I heard on ESPN 710 Seattle the other day that Richie Weeks and Dustin Ackley will platoon in left. Ackley, the Mariners former second baseman, learned to play left field after being sent to minors to straighten out his hitting. Last season he played left and this season he will be joined by fellow second baseman Richie Weeks, if that report turns out to be true. And Weeks is listed 2nd on left field depth chart.
That would give Seattle five outfielders, Ackley, Weeks, Austin Jackson, Justin Ruggiano, and Seth Smith. Since Nelson Cruz may get time in the outfield if needed, that leaves speedy James Jones with little chance of making the team and likely ending up in Tacoma.
It has also been said that the whoever losses the shortstop competition between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller will end up in Tacoma with Willie Bloomquist as the utility player.
Since the Mariners are likely to have 12 pitchers because manager Lloyd McClendon does not care about complete games that leaves 13 position players. With the five outfielders listed above, plus DH Cruz and two catchers, that leaves five infielders; Logan Morrison, Robinson Cano, one shortstop from the above mentioned competition, Kyle Seager and Willie Bloomquist as Mr. Utility.
If all that has been said is true it appears the Mariners have their position players already set. The team has flexibility with interchangeable parts in the outfield depending on whether they are facing a left or right handed pitcher. And while the infield will be set, Cruz will get an occasional day at first or in one of the corner spots. Bench players will be a non-description of the 2015 Mariners as all will be seeing action on a regular basis, though Bloomquist could get lonely with Cano, and Seager being everyday players. Willie will get playing time at short, at first, and can play the outfield if needed.
And even with Jesus Montero having lost 40 pounds he may be in Tacoma along with other quality players. Tacoma could win the PCL with the Mariners having a strong roster. And we haven’t even talked about what pitchers will be down the I-5 freeway.
If you keep score at Mariner games, bring a pencil rather than a pen. You may need it as the scorecard will no doubt fill up on many days.
Let’s start with the starting lineup and reserves. 1b will be Logan Morrison. Willie Bloomquist, if he can make the team, could be back up. But, though top minor league prospect D.J. Peterson is listed at third base, that position is manned by all-star Kyle Seager. Peterson has started 19 games in the minors at first and no doubt will get a good look this spring. He bats right handed and would be a good platoon with Morrison. He made one error in 171 chances in the minors. I think Peterson will make the team. Logan and Peterson are two.
Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager are no brainers. that is four.
Catcher will be Mike Zunino. The back up will either be Jesus Sucre or John Hicks. That is six
Shortstop is anyone’s guess. The Mariners have said they do not want to platoon Brad Miller and Chris Taylor. They want somebody to win the job. If that position remains will they let the other, probably Miller be the utility player and let Willie Bloomquist go. I think youth will prevail and Miller and Taylor both make the roster. That is eight.
The outfield is more interesting. Austin Jackson is slated for center. The Mariners have said Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith will platoon in right. That leaves Dustin Ackley in left. But Dustin has failed to live up to his potential. A bigger bat would ne nice. Nelson Cruz can play left, not as well as Ackley, but Cruz’s bat will make up for that. What about Cruz as DH you ask. Jesus Montero, a right handed bat with potential power, has lost 30 pounds and is set to revive his career and live up to his potential. If his bat makes noise this spring, then he is DH. Ruggiano, Smith, Jackson, Cruz, Ackley, and Montero is six. That is 14.
That leaves 11 pitchers. Problem here as I think the M’s will carry 12 pitchers. More later.
Starting pitchers are King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and J.A. Happ. There is also a chance that Roenis Elias or Erasmo Ramirez could dazzle , but it will be hard not to go with Paxton and Walker. That leaves six relief pitchers, unless I drop an everyday player of course.
The bullpen with have Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith and Danny Farquhar. From the left side it will be Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge, or perhaps Mike Kirkham. That leaves out Dominic Leone, Yoervis Medina, and lefty David Rollins. I don’t want to leave them out, but it will be a battle during spring training because the M’s have a lot of good arms. The bullpen is their strength. I think they will go with 12, so I must cut an everyday player. I think that battle will be between Montero and Ackley.
And did you know that Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez have been invited to spring training. For the first time in some years the question is not where can they find players to make the team, but who can they keep. There will be some excellent players left off the roster on opening day. The team now has talent to compete at a higher level.
I had thought that Jesus Montero, Endy Chavez, Logan Morrison, or Stephan Romero would be sent to Tacoma to make room for Justin Smoak, Corey Hart and Michael Saunders when they were eligible to return from their rehab assignment at AAA Tacoma.
Montero was sent down, as was Romero. Saunders came up, but so did Brandon Maurer, now a relief pitcher. Starting didn’t work for him, but he has been great out of the pen.
Things change though and a few things are keeping Hart and Smoak in Tacoma. One is that Chavez and Morrison both got hot; Chavez went from the .220’s to hitting in the .260’s and Morrison from .160’s to the 230’s. Meanwhile Hart in 33 at bats is hitting .273 with a homer and 4 rbis. Not bad, but Smoak is hitting .220 with a homer and 3 rbis in 41 at bats.
Besides Chavez and Morrison making big contributions there is one more reason why Smoak and Hart are stuck in Tacoma. It is the rule of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The Mariners are hot having won eight of ten. They are currently seven games above .500 at 45-38 and are in the wild card picture. The chemistry seems good, so why tinker when there is no player who should be sent down.
Okay there is one and only one player. The Mariners currently have 13 pitchers and 12 position players on the 25 man roster. If they continue to keep 13 pitchers then only one player could be sent down and the only player not making contributions is Dustin Ackley. Batting .214 with 4 homers and only 27 at bats in 74 games, he is in a 2-28 slump and has not gotten a hit since June 22nd.
With Smoak floundering in Tacoma and Morrison hitting with Seattle that leaves Hart as a possible call up with Ackley-providing he still has options left-being sent back to AAA. He has been a huge disappointment since being the Mariners number one pick, second overall in the 2009 draft. (The number one pick was Stephen Strasburg). Ouch! That hurts like a 100 miles per hour fastball plunking your elbow.
Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Corey Hart are all on rehab in Tacoma, but at some point they will be return to Seattle and three players will either be sent to Tacoma or released.
Since Cole Gillespie and Stefan Romero both bat from the right side and M’s need batters right handed bats, they are likely to stay, though Romero batting .204 could find himself in Tacoma when Saunders returns. The outfielder most in danger is Endy Chavez hitting .224. He is one of those bench players who always seems to find different ways to contribute and that could keep him in Seattle. Tough call either way for Jackie Z and Lloyd McClendon.
Logan Morrison would have been the odd man out with Smoak’s return. Morrison was hitting .164 in 61 at bats, but Monday night against Boston went 4-4 with 2 homers, raising his average to .215. With McClendon, if you are hot you play, so Morrison would DH when Smoak returns. Smoak is batting .208 with 7 homers and 29 rbis. He is an excellent defensive player at first, but for every hot week he has, Smoak has three weeks of abject, rally floundering futility. He is a favorite of Jackie Z which means Mariner fans will suffer through the 2014 season. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and if he is resigned Mariner fans should boycott Safeco Field.
When Hart returns that means Jesus Montero will head back to Tacoma. Montero is 4 for 14 with a homer. He is the fallback should Hart struggle when he returns. Hart was hitting .209 with 5 homers an 17 rbis in 37 games. As an injury plagued player that makes Montero an important bat to keep warm with the Rainiers. Even if send down, he is likely to return.
Jackie Z and McClendon have some difficult decisions to make. Chavez, Montero, and who?
Manager Lloyd McClendon has said Justin Smoak is the Mariners first baseman. Does that mean joy in Mudville?
In Smoak’s first nine games he is 7-21 (.333) with 3 doubles, a homer, and 4 rbi’s. I am sure part of the reason is that he is a switch hitter and they need hitters from the right side when facing lefties. McCelndon would like to see Smoak have 40-45 doubles and 20-25 homers. The home run numbers are withing reach as he had a career high 20 last season, but he has never came close to 40 doubles, his high being 24 in 2011. McClendon is overly optimistic about a career .227 hitter and has fallen prey to everyone who watches Smoak in spring or goes on a hot streak in between his droughts.
In case Mariner fans have forgotten last spring Smoak batted .407 with 5 homers and 15 rbis. Everyone expected a great year where he would live up his advanced billing. But he hit .238 and despite the 20 homers had only 50 rbis. I hope for the best, but I have seen this every year and by now, as the saying goes, you are what you are. And Smoak is what he is and not what people think he is.
Spring Training is a chimera, the numbers meaningless. Consider Jesus Montero whose awesome spring of 2013 saw a .400 average with 2 homers and 11 rbis. He hit so poorly and was so bad as catcher he was sent to Tacoma to learn how to play first base, then was suspended for PEDS. He hit .208, 3 homers, 9 rbis with Seattle And it has been reported he came to training camp 40 pounds overweight.
Another example is Mike Morse who hit .357 with 9 homers and 15 rbis. Everyone envisioned 30-35 home runs, but he played himself out of Seattle, ending up in Baltimore and now is in San Francisco’s camp. Morse hit .226 with 13 home runs and 27 rbis with Seattle.
One more. Jason Bay .321, 2 home runs, 6 rbis and during regular season .204, 11 home runs, 20 rbis and was released.
Of those four who had great camps, three did not finish the season with Seattle. I call it Smoak ball-hits in spring, not in summer-because by summer the Smoak has cleared.
My e-book has no Smoak nor smoke. http://www.amazon.com/Loonies-Dugout-Terry-Nelson-ebook/dp/B00EEN7YNA/ref=la_B00EEVHN38_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394520850&sr=1-1
Breaking news. Just as I was finishing this blog, Franklin Gutierrez has told the Seattle Mariners he is done with baseball.
Jesus Montero was suspended in 2013 for using Peds; not a good thing to do when you are trying to establish a major league career. He came to spring training recently, admitted his mistake, apologized, and said he was ready to move forward. The problem is that he has put on weight, and not juts a few pounds. He joked that all he did in the offseason was eat. But when it looks like 15-20 pounds of flab, he should not be joking.
I don’t think Montero gets it. A young kid with the opportunity for a major league career , everything in front of him for the asking and he gets suspended for cheating. Instead of devoting himself to rebuilding his reputation by working out, staying in shape, having a goal of making the Mariners by impressing them with his hitting skills, he spends the offseason getting fat. He simply does not care. He is immature. By the time he gains maturity-if he does-it may be too late. He threw away last season and it looks like he may throw away this season. Send him to A-ball and see if he gets the message and wakes up.
Rumors say the Mariners are close to signing Nelson Cruz, but Seattle would do better to pursue the last two quality starting pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. Hisashi Iwakuma has a strained tendon in his right middle finger (no jokes please) and Taijuan Walker has been temporarily shut down with a strained shoulder. In Walker’s case, the Mariners say it is not unusual for a young arm, when working itself into pitching shape. They say they are not concerned. But we all know pitching is delicate. Injuries, no matter how minor, can be indicative of a larger problem. Will Iwakuma’s finger be right all season? Will Walker develop shoulder problems like so many young arms? With Danny Hultzen already mending and the Mariners with little veteran experience to rely on, need to sign Jimenez or Santana and forget Cruz. The old baseball adage is true, you can never have enough pitching.
The recent signings to minor league contracts of 37 year old lefty Randy Wolf who missed last season with elbow surgery and 31 one year old Zach minor, also with elbow issues, is not the answer. The Mariners signed of slew of sore armed pitchers trying for a comeback. Signing a veteran with no health issues is an answer.
Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariner GM, came to the Mariners with a reputation for wheeling and dealing players, thus the sobriquet Trader Jack. But a closer look indicates he needs a new nickname.
There are 8 players of the top 33 on the Mariner roster who came via trades and only one in 2013 and that was last February when Seattle shipped Shawn Kelley to the Yankees for Abraham Almonte. At the moment, not a big move, though Almonte has a shot to be a starting outfielder this season.
Danny Farquhar came to Seattle in the Ichiro trade in 2012. That was a trade to improve the club by subtraction; publicly to give Ichiro a chance to play for a winner and privately to settle the Mariner clubhouse. Seattle was getting younger, Ichiro was getting older. The only other trade in 2012 came in January when Seattle sent Michael Pineda to the Yankees and received Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Pineda has not pitched in two years due to arm injuries and Montero proved he was no catcher a and it is questionable whether he will make the 2014 roster.
Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan came to Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade in 2010. Trader Jack and no choice as Lee was not going to resign with Seattle, so that was a forced trade. What Mariner fans got was the opportunity to bitch about Smoak for the last four years. In 2011 Charlie Furbush came to Seattle in the Doug Fister trade and Franklin Gutierrez came to Seattle in a three way trade two months after Trader Jack became the Mariners GM.
Eleven Mariners came through the amateur draft; one in a rule 5 draft; thirteen through free agency. I have only included the 33 players listed on Sports-Reference .com. I included Willie Bloomquist, who signed as free agent this offseason, not through the amateur draft.
The point is he has built the team through the draft and free agency and has not made many trades. Of the eight trades for players currently on the roster, two had to be made, Ichiro and Lee. So he really does not deserve the Trader Jack nickname. The question is what his nickname should be. I am sure former manager Eric Wedge has one or two, but probably not printable.
Maybe I can come up with one during the season. I am, however, taking printable suggestions.