Cactus League Game Suddenly Bereft of Meaningful Roster Battles, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · March 26, 2014 at 11:45 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Colby Lewis, 12:05pm

It’s been an interesting couple of days in M’s camp. First, Scott Baker opted out of his contract when it became clear he wouldn’t make the rotation out of spring. That one’s somewhat easy to understand, whatever nervousness you have about Blake Beavan/Hector Noesi. It’s not just that his raw stat line is ugly, or that it’s ugly precisely in the “true talent” areas of K:BB ratio, but it’s that there just didn’t seem to be any evidence of progress. Baker’s recovery from Tommy John wasn’t as smooth as some, and it’d be perfectly understandable if he wasn’t quite in MLB-rotation shape on March 1st. But the problem is that March 1st was by far his best appearance.

In that game, he pitched two scoreless with a walk and a K against the Angels. He got OK results in his next outing, though he didn’t miss any bats. Then came a disastrous start against the Angels in which he gave up 5 runs on 5 hits and 3 plunked batters (that’s three *consecutive* hit batsmen), and he may have been worse against Oakland on March 22nd. He’d been better in a minor league game in between, but having a so-so outing against AA-AAA hitters and a 10-1 free pass to K ratio against AAA-MLB hitters didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The M’s most critical need for SP depth is in April. Baker seemed like a guy who, if everything broke right, could contribute later, and would get knocked around in April while he tried to find his mechanics and command. Now he’ll do that for Texas; the Rangers signed him to a minor league deal, and he’ll spend the first part of the year in AAA.

Moving to the Rangers org makes a lot of sense. Like the M’s, they’ve been beset by injuries, and have a real need for a back-of-the-rotation starter in April, before Matt Harrison comes back from back/neck stiffness. The Rangers would love to pencil in today’s starter, Colby Lewis, but the veteran (who’s ALSO coming back from serious injury – he missed the 2nd half of 2012 with elbow surgery, and then needed hip surgery last season. Ex-Mariner Ryan Feierabend may make the Rangers opening day bullpen, to give you an idea of their need for pitchers who can throw without pain, but Colby Lewis doesn’t look to be ready. He’s gone four innings total this spring, giving up 8 runs on 8 hits, seven free passes and just two K’s. It’s been ugly. As is their wont, the Rangers are converting some bullpen arms to fill their rotation needs. Robbie Ross was brilliant in his last start, while Tanner Scheppers could be a decent stop-gap, as long as his balky shoulder holds out. Joe Saunders is almost certainly going to make this team, and he won’t be the fifth starter. The Rangers, everybody!

It’d be great to capitalize on this run of bad luck (Jurickson Profar is *also* out 10-12 weeks…ouch), but the M’s haven’t quite shown they know how. Yesterday’s big story was Randy Wolf declining to sign a 45-day option and becoming a free agent. It’s perfectly within the M’s rights under the collective bargaining agreement to ask this of Wolf, and it’s obviously his right to say no. But the press around this has been uniformly bad, and it’s pretty easy to understand why. The M’s had apparently decided that they wanted Wolf in the rotation, and thus, Wolf figured the contract he signed would apply – 1 year, $1 million assuming he made the team. The M’s wanted the added flexibility of an opt-out – they’d owe Wolf only a pro-rated portion of that salary instead of the whole thing if they cut him within 45 days. I get it: the M’s will know a lot more about the state of their rotation, Iwakuma’s health, Brandon Maurer’s progress, etc. 45 days from now. In that sense, paying for Wolf on the installment plan makes loads of sense. But look at what this says: the M’s, suddenly fringe contenders as the Rangers camp starts to look like the Battle of the Somme, decide they can’t commit $1 million to their own preferred 5th starter-candidate. That they prize the financial flexibility over a pro-rated portion of $1 million to starting the season with Roenis Elias AND Blake Beavan/Hector Noesi in their rotation. The M’s open with 16-straight divisional games.

One of the cool things about twitter is hearing directly from players and ex-players when odd situations come up like 45-day options. Ex-reliever CJ Nitkowski’s twitter feed includes a lot of brief, barbed comments about the M’s move, and he re-tweeted Russ Ortiz mentioning that he was in a similar situation years ago. Ortiz declined to mention which team gave him the sign-it-or-you’re-out ultimatum, saying he didn’t want to “rat the team out,” which gives you a pretty clear idea of how players view this move. I completely understand players not being happy with management using a tool that grants them (management) more leverage over players. But a late-spring roster move involving Randy freaking Wolf has become something of a national story.

This isn’t the first time the tight-lipped, headline-averse Mariners have blundered their way above the fold for minor moves. Last year, the front office and manager Eric Wedge engaged in a public dispute over why Wedge wouldn’t be returning for 2014….during the tail end of the 2013 season. This all culminated, of course, in Geoff Baker’s story on the M’s “dysfunction” featuring plenty of quotes from Wedge. Again, not too many people would argue that moving in a different direction at manager was unwarranted or unfair. Slightly fewer people, but some, could argue that the competition between Wolf and Beavan was so close, and NOT having the flexibility of the 45-day contract was the thumb on the scale for the guy they’ve developed. But the situations have been handled…let’s be nice and say “questionably” and essentially made a distraction out of issues that shouldn’t be. I want to feel confident that the M’s gains (Cano chief among them) and the Rangers slipping might *mean* something. There’s no reason why terrible press, by itself, should change the projections. But it’s hard to be confident, isn’t it?

1: Chavez, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, DH
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Saunders, RF
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Bloomquist, 3B
9: Buck, C
SP: Erasmoooo

The M’s officially ended the notion that Nick Franklin was “competing” with Brad Miller for the starting SS job, and actually put Franklin in RF for a few innings last night. Today, he’s back at his 2013 position, 2B, with Cano DH’ing. Not sure if the M’s want to use him in a Zobristian-super-sub manner, or if they want to showcase his flexibility for others, but as many, many of you asked last night, why start this now, less than a week from opening day? Showcasing his SS skills is one thing, but failing to make a deal and THEN shifting course may not help Franklin or the front office.

Corey Hart’s ailing forearm (and a season’s worth of accumulated rust) has opened the door for RH-outfielder Stefen Romero. With Endy Chavez slated to open in Tacoma, the roster is more or less set at this point, with a bullpen spot or two potentially in play. That’s great news for Romero, obviously, and the Oregon State product’s been solid this spring, but he’s very new to the OF and looked shaky in LF for Tacoma last year. He also posted a .779 OPS in the offense-friendly PCL. Like the rotation, the M’s clearly had needs in the OF. Like the rotation, they’ve suffered some bad luck. But they’re now preparing to open the season giving a number of jobs to guys with a lot of question marks. Hey, at least Dustin Ackley’s hitting, right? Brad Miller looks really good.


27 Responses to “Cactus League Game Suddenly Bereft of Meaningful Roster Battles, Mariners at Rangers”

  1. Westside guy on March 26th, 2014 11:52 am

    The weird handling of Franklin just provides yet more ammunition for those of us who think the M’s front office in general is garbage and that Jack Z is a terrible GM.

    The team signed perhaps the best second baseman in the game… but seem hell-bent on showing they can screw even that up.

  2. marc w on March 26th, 2014 12:01 pm

    The above actually underestimated the Rangers health woes. With Yu Darvish ailing, the Rangers opening day starter is Tanner Scheppers. The rest of the rotation is Robbie Ross, Martin Perez, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez. I have no earthly idea who Martinez is. Maybe because he’s only made 4 starts above single A.

    They also ditched Tommy Hanson; I could see the M’s picking him up to start in AAA, much the way Texas claimed Scott Baker.

  3. eponymous coward on March 26th, 2014 12:20 pm

    That they prize the financial flexibility over a pro-rated portion of $1 million to starting the season with Roenis Elias AND Blake Beavan/Hector Noesi in their rotation.

    This, after agreeing to pay a 31 year old 2B a large salary through his 40th birthday (making it very likely he’ll be a dead weight in future years). Seems pretty schizophrenic to me: commit large amounts of salary in the near AND far term, but start pinching pennies 3 months later? Weird.

    I can’t help but think this team would have been better off spending 20-30 million shoring up the OF and rotation and starting Franklin at 2B, much as I like Cano as a player, in the near term in 2014 as well as 5-7 years down the road when Cano’s inevitable breakdown from aging happens.

  4. Westside guy on March 26th, 2014 12:57 pm

    If Hart or Morrison had been in right, that would’ve been a run scored right there.

  5. phineasphreak on March 26th, 2014 1:00 pm

    I went from excited to frustrated in no time.

    Like Westy said, this “management” continues to show their ineptitude.

    We all knew there wasn’t really a SS competition, so why wait until now to put Nicky Franklin in the OF?

    I’d prefer to keep him as opposed to trading him, and I like the idea of having him in the OF, similar to what KC did with Alex Gordon. But someone needs to make a decision and stick with it.

    In regards to the pitching, as it stands, we have *one* established starter. When we get Kuma back, assuming he comes back healthy, then we’ll have two.

    Even if we assume that Paxton, Ramirez, Elias, and Walker do well, what the fuck are we going to do when they reach their innings limits? Honestly, has Jack Z even thought about this? Or are we going to see Maurer, Beavan, and Noesi inserted into the rotation at a time where we *could* be contending for a wild card spot.

    Jesus, man.

  6. eponymous coward on March 26th, 2014 1:09 pm

    ven if we assume that Paxton, Ramirez, Elias, and Walker do well, what the fuck are we going to do when they reach their innings limits?

    Maybe the team’s gone away from having innings limits…. scary thought, hmm?

  7. Westside guy on March 26th, 2014 1:37 pm

    Huh. I’ve had issues this spring where GameDay will just stop updating after a while. The MLB radio stream continues just fine; but the web display just stops changing.

  8. Eastside Suds on March 26th, 2014 2:16 pm

    These strange days in Mariner chaos makes one wonder what the strategy meetings must be like in early winter.

    I imagine lots of hazy ideas with lots of promise, but little backup plan. Also, being fearful of penciling in guys you are sold on and moving aggressively towards fixing the pieces that you aren’t. It almost seems like a HS model where a new coach throws them on the field and they grade them using a clipboard. After selecting the best at each position, injuries occur and they can’t adjust because every coach threw their turnout notes away. Seriously, what we are watching is just so bizarre, but so telling of the internal problems the M’s face.

    And, they can pay Cano a bazillion dollars, but not 1 mill for Randy Wolff as a lefty #5 or bullpen guy? Really adds to the continued head scratching and frustration.

  9. eponymous coward on March 26th, 2014 2:18 pm


    Justin Smoak: 1.2 WAR
    Abraham Almonte: 1.0 WAR
    Stefen Romero: 0.1 WAR
    Hector Noesi: -1.3 WAR
    Blake Beavan: -1.4 WAR

    I guess we’d better really hope ZiPS is really, really wrong about a lot of things, like everyone in the rotation breaking camp, aside from Felix…

  10. hailcom on March 26th, 2014 2:28 pm

    I’m not bothered by the Nick Franklin move last night. They have been shopping him all spring as a shortstop and if they made this move earlier, it would have damaged that possibility. Now that the possibility has passed, they can think about other options and, perhaps, show potential trade partners that Franklin is not necessarily blocked at both 2nd and short. The Wolf blunder is another matter. This just shows Jack Z’s lack of GM acumen and his focus–whether mandated from above or from a desire to put out a pleasing bottom line–on saving relatively small amounts at the expense of some roster flexibility and strength. Look at it this way, if Wolf might mean 1 more win for us in April than having Beaven on the mound, what’s that worth? WAR analysis would say a helluva lot more than $1M. Penny wise and pound foolish, I think. Jack needs to be more of a baseball GM and less of a penny pinching accountant (Cano excepted).

  11. SergeantSuj on March 26th, 2014 2:51 pm

    Now that the payrolls of all of baseball have been released, we see the M’s spending strategy in stark terms: pay for a couple superstars, and skimp on the rest.

    We already knew this to be true, but did we know the extent? Consider this: if you subtract the 6th-highest-paid player from the 2nd-highest-paid player on each team, the M’s have by far the biggest difference: $20.7M (second is Philly with $12M).

    To put it another way, the 6th-highest-paid player on the M’s makes less than every other team’s 6th-highest-paid player except for two: Houston and Miami. Only 5 M’s make more than $3M. Can anyone reasonably expect the M’s to compete with this discrepancy? The answer obviously is No, and the M’s have never been serious about spending to win.

  12. don52656 on March 26th, 2014 3:40 pm

    It seems as if it’s somewhere between ridiculous and pathetic if we’re really thinking that losing Randy Wolf is going to make the difference for the Mariners this season. Additionally, you can’t look at this as simply a $1 million question, because adding Wolf to the roster would have meant cutting someone else from the 40-man.

    As far as Nick Franklin in RF, it’s spring training. Mike Moustakas played 6 innings at 2B for KC last week and I didn’t hear anything about him moving there permanently. Lots of strange things happen in spring training.

    Collectively, I think we all need to chill out a little.

  13. ivan on March 26th, 2014 5:40 pm

    They will still have to cut someone from the 40-man when they add Elias. Anthony Fernandez is my guess.

    After seeing Elias for the first time, against the Rockies, I’m also guessing that his emergence factored into their approach to Wolf.

  14. MrZDevotee on March 26th, 2014 5:44 pm

    Good point about the 40 man roster, especially if he wasn’t going to be around past May/June. Why throw away a player, for a guy who’s gonna get cut in two months, barring a miracle? We already have to move someone off it to make room for Elias… Wolf and Baker would have been two more spots that needed clearing. That might have been the choice actually– Elias would be sent down if Wolf took a spot.

    It may just be ever so slightly more complicated than “these guys are idiots”.

    I’m not convinced there’s anymore stupidity going on here than in Texas (Kinsler and Piernynski would be nice about now, since their replacements are on the DL for 2-3 months), the Angels (how much are your frailsters making?), the Yankees (their entire infield uses crutches), Braves pitching depth (oops), Tigers SS fun times…

    It’s not unique to Seattle. But yeah, it’s not ideal (understatement two-hand slam dunk).

  15. casey on March 26th, 2014 6:17 pm

    I’m convinced the same people calling the M’s idiots and mean spirited for offering Wolf what was basically a 45 day major league contract would also be calling the Mariners idiots the first time he gave up 4 homers in a two inning start.

  16. HighlightsAt11 on March 26th, 2014 6:20 pm

    I’m with you eponymous. The Ms spent a wad on Cano, versus focusing on improving the outfield and the middle of the rotation.

    Cano does not hit for extra bases. And since the Ms no longer have any established top of the order hitters who consistently get on base/drive the ball, much of Cano’s productivity will go wasted. Especially if Almonte is in the lineup.

    The M’s PR folks continue to tout their systems pitching depth…the minor league system that is.

    Note Darvish has been released to begin throwing again. So don’t expect his absence from the line-up to last very long.

  17. Hutch on March 26th, 2014 8:24 pm

    The real tragedy here is that we’re even talking about whether Randy Wolf is better than Blake Beavan. They’re both the type of fodder a team like the Astros or Marlins would run out on opening day. This rotation was garbage last year behind Felix and Iwakuma and this team did nothing but buy lottery tickets to try and improve it. There was good reason to shy away from Garza/Jiminez type contracts, but so many passable 3-4-5 type pitchers on reasonable deals passed by – Haren, Feldman, hell even Jason Vargas. This team is betting on Paxton and Walker being Jose Fernandez right out of the gate and no significant injuries happening, which is lunacy.

  18. MrZDevotee on March 26th, 2014 8:47 pm

    I don’t quite understand… Why aren’t they counting on them to just be a cheaper Feldman and Vargas? Anything better than that is cake!

    As soon as Maurer, Kuma and Walker are back at it, we’ve got 8 starting pitchers, for 5 jobs. And word on the street is we’re likely to sign a veteran in the next couple days (and Wolf isn’t that hard to replace, maybe even with someone NOT coming off major damage/repairs).

  19. marc w on March 27th, 2014 12:02 am

    I’m not the one who decided Wolf was in the starting 5. The M’s did that, and THEN lost him. They’re the ones who looked at their other options and said, “nope, we’re good.” I totally understand the spirit of the comment, and I acknowledge that Randy Wolf in and if himself *does not matter.* But the big decision here isn’t Wolf versus the hotshot prospect or Wolf versus the other great alternative. It’s Wolf vs Beavan and/or Noesi. Yeah, M’s fans might be pissed off when Wolf gave up 2 HRs in a start, but the alternative is turning that spot over to guys who’ve made an art form out of yielding home runs.

  20. marc w on March 27th, 2014 12:11 am


    The 40-man issue is fair, but again, this *entire situation* is predicated on the M’s *choosing* Wolf for the rotation. If they didn’t want Wolf, no biggie – he’s on a minor league deal. No $1m, it’s clean, clear and Wolf becomes a free agent. The whole thing can ONLY happen if the M’s had already crossed the 40-man rubicon. And why wouldn’t they? They already have a free slot, as they can move Hiktzen to the 60-day DL any time it suits them. They’ve got Anthony Feenandez, Logan Bawcom, Carlos Triunfel, Xavier Avery on the roster now.

    You say it’s not like the M’s are prioritizing $1m over their playoff chances…ok, would you prefer I say the M’s are prioritizing Xavier Avery’s (or Anthony Fernandez’s) roster spot over their playoff chances?

  21. marc w on March 27th, 2014 12:41 am

    Mr. Z,

    Yes, I guess Pierzynski and Kinsler would help Texas, but let’s remember who they’re going with instead. They turned Kinsler and $$$ into Prince Fielder, thereby upgrading from the eminently upgradable Mitch Moreland. At C, they go from AJ to Gio Soto, who’s younger, had a better 2013 OPS and a better career OPS. I’m not arguing that the Rangers unambiguously improved or that they won’t miss the depth they had when Soto was a back- up, but….do you see why the M’s are in a slightly different situation?

    I don’t want to imply that the M’s FO is made up of idiots. I just want some idea if what the plan is – what the trade-offs are. If you think Wolf is crap, Ok, what do you think of Beavan/Noesi, and what do you think going with the latter over the former means over 1-2 months?

  22. eponymous coward on March 27th, 2014 6:59 am

    Cano does not hit for extra bases. And since the Ms no longer have any established top of the order hitters who consistently get on base/drive the ball, much of Cano’s productivity will go wasted. Especially if Almonte is in the lineup.

    Cano’s a solid, good hitter, the best hitter we have on this team. I’m not worried about his productivity in 2014. I’m not particularly worried about whether or not he does enough DINGERS1!!!11!1 or he’s a leadoff guy (he’s a considerable improvement in the offense and solid defensively)- more that we put a huge roadblock in front of a good prospect, and forgot to build the rest of the team around a guy we made a huge commitment to, such that we’re entering the season with huge holes on the roster in the rotation and OF, and excess talent depth that can’t be efficiently used in the infield. Such a Mariners way of doing things…

  23. casey on March 27th, 2014 7:40 am

    Cano hit 41 doubles and 27 homers last year -how is this a guy who doesn’t hit for extra bases?

  24. MrZDevotee on March 27th, 2014 7:44 am

    Sorry, I wasn’t directing the “idiot” comment at you. But I still think you’re simplifying the decision… There’s no reason NOT to believe that the M’s had decided “Wolf gets the spot if he signs the 45 day release form”. He’s here, he’s worked hard, let’s reward him since we’re kinda in a bind, and don’t have a lot of options– even if he’s not ideally what we want. I think that’s likely what happened. Especially since multiple sources (CBSSports and News Tribune) reported almost immediately that the M’s were interested in bringing in a different veteran. If they truly were dead set on keeping Wolf, then yeah, the $1 million is not a big deal. But evidently, they decided he most likely wouldn’t be with the team for the full season, or they may want to send him down when other guys are healthy for depth, and he balked, so the two parted ways.

    I understand the misgivings about the front office, but just because a club has a history of chronic tuberculosis doesn’t mean when they catch a common cold we should run screaming “the TB is back!!!! AHHHHH… Run for you lives they’re contagious, we’re all gonna die…”

    Maybe it’s just a plain old cough? Like Walker was a hiccup, and Iwakuma was an ingrown nail?

  25. don52656 on March 27th, 2014 10:00 am

    marc w….And now the Chris Young era begins. Seems like confirmation that the M’s had a different perception of Randy Wolf’s value to the team than Randy Wolf did. I think the M’s were perhaps surprised by his decision to ask for his release, but had a pretty good idea that he was replaceable.

    It sure seems like there are a lot more injuries this year than there have been in past years. Tanner Scheppers is the opening day Texas starter? Sonny Gray is the opening day starter for Oakland? Wow.

  26. marc w on March 27th, 2014 10:02 am

    I appreciate it, Mr.Z – I may be simplifying things, and I want to see this from the other side (if possible).

    Yes, Wolf would get the spot if he signed the deal, and he didn’t want to. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. But I understand where Wolf is coming from, and the M’s rationale doesn’t quite add up, at least to me. The M’s were caught off guard when Wolf opted out. The M’s identified their preferred 5th starter, and then let him walk over some chunk of $1m.

    The M’s gain some flexibility once Walker/Kuma return. At that point, it would be a bit of an annoyance if they wanted to cut Wolf and had to pay him the balance of the $1m he was owed. But they pay a price for that in April. Not according to me, according to THEM. Given Texas’ injury woes, I think I would put a priority on getting off to a good start while Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are out. Giving the team the *best* shot at starting May within a game or 2 of the lead (or, hell, leading it) seems like a wise thing to do. There’s an opportunity there.

    The M’s actually HAVE brought in a different veteran, skyscraping RHP Chris Young. And to do that, they DFA’d Bobby LaFromboise, which essentially ends the argument that they let Wolf go because he would’ve cost a roster spot (not your argument, but just saying).

  27. don52656 on March 27th, 2014 10:07 am

    I see that the over/under for Mariner wins this season according to Las Vegas is 82. I’d take the over, which may mean nothing more than I am a lousy guesser, but I am thinking that we are going to see several upside surprises in performance; from Ackley, Smoak, Miller, Zunino. I also think the rotation issues won’t be as bad as is feared (insert injury caveat here).

    Hope springs eternal at the beginning of the baseball season. I hope we have a fun year.

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