before tempers cooled. Asked afterward how it felt to be lined up in a potential conflict against former teammates, he left no doubt regarding his loyalties.
"I love Seattle," he said. "I love my new team, my new teammates and coaching staff." They are his future, and he was ready to rumble, but the past still tugs in different ways.
And Martin is hopeful.
A potential benefit from the escalating baseball diplomacy between the United States and Cuba is the possibility that defectors such as Martin might again play for their national team.
Cuban baseball commissioner Heriberto Suarez was quoted last month by FoxSports.com as saying "everything is on the table" in regard to his country’s new willingness to work with Major League Baseball.
Those comments came in the glow of the visit by the Tampa Bay Rays to Havana to play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team and followed a goodwill tour last December by several major-league players.
"Oh, I wish," said Martin, who had three more hits Wednesday when the Mariners rallied for a 9-5 victory over the Rangers. (VIDEO LINK)
"That would be an amazing feeling to represent your country again. To be able to play for your fans and your family again, it would be an amazing feeling. That would be one of my dreams."
Suarez cautioned that any such arrangement would need to be part of a larger agreement between the Cuban and U.S. governments along with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
Union chief Tony Clark addressed that topic on a visit to the Mariners’ spring camp and suggested that reaching such an agreement, while desirable and beneficial to all sides, presents a significant challenge.
"It’s oftentimes difficult," Clark said, "when it’s a two-way conversation to find common ground. It can be even more of a challenge when you have more people at the table, and have different interests, to find common ground.
"I am hopeful that, because of everything that has happened…the train is moving. It may not be moving as fast as some would like. But the truth is it’s moving."
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred expects the issue of player movement from Cuba to be part of the upcoming labor talks. Common ground between the club owners and players should aid discussions between the two governments.
Cuba would, almost certainly, want some sort of financial compensation for allowing its top stars to leave to island. But it is also proud of its baseball heritage and likely to see the benefit of reuniting its stars for international events.
Such as the World Baseball Classic, which will be held again next year.
Martin is one of 23 Cuban-born players who opened this season on a big-league roster. Others include such stars as Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Kendrys Morales and Jose Fernandez.
"Could we win (the WBC)?" Martin asked. "It would be hard, but we’d be a good team. The Dominican Republic is good also. And Venezuela. But we’d have a good team."
Right now, no deal is close, and Martin reiterated his focus is centered on the Mariners and the upcoming season. But starting the season at Texas inevitably reminded him of his past.
He spent five years in the Rangers’ organization after defecting in 2010 before a November 2015 trade brought him to the Mariners.
"It was strange to be back to Texas (as an opponent)," Martin said. "A little weird. But that’s part of my past. Seattle is my present."
As for the dream of playing again for Cuba, it’s still there. Maybe on the back burner. But always simmering.
"I know it’s something that people are working on," Martin said, "but I know it’s going to take a little while for that to happen. Let’s see. I would love to play for Cuba again."
BRANTLY TO TACOMA
Catcher Rob Brantly is heading to Triple-A Tacoma on an outright assignment after clearing waivers. He is expected to share catching duties on the Rainiers with Mike Zunino.
The Mariners acquired Brantly, 26, in a March 12 waiver claim from the Chicago White Sox. He was 6-for-16 (.375) in 14 spring games but failed to supplant Steve Clevenger as the backup catcher
Because Brantly is out of options, the Mariners waited until the end of spring training to place him on waivers in the hope that other clubs would be reluctant to submit a claim after already finalizing their 25-man rosters.
Brantly has a .225 average with five homers and 32 RBIs in 112 career games over parts of three seasons with Miami and the White Sox. He has a .274/.321/.387 slash over six minor-league seasons.
LINING IT UP
As Triple-A Tacoma swings into its season Thursday, the Rainiers’ rotation is already lined up to help the big-league club.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said Joe Wieland, James Paxton and Donn Roach (not necessarily in that order) are currently viewed as the top candidates if/when the Mariners required a replacement in their rotation.
"And you know," Dipoto said, "that’s going to happen at some point."
The Rainiers’ rotation lines up with Wieland pitching Thursday’s opener against Albuquerque (Rockies) with Cody Martin starting Friday, followed by Paxton, Adrian Sampson and Roach.
Dipoto explained the Mariners spaced Wieland, Paxton and Roach in order to ensure that, if a replacement is needed, there is always one available who has at least three days of rest.
Placing Paxton in the third slot, Saturday’s game, also keeps him lined up with right-hander Nathan Karns, who will pitch that night against Oakland at Safeco Field.
Paxton and Karns battled this spring for the final slot in the big-league rotation.
Openers for the other affiliates:
***Double-A Jackson vs. Montgomery (Rays). Right-hander Edwin Diaz is starting for the Generals.
***Hi-A Bakersfield vs. Visalia (Diamondbacks). Right-hander Andrew Moore is starting for the Blaze.
***Lo-A Clinton at Kane County (Diamondbacks). Right-hander Lukas Schiraldi is starting for the LumberKings.
The Mariners will have $7,136,000 to spend this year in the draft in their efforts to rebuild a thin farm system. That ranks 17th among the 30 clubs.
Major League Baseball released the slot values for the June draft in which it assigns a dollar value to every pick through the first 10 rounds.
Clubs may spend the aggregate total of their picks’ value in any manner, but penalties apply to clubs that exceed their total bonus-pool allotment.
The excess of any bonus for more than $100,000 for selections after the 10th round also count against a club’s allotted pool.
Five clubs, all in the National League, have more than $10 million in their pool: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Diego, Atlanta and Colorado. Oakland has the highest pool among American League clubs at $9,883,500.
The Mariners have the 11th overall pick, which carries a slot value of $3,286,700. Their second-round pick (No. 50 overall) has a value of $1,252,100.
It was 32 years ago Thursday — April 7, 1984 — that left-hander Mark Langston made his major-league debut by pitching seven innings in a 3-2 victory over Milwaukee at the Kingdome.
Langston, then 23, gave up two runs and four hits before Mike Stanton and Ed Vande Berg closed out the victory. The Mariners selected Langston in the second round of the 1981 draft. He was 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA as a rookie.
The Mariners trailed 2-0 before Al Cowens tied the game with a two-run single in the sixth. Barry Bonnell’s pinch RBI single with two outs in the seventh scored the winning run.
Langston spent 5 1/2 years with the Mariners before May 25, 1989 trade sent him to Montreal in a five-player deal that returned left-hander Randy Johnson. Langston finished a 16-year career in 1999 at 179-158 with a 3.97 ERA.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday before starting their home schedule at 7:10 p.m. Friday with the first of three weekend games against Oakland at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker (11-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 2015) will start for the Mariners. The Athletics plan to recall lefty Eric Surkamp from Triple-A Nashville to replace injured Felix Doubront.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
MLB’S BONUS POOL ALLOTMENTS FOR JUNE DRAFT
1. Cincinnati Reds: $13,923,700
2. Philadelphia Phillies: $13,405,200
3. San Diego Padres: $12,869,200
4. Atlanta Braves: $12,385,200
5. Colorado Rockies: $11,153,400
6. Oakland Athletics: $9,883,500
7. Chicago White Sox: $9,416,600
8. Milwaukee Brewers: $9,364,300
9. Los Angeles Dodgers: $9,336,500
10. St. Louis Cardinals: $9,143,300
11. Minnesota Twins: $8,153,500
12. New York Mets: $7,671,700
13. Tampa Bay Rays: $7,643,100
14. Washington Nationals: $7,635,500
15. Baltimore Orioles: $7,545,800
16. Cleveland Indians: $7,499,600
17. Seattle Mariners: $7,136,000
18. Pittsburgh Pirates: $7,007,900
19. Boston Red Sox: $6,997,400
20. Toronto Blue Jays: $6,665,900
21. Miami Marlins: $6,445,900
22. Los Angeles Angels: $6,120,500
23. Houston Astros: $5,928,300
24. New York Yankees: $5,831,200
25. Detroit Tigers: $5,424,300
26. Arizona Diamondbacks: $5,419,900
27. Texas Rangers: $5,358,500
28. San Francisco Giants: $3,494,900
29. Kansas City Royals: $3,225,300
30. Chicago Cubs: $2,245,100