Felix Hernandez, the highest paid pitcher in major league baseball, at least for now, will fill the number one slot in the Mariner rotation. In a five man rotation that leaves four to choose from eleven vying for those slots beginning next week.
The most likely to replace the departed Jason Vargas is Joel Saunders whom the Mariners signed for $7 million. Vargas and Saunders are both lefties, Saunders is one year older, and both pitch well at Safeco. Saunders in 9 career starts at the Safe is 6-0 in 55 innings with a 2.13 ERA. Vargas has a 42-50 career mark with a 4.35 ERA, while Saunders is 78-65 with a 4.15 ERA.
Three more starters to go.
Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi, and Erasmo Ramirez all started games for the M’s in 2012. Iwakuma pitched the best of these four once he got untracked, but none are guaranteed to get a spot. But I see Iwakuma getting a slot.
That leaves two starters to go.
Danny Hultzen, another lefty, and Brandon Maurer are on the forty man roster, so they have the advantage over James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, who are not among the 40. A player would have to be released if either Paxton or Walker made the rotation. Walker is young and needs to stretch out his innings, so he will begin in the minors. Of these potential rookies, Hultzen has the best shot, but he would have to be outstanding to get a slot, as the M’s would like to see him at Tacoma first.
That still leaves two.
And the Mariners have two pitchers trying for comebacks. Jeremy Bonderman, former Tiger hurler is 30, from Kennewick, Washington; he is 67-77 in his career with a 4.89 ERA. He missed the last two two years with shoulder problems. Newly signed Jon Garland, 132-119, 4.32 ERA, is 33, and trying to come back from a torn rotator cuff and labrum problem. He missed all of 2012. Both are long shots, but spring will tell the story.
That still leaves two. As I said, it will be a shoot out. King Felix has the season opener. After that it will be what Seahawk head coach Pete Carroll loves. Competition.