Looking At The Opening Day Roster
We’re a little over a week away from Opening Day, so the M’s are going to start having to make some decisions on who goes north with the club pretty soon. I’m guessing that most of the decisions have already been made, but there is probably still one or two openings. As of today, here’s my best guess as to what the Opening Day roster for the M’s will look like.
1. Ichiro, RF
2. Figgins, 3B
3. Bradley, LF
4. Cust, DH
5. Smoak, 1B
6. Olivo, C
7. Gutierrez, CF
8. Wilson, 2B
9. Ryan, SS
Bench: Moore (C), Kennedy (IF), Langerhans (OF), Josh Wilson (UT)
The spots that could still be up in the air are the utility spot (where it’s possible that they could go with Chris Gimenez instead of Josh Wilson if they wanted a third catcher with Olivo at less than 100%) and the second lefty, where Ring could be beaten out by Fabio Castro (if they want a guy who can go multiple innings) or Cesar Jimenez (if they don’t want to put Jimenez on waivers). My feeling is the other 23 spots are basically decided at this point.
Probably the main “story” that would come out of this roster would be Michael Saunders heading back for another round in Triple-A. The M’s are trying to rework his swing a bit after some pretty poor results during his stints in the big leagues, and having him serve as a part-time player is not in the best interests of his development. When they decided to keep Milton Bradley around as the regular left fielder, they essentially ticketed Saunders for the PCL and turned his roster spot into more of a fourth outfielder role, which Langerhans is better suited for.
We’ll do a post about Saunders shortly, but in reality, he needs more time in the minors. As we talked about last year, his swing essentially made it impossible for him to hit anything to left field, so he was highly susceptible to anything on the outer half of the plate. This meant that righties could just pitch him away and lefties could pound him with breaking balls, and he couldn’t really do anything about it. Unless he can correct that issue and come up with a swing that allows him to occasionally dump the ball into left field when he needs to, he’s not going to be a good big league hitter. It’s better for Saunders to work on that in Tacoma to be continually embarrassed in Seattle.
As it stands, the bench provides a decent amount of versatility in terms of pinch-running and moving guys around the field, but it leaves Wedge with some inferior pinch-hitting options for high leverage situations when he wants to swap out Wilson or Ryan to get a big hit. Langerhans and Kennedy offer LH bats but neither have the kind of offensive ability you really want in a pinch-hitter, and if you use Langerhans to pinch hit for one of the middle infielders, you probably burn two bench spots – either Wilson or Kennedy has to go in to play the infield position in the next inning, so in most cases, Wedge would probably just opt to use Kennedy as the pinch-hitter du jour. Not exactly the kind of guy who is going to strike fear into opposing pitchers when they see him come out in the on deck circle.
There’s also no real reserve corner infielder on the roster. This is a team that could really use a right-handed 3B/1B with some punch against left-handed hitters, as both Figgins and Smoak have had their problems with southpaws historically. Even if you don’t plan on platooning either of those guys, giving them a day off here and there when an LHP is on the mound isn’t the worst idea in the world. This bench doesn’t really give the M’s that option. If the team could find a corner infielder who could also fake it in left field occasionally (necessary because of Bradley’s health issues), they could punt Wilson and improve the team. Whether that’s something they actually try to do or not remains to be seen.
On the pitching side of things, the rotation is clearly the strength of the team, with three quality arms, a fly ball lefty who is perfect for the park, and a command righty who has shown some ability to be a decent innings sponge. Neither Pineda or Bedard are likely to soak up a lot of innings this year, however, so expect to see guys like Luke French and David Pauley make quite a few starts as well. Bedard is a pretty huge wild card – if he stays healthy, he represents a nice upgrade for the team that they couldn’t have counted on, but every time he takes the hill, there’s a chance that he could experience shoulder pain and have to shut it down.
The bullpen… well, it just isn’t good. Aardsma and Kelly’s injuries took away good arms, and Dan Cortes failed to throw enough strikes in spring training to crack the roster. That left the team with a few veteran stop-gaps who will try to hold down the fort until the good arms return, and the late innings could be pretty scary in April and May. The M’s need to hope that guys like Cortes and Wilhelmsen develop quickly, Aardsma gets healthy in a hurry, and they can avoid total bullpen meltdown until that happens.
The team should also be actively looking to steal arms from other organizations who might be in a roster crunch and have a decent reliever to spare. There’s no reason they should settle for the status quo if an improvement hits the waiver wire or is dangled in trade, and the current bullpen is pretty easy to improve. With any luck, they’ll have found a better option than Jamey Wright before the end of camp.
Realistically, the M’s roster by mid-summer probably won’t look too much like the one that takes the field in Oakland for Game 1. There are quite a few veteran placeholders who are just biding their time until a more talented prospect shows he’s ready to come up and take their job, and the M’s success this year will depend on how quickly and how ably those guys can transition to the big leagues. This obviously isn’t the roster of a contender, but that isn’t the goal this year – the goal is to play decent baseball, establish some young players as foundational pieces for the future, and win enough games that there isn’t a massive housecleaning at year’s end. This roster is probably good enough to do that, as long as guys like Smoak, Pineda, and Ackley are able to contribute some value. If they all prove that they’re not quite ready, this year could be another disaster.
Let’s hope the kids are ready.