Current Depth Chart
Prince Fielder isn’t coming to Seattle, so you can officially cross him off the “what’s next” list of possibilities. You could have done that after the team traded for Jesus Montero, honestly, but now you can officially stop wondering if the team was really going to put four 1B/DH types in the line-up at the same time next year. The answer is no – they’ll settle for just three.
So, what does the line-up look like right now, and if the team wanted to make another move, where would the new guy fit in? To help show the current state of the position players, I’ve created a basic depth chart, based on the guys I see making the Opening Day roster as of today. For each player, their playing time by position is shown, and you can see how the allocation at each position breaks down from the top. Without further ado:
Since these are just to give you an overview of the current situation, the playing time projections aren’t anything overly scientific. In reality, some positions will get a few more PAs than others due to line-up position, but in general, each spot comes out to around 700 or so. The missing 50 PA per position can be assumed to be filled by guys who get called up from the minors when injuries strike.
Let’s start with catcher, since it’s both at the top of the list and perhaps the position with the most potential for change. I’ve got Montero slotted for about 50 games worth of playing time behind the plate, which is about the maximum I can realistically see the team giving him right now. They’re simply not going to ask him to both be the impact bat they acquired and handle everyday duties behind the plate, especially with the present state of his defensive abilities. I expect that they’ll handle him much like the Rangers handled Mike Napoli a year ago, working him in to the position slowly in the early part of the season until the pitchers get comfortable throwing to him. If he handles himself well during his once-or-twice per week appearances behind the plate in April and May, they may look to move Olivo during the summer and increase his workload behind the plate, but that’s the best case scenario. It’s also entirely possible that they realize early on that it’s just not going to work out, and he moves to DH full time.
That said, I’m not convinced that Olivo is going to be particularly happy about this arrangement, especially since Jaso is around to start some games against RHPs. Olivo wasn’t overly thrilled to be in a job share with Chris Iannetta in Colorado, and given his desire to play regularly, I doubt he’d be content with the current setup. So, I don’t think this is actually the group that makes it to Opening Day. If the team has an opportunity to move Olivo without picking up much of the $3.75 million he’s still due, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it and replace him on the roster with Chris Gimenez. Gimenez is a Wedge favorite, would give the team a veteran who wouldn’t require as much playing time, and would give them a bit more roster flexibility since he has some outfield experience. And, replacing Olivo with Gimenez would likely cut a few million off the payroll, so if the team wanted to add another player but needed some funds to make the move, swapping out Olivo for Gimenez could help make that happen.
If there aren’t any takers for Olivo, the organization could just send Jaso back to Triple-A, since he does have an option remaining. In this scenario, Olivo would handle the bulk of the catching duty, with Montero getting his reps behind the plate when Olivo needed a day off, but this takes away the only left-handed catching option from the roster and hurts the team’s ability to get platoon advantages against opposing starters. Besides, I doubt the team traded for Jaso with the idea of having him hang out in Tacoma, so this is probably Plan C.
Right now, the plan is likely to carry three catchers with Montero getting most of his at-bats at DH. The most notable impact his acquisition has on the roster is that it definitively pushes Mike Carp to left field, which was somewhat expected given the way Eric Wedge was talking at the winter meetings. While Carp is a pretty horrendous defender out there, it seemed clear that the team was prioritizing offense, and they’d live with Carp running around the outfield in order to get more bats into the line-up. With Casper Wells the obvious choice as the team’s fourth outfielder (no, Trayvon Robinson isn’t a serious threat), Wedge has natural left/right and offense/defense platoons he can run, and I’d expect Wells to be regularly inserted into the game for defensive purposes. Combine that with some regular playing time in CF in order to keep Gutierrez from wearing down, and there should be enough playing time for Wells to show what he can do. He won’t be an everyday guy, but this alignment doesn’t box him out either.
The problem with this outfield group is a massive lack of depth. Gutierrez’s health problems and Carp’s defensive limitations essentially demand that the team carry five outfielders, but with three catchers and an expectation of a 12 man pitching staff, there simply isn’t room for a fifth OF. So, everyone’s favorite player Chone Figgins is actually something of a necessary piece right now. Or, at least, the need for someone on the bench besides Wells with the versatility to play the outfield. If the team swapped out Olivo for Gimenez, then they’d have another LF option, but they’d still be too thin in center. Unless the team was willing to ask Ichiro to cover CF on occasion, they can’t really go into the season with just two guys on the team who can cover center field. Figgins is still relatively fast and has experience at the position, so if the team kept him around in a utility role, he’d fill that void.
But, then, does anyone really want to keep Chone Figgins around? Especially if we’re talking about bringing in another player who could provide an offensive upgrade, a right-handed hitting third baseman to take Figgins spot would seem to be a natural choice. Seager isn’t ready to be an everyday player yet, and Kawasaki (or whoever the backup SS is) will probably need help covering the 2B/SS innings behind Ackley and Ryan, so Seager could still get plenty of playing time even if the team did trade for a guy like Mark Reynolds. But, if you trade Figgins and stuff for Reynolds, you’re back to four outfielders. At that point, you’d probably have to swap out Olivo for Gimenez too – it would be convenient if Baltimore wanted Olivo, but he wouldn’t be happy as Wieters backup either – in order to get the fifth OF, but that situation probably requires Ichiro to play center occasionally. It could happen, but I don’t know that it’s the plan the M’s would want to enter the season with.
That’s kind of the thing with adding a regular DH – it does limit roster construction and force you to make compromises elsewhere. For instance, if the team wanted to acquire my boy Will Venable from the Padres to help cover some CF innings and work into the LF mix against right-handed pitching, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it work anymore. There just isn’t a roster spot for him now – you can’t punt Figgins without replacing the third base depth he provides.
And, even if the team did go back to two catchers or 11 pitchers (very unlikely, given the current rotation) to open up a spot for another OF/DH type, the playing time just isn’t really there. A guy like Venable would push Carp to DH, which is good, but that either pushes Montero to the bench (which is bad) or catcher (where Wedge probably won’t be willing to use him too often, especially early in the season). If the team signed one of the aging DH types still on the market, they’d simply be cutting into Montero’s playing time as well, and would probably represent a downgrade in production over what he can probably give the team.
In reality, the best position player roster spot to upgrade is the one currently held by Figgins, as he’s the guy on the team with no real future in Seattle and a decent amount of playing time to be reallocated elsewhere. The hard part is figuring out how you replace Figgins with a decent offensive player that can also cover both 3B and the outfield. Or, if the necessary depth at those spots needs to be two different players, how you make it work with just one somewhat open roster spot in the current configuration.
It’s not an easy puzzle to solve, honestly. I know some will say just dump Olivo, push Montero to the everyday catcher role, and you have the DH spot available, but that’s just not practical given his defensive limitations and the expectation of offense that he carries. To believe he can be both the team’s best hitter and a regular MLB catcher at this point in his career is simply asking too much.
At this point, I think I’d try to dump both Figgins and Olivo to get as much cost savings between those two moves as I could, and give Figgins OF time to Gimenez, as much as that’s not an ideal situation. That would allow the team to focus on acquiring a guy who could just split his playing time between 3B/1B, and would let them focus more on a bat-first player than a versatile defensive type.
In reality, I think a guy like Reynolds is the team’s best option at this point. The price shouldn’t be too terribly high, the Orioles would likely be willing to take Figgins back in the swap if the M’s eat most of the contract, and as a right-handed power hitter, he’d fit into the current roster situation without causing any ripples. He’s probably not a long term answer at third base, but he provides 1B/DH depth in case Smoak doesn’t hit or Montero proves more adept at catching than expected. And, since it’s just a one year commitment, the team isn’t locked in if he doesn’t adjust well to Safeco or his glove continues to be horrendous.
Given the current state of the position players, he’s the best fit that I can find. I’d still rather see the team spend the rest of their remaining cash on Edwin Jackson instead, but if the team is looking for one more move to upgrade the offense, Reynolds is worth considering.