The 50-man roster for the next two years
There’s been increasing talk about Jack Zduriencik’s future and whether his job will be on the line next season. At this point, we don’t know what the organization will really be shooting for in 2012, or what kind of budget they’ll be shooting with. The 17-game losing streak suggests that a lot more work is needed, while the respectable performance otherwise suggests that the team is tantalizingly close. Another way to look at things is to evaluate what Zduriencik has built (or rebuilt) and see how solid it looks, and after the trade deadline is a good opportunity for that.
Whether or not he gets five years to carry out his plan (not that it was meant to be a “five-year plan”), obviously it will take that long to see how some of the pickups in these deals mature. So I thought it would be good to consider the picture for the next two years, which includes some important transitional questions that a GM would need to anticipate and plan for. What follows is a sense of who’s currently in the organization and might play a significant role over that time frame. It’s not exactly a depth chart for each position, more a collection of who could end up helping fill different spots.
Since we’re talking about the future, the roster building is provisional and incomplete, of course. Only a couple spots are really solidly locked down, and more deals and signings will be needed to plug holes and upgrade positions, starting this winter. Part of this exercise is seeing what’s left if, say, you give up a particular player your trading partner really wants. Not everyone on the list will be part of the picture, as guys go away or get replaced. Some of the prospects would still need to make significant strides and their progress is uncertain, but there’s at least a scenario in which they might contribute.
Ichiro: This position is no longer one we can realistically consider to be locked up long-term. Presumably Ichiro will hold onto it for the last year of his contract, but that only gets us to the beginnings of uncertainty. Will his performance recover, over the final months of this season or next year? Will ownership or fan sentiment require an extension even if he doesn’t recover, or at a price that isn’t warranted if he does? Will he decide to return to Japan to close out his career, like Sasaki and Johjima?
Casper Wells: For the first time since Ichiro has been around, the Mariners have someone with the kind of profile to look like a possible succession plan. His bat would look great in center, but his defensive performance would need to be the top percentile of what he’s capable of, and even then it wouldn’t make anybody forget Gutierrez or Cameron. In right, a guy who has moderate power, is capable defensively, and has a good arm would figure as a league-average player and offer the stereotypical skillset expected of the position.
Johermyn Chavez: Would need to make a tremendous leap forward in 2012, but could figure into the RF picture for 2013 if he does. More likely that he doesn’t pan out.
Carlos Peguero: Supposing (but not assuming) that his power potential someday materializes into a useful player at the major league level, putting him in right field rather than left may make more sense to hide his defensive liabilities, especially for Safeco.
Mike Wilson: Somewhat like Peguero, if he makes something of himself, this could be the best spot for him. Realistically, should be playing in Japan before Ichiro is.
Franklin Gutierrez: Very hard to know what’s going on, and therefore to project what the future holds. To the extent the team is saying his stomach issues aren’t a problem, that could be a way of pushing him or it could be to cover for a guy playing through an “injury” as they’ve done with other players. The defense is still legitimately fantastic, so he seems fine in that regard. The complete disappearance of power is very worrisome as a lingering problem, though. Does he need an offseason where he can focus on recovering strength, as opposed to spending it chasing an accurate diagnosis? If he comes back next year and nothing has changed, what then?
Trayvon Robinson: Probably the answer to “what then?”
Greg Halman: Probably not the answer to “what then?” Needs extended playing time in Tacoma to see if he can harness his obvious physical gifts. Not having gotten much this year, he really should spend all of 2012 in AAA, except that he may be out of options.
Michael Saunders: This year seems like a lost season for his development due to a number of issues, including the death of his mother, and the timing is unfortunate (not that there’s a good time for such things). If it had come earlier in his progress when he was first trying to break into the majors, the team could have had patience with him, but patience has already been applied with his struggles to adjust in earlier years. Having to leave him to sink in the majors while filling in for Gutierrez, when everyone knew he should be in Tacoma, doesn’t help. He’s on here because he could still turn into a useful outfielder, but it’s unlikely to be for the Mariners.
Casper Wells: Listed here as an emergency option, since it’s been suggested he could be competent in center. The team doesn’t seem to be showing many signs of wanting to plug him in there, though, so that would indicate they will likely look elsewhere and leave Wells in a corner.
Casper Wells: The best option for now, but assuming the front office wants to improve the offense, LF is probably the optimal place to carve out a spot for that, and if so it needs a bigger bat than this. Could hold down the spot temporarily if he’s groomed to take over for Ichiro in right.
Mike Carp: On a good team, he and Wells might make an interesting platoon. A decent hitter overall, but with him and Robinson both, some of their power may be a PCL creation (it’s not just Albuquerque or the new walls at Cheney, the offensive inflation is pervasive and as bad as the California League right now). Still quite stretched defensively in the outfield.
Carlos Peguero: Still much to learn.
Chih-Hsien Chiang: Check back in next year to see if he’s moving into the picture.
Vinnie Catricala: If he keeps hitting in the minors, Catricala is an intriguing option. The power potential is there. He has played other positions but is no defensive wizard, and in terms of how he would fit on this team, this is the spot that’s most likely.
Mike Wilson: His best chance is as the lefty-mashing half of a platoon, but he’s not the most likely candidate for it.
Matt Tuiasosopo: If you’ve forgotten, having concluded he should no longer try to play third or short, the club told him to focus on LF and 1B in spring training. The reason you may have forgotten is that his hitting in Tacoma still hasn’t merited any kind of consideration for a callup. Please feel free to resume your previous amnesia.
Brendan Ryan: Under contract for 2012. Still under team control in 2013, so he may well still be the starting shortstop then, unless somebody else forces their way past him. Even an arbitration salary shouldn’t be too massive of a burden in his case. If you’re wondering where Nick Franklin is on this list, Franklin will almost certainly need to go back to AA next year, then move up to Tacoma after that, so a September 2013 callup is about the most you’d see.
Luis Rodriguez: The team will need some kind of utility player, and he’s the closest fit of people who might still be around next year. In reality, it could be anybody.
Carlos Triunfel: Still plays mostly at shortstop, though people keep predicting he will move off. If he ends up contributing in 2013, let’s say, he has fewer hurdles here than at other positions. But serving as trade bait is at least as likely.
Chone Figgins: Well, we’re looking out ahead to the next two years, and he’s still under contract for the next two years. The last straw to grasp at is that he might find himself by playing the kind of super-utility role he had when he first made a name for himself.
Kyle Seager: Not everybody can hit the ground running like Ackley. May be the best option in the system going forward, but since his profile looks better as a utility player, the front office should continue to approach third base as a hole that needs filling.
Alex Liddi: Because of his age and coming from a non-baseball country, Liddi may need a little longer to develop. Or he may just strike out too much to amount to anything. He’s in Tacoma now, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready.
Matt Mangini: Wow, I had just about forgotten Mangini was called up last year. Injuries have been an issue this year, and his glovework is still a concern.
Luis Rodriguez: Utility bench player placeholder.
Carlos Triunfel: While it’s long been thought Triunfel might shift here, the competition is significantly thicker.
Francisco Martinez: Immediately became the most promising high-level 3B prospect in the system, but still at least a year away. At 20, his age suggests good potential, but also that the organization may want to resist rushing him, and put him on a similar track to Franklin.
Nate Tenbrink: Kind of in the some boat as Johermyn Chavez, in that his performance has taken a step back and he’s being bypassed by newer guys in the system, so it would take a huge leap to get back on the right career trajectory.
Dustin Ackley: The only position player who qualifies as a lock.
Luis Rodriguez: For the one game they decide to give Ackley a rest.
Kyle Seager: For the other game they decide to give Ackley a rest.
Justin Smoak: Things looked good enough early in the year to think the position was solved for a while. Some of what’s followed may be thumb issues, but the overall picture should temper our expectations about what Smoak will turn into. He comes cheap and can be good enough, but is unlikely to become a superstar at this point.
Mike Carp: Carp is more of a fall-back option if Smoak crashes and burns, but the gap between them is no longer so big that the possibility should be ruled out.
Rich Poythress: As a righthanded hitter whose value depends on power, it’s an open question whether he can be effective in Safeco Field.
Matt Mangini: Still seems best suited as a bat-first corner infield type that fits better on a National League roster, a la Greg Dobbs.
Matt Tuiasosopo: For anyone mourning that the Mariners gave up on Mike Morse, keep in mind that Tuiasosopo today is pretty much what Mike Morse was when they traded him. Sometimes that happens.
Miguel Olivo: We have one more year of Olivo to look forward to. After that – well, catchers don’t age well generally, and Olivo’s racking up a lot of miles.
Adam Moore: Unless they keep bringing Josh Bard back, in the grand tradition of Pat Borders and Jamie Burke, Moore is the only alternative. He has to make it back from his knee injury, then show he can hit in the majors.
Jose Yepez: The system has gone from being flush with catching prospects (not that any of them really panned out) to being totally barren. The team started restocking this year with the draft and the impending shift of Marcus Littlewood there, but none of them are in the upper minors yet or close to ready. That means there’s still no immediate depth beyond the emergency call-up that they weren’t going to play if they could help it.
Mike Carp: Assuming Smoak holds down first, this is really where Carp fits best. While his bat doesn’t play up that well at DH, it looks great compared to recent team history at the spot.
Johan Limonta: Minor league hitter without a real position.
Vinnie Catricala: With a crowd in the outfield, if his bat develops it could be squeezed in here.
Ichiro: This is a bit of a non-traditional option, but it might be an interesting way to handle Ichiro, as long as he’s not in the process of completely falling off a cliff. Ichiro has always been viewed as a kind of savant when it comes to hitting, with the notion that he could just keep doing much of the same stuff all the way to the end like a late-career Tony Gwynn. The biggest worry is about a loss of speed, and that may have factored in this year, but then again he’s still stealing bases as well as before. In trying to move from “he’s in a slump” to actual analysis, everybody has a theory, nobody has proof. His defense has definitely declined, though, and I wonder if playing the field isn’t dragging down his performance at the plate. Considering that he hits well when he does DH, perhaps that should be given more serious consideration to see if this is a good way to extend his career.
Felix Hernandez: The expense for his salary begins to get seriously large next year, which is one reason the Boston and New York media keep ginning up the notion that the Mariners would need to trade him. But even with a more expensive Felix, it’s just not possible those teams could come up with the kind of package that would justify such a trade.
Michael Pineda: Need to limit his innings this year and continue to watch him carefully after that.
Jason Vargas: Being in his arbitration years, he no longer has the kind of surplus value that enables a Fister-style trade, but Safeco remains ideal for his skillset. Even if you might not want to be on the other side of the free agent contract he may get, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate having him around until then.
Blake Beavan: What to make of the jump from Beavan in Tacoma vs. Beavan in Seattle? Part is luck (stranding runners) and small sample sizes, part is the offensive environment of the PCL having gone to another level of crazy this year, part may be a “first time around the league” effect. Whatever it is, clearly trading Doug Fister becomes a whole lot easier if you conclude that you have a reasonable facsimile waiting to step in.
Charlie Furbush: Fifth starter for now, but after trading from the rotation to bolster the offense, this is a spot where more competition is needed. Furbush is hopefully not another Luke French, but I’m also a bit wary of guys known for deceptive deliveries, in case the deceptiveness wears off.
Anthony Vasquez, Erasmo Ramirez: When projecting future roster developments using guys in the minors, especially pitchers, it’s sometimes easier to lump players into rough categories, on the theory that “one of these guys could make it and potentially fill [some particular role].” These two are the prospects closest to the majors who might fill a rotation vacancy, and in fact Vasquez was speculated about for the start Furbush got. They’re pretty much limited to the back end of the rotation and don’t have the kind of upside associated with future aces.
James Paxton, Danny Hultzen (assuming he signs): If you use the archetypes associated with each rotation starter ranked 1-2-3-4-5, then based on what we’ve seen so far the biggest void is somewhere in the middle of that. Paxton or Hultzen are decent possibilities to slide into that gap once they’re ready, and of course they’re supposed to have potential above that. Just keep pitching prospect attrition in mind before you start counting up how many aces the team will be able to run out back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
David Aardsma, Brandon League: Since managers like to plug bullpen pitchers into predefined roles, lumping guys together makes sense here as well. We start with the veteran closers. The Mariners shouldn’t need two, and the effect of the save stat on salary and reputation makes trading them at or near peak value the wiser course, combined with developing their successors within the system. In this case, peak trading opportunities have already passed by. That’s not the end of the world, considering the return J.J. Putz brought after an injury-plagued season, but then again, you won’t always have Omar Minaya to trade with.
Dan Cortes, Josh Lueke: Young and hard-throwing and therefore the kind of material that might turn into the next closer.
Shawn Kelley, Aaron Laffey, Jeff Gray: Guys who are established relievers of some sort.
Charlie Furbush, Luke French: Marginal starters who could move to the bullpen. Sometimes these guys turn into David Pauley, sometimes they turn into Garrett Olson.
Mauricio Robles, Tom Wilhelmsen: Pitchers who are being worked with in the minors as starters, but if they have much of an impact during the time frame being examined here, then it will probably be as a result of a move to the bullpen. Technically, Wilhelmsen is in the Mariner bullpen now, but that will only last until Kelley is ready to come off the disabled list.
Cesar Jimenez, Stephen Pryor, Brian Moran: Minor league bullpen guys who are somewhat close. At this point, we’re pretty much talking about random arms appearing or disappearing out of nowhere, so the names aren’t critical. Pryor looks like the best bet at the moment to move up into one of the other groups above.