Curto, Tacoma Rainiers

Winter Check-In: Yes, We’re Playing

Time for another winter check-in as we wait for something… anything… to happen in the baseball world.

The major league owners and players have started negotiating as they look for a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow the MLB season to begin on time. That’s all I’ve got for you on that, because I’m following my own advice to not read news stories about the negotiations and simply wait for an agreement to be announced. There will be one. Eventually.

Keep in mind that the major league labor stoppage has little impact on the minor leagues. Minor league spring training will go on as scheduled, and the Tacoma Rainiers season will open on April 5 as planned.

All that being said, I’m a little surprised that we have no news yet of any minor league free agents signing with the Mariners. Minor league deals are still being made during the stoppage, and several of Tacoma’s players from last year have signed with new teams.

It could be that the M’s have inked some Triple-A free agents but simply haven’t announced the deals yet – that often happens in normal off-seasons. Baseball America posted two months of minor league transactions in one document, and the only Mariners move of note was the previously reported re-signing of Tacoma catcher Brian O’Keefe.

The Mariners did announce that they have gathered 28 of their minor league pitchers at the facility in Arizona for their pitching performance seminar, which is now called the Dominate The Zone pitching camp. Shannon Drayer has an article about the camp which includes names of the attending pitchers.

Minor League Spring Training typically starts in the first week of March, and takes place on the backfields surrounding the Mariners complex in Peoria, Arizona. We’ll have more on that as it draws closer.

Now, a few items of note regarding Tacoma baseball.

Tacoma Native Jon Lester Retires

Jon Lester announced his retirement this week, finishing with exactly 200 career wins. He retires as one of the most decorated Washington-born players in major league baseball history. Lester ranks sixth all-time in WAR among Washington-born players, according to Baseball Reference: Hall of Famers Ron Santo, Ryan Sandberg, and Earl Averill are ahead of Lester, as are Jon Olerud and Ron Cey.

Lester was born in Tacoma, raised in Puyallup, and attended high school just a mile away from Cheney Stadium at Bellarmine Prep. Cey is the only player ever born in Tacoma with a higher career WAR than Lester (53.8 to 44.2).

Is Jon Lester a Hall of Famer? That’s going to be interesting to follow in five years when he is on the ballot. He went 200-117 with a 3.66 ERA, and finished with 2488 strikeouts – outstanding numbers, but shy of the Hall threshold. He excelled in the playoffs, and he was in the playoffs a lot – if he gets into the Hall, that will be a major reason why.

Former Rainiers Managers Land New Jobs

Longtime Tacoma Rainiers managers Daren Brown and Pat Listach are back in affiliated baseball, landing new gigs with the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies.

Brown, the winningest manager in Tacoma baseball history, was hired by the Marlins to manage their Triple-A team in Jacksonville. Brown won 494 games at the helm of the Rainiers, in a career that spanned all or parts of nine seasons. Twice he was promoted mid-season to the Mariners major league staff, including a 50-game stint as the Seattle Mariners interim manager.

Unfortunately, Jacksonville plays in the Triple-A East and will not play Tacoma. However, we can chuckle about the fact that Brown is now managing one of the teams with the most ridiculous (and fun) names in minor league baseball: the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Listach, who managed the Rainiers for four seasons from 2015 through 2018, was hired by the Phillies to assist in their player development department. Listach has recently been managing with great success for the Monclova franchise in the Mexican League.

Congratulations are in order for both Brown and Listach, who really wanted to get back into organized baseball. Glad it worked out for them!

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