As I stated before, the Mariners know who will be playing where with a few exceptions. The last rotation slot and the bullpen mix are two areas we’ll be playing close attention to. But likely the most intriguing battle will be for Adam Lind’s right handed platoon partner.
The M’s will be looking for a player who can hit left handed pitching, with an eye to someone who can fulfill the “control the zone” approach to hitting, can play first base, some DH, and if they offer some roster flexibility by playing other positions, so much the better. But let’s be clear, this player will likely face some right handed pitching as well, so someone who simply can’t hit right handers will not wash.
The four most likely candidates competing for that job are Jesus Montero, Gaby Sanchez, Stefen Romero and Dae-ho Lee. Let’s take a look at each.
Entering spring training in February 2014, General Manager Jack Zdurencik said about Montero “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.” There is no getting around the fact that Montero has been a tremendous disappointment since the Mariners traded for him in 2012. Despite losing weight and performing very well in Tacoma in 2015, he’s been unable to translate that into success at the major league level. His career numbers against left handed pitching is .292/.341/.429 with a wRC+ of 115. He is not a very good first baseman, has no speed and can only play first base and DH. Out of minor league options, Montero is gone if the M’s don’t keep him with the big club or trade him.
Sanchez has a seven year major-league career split between Florida/Miami and Pittsburgh as a first baseman. Sanchez had some good years, making an All-Star appearance with the Marlins in 2011. But he stumbled in 2012, and his career never was never quite the same. He was traded to the Pirates in 2012, watching his career averages, and especially his power numbers decline. His final year in Pittsburg was .229/.293/.385. in 2015 Sanchez played in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he hit .226/.329/.392. Over his career, Sanchez has been a .291/.382/.481 against left handed pitching. Sanchez pencils out to about average at first base with a career DRS of -5 and UZR/150 of 2.5, though his defense took a nosedive after 2012. Sanchez signed a minot league contract on January 22nd.
Romero hasn’t played first base. The former Oregon State Beaver has had a hard time latching on to the big league team. He’s put up some good number in Tacoma, but in his 214 major league plate appearances, Romero has not been impressive–though this three run homer off Gavin Floyd in 2014 was pretty eye-catching.
Romero is one of those bat guys, without a clear position. However he’s performed creditably at second, third and in the outfield. More athletic than guys like Vinnie Catricala or Alex Liddi, it remains to be seen whether he can impress enough with his bat, or pick up playing first base quickly to stick with the big club.
Lee is the plus-sized right handed hitter who has played most of his 14 year career in the Korean Baseball Organization. But for the last four years Lee has been very good in the Japan Pacific League for Orix and Fukuoka. A big guy at 6’4″ 280-300 lbs, Lee has shown a the ability to get on base and hit with considerable power. Last year with Fukuoka, Lee slashed .282/.368/.524 and smashed 31 home runs. He’s a really big guy, and though he plays first base, it’s unclear how well he plays first base. He’s really a man-mountain and makes the 6’1″ 235 lb. Sanchez look like a fence rail. Jeff Sullivan wrote an interesting piece about Lee at FanGraphs and how his power, OBP and relatively low strikeout numbers clearly align with Jerry Dipoto’s effort to get guys on base and reduce strikeouts. Be sure to take a look at the home run videos. To be fair, however, Lee’s strikeouts increased in his four year Japan stint from 85 in 2012 to 109 in 2015. Compared to Nelson Cruz, not so many, but at age 34, a 20% increase in K’s is something to pay attention to. Lee’s accomplishments in Asia mean nothing. It’s what he can do for the M’s in the major leagues that count. He may be the most interesting of these four players, but it is far from certain he is the one who can best do the job. Lee is signed to a minor league contract, but could make up to $4 million if he makes good and meets incentives. The Mariners had competition for his services, and it’s clear the M’s offer the best path for the big man to reach the major leagues.
So here is something to chew on. I don’t see a clear favorite here, and all have fairly serious warts. However, adding serious hitting depth could solidify the M’s position in what is clearly going to be a competitive AL West.