Spring Training and the big questions

We’re still nearly two weeks out from the start of the regular season and spring training seems to be boiling down to two major issues: the last two spots in the rotation and who will be the fifth outfielder.

Wednesday night’s  game was on ROOTSSports and it sure was fun to watch six innings before I dragged myself off to bed.  At that time the M’s had just tied the Giants 3-3 and it was pretty exciting stuff.  The M’s have had a great spring, have a good record and have thwacked the ball pretty well.  Mike Morse leads the Cactus League in homers and Kendrys Morales had another dinger last night.  I know it’s only spring training, but that is what they got those guys for, so it’s good to see them serving that purpose.  The most fun I had watching the game, however, was checking out Brad Miller and Nick Franklin.  They both played hard, gritty baseball with good defense, stealing bases, and driving in runs. I hope they both end up in Tacoma because I’m convinced they could be the M’s double play combo of the near future.

Watched Brandon Maurer pitch pretty well last night, and Tom Wilhelmson explode like a compressed gas can.  Maurer’s been good and is in the running for the fifth spot in the Mariners’s rotation.  Geoff Baker made an interesting observation about Maurer yesterday that he has been good this spring, but not so good that he couldn’t be sent to Tacoma to start the year.  He considered the case of Michael Pineda in 2011 when he was clearly pitching better than anyone but Felix and he literally couldn’t be kept off the team less there be a player mutiny.  Maurer has been good but not that good.

Which brings us to the remaining candidate for those rotation spots.  They likely will be veteran Jon Garland, and youngsters Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. In my view, unless he is just ghastly his last couple of starts, Garland makes the team.  He struggled in his last performance, but he’s throwing hard and generally doing what Jon Garland does, providing quality innings that may be a bridge to a younger pitcher later in the summer.  Maybe Ramirez or Beavan, maybe one of the Fantastic Four, as they’ve taken to calling themselves.

Choosing between Ramirez and Beavan is a tough one.  All the SABR guys like Ramirez best.  I’m not sure I have a strong view based on metrics or otherwise.  What I will say is that it’s difficult to get stuck on last year’s statistics for a young pitcher who is 22 or 23 years old.  1) neither has sprung fully formed onto the scene, guns blazing, like Doc Gooden, 2) neither have much major league experience, 3) it’s silly to think they aren’t working on their game and aren’t going to be different, hopefully better than last year. Either Ramirez or Beavan will make decent number five guys, and the other will provide organizational depth when the rotation suffers inevitable injuries.

Honestly, I think the outfield situation is a more pressing one. The Mariners have to decide whether their fifth outfielder will be Jason Bay or Casper Wells. Wells has admittedly been a disappointment. He hasn’t shown the kind of hitting necessary to move him into a starting role.  Even so the M’s are looking at beginning the season with Franklin Gutierrez starting in center.  Look I’m a huge believe in his ability, but Gutierrez is the man of glass, an injury waiting to happen.  Not only is Gutierrez injury-prone, but his recoveries the last three seasons have been long.  If Guti can’t play that means Michael Saunders is your center fielder.  Saunders can definitely play, but if his sojourn in center is lengthy, who spells him?  Who plays center if Saunders is hurt?  Tonight Jason Bay is getting a look in center field.  I shudder to think what this may look like, but clearly it indicates the M’s are seriously considering Bay over Wells who can play all the outfield positions.  The Mariners will carry five outfielders.  Four will certainly be Gutierrez, Saunders, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.  Bay and Wells are vying for the final spot.  What do the Mariners do?  Bay has had very good spring, hitting the ball hard and playing  better than expected defense.  If the M’s roll the dice on Bay, how much of a chance are they taking without a handy centerfielder.

Jason Bay future centerfielder?  He's playing there tonight.
Jason Bay future centerfielder? He’s playing there tonight.

I told ’em.  They should have signed Michael Bourn.


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