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