Reshaping the Roster
We’re getting towards the end of May, the team has lost four straight games, and after six weeks of watching the old guys mostly struggle, the club isn’t that far away from the annual roster overhaul. It’s become a yearly tradition – they should actually make a promotion out of it, playing off the Mariner theme to have the embattled veterans actually walk a physical plank. Can you imagine what attendance would be like if the Mariners announced that next week you’d get to see the release of Chone Figgins made official by having him walk down a plank and into a pool full of alligators? Safeco would be sold out in an instant.
But, alas, we’re not going to get to see anything that dramatic, and instead, the roster changes will be announced with a press release including some quotes from Jack Z about how the team is “committing to the youth movement” and are “excited to see what our home grown products can do”. Maybe they’ll wait until the end of the month, maybe they won’t, but the roster turnover is inevitable at this point. The team has already started putting the wheels in motion, moving a couple of arms to Tacoma to set them up for big league spots in the near future.
The first domino in the chain of moves will be the return of Miguel Olivo, which sounds like it is about a week away. He’s going to join the team in Colorado this weekend, then go out for what has been described as a “short rehab” assignment, so I’d guess he’ll get 2-3 days in Tacoma before they activate him. His return will mean that a position player has to go, and since they used his injury to bring back Mike Carp, it’s going to be someone who started the year on the club.
In reality, there’s two obvious candidates – Casper Wells and Chone Figgins. Eric Wedge showed today that he’s willing to use Liddi as a right-handed option in left field, which essentially duplicates Wells skillset and pushes him out of a job if that becomes a more regular occurrence. Wells, though, is at an age where more time in Triple-A isn’t all that likely to do him any good, and if you’re going young, he’s worth keeping around since he theoretically provides some long term potential. Figgins is the guy without a job on this team anymore, with no future in the organization, and with no remaining chance of establishing any value. When Olivo returns, Figgins should be the one to go. Signing him made sense, but it didn’t work, and it’s just time to cut bait and let him try to salvage the remainder of his career somewhere else.
Now, I know some of you will argue that if the team is tossing the useless old guys overboard, Olivo probably should just join Figgins on his way out of town. But, unlike Figgins, there actually is a role for Olivo on this roster. While we can all hope and pray that Wedge has noticed that John Jaso is actually a decent hitter against right-handers, he’s useless against lefties, and the team doesn’t have many better options against lefties behind the plate.
While Montero and Jaso should still split a good chunk of playing time behind the plate the rest of the year, having Olivo around to play against left-handers and pinch hit for Jaso isn’t the worst use of a roster spot. Ideally, the roster adjustments will lead to Wedge acknowledging that Olivo shouldn’t be the “starting catcher” anymore, but if he gets back into the habit of playing him behind the plate most everyday, then I’ll advocate for Jack to just take away his favorite toy in order to force him to use Jaso more often, but there’s room for all three guys on the roster if they’re utilized correctly.
So, Olivo in and Figgins out. Not much of a youth movement, eh? Well, the reality is that the Mariners don’t have much in the way of interesting position player prospects down in Tacoma, especially with Vinne Catricala forgetting to how to hit a baseball. The offense is already pretty young anyway, so you probably won’t see many changes to the position players. On the pitching side, though, there are more moves to be made.
Let’s start in the rotation. Forget about Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker for now. They’re all talented kids, but they’re all also having some ups and downs in Double-A, and there’s simply no reason to rush any of them to the big leagues prematurely. All of them could use another couple of months in the minors, and Walker could probably benefit from not seeing Seattle until 2013. So, while there are almost certainly some pitching changes coming soon, they probably won’t involve any of those three.
Instead, the two arms that I’d expect to see on the roster sooner than later are Erasmo Ramirez and Stephen Pryor. Ramirez, you know about, since he spent the first month of the season functioning in long relief. They sent him back to Tacoma to get him stretched back out to start, and he’s done his usual thing for the Rainiers, throwing strikes and getting ground balls. He’s first in line for a promotion, and would likely be the guy to replace Kevin Millwood or Blake Beavan in the rotation if the team decides to cut bait on the 37-year-old or shift Beavan to the bullpen.
Millwood’s pitched better than his ERA would indicate, but he’s starting in Colorado tomorrow, and that could ugly enough that he might very well end the month of May with an ERA over 6.00. There’s obviously not much upside there, and while the team might like having a veteran in the rotation, they’re itching to see what Ramirez can do as a big league starter, so it might be easier to release Millwood than shift Beavan into relief work.
What happens over the next week or two with those two could determine who stays or who goes, but it’s pretty likely that one of them will not be in the rotation come the beginning of June, and Ramirez will almost certainly be the one tabbed to take their place. If they did decide to move Beavan back to the bullpen, the reliever to head back to Tacoma would probably be Steve Delebar. His K/BB ratio has been fantastic, but he gave up his sixth home run of the season today, and given how reliant he is on his fastball, it’s pretty clear that opposing hitters are just sitting on that pitch right. Some time in Tacoma to work on his slider could do him some good, and moving Beavan back to relief would allow them to shift Shawn Kelley into the setup role and give them another multi-inning reliever besides Hisashi “I’m only used as a last possible resort despite the fact that I’m actually pretty good” Iwakuma.
If they went with releasing Millwood instead, Delebar might still end up back in Tacoma, as the team is going to have to send someone down in order to call up Stephen Pryor, and he’s essentially forcing their hand right now. They moved him up to Tacoma after he proved too good for Double-A hitters, and he’s now just making Triple-A hitters look silly. He got two more strikeouts tonight in saving a one run game against Omaha, and he’s now given up just five baserunners (two hits and three walks) in seven innings pitched for Tacoma, striking out 11 of the 25 batters he’s faced. His stuff is top-shelf, with a fastball in the high-90s and a knockout slider, and he’s ready to face big league hitters right now.
Pryor could get his feet wet in middle relief, but there’s a decent chance that he could be causing a mini-closer controversy at the end of the year. Tom Wilhelmsen is obviously next in line for saves, but Pryor’s actually got better stuff and might be better suited to the ninth inning role. This might sound ridiculous, but Pryor could probably close for half the teams in the Major Leagues right now – his stuff is that good.
Speaking of closers in a post that talks about roster changes, that brings us to Brandon League. I had hoped the M’s would move him before he had a performance like the one he tossed up there today, but unfortunately, they kept him around long enough to have a pretty noticeable metldown. And now, they’re kinda stuck with him for a bit, as they’re going to need him to string together some dominant performances so that they’re not marketing a guy with a 10/10 K/BB ratio and a career low ground ball rate as some other team’s bullpen savior. So, now, League’s probably here for a while, or at least until he straightens himself out and starts pitching like someone another team would want to trust their ninth inning leads to again.
Okay, so, Olivo/Ramirez/Pryor – maybe it’s not the massive influx of youth you were expecting. But, I’d expect that we’ll see some moves to get all three of these guys on the roster in the not too distant future.