Clearly, the Mariners aren’t done making changes to their roster. I’d imagine we’ll see another trade or two before the off-season ends, as the current pitching staff has a lot of unanswered questions. Based on what’s here today, this is how I’d project the pitching staff for 2009.
#1 Starter: Felix Hernandez
#2 Starter: Erik Bedard
#3 Starter: Aaron Heilman or Brandon Morrow
#4 Starter: Carlos Silva
#5 Starter: Jarrod Washburn or Ryan Rowland-Smith
Closer: Aaron Heilman or Brandon Morrow
RH Setup: Miguel Batista
LH Setup: Jason Vargas or Ryan Rowland-Smith
RH Middle: Roy Corcoran
LH Middle: Jose Lugo or Jason Vargas
Mopup: Mark Lowe
Long: Cesar Jimenez or Jason Vargas
If you notice, there’s 13 names up there, and this assumes the M’s will go with a 12 man pitching staff. They may only go 11 deep. Either way, one or two guys from above won’t be making the roster, and if you think Justin Thomas might sneak into the LH reliever competition, that would make 14 names. A few people are going to have to go away.
Silva and Batista aren’t going anywhere. There’s just no way to get rid of their contracts, and both are at their lowest point in terms of value. The best for both is to try to put them in situations where they have a quality defense behind them and hope for a good first half. If Batista settles in as a decent reliever, you might be able to dump him in July. With Silva, you’re just hoping he gives you 160 decent enough innings, and then maybe you can eat half of his contract next winter to be rid of him.
The guys that you want on the roster, without question, are Felix, Bedard, Morrow, Heilman, and Rowland-Smith. Those five should come to camp with significant job security. The latter three may not have defined roles right now, but we should be pretty confidant that they’re on the staff. Combined with the two total albatross contracts, that makes a pitching staff of seven that you’re pretty set on.
The other six guys are the marginal ones. The team should move Washburn if they can, but there was no interest in him at the winter meetings, so they might be forced to carry him into spring training and hope that some team gets interested when someone on their staff gets hurt. If that’s the case, then you lose a rotation spot to hand to Rowland-Smith, and he goes to the ‘pen, which means one less job for the Vargas/Lugo/Jimenez trio to fight over. Lugo has the advantage of being a Rule 5 guy, so he’s more likely to stick than guys with options left. Vargas has good get-out-lefty stuff, which Jimenez does not, so Vargas is more likely to stick as the traditional LH setup guy, while Jimenez is probably best suited as a long reliever.
Corcoran pitched well last year, and probably slides into the Sean Green role of groundballing right-handed relief guy, while Lowe gets handed a low leverage role until he can prove that he’s close to getting his stuff and command back.
That brings us to the big issue – Heilman and Morrow. Both want to start – Morrow has made it very clear that he thinks he proved he can be a starter in the big leagues at the end of the season, while Heilman demanded a trade because he wanted a chance to prove he could take the hill every five days as he heads towards free agency in 2010. With the roster the way it is right now, there simply isn’t room for both. One of them will amost certainly be asked to head to the bullpen, and would head into spring training as the most likely option to begin the year as the closer.
That’s not what either of them, or the organization for that matter, would deem as the best option long term. Realistically, this team needs to lose a starting pitcher or two and pick up a right-handed reliever who can get get both RHB and LHB out. There are options to get that point (eat a lot of money to move Washburn being the obvious one), but none of them are great options.
So far, we’ve given Zduriencik a big thumbs up for his early moves. Picking up guys like Branyan and Shelton on the cheap were astute moves, and the Putz trade was a fantastic one for the organization, but now it gets harder. If he’s really going to expedite the reshaping of this roster and get us setup to have a solid team that is building towards 2010, he needs to figure out how to toss Jarrod Washburn overboard without taking a bad contract back and convince RR-S to hang out in the bullpen until they have a chance to figure out what to do with Bedard.
Realistically, the M’s goal should be to end the 2009 season with a rotation of Felix, Morrow, Heilman, Silva, and Rowland-Smith. Getting there won’t be easy. Now we find out just how good of a GM Zduriencik can really be.