With spring training kicking off, we can start to more safely assume that the Mariners won’t be adding any more players, and this is the roster. It’s not a lock, of course, but for now, let’s work under the assumption that the opening day roster is going to come from the guys who are already here. That would give us the following set-in-stone roster, where blank spots are the position battles that we’ll address below.
That’s 17 roster spots essentially accounted for. Maybe you can argue that Hannahan is going to have to fight for his job, but I doubt it. There’s just no real competition in camp for the utility infielder spot. I’d say there’s a good certainty that these guys will open the season in these respective roles, barring injury.
Now, after those guys, there’s a few players who are definitely on the team, but have undefined roles as of now. The two big names not listed above are Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey Jr. As we talked about all winter, it looks like LF and DH will be some kind of job share between a bunch of players, depending on who is healthy and what kind of pitcher the team is facing on any given day. Adding in those two, and we have 19 players who are definitely on the club. That leaves 6 roster spots that are legitimately up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the contenders.
Nothing much new to add here. Johnson’s likely to make the club as long as he proves he’s healthy, but that’s questionable enough that we won’t pencil him for a spot just yet. The other spot comes down to whether the team thinks Adam Moore is ready. If they don’t, then Bard makes the team and splits time with Johnson behind the plate, offering a switch-hitter and the best bat of the three options. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. My gut? Moore goes to Tacoma, Johnson breaks camp as the starter, and the team lets Bard play a few times a week until Moore forces them to call him up.
Probably the most fluid spot on the team. Vargas and Fister both pitched well at times last year and have to be the leading candidates, but both have fringey repertoires that could easily make them look terrible in Arizona. Olson and French are similar, except for the pitching well last year thing, and Petit is the longshot candidate, especially now that he’s off the 40 man roster. Additionally factoring into this is that the losers of this spot are going to be fighting for a bullpen job, and that the pen is currently 100% right-handed.
I’d say that gives Fister a slight advantage, but as a strike-thrower, he’s also the most likely to be able to soak up the 100 innings that Jakubauskas took last year in the swing role. I’m not sure Vargas could handle that job as well. So, right now, I’d call this a toss-up between those two, with the other three needing to pitch well to avoid a trip to Tacoma.
This is an interesting spot that hasn’t gotten as much attention over the winter. White gave the Mariners some good results last year, but he’s both injured and not good enough to be expected to do it again (2.80 ERA, 4.86 xFIP last year). If he shows he’s healthy in the spring, he would be expected to have the inside track, but the M’s have made no secret of the fact that they’re not counting on him to be healthy. So, this spot is up for grabs, with a bunch of rookies behind White potentially fighting for the last middle relief role. Texeira would be the most likely bet as a Rule 5 guy, but the M’s discarded both of their rule 5 picks last year in favor of internal candidates, so who knows. This will be a battle to watch.
The consolation prize for the guys who lose out on the fifth starter’s job. Nothing much else to write beyond what I wrote above.
This spot is the ultimate wildcard. It could go to a left-handed outfielder like Langerhans if the team is going to play Bradley in left but wants to have a defensive replacement/pinch runner to keep him healthy. It could go to Saunders if he tears the cover off the ball and forces the team to make him their left fielder, pushing Bradley to DH and Griffey to the bench.
Or the M’s could decide to go with a 12 man pitching staff, carrying another reliever to help get the team through the early part of the season when Wak will want to be more conservative with the pitch counts. That could be a lefty if they want to add some balance to the bullpen, or another young guy who forces his way onto the roster like Shawn Kelley did last year.
There are way too many variables in play here to take a guess at who will fill the final roster spot. This spot likely won’t be decided until the last few days of spring.