Open Roster Spots

Dave · March 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


62 Responses to “Open Roster Spots”

  1. joser on March 5th, 2009 9:24 am

    When Dave N did that in-game interview with him, Zduriencik seemed to think the team was leaning towards a 12 man pitching staff. I’ve never been a huge fan of that (it seems to be as much a way to cover for bad bullpen management as anything else, and we’ve seen stretches in the past where they had to send guys to the mound for no better reason than to keep the rust off). And in the current situation, where you have several positions that demand platoons, it seems particularly short-sighted.

    I agree 1B is a weak spot in the lineup, but I don’t really see any of the options making that much difference overall. There’s not a lot of need to give LaHair innings just to “show us what he can do full time” — he’s had over a thousand ABs with Tacoma over the past 3 years, and the projections that take that into account should be fairly reliable.

    Is it me, or have the Aussies just stolen the A’s uniforms?

    I think that whenever I see any Aussie national team. Green and gold (or “gum and wattle”) have been the Aussie colors for more than a century. At least they don’t insist on wearing white shoes.

    (That last link mentions “Harry Musgrove’s troubled Australian Baseball Tour of America”… in 1897! And we think the M’s travel schedule is tough. I’d like to find out more about that, but all I can turn up is this book on Amazon where a reviewer mentions this “disaster tour” was in reply to an 1888 Spalding tour of Australia. Anybody know anything more? When something is described as “troubled” and “ill-fated” and “a disaster” you know there’s a good story there.)

  2. Gustafson on March 5th, 2009 9:31 am

    Branyan does one very important thing very well – he hits RH pitching. He cannot hit lefties at all…

    Last year he had an OPS of 1.030 against righties… And 0 against lefties. True story. 0-14 with 0 walks and 8 Ks against lefties.

    But against righties, he is a solid hitter. As long as he’s a true platoon player, he is a MAJOR improvement over what the M’s had last year.

    Especially considering under that scenario Shelton (or someone else) will hit against lefties…

    The Mariners could very realistically end up with an OPS of .900 for their staring 1B position…

  3. Tek Jansen on March 5th, 2009 10:36 am

    To follow up on my previous comment, I noticed that Cedeno is in LF today, with Balentien in RF. Any shred of a chance that Cedeno proves a better option as a backup OF than Balentien? That would allow the M’s to carry Corona and a 12 man pitching staff. Of course, there would be almost zero power on the bench in that scenario.

  4. TumwaterMike on March 5th, 2009 10:44 am

    I had a dream that Johjima was so pleased playing in Japan with team Japan that he decided to stay there and void his contract with the M’s.

    That being the case, to me, our catching would be better off with Clement and Burke then Clement and Johjima. If there was a way to get rid of Johjima I would be all for it.

    Also I believe Morse deserves a shot. He has done whatever the M’s have asked of him and has never complained. He could still back up at 1B, 3B, and the outfield. I also think Sweney needs to be on this team. I think he can hit .290 15hrs and 70-75 RBI’s as a DH part-time 1B. He can RH/LH DH with Griffey and do the same with Branyan at first. This young team needs the leadership qualities of both Griffey and Sweeney. Those are intangibles that could win them 5-10 more games a year.

    I think the M’s could get by with a 11 man pitching staff. Which would allow for another position player, be it, Balentein, Corona, Morse or Sweeney. Carp will go to AAA with Tui and Mike Wilson and they will tear the place up.

  5. Dave on March 5th, 2009 11:01 am


  6. djw on March 5th, 2009 12:35 pm

    So Sweeney’s leadership=Pujols bat. Pretty amazing he settled for a minor league contract…

  7. lokiforever on March 5th, 2009 3:05 pm

    Uh Oh

    I’m going to agree with joser on this one, and look to the 1000+ AAA at bats as the basis for projecting Morse. He’s had a shot of sorts.

    Also, I wonder how many people fit into this category “He has done whatever the M’s Have asked of him and has never complained” ?

  8. henryv on March 5th, 2009 3:10 pm

    The Mariners could very realistically end up with an OPS of .900 for their staring 1B position…

    If this happens, I will eat my own shoe.

    Just because you platoon guys against opposing handed starting pitchers means that they are going to get to face that the whole game. The reality of the game is that about 40+% of the game is pitched by the bullpen.

    And if you’ve got a LH 1B that can’t hit LHP worth a damned, you have to pinch hit for him a lot. And now you come to the closer, and you have a bad RH vs RHP, and you have nothing remaining. Now factor in that one of them is going to be a superior defensive player, are you going to want to take them out late in the game?

    Platooning is nice and all, but eventually you’re going to lose some close games because you are so limited. Especially if you are going to carry 12 pitchers.

    And this team isn’t going to blow a lot of people out, right? So more often that not, games they win will be decided by an at bat or two… And to end up in the bottom of the 8th with Branyan facing a left handed reliever because we pinch hit him earlier in the game is a disaster.

    Not that I’m not saying platooning a few positions isn’t a good idea for this team, but lets not go nuts. Especially if we go into opening day with 12 pitchers and only 4 bench players.

  9. djw on March 5th, 2009 3:51 pm


    It’s not particularly hard or unusual for the left handed half of a platoon to get 90% of his at bats against RHP. (Like…Russ Branyan, 2008!). It’s not as hard as you suggest.

    As far as the cost in wins from less roster flexibility…a lot of those late game moves you might make if you hadn’t burned one sub already are percentage plays of a very minor variety. Color me skeptical about significant lost victories until evidence is produced that suggests otherwise.

    It seems rather clear that platoons are underutilized in todays game, not overutilized. Probably that’s related to the 12-man pitching staffs.

  10. eponymous coward on March 5th, 2009 5:35 pm

    Morse is terrible. So’s LaHair. Sweeney is pretty much done as a player. Shelton’s very clearly the best player of those four.

    In fact… Shelton’s career wOBA and projected wOBA isn’t much different than Branyan’s. Yes, I know, Safeco screws RHB. He’s still the obvious player you want to keep around on the roster to a) give some RH 1B/DH ab’s to and b) replace Branyan or Griffey in the lineup if they are injured.

  11. slescotts on March 7th, 2009 9:00 pm

    I hesitate to say Morse is a AAA/injury guy but lean that way more often than not. He’s definitely not the next A-rod (contrary to the commentary a few years ago), he doesn’t appear to be a ‘yoeman’ every-day type or a bonafide utility guy (OF? Ugh). He has talent, no doubt, but the fact that he doesn’t appear to ‘fit’ anywhere very well and can only occasionally hit should be an indication. We’ve been trying to find a place for this guy at the major league level for quite awhile due to his natural ability, talent and ‘potential’. Unfortunately, sometimes a few good pieces doesn’t equal a good whole. I say we give him a shot in more than just garbage time and see if he can hit or resign ourselves to the fact that he’s Ok in a pinch for an injury call-up but little else.

  12. Mariner4Life on March 8th, 2009 11:58 am

    Just curious what the possibilites of Jack Z finding a suitor for Johjima…My opinion is that he is worthless, and should let the Clement start full time with Burke backing up. Seems like the M’s are trying to get done and build for the future, and thats what needs to get done, honestly I don’t think Johjima is or should be part of the future for the M’s. So here’s hoping Jack Z can find a suitor for him, and continue the youth movement…

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