Cactus League Game 28, Rangers at M’s

March 27, 2011 · Filed Under Game Threads · 61 Comments 

RF Ichiro!
3B Figgins
LF Bradley
DH Cust
CF Langerhans
C Moore
1B Kennedy
SS Rodriguez
2B Josh Wilson

P French

There were some cuts today, with Tui, Mike Wilson, Royce Ring, Denny Bautista, and Justin Miller heading out. This brings us down to thirty-five players in camp.

Some of these cuts are a little surprising. Tui wasn’t having one of his amazing springs, but at .300/.349/.475, he was competent, and probably would have remained with the team a while longer if not for the Gutierrez issues forcing us to carry another center fielder. This is Tui’s last option year.

Ring is probably the bigger surprise because it wasn’t too long ago that people were talking of him as though he was a lock for the bullpen. He walked a few too many and demonstrated that he shouldn’t face right-handed hitters ever, but the alternative was Aaron Laffey. Whatever.

Denny Bautista pitched better than his 9.82 ERA, running a 12/4 K/BB in 7.1 innings, but he also seemed to be facing a roster crunch and is the same pitcher as Jesus Colome from last year.

Tom Wilhelmsen and Cesar Jimenez are both still with the team as long as it takes for the M’s to decide what they ought to do with them. This is one of the few similarities between the two.

Cactus League Game 27, M’s at Brewers

March 26, 2011 · Filed Under Game Threads · 18 Comments 

It’s Pineda’s turn in the rotation again, this time vs. the Brew Crew. If we get Pitch f/x, prepare to scrutinize the heck out of those at-bats vs. lefties. Or maybe you just want to sit there and listen to the game on the radio. That’s cool too, I guess.

2B Jack Wilson
SS Ryan
RF Langerhans
1B Smoak
CF Saunders
3B L. Rodriguez
LF Tui
C Gimenez
P Pineda

In most spring training seasons, the biggest cut from camp typically arrives the day after the team plays its last split squad game. Camp has been quiet, perhaps too quiet, today, and the only news is that OF Gabe Gross asked for and received his release. Dave and I have both been talking about how little room there is in the Tacoma outfield, so it only makes sense.

If you must know, the next game to be broadcast will be Sunday’s game on MLB Network, then we have an afternoon game on FSN/Root Sports on Tuesday and another one with them on Wednesday. After that, it gets real again.

Cactus League Games 25/26, Split Squad Action

March 25, 2011 · Filed Under Game Threads · 26 Comments 

Today is the only split squad day we will be having. Treasure this moment.

Day Game Lineup:
2B Jack Wilson
SS Ryan
DH Cust
1B Smoak
CF Langerhans
3B L. Rodriguez
C Moore
LF “C. Jimenez” (I think they mean “Gimenez”)
RF Mike Wilson

P Laffey

The early game is on MLB Network right now. Cesar Jimenez (and not Chris Gimenez), Tom Wilhelmsen, and Chris Ray are available to pitch, along with minor leaguers Steve Richard, Robert Rohrbaugh, and Bobby LaFromboise, all kind of fringey guys who would either make an impression or not.

Jose Flores was returned to the Indians today. This was probably the least surprising move of the spring. The jump from the Midwest League to the MLB is a pretty substantial one. I guess my question would be why we picked him in the first place, but the team deemed it a gamble with some upside and little loss, so whatever.

The night game will be on FSN/Root Sports. It will feature the other half of our lineup (Olivo included?) with Erik Bedard on the mound. Some other guys you may have heard of will show up as well.

Edit: Look, here’s a lineup for that

RF Ichiro!
3B Figgins
LF Bradley
2B Kennedy
C Olivo
CF Saunders
1B Tui
SS Josh Wilson
DH Bard

P Bedard

Guti’s Lingering Stomach Problems

March 24, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 24 Comments 

Larry LaRue points out some bad news – Franklin Gutierrez is still having problems with his undiagnosed stomach issue. When he went back to Seattle to get checked out earlier this month, the conclusion was that it was digestive related, and a change in diet would help alleviate the problems. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked yet, and everyone is still trying to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.

At this point, Guti’s chances of playing on Opening Day seem to be shrinking. He’s only played in nine Cactus League games, and while position players don’t need to get stretched out the same way pitchers do, there is some repetition needed to be ready to go from day one. It’s unlikely that the team will ask Gutierrez to start the season on the active roster if he can’t play everyday, as the outfield is already going to be a bit thin with Milton Bradley’s always questionable status.

Really, more than anything, they just need to figure out what this thing is, and it’s not going to be easy to do that if he’s expected to show up and play everyday. Unless they can find a cure this weekend, it’s looking more and more likely that the team will be without Gutierrez to begin the season. In that case, I’m guessing that Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans would both make the team and share time in center field until Gutierrez is able to return.

AL West Prospects Part I: 2011 Impact

March 24, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 9 Comments 

The AL West has a clear pecking order, but without a runaway favorite (a projected 95 win team), each team has to balance developing prospects with running out the side that maximizes their playoff odds. The Angels and M’s need a lot of help, which actually makes things easier – they’re going to play their prospects, because they don’t have better options. The A’s and Rangers need less help, but will still rely on rookies for depth and replacing injured starters. In this post, we’re going to focus on prospects who’ll make an impact in the upcoming season – I’m not denying that Mike Trout, Nick Franklin or Michael Choice are great prospects, I’m just going to address them in another post.

For 2011, the big names are:
Angels: Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger, Mark Trumbo
A’s: Chris Carter, Adrian Cardenas, Tyson Ross
Rangers: Tanner Scheppers, Michael Kirkman, Eric Hurley
Mariners: Justin Smoak, Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley
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Tacoma’s Crowded Infield Will Force Releases

March 23, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

Mike Curto, Ryan Divish, and I “talked” about this on Twitter tonight, but for all the talk of the M’s 40-man roster crunch, they’re also going to have to make some decisions on some of the depth guys they have around, because there simply aren’t enough Triple-A roster spots for all the guys on the roster. Gabe Gross will probably likely be the odd man out in the outfield and either ask for or receive his walking papers in the next week, creating room for a Saunders-Halman-Peguero-Wilson outfield of strikeout mania.

On the infield, though, it’s not quite so easy. Dustin Ackley is going to play second base nearly every day, but the other four positions are extremely crowded.

For instance, third base will probably be manned by Alex Liddi, but that closes off any playing time for Matt Mangini and Luis Rodriguez. Liddi is considered the best prospect of the bunch, but I personally find Rodriguez more interesting, and think that he has a better chance of carving out a job with the team as a utility guy at some point. If they don’t have a job for him in Tacoma, though, they’ll probably have to cut him loose – he didn’t sign with the M’s over the winter in order to sit on the bench for the Rainiers.

Rodriguez could theoretically play some shortstop, but that’s where Sean Kazmar is expecting to play, and Josh Wilson could enter the mix if he loses out on the last bench spot to Chris Gimenez. If Wilson is passed through waivers and clears, Kazmar would be a candidate to be released, as they’d probably rather have Wilson as their depth shortstop option.

First base would appear to belong to Mike Carp on the surface, but there’s a very strong chance that he gets waived in order to open up a 40 man roster spot. Other candidates for the first base job would include Tui and Mangini, with the one not starting there probably getting a decent amount of at-bats at DH. .

Liddi, Kazmar, Rodriguez, Carp, Tui, and Mangini are essentially fighting over four jobs, and Josh Wilson might get thrown into that mix as well. This is why, when the M’s start to look at who gets tossed off the 40 man roster, Carp and Tui are both vulnerable. The team has other options for the positions in Tacoma who aren’t on the 40 man roster, and they could afford to lose either or both without really hurting the franchise. Don’t be too surprised if one of those two – or potentially both of them – aren’t members of the organization a week from now.

Cactus League Game 23, M’s at Rockies

March 23, 2011 · Filed Under Game Threads · 36 Comments 

This game is being broadcast on Root Sports/FSN at 6:40 pm. Let us all bask in TV’s warm glowing warming glow.

2B Jack Wilson
1B Kennedy
LF Tui
DH Cust
RF Mike Wilson
SS Ryan
CF Langerhans
3B Josh Wilson
C Bard

P French

All of our Wilsons in one lineup! Oh, spring! What novelties you bring! If only we could get Dan Wilson behind the plate and Wilson Valdez at short…

Earlier in the day, the M’s made a number of roster moves, sending Dustin Ackley to Tacoma and Steve Baron, Sean Kazmar, Gabe Gross, and Fabio Castro to the minor league camp. You’ll notice that Ackley articles had been fewer and fewer in the past couple of weeks. That was the first sign. Baron will probably start out with a repeat tour of the Midwest League, at least initially, Castro will likely be in Tacoma, and Sean Kazmar or Luis Rodriguez, maybe even Josh Wilson, will be at shortstop for the Rainiers. Gross’ job security seems far less certain as you’re likely to have Halman, Peguero, and Mike Wilson down there at the very least, with a strong possibility of Saunders turning up as well.

Looking At The Opening Day Roster

March 22, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 42 Comments 

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)

SP: Felix
SP: Vargas
SP: Fister
SP: Bedard
SP: Pineda

CL: League
RHP: Ray
RHP: Lueke
LHP: Laffey
RHP: Wright
LHP: Ring
RHP: Pauley

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.

Brendan Ryan Takes Shortstop Job

March 22, 2011 · Filed Under Mariners · 29 Comments 

After experimenting with it a bit over the last few weeks, Eric Wedge made it official this morning – the M’s are going to start Brendan Ryan at shortstop and Jack Wilson at second base to begin the season. Ryan is younger, healthier, and is likely the better defender of the two, so there’s certainly logic in giving him the more challenging defensive position. And, with Adam Kennedy slated for some fairly regular playing time at second base, this creates a natural job share with the left-handed batting Kennedy and the right-handed hitting Wilson, where the two can both play part-time and hopefully keep Wilson’s body from breaking down as often as it has the last few years.

There are merits to this decision. That said, I’m still not a big fan of the call. Perhaps its still the memory of last year’s failed Jose Lopez-Chone Figgins switcheroo, where the M’s decided that Figgins looked more like a second baseman than Lopez did and went with body type instead of positional experience as the deciding factor. Figgins was a disaster at second base, however, in part because it was a position he just hadn’t played all that much. There was a learning curve that had to be overcome, and so for most of last year, the M’s had to put up with Figgins making mistakes that a more experienced second baseman wouldn’t have made. And, of course, it all meant nothing, as this year Figgins is right back where he belongs, over at third base.

I have a bit of a feeling of deja vu here. Jack Wilson is not any kind of long term answer for the Mariners. He almost certainly won’t be a Mariner in 2012, and he might not even be one in July. Dustin Ackley is the future at second base, and if he plays well in Tacoma to start the year, he could force his way up to the big club early this summer. Once again, the Mariners are asking a player with limited experience at second base to make the conversion in season without it having much of a long term reward. They’re eating the cost of the adjustment without the hope of a payoff.

There’s an argument to be made that having Wilson gain experience at second base might increase his trade value this summer, as he’ll have greater positional flexibility and could be marketed to teams looking for either a shortstop or a second baseman. That’s possible, I guess, but I think you could also argue that there is such a small supply of shortstops that moving Wilson off the position might actually harm his trade value – if a team like the Giants decides to scout Wilson as a fill-in for the black hole they have at the position, they won’t get to see him actually play shortstop, and will have to make inferences about his abilities to still play that spot on the field. Additionally, they’ll have the knowledge that the Mariners think he wasn’t capable of playing SS for them this year, and likely include that in their decision making process. You may add teams looking for a second baseman to the list of suitors for Wilson this summer, but I think you probably subtract teams looking for a shortstop. And shortstops are in higher demand than second baseman.

Overall, I’d say this is unlikely to help Wilson’s trade value and unlikely to improve the Mariners defense all that much. It might make things a bit easier on Ryan, who can focus on playing shortstop exclusively now, but I don’t know that there’s a big gain to be had from that. I guess I just don’t see a lot of upside here, but I do some potential risks. Wilson could adapt poorly to second base, or he could be taken out while trying to turn the double play with his back to the runner – a play he hasn’t had to make in his career until now.

It seems like another needless position switch, honestly. It didn’t help last year, and I’m not sure it will help this year either.

Stories From Camp That I’m Reading, pt. 5

March 21, 2011 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 17 Comments 

Even though minor league camp has opened up, news has been limited. I don’t know what to tell you. There’s still plenty of commentary on the few pieces I do have, so let’s get on with it.
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