The Mariners come out of a 7-2 home stand tied for the division lead. The pitching looks excellent and gets Cliff Lee in a week, and the offense has been better. Still this team just doesn’t look right. Everyone agrees it could use another big bat or two or three. Most people agree that Mike Sweeney at this point isn’t a good fit. Some agree that going back to the 6-man bullpen seems like a good move now.
No one likes roster analysis more than a Seattle-area sports blogger, so let’s see if we can figure out the mess and find room for some more offense not named Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder!
- In the lineup, 2B, SS, 3B, CF, and RF are not going to be changing soon. Hanley Ramirez instead of Jack Wilson at short would be great, but it’s not going to happen. There are incredibly few shortstops around, and it’s incredibly unlikely the Mariners would try to get one when there are easier places to upgrade. It’s possible Lopez could still be traded, especially in a deal for a big bat, but that’s not likely to happen for at least another month or two, if at all. The rest of these spots are manned by definite assets.
- One pitcher will leave the rotation when Cliff Lee comes back on (hopefully) April 30th. It’s possible they juggle things around and wait to make the move until a few days later, so they can see everyone throw again, but one pitcher out of Fister, Vargas, Snell, and RRS will be out of the rotation sooner than later.
- Milton Bradley will play somewhere, preferably more at DH to help hold off minor injuries like the one with which he is currently out.
- There’s not much, if any, offensive help ready in the minors. Michael Saunders might come up later, but from what I’ve heard he’s still working on his swing and not looking too great right now. Someone else could certainly make an appearance at some point, but there’s no one likely to provide the offensive spark this team will likely need at some point.
- Jack Hannahan will almost surely rejoin the team once he’s done with some rehab time in Tacoma.
- Mike Sweeney is not playing more than a game a week, and is not hitting when he does play. I was in favor of him being on the team to start because of the way he hit in spring and because I thought he was a better option than Langerhans or whoever else was around then. I also thought he’d play some first base against lefties. None of this has happened, and now he’s basically taking up a roster spot. I’d love to keep him around for the chemistry reasons, but at this point that needs to be on the DL or coaching staff.
- Speaking of the bench, it needs to be more useful. Tui is a nice spare part, and is hitting a little bit in his limited time. Byrnes is not hitting, but can play all the outfield spots and is a decent pinch-runner type. We’ll get into the catchers in a second. With Sweeney holding the final spot and not producing, flexibility is limited. More importantly, it makes it hard to pinch-hit or -run or make a defensive swap that could be a major factor in deciding the game.
- The catchers aren’t producing much. Adam Moore looks scared to death and in over his head, which really surprises me. Rob Johnson has been Rob Johnson. Nothing is likely to change here as far as personnel goes.
- Our designated hitters can’t hit. Griffey rolls singles through the second-base hole. Sweeney doesn’t even do that.
- Comparatively minor offensive worries: Lopez isn’t hitting at all; Kotchman is struggling mightily against lefties; Bradley’s contact rates are way down.
The Maneuverable Areas
- The Bullpen. As is well documented, the team started with a six man pen so they could carry an extra bat in Langerhans. A couple of bad outings from starters necessitated replacing Langerhans with Jesus Colome to make a 7 man pen. Now, the starters have gone deep into games almost the whole homestand and the relievers are underworked. It’s tough to predict, but six relievers seems like enough right now, especially if one of them is the demoted starter.
- DH. The best situation would be to have Mike Sweeney off the roster, with Bradley at DH most of the time. Griffey can handle it when Bradley’s out or playing left. I’m not holding my breath, but Griffey might heat up a little with the weather.
- Left field. Moving Bradley to DH opens up a spot in left that should be easy to fill with a bat. A Byrnes/Langerhans platoon is not the answer. I’m not even a big fan of having Langerhans on the team. To me, he’s the ideal 4th OF if you have a bunch of guys who can hit but are a little suspect in the field. He’d then be useful as a defensive replacement or spot starter. Fortunately, we have maybe the best defensive outfield in the majors, and Byrnes to provide the above role. If you want to replace Byrnes with Langerhans, then we can talk.
- Bench. I’ve covered most of the problems here. Sweeney can’t play the field or hit enough to solve the DH problem, so that leaves the catcher and two other guys, one of whom can only play the OF.
- 1B. I like what Kotchman’s done and want to see if he can keep it up, but a righty to face at least the tough lefties would be nice. I like Tui, but better options shouldn’t be too hard to find.
So, here’s what I’d do. I’m not sure on the order necessarily, unless it magically becomes clear while I’m writing this. I would go to a six-man pen. My only caveat on that would be if you decide to take Snell out of the rotation but don’t want to risk losing him by sending him to the minors. You could put him in the bullpen for a while, see how the others do in the rotation, and use him in long relief until he’s needed again in the rotation. Personally, I don’t like that option at all, but it’s defensible.
Anyway, I would take Snell out of the rotation when Lee is back and either trade him or risk losing him on waivers. I’ve seen nothing that makes me think he’ll turn it around, unfortunately. I’m not absolutely convinced on the other three either, but I feel better about their chances. I’d also drop Colome from the bullpen whenever Hannahan is healthy and ready to go. This would give you a five man bench without having to do something with Sweeney. Having Hannahan, Byrnes, Tui, and Sweeney gives you a utility infielder, a utility outfielder and pinch-runner, a guy who can play anywhere with a decent bat, and a potentially useful pinch-hitter. That’s not a terrible bench, and much more useful than what they have currently.
The move I’d most like to see is replacing Sweeney with a right-handed bat who could play both left and first. And I’m talking about a real bat, not Eric Byrnes. Someone who could play the majority of the time in left and slide to first against the tough lefties, with Byrnes, Tui or Bradley playing left, or Tui playing first, whichever Wak prefers. I don’t have anyone in mind, but I’m basically talking about a starting left fielder acquired by trade. This moves Bradley to DH most of the time, adds another bat to the line-up, and gives a little better depth at first. Who is this person and can they get him? I have no idea, but I’m sure he’s out there.
That was a lot of words to say not very much, but my point is that this team is a six-man pen and a fake Mike Sweeney injury plus acquring an average to slightly better left fielder away from a fairly solid offense and versatile bench without breaking the bank for one of the big name first basemen. That’ll come in July!
C Rob Johnson
1B Casey Kotchman vs. righties Tui/New guy vs. lefties
2B Chone Figgins
3B Jose Lopez
SS Jack Wilson
LF New Guy Bradley/Byrnes/Tui vs. lefties
CF Franklin Gutierrez
C Adam Moore
INF Jack Hannahan
INF/OF Matt Tuiasosopo
OF Eric Byrnes