Not all benches are created equal. Johnny Bench? Greatest catcher ever. Park bench? Not so comfortable. And wooden. While not nearly as important as the Johnny or park varieties, the Mariners’ bench might be the most debated bench in history. So, let’s break it down!
The opening day roster as I see it (position players only):
C Adam Moore
1B Casey Kotchman
2B Chone Figgins
3B Jose Lopez
SS Jack Wilson
LF Milton Bradley
CF Franklin Gutierrez
DH Ken Griffey Jr.
No real debates here, I don’t think. Johnson might start at catcher, but it’ll be one or the other. Griffey won’t see all the DH at-bats, but will probably start out seeing the majority of them, and is a lock to be on the team.
Bench (after the jump!)
INF Jack Hannahan- Lefty bat plays anywhere in the infield, solid to very good defense depending on the position, weak but not incompetent bat. Seemed like a roster lock before injuring his groin, now won’t be ready for opening day barring an actual miracle. Not a massive loss, except to confuse everything else.
INF/LF Matt Tuiasosopo- Take Hannahan’s bio and flip it. Righty bat, average to below defense, potential for a solid to very good bat. Plays all infield positions and LF, but none real well and with little experience at some. Seems like a lock to take Hannahan’s spot now, and if bat comes though, he could be a major part of the team.
2B/SS/3B Josh Wilson- Hannahan with a much worse bat and hits right handed. Battled Tui for that spot, but will probably be in Tacoma as Jack Wilson insurance. The only true SS of the three, for whatever that’s worth.
OF Eric Byrnes- Hard to know what he’ll do. Righty bat, can play all three spots (and maybe first?) solidly and maybe better. If he can hit anywhere close to what he did a few years ago before injuries hit, he’s a starter level bat. A step or two down, he’s a decent 4th outfielder. Entirely possible he doesn’t have anything left or gets injured again.
OF Ryan Langerhans- Kind of a lefty Byrnes, with a little more power but worse bat overall, if Byrnes is any good. Also much less annoying.
1B/DH Ryan Garko- Righty who kills lefties. Not much against righties or with the glove. Expected by fans to platoon with Kotchman and at DH.
DH/1B Mike Sweeney- See here. Righty, maybe good hitter, slightly better against righties, mostly a DH. Ultimate Good Guy.
C Rob Johnson- Any reason to discuss this? No? Good.
With Hannahan out, that’s seven guys for what is almost sure to be a four-man bench to start the year. Very slim chance of a 3 or 5 man bench, but it’s not likely. Johnson or another catcher takes a spot, so that’s 6 for 3 spots. Barring a trade or waiver pickup, Tui seems to be a lock over Wilson. Byrnes is probably on too, for now. That makes the last spot between Garko and Sweeney, and it sounds like it’s probably Sweeney. A depth chart with the assumed locks in bold.
1B Kotchman/Sweeney/Tui/Garko/Carp et al.
2B Figgins/Tui/Lopez/Jo. Wilson
3B Lopez/Tui/Figgins/Jo. Wilson
SS Ja. Wilson/Tui/Figgins/Jo. Wilson/Woodward
DH Griffey/Sweeney/Bradley/someone with a day off
The problem that is being pointed out is that, with all regards to Tui playing outfield and Sweeney conceivably playing 1B, there is only one reserve for the infield and one for the outfield. What happens if Wilson and Lopez both get hurt in the same game? No idea. Tui to third, Ichiro to short, Byrnes to RF? It is a problem, but it’s also pretty unlikely. If it does happen, you make due for the game, DL someone and call up Josh Wilson for the next game. Keeping Garko instead of Sweeney doesn’t have any versatility advantage except for his better splits against lefties. There are concerns about having fairly injury prone guys at multiple positions (Wilson, Bradley, Sweeney, Griffey) but I don’t see anyway around it. They’ll just have to be quicker with DL assignments or extra creative in the meantime. Funny that for all the talk of the Mariners’ love of versatility, they’re now having these issues.
I expect we’ll see the Byrnes/Tui/Sweeney bench to start, and once Lee and/or Bedard is back, hopefully they can go to an 11 man staff and add Hannahan or Langerhans if they can keep him. By that time, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone’s hurt anyway or they want to give Kotchman fewer at-bats or something. I just don’t see this being a big deal. Barring total catastrophe, they’ll probably be just fine, and if there is a total catastrophe, another guy who can play 3B probably won’t help that much.