It’s been pretty quiet in Marinerland since they netted Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs. Are the Mariners done dealing? Should they be done?
If the M’s were to leave for Peoria today, the likely big league roster favorites would probably look something like this:
SP candidates: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Erasmo Ramirez (out of minor league options)
RP candidates: Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmson, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquar, Dominic Leone, Carson Smith, Brandon Maurer, David Rollins (Rule V draftee)
Catcher: Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre
1B: Logan Morrison
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Kyle Seager
SS: Chris Taylor, Brad Miller
OF: Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Justin Ruggiano, James Jones, Brad Miller, Stefan Romero
DH: Nelson Cruz
Utility dude: Willie Bloomquist, Brad Miller.
These are fairly obvious choices for the major league roster, but there are some potential surprises as well. They could include inf/of Partrick Kivlehan, or 1b/3b D.J. Peterson. I’m not suggesting this list is exhaustive, or that these are guys who will make the team, but it’s likely they are the ones who get first looks.
It’s clear this is the thinnest position on the team. Austin Jackson is coming off a sub-par year. We still don’t have a year of solid production from Dustin Ackley, despite his defensive improvements. It’s looking increasingly like a Justin Ruggiano/Brad Miller platoon in right, though it’s possible the front office is still trying to cook up a left handed platoon-mate for Ruggiano. I’m not a gigantic fan of the Brad Miller option. Let’s be clear, despite Andy Van Slyke’s assurances Miller is a natural in the outfield, he hasn’t played there. Yes, I know he’s an athlete and he’s left handed, but there will be adjustments to playing the field. In addition to that, Miller is coming off a less-than scintillating year at the plate. As the left handed partner, he’d also be getting the majority of the at-bats. I hope to see him get some time in the outfield, but just giving Miller 60 % of the right field at bats is a return to wishful thinking.
Logan Morrison finished the year as the Mariner first baseman, where he absolutely belongs. He finished the year strong, hitting over .300 in August and September. I was all prepared to write about his need for a right-handed platoon mate, but his splits show a dramatic edge hitting left handed pitching over right-handed pitching. His slash against lefties is .333/.368/.478 but only .236/.296/.398, though 9 of his 11 home runs came against right-handers. It is conceivable the Mariners could be looking for a partner or upgrade at first, but Morrison could have a much better, healthier year than 2014.
I’ve already written about the habitual lack of depth on the Mariners bench, one unlikely to deepen much because of Manager Lloyd McClendon’s predilection for a massive bullpen. With last year’s success, it’s unlikely McClendon will change strategy. However, if it’s Ruggiano/Miller in the outfield, Bloomquist as super-sub, and Sucre backing up at catcher, that leaves one more spot. The M’s could choose to carry outfielder James Jones as an extra player and late inning base-runner, or they might look for another useful bat as a role player. Maybe they’d choose to carry Stefan Romero, or perhaps they could look for more of a pinch-hitting specialist. The bench is another spot to make the team better without a lot of cost.
Though the Mariners did struggle with pitching injuries last year, they managed to avoid the Tommy John plague that decimated so many staffs. They got lucky with Chris Young and Roenis Elias, and Erasmo Ramirez, though not a charter member of the Lloyd MClendon Fan Club, was able to chip in 14 starts and 75 innings. This year there will be six guys vying for five starting spots. Unless Raimirez begins the year on the big-league roster, he’ll be lost-he’s out of minor league options, and somebody will find a use for him. Last year the team started the season without Iwakuma and Walker, and Paxton joined the wounded list after a few starts. Should the Mariners seek additional depth off the scrap pile just in case? I’m not suggesting Max Scherzer or even Chris Young type depth, but maybe one of those scrap pile dudes who are trying to resurrect their career that always seem to be around for $1.95 and another shot at glory. There are not reinforcements left to call up from the minors.
The Mariners have managed to give themselves a real D.H. add a pitcher and a little right-handed depth while sacrificing only Michael Saunders. We’ll see how this works out after the season is over; I’m inclined to think the Saunders trade was more about chemistry than performance. It is hard to argue the team is not improved. Most importantly, the M’s hung on to all of their young players. Matt Brazis, sent to Chicago for Ruggiano, wasn’t going to make this team. But the M’s still improved themselves while hanging on to Walker, Paxton, Miller, Taylor, Ketel Marte, Patrick Kivlehan, and D.J. Peterson as well as the best bullpen in baseball. It doesn’t mean they aren’t bullets that can’t be fired at a mid-season upgrade if they find a Miller/Ruggiano tag-team doesn’t work, or if they want to make some other improvement. Or if some of these guys show growth in Tacoma, maybe they are mid-season call-ups.
The M’s may make additional moves-or they might not. But, if they don’t, the Mariners should have the pieces in place–barring major injuries–to see if the plan works.