Out of [Left-handed] Options
Quick update by Dave: After checking, I think both Vargas and Olson will get a fourth option year. The rule is laid out here, and essentially states that any player with less than five full professional seasons will qualify for a fourth option year. Vargas missed all of 2008 due to injury, so that year doesn’t count, meaning he’s headed into his fifth full pro season. Olson’s only full pro seasons are 2006-2009, so he’s also going into his 5th full year. By my reading of the rules, both should be option eligible this year. But I could be wrong.
After Bedard was brought back to possibly fill out a rotation that will have Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell following Felix! (here for another five years!) and Cliff Lee in the rotation, there were assorted debates arising over who is likely to be on the outside looking in as far as pitching spots go. We tried out a lot of arms in the fifth spot last season, and seeing as how many were new to the org, we didnâ€™t really think much of it as we were using the I-5 shuttle to send them back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma. The assumption was that weâ€™d continue to be able to do so until one or more of them broke away from the pack and proved themselves valuable enough to stick, loading up the Rainiers rotation in the process.
The reality is more complicated than that, if not a little bleaker as well. We knew that Snell was out of options because much was made of his return to triple-A this past season, which burned up the last of his years. What we didnâ€™t realize at the time was that he wasnâ€™t the only one to do so. RR-S, Jason Vargas, and Garrett Olson all used up their last options during the 2009 season.
For our purposes, itâ€™s easy to pencil in Rowland-Smith and Snell as keepers. Hyphen has pitched well when healthy, enough for Bedard to suggest that he signed on to be the 3-B starter. The only major issue with Rowland-Smith is that last year was the first time heâ€™d ever hit 150 or more innings, as he was bouncing back and forth between relief and starting early on in his career. Snell, while he didnâ€™t show a great deal of improvement in his tenure with the Mâ€™s, remains more talented physically than most starters in the org and I donâ€™t think that the org would cut bait on him after two+ months of not-good pitching.
That leaves us with Olson and Vargas. Olson has been the name that comes up most often when people seem to talk about leaving a guy out. Itâ€™s true that based off of the FanGraphs metrics, his fastball was an alarming 15.9 runs below average in his 80 innings with the team, but we also shouldnâ€™t lose sight of the fact that his curveball, which added some depth last season was right up there with the best of them at 4.9 above and his change, at 3.6 above, was the second best on the team, behind Felixâ€™s which of course has to be judged by its own standards.
What makes Olson peculiar in his MLB behavior is that heâ€™s not good against left-handed batters. His splits are relatively close after last season, and what he gains in roughly a K every nine innings, he offsets with nearly a whole walk on top of that. Some parts of Olsonâ€™s game have never translated to the big leagues. If you take a look at his historical minor league splits, youâ€™ll see that he only walked 1.35 left-handers per nine innings in Tacoma last season, which is slightly better than his career average. Another minor oddity is that, historically, heâ€™s struck out more right-handers than left-handers, 8.88 to 7.58, and last year, while fewer in number and closer overall, was no exception.
Vargas presents different issues. His fastball, while slightly slower than Olsonâ€™s, has generally been a below-average, but not horrible offering every year heâ€™s been in the majors except 2006 when he was with the Marlins. The slider and change have also improved to the point where theyâ€™re more or less average, while he pretty much shouldnâ€™t throw his curve at all, and rarely does. As a sum, he wonâ€™t kill you in lower leverage roles.
Last yearâ€™s splits also established Vargas as more or less even versus both types of hitters, pedestrian, but competent. It wasnâ€™t always this way, and in limited samples over the earlier part of his MLB career, there was a great deal more variance. This demonstrates that Vargas has managed to adapt to major league hitters, as he also showed little difference in his minor league career. Olson has not adapted, and may not survive because of that.
Derekâ€™s earlier depth chart showed us a bullpen setup of Aardsma, League, Lowe, Kelley, French, Vargas, and Olson, with one of them heading elsewhere assuming that you run out a six-man bullpen. You can add Fister to that group as well as soon as Bedard comes back, leaving us to cut two from the group. Given that French has two options left and a fastball about as bad as Olsonâ€™s right now, you could probably option him in the hopes that he figures out how to use his newly improved stuff in Tacoma.
Fister, however, may be a different matter. Similar to Vargas, Fisterâ€™s offerings are about average, with the bonus of him not walking anyone. The fastball and the curve arenâ€™t great, but the change is an effective pitch and makes him a solid option versus left-handers. While he does have every one of his options left, it would be difficult to make the case that Olson, whose heater is a legitimate suck pitch and could only hope to become â€œbadâ€ going forward, provides more value than Fister might as he adapts.
Assuming the health of the group as a whole, which is always a tenuous bet, the return of Bedard might also mean the end of Olsonâ€™s career as a Mariner without significant improvement in his primary offering. Heâ€™ll have a month or two to try to change his fortunes.