M’s Sign Garko
Well, we finally know who was the long rumored right-handed 1B/DH type the Mariners were after – Ryan Garko, who they have now signed. He gets a 1 year, $550,000 deal, which is quite frankly a massive bargain. To get a quality platoon player in his prime for barely more than the league minimum… for comparison, he’s basically the equal of Garrett Atkins, who signed for $4.5 million earlier this winter.
So, on the cost to acquire relative to talent scale, he obviously makes a lot of sense. The question, though, is how the team will fit him onto the roster.
Garko is a lefty masher, a guy who has consistently hit LHP well but been just okay against RHP. Given the current roster, there aren’t going to be too many DH at-bats open against LHP, with Byrnes slotted in as the left fielder and Bradley shifting to DH against southpaws. So, to get Garko in the line-up vs lefties, he’ll have to play first base, which means he’ll be Kotchman’s platoon partner. That downgrades the defense quite a bit (Garko isn’t much with the glove), and it will be interesting to see how often Wak is willing to make that offense-for-defense swap, especially if Kotchman is hitting RHPs well.
The other issue, and one that we’ve discussed quite a bit lately, is how this kind of move will affect the composition of the bench. Here’s the roster, as it stands – we’ll use vs RHP as the example for now.
This is the bench if the M’s continue to carry 12 pitchers, limiting themselves to just four reserve position players. You have a backup catcher, a backup first baseman, a reserve utility infielder, and a reserve outfielder. That should be enough, right?
Nope. Because here’s what it now looks like against LHP.
Note the problem that will occur in any game where the team faces an LHP and one of the outfielders has to leave, whether via injury/ejection/whatever. If Gutierrez runs into a wall, you move Byrnes to center and stick Griffey in left, and that’s your outfield for the day. Assuming, of course, Griffey’s knees are up to playing the outfield that day, and that Wak is willing to sacrifice the team’s biggest strength (OF defense) and turn it into a glaring weakness. If Junior can’t play the field, or Wak doesn’t want him to, then you’re doing something like putting Garko out there and sticking Kotchman at first, which isn’t much better, honestly.
This isn’t some outlandish scenario where two guys crash into each other and have to leave the game. This will be an issue every single time the M’s face an LHP. They’ll just be playing without a fourth outfielder, which will get really old, really fast.
Given this, I think the M’s have to carry another outfielder. Bradley and Byrnes just aren’t reliable enough to count on them being able to cover all the innings in the outfield between them, especially if Byrnes is also the only backup to Gutierrez and Ichiro. And if you’re going to carry another outfielder, that means a five man bench, which means an 11 man pitching staff.
That they signed Garko, and they know all of the stuff I just wrote above, I have to believe that is a real consideration. Jack even mentioned that an 11 man staff would be “ideal” at our USSM gathering in January, but also mentioned that a decision like that would have to be made during spring training, after they look at how the pitching staff shakes out.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this signing, but I’d bet that Garko’s addition makes it far more likely that the team breaks camp with only six relievers.