Hong-Chih Kuo Released
When the Mariners signed Hong-Chih Kuo last month, I was a bit surprised that he got a Major League deal. Generally, guys with significant health issues who are also fighting “Steve Blass Disease” get minor league deals that make them prove they can get batters out before they are added to the roster. However, the M’s bet on Kuo returning to prior form, and were willing to give him a non-guaranteed Major League deal in order to secure the potential in case he got back to what he was in 2010. By cutting him now, the team will only owe him a portion of the $500,000 he was due, rather than being on the hook for the full amount had he made the Opening Day roster.
Kuo was absolutely awful during the first few weeks of camp, struggling with his command and showing no signs of the life he used to have on his fastball. During his excellent run with LA, he sat in the mid-90s, but he was more along the lines of 89-92 in Peoria. Bad command of diminished stuff is a problem, and Kuo got beat up all spring long.
His release paves the way for the team to carry Rule 5 reliever Lucas Luetge, who has had a good spring, or potentially shift the bullpen makeup altogether. Hisashi Iwakuma is going to pitch in relief of Kevin Millwood tomorrow, and his mediocre spring – along with the strong effort being put together by Blake Beavan – could mean that Iwakuma starts the year in the long role. That would allow Charlie Furbush to make the team as a lefty reliever if they decided they wanted him in that role, or he could start in Tacoma and the team could carry Luetge.
The bullpen is a bunch of moving pieces right now. The guys who likely have jobs locked up are League, Wilhelmsen, Kelley, Camp, and Sherrill, but the last two spots are in flux. If Beavan gets a starting job, Iwakuma would take one of those jobs, but if they stick with Iwakuma in the rotation, it sounds like Beavan will head to Tacoma, and they might go with Erasmo Ramirez as the long man.
With the team leaving for Japan on Thursday, these decisions will have to be made fairly soon. They’re allowed to take 30 players to Japan and don’t have to decide on a 25 man roster until next week, but they’re going to want to have a pretty decent idea of who is going to work in relief by the end of the week. Kuo’s release clarifies things a bit, but we’ll likely see even more definition in the next day or two.