Open Roster Spots
With so many young players in camp, and the media’s general ignorance of the various quality of prospects (this isn’t meant to be an insult – most of the beat writers just don’t have time to do any real prospect analysis and have to rely on skimming Baseball America and taking what the organization tells them at face value), we’ve seen a lot of stuff written about how various players are trying to position themselves for jobs with the major league team. In reality, a lot of them just don’t really have any real shot of making the majors.
Take Bryan LaHair, for instance. He has a 0.0% chance of making this team. It doesn’t matter that he’s volunteering to play left field or thinks that he’s figured out how to hit for power now that he’s over some injury issues. With the talent ahead of him, he’s just not going to fit on the roster.
So, which roster spots are actually up for grabs, and who has a shot at them?
Let’s fill out the roster with the no doubt guys – Johjima, Branyan, Lopez, Betancourt, Beltre, Chavez, Gutierrez, Ichiro, Griffey, and Cedeno are on the team unless they start the season on the DL. These guys have 10 of the 13 or 14 position player spots locked up. That leaves 3 or 4 spots potentially available, depending on whether they go with an 11 or 12 man pitching staff. Those three or four spots have specific roles, though – here’s the spots that are open and who is actually in the mix for those spots.
Catcher: Jeff Clement, Jamie Burke, Rob Johnson
I almost put Clement in the lock category, but there is some chance that he has a bad enough spring that the team decides to start him off in Tacoma and goes with Kenji as the starter. The odds of that are probably less than 10%, but, they aren’t zero, so I put it here. In reality, though, Burke or Johnson can’t really play their way onto the club – their only shot is if Clement looks so bad that he plays himself off the roster. And, of course, that would be a pretty bad development for the M’s, so they’ll do whatever they can to avoid this scenario. Most likely, Clement takes this job and gets a good chunk of the time behind the plate while Johnson goes to Tacoma and Burke gets released.
Right-Handed 1B/DH: Chris Shelton, Mike Morse, Mike Sweeney
Even with the M’s talking about giving Branyan a chance to play everyday, they’re still going to carry a backup at first base, and given his historical platoon splits, it only makes sense to have a backup 1B who can hit left-handed pitching. Right-handed hitters only need apply for this job. Morse is out of options and still has fans from his big spring last year, but he’s simply not as good of a player as Shelton, so if the team decides on production potential, Shelton’s the winner. Sweeney’s got the leadership/chemistry stuff over both of them, but management has been very clear that they were going to build a winning team and expected chemistry to follow, rather than the other way around. Unless Sweeney hits a bunch of long home runs and shows that he’s found the fountain of youth, he probably retires at the end of ST, and the M’s are left to choose between Shelton and Morse. Bet on Shelton.
Right-Handed Outfielder: Wladimir Balentien, Prentice Redman
Considering that Griffey will act as the DH occasionally (or regularly, if we’re lucky), the team has to carry another outfielder besides Chavez-Gutierrez-Ichiro. With Gutierrez as the only RH hitter among the outfielders on the roster, it doesn’t make much sense for the extra OF to be another left-handed bat. So, like with the backup first baseman, right-handed bats only need apply for this role. And, with that being the case, Balentien is the obvious choice here. Despite the visa issues and the comments about how he’s got a lot of work to catch up on, it’s remarkably hard to see the M’s putting Balentien on waivers in order to keep a replacement level player like Prentice Redman. In reality, there just isn’t anyone in camp that is going to put any real pressure on Wlad for this spot, especially since he’s out of options. Unless he’s part of a spring training deal, he’s extremely likely to fill the RH OF/DH spot.
If they go with a 12 man pitching staff, then that’s your bench – Cedeno, the catcher, the 1B, and the OF. If they decide to only go with 11 pitchers, then there’s one more open spot, and given the speed of some of the guys on the roster, it should really go to a pinch runner. And that would almost certainly be Reegie Corona – the M’s didn’t spend the second pick in the Rule 5 draft on him for no reason, and if they are carrying a player specifically for his wheels, it’s going to be Corona.
So, there’s a few options for how the open roster spots will shake out, but a good chunk of guys in camp have no chance of making this roster. Realistically, it’s going to be one of Clement/Johnson/Burke (strong favorite Clement), one of Shelton/Morse/Sweeney (favorite Shelton), and one of Balentien/Redman (strong favorite Balentien), with Corona’s future depending on how many pitchers they decide to go with.
For all the other position players in camp, they aren’t really in the mix. Tui, LaHair, Woodward, Crabbe, Wilson – they can have the spring training of their lives, but they still aren’t making this team.