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M's add defensive whiz Reese
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mike Cameron is a full season removed from Seattle, but he's still contributing to the Mariners' defense.
When Cameron found out that his former Cincinnati teammate and good buddy, Pokey Reese, was considering signing with the Mariners, he unleashed a major selling job on the virtues of Northwest living in general, and of M's baseball in particular.
"I said, 'Pokey, it will be the best thing that ever happened to you,' " said Cameron yesterday by telephone. "I told him there was no place like it to get your opportunity."
With Cameron's ringing endorsement, coupled with the Mariners' offer of an everyday position at shortstop, Reese signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract yesterday with Seattle that includes a team option for 2006.
The signing of the defensive whiz almost certainly relegates Jose Lopez, the highly regarded but still-developing infield prospect, to Class AAA Tacoma to start the season. The move was also intertwined with a transaction involving key utility man Jolbert Cabrera.
The Mariners released Cabrera so he can sign with an as-yet unspecified Japanese team. Seattle will receive a cash settlement from the Japanese team that general manager Bill Bavasi termed "fair," while Cabrera did "well, very well" financially in his Japanese deal, according to Bavasi.
Cabrera, who hit .270 in 113 games for Seattle last year, is the brother of Orlando Cabrera, who replaced Nomar Garciaparra as Boston's regular shortstop at midseason and helped the Red Sox to the World Series title.
That may certainly be the case defensively, with the addition of Richie Sexson at first and Adrian Beltre at third to Bret Boone at second base.
"We basically have a Gold Glover at every position in the infield," Bavasi said.
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove called Reese's defense "pretty sweet."
Added Boone, who has been a Reese advocate all winter: "This is a very good sign. The dude can pick it."
Boone played with Reese in Cincinnati in 1997-98, when Reese came through the Reds' farm system as a shortstop but was moved to second base because of All-Star Barry Larkin.
"Barry got hurt, and Pokey got a chance to play short, and he turned out to be one of the most gifted defenders I've ever been around," Boone said. "He has as much or more range as anyone in either league, plus he has a cannon for an arm. We now have the best defensive infield in baseball."
M's fans will recall that Reese was sought after by the Mariners in 2000 when they negotiated with Cincinnati the Ken Griffey trade. Reds GM Jim Bowden refused to include Reese in the deal, which was eventually consummated with Cameron, among others, coming to Seattle.
"We finally got him," former Seattle GM Pat Gillick, now a Mariners senior advisor, said of Reese with a laugh. "He's a guy we were very interested in, and they just wouldn't put him in the deal. Yeah, it got me upset. He's a really good defensive player with great range at both shortstop and second base. He's learned to handle the bat, too."
Reese's main problem has been injuries, an amazing array that plagued him in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. They continued last year in Boston when he missed 45 games with a ribcage injury.
Bavasi said of whomever the M's bring in as a backup, "We're not talking about a blockbuster. Our room to move is limited."
Lopez, 21, had been penciled in as the regular shortstop, but the Mariners had reservations about his ability to play regularly. He hit .232 in 57 games last year and will work at both shortstop and second base in Tacoma.
"We really feel he could use another half-year or year to still develop his skills at Triple A," Bavasi said.
Hargrove, however, said he will go into spring training with an open mind toward Lopez.
"He may have a tremendous camp to the point he forces us to look at different options," Hargrove said. "That would be great."
Reese hit just .221 last year, but showed some offensive punch in 1999 when he hit .285, with 37 doubles and 38 stolen bases.
"The guy is good, I'm telling you," said Cameron. "He just has to stay healthy."
Reese, a Florida resident, was unavailable for comment. But his agent, Mike Nicotera, confirmed that Cameron, also a client, was a strong advocate for the Mariners with Reese.
"For a guy no longer there, he's certainly one heck of an ambassador for the Mariners and the city of Seattle," Nicotera said.
Reese received a $100,000 signing bonus and will have a base salary of $800,000 for 2005. He can earn an additional $300,000 in performance bonuses based on games started.
The M's option for 2006 ranges from $2.25 million to $2.75 million, based on how many games Reese starts in '05. He can earn another 500,000 in bonuses the second season. The M's have a $300,000 buyout.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company