If they are to be constructed as a team of pitching, defense and the occasional run, the Seattle Mariners are going to need a healthy Adrian Beltre.
Fortunately for them, they have one – Beltre says his left shoulder and thumb have recovered from season-ending surgeries, and that he is already hitting, fielding and throwing more than a month before spring training.
Now, the team needs to win the confidence of their Gold Glove third baseman.
“There’s probably been more change than I expected,” Beltre said by telephone Monday. “I only know a couple of guys. We lost a lot of games, and I understand, but I wasn’t sure which way the team was going to go.
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“We’re young, and it’s probably not a team that will win a lot of games.”
That’s the view of the 29-year-old veteran, who has spent most of the offseason in his native Dominican Republic.
Since the end of the season, he’s watched from a distance as the Mariners hired a general manager, manager and coaching staff – one that will provide him with his fifth hitting coach in as many seasons as a Mariner.
And he’s seen the team lose free agent Raul Ibañez and trade relievers J.J. Putz and Sean Green.
New GM Jack Zduriencik would likely ask Beltre for the benefit of the doubt, especially on the age front – newly acquired outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, first baseman Russell Branyan and pitcher Aaron Heilman are veterans, the youngest Gutierrez at 25.
“The youngest players on this team are probably two of our horses – Felix Hernandez and Brandon Morrow,” Zduriencik said.
Still, it’s easy to see why Beltre would feel like the last Mariners veteran standing. Aside from Ibañez, Putz and Green, the team won’t have Willie Bloomquist or Miguel Cairo back.
And, going back to the team that opened the ’08 season, the M’s have moved Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro, among others.
So Beltre’s enthusiasm is on hold.
“Seattle has treated me really well, better than expected, and I’ve given it all on the field,” he said. “I want to be part of a better team. As a player, you want the best pieces. Last year was frustrating for everyone, we didn’t do it. I understand why they went young, but it’s not what I was hoping to see.”
He insists that, rather than request a trade – Beltre is in the last year of his contract – he will continue working toward spring training and a berth on the Dominican team for the World Baseball Classic.
“The shoulder is still aching, not from surgery but from inflammation,” Beltre said. “The thumb is much better than I’d expected. I’m hitting and I’m sore, but I’ve been taking ground balls and throwing a little.”
Zduriencik, meanwhile, said he’ll try to improve the M’s between now and spring training.
“We don’t hold all the cards, but we’re in the game,” Zduriencik said. “There are a lot of bodies out there, and we’ve had enough discussions that if something should fall through, they’ll come back to talk to us.
“We’ve got an offer out right now for a piece of the puzzle, and I’d hope to hear in the next few days.”
Once Beltre reports to camp, he’ll meet his newest hitting coach, Alan Cockrell.
“Let’s see, I’ve had Don Baylor, Jeff Pentland, Lee Elia and the guy from Cuba, Jose Castro,” Beltre said. “I don’t know the new hitting coach, but you always need help from a hitting coach. He can see what you don’t see, and from time to time you forget little things.
“I’ll be ready for camp. Then, we’ll see what the team can do.”