Garland’s Gone and Other Stuff

Baseball season is just over a week away, and if that doesn’t make you happy, you’re probably not a baseball fan.  The Mariners have had an uneventful spring training.  The roster, barring any last minute injuries or shake-ups, will be as projected.  The two open spots, back of the rotation and last position player, aren’t decided, but the rotation is a man closer to finalization.

Jon Garland came to camp as a non-roster invitee after missing last season with arm issues.  He was a slightly above-average starter before his injuries, so it was widely assumed that if he looked anything like he used to, he would take one of the two open spots.  He’s been decent but not terribly impressive all camp, but he was still expected to make the team.  Complicating matters was a clause in Garland’s contract allowing him to leave the Mariners yesterday if he wanted.  Basically, if the Mariners weren’t going to promise him a rotation spot, he was going to leave.  Much to the media’s surprise, that’s exactly what happened.  It’s a good reminder that, as excellent as much of the media following the Mariners is, no one knows what the Mariners will do except Jack Zduriencik, and he’s not telling anyone before he has to.

The move’s implications for this season are moderate.  Garland didn’t project to be great or terrible.  League-average or slightly better was probably the realistic best-case scenario.  His replacements are less predictable but similarly capable and likely to be in the same performance vicinity.  There appear to be four pitchers in the running for those two spots:

  •  Jeremy Bonderman is a veteran in a position similar to Garland’s.  I’d be shocked if he made the rotation.  I’m guessing the Mariners hope he will take an assignment to the minor leagues, where he can continue to build up arm strength after injury and a lot of time off.  He’d then be good depth for injuries or poor performance this summer.  He may decide to retire rather than go to Tacoma, though.
  • Blake Beavan is quite familiar to Mariner fans.  He might be slightly less recognizable this season with a revamped delivery aiming to mimic Doug Fister’s.  Seattle Sports Insider has a great breakdown of the windup and potential implications (start here).  I don’t particularly like watching Beavan pitch, but he’s a fairly reliable guy for the back of the rotation, and he’s still only 24.  Age is not a guarantee of improvement, but when combined with the revamped delivery, I’m open to seeing what he can do for a few months at least.
  • Erasmo Ramirez should be a lock for a spot, in my opinion.  He has the best stuff of the three mentioned thus far, excellent command, and good major league performance at the end of last season.  I don’t know if the Mariners have penciled him in yet, but I’d be curious to know their reasons if they haven’t.
  • Brandon Maurer is this year’s camp phenom.  After battling injuries early in his career, he stayed healthy at Double-A last year and showed enough ability and talent to jump into the conversation with his more ballyhooed rotation-mates (Hultzen, Walker, Paxton).  To some degree, I would say he’s a guy who does many things well without anything especially standing out.  He throws low- to mid-90s, has three other solid or better pitches, and shows good command.  Think Felix, on a much, much smaller scale.  He could probably succeed now, but given his lack of experience at even Triple-A and that past injury history, I probably would start him in Tacoma.  I’m kind of hoping the Mariners feel differently, however, because it’d be fun to see what he can do.

So, barring a big surprise, the opening day rotation will be Felix, Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, and two of the above.  That’s a decent rotation with a chance to be better.  Or it could be worse, if all of the kids fall flat on their faces.  That’s why the Garland decision is somewhat fascinating.  It’s entirely possible that Garland would have/will outperform at least one of the rotation slots.  Maybe, maybe not, but I’d bet on it.

So why is it good the Mariners let him go?  Because it looks like they’re ready to let the young talent they’ve been stockpiling make its presence known.  There is no guarantee Maurer, Ramirez and all of the guys still in the minors will be able to lead the Mariners to prominence.  If they can’t though, it’s going to mean a complete change of plans and likely management.  The future is roped to the Mariners’ youngsters, those both in the majors and minors.  It’s time to give them a shot.

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That other roster spot still looks life a fight between outfielders Jason Bay and Casper Wells.  Opinions are somewhat split on this one, including between the Good Guys.  The case for each:

  • Bay is not far removed from being an all-star, and is still a better hitter than Wells.  He’s unlikely to reach his 2009 numbers again, but it wouldn’t surprise to see him become a good spot starter or better.  He’s a solid defensive outfielder.
  • Wells is a better defender who can legitimately play center field.  He’s third on the depth chart at that position, but given that one of those ahead of him is Franklin Gutierrez, it’s a real consideration.  He has power and is young enough to project some improvement.  He’s also under team control for as long as the Mariners could conceivably want him.

Some people think that Wells could be a solid starter if given a shot.  Personally, I don’t see it.  I think he’s too limited as a hitter.  The center field issue is legitimate, but to me it’s not a huge deal.  If it comes to it, the Mariners can track down a center fielder for a while.  They have minor league options who could fill in for a couple of weeks in a pinch.  It’s not ideal, but to me, it’s not worth getting worked up about it if they choose Bay over Wells.  Wells offers security, Bay offers upside.  The Mariners appear to be favoring Bay, but as the Garland decision shows, we won’t know until one of them gets cut.

That’s about it for news right now.  Most of the people still in camp either have a spot or are just depth.  The only questionable position left is the bullpen, but it looks like Kameron Loe will win the last spot with Josh Kinney out for a while.  The most surprising player left in camp might be Brad Miller, the sweet-hitting shortstop who ended the year in double-A.  I don’t think there’s any way he makes the team, but that he’s lasted this long shows how highly the team thinks of him.  If he can improve his defense, he could take Brendan Ryan’s spot as soon as a year from now.

The season starts a week from Monday in Oakland, of course.  The Mariners are doing a cool open house at Safeco that night, where fans can come, see the changes to the stadium, and watch the game on the monstrous new scoreboard screen.  I think doors open at 6:00, and I believe parking is free if you get there in time.

-Matthew

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