The Mariners are adding another right-handed bat to the mix — first baseman Ryan Garko, who has agreed to a $550,000, one-year contract. Gregg Bell of Associated Press broke the story earlier today.
According to AP, the 29-year-old Garko could nearly double his salary to $1,075,000 if he has 600 plate appearances. Of course, that would require him to be an every-day player, and I believe the Mariners view him more as a platoon option at first base, with some DH possibilities. Garko has a career .887 OPS and .313 batting average against left-handed pitchers in 422 at-bats (compared to .755 against righties), with 17 homers and 70 RBI.
As Dave Cameron points out, this could mean an 11-man pitching staff if the Mariners still feel the need to carry one more outfielder, such as Ryan Langerhans. That will be one of the interesting decisions of spring camp. Remember, Eric Byrnes is on a minimum-salary contract, because the Diamondbacks are paying the bulk of his $11 million, so it wouldn’t be hard to cut him if he shows in camp he hasn’t recovered from two years of injury-riddled performance. But even with this signing of Garko, I believe the Mariners still envision Byrnes as their right-handed platoon option in left field.
It should be fun this year watching Don Wakamatsu mix and match at first base (Casey Kotchman and Garko), left field (Milton Bradley, Byrnes and possibly Langerhans), DH (Ken Griffey Jr. and Bradley) and possibly catcher (Adam Moore/Rob Johnson and possibly Josh Bard, a switch-hitter) — reminiscent of what Mike Scioscia has done so successfully for years in Anaheim.
Garko could also be the Mariners’ emergency catcher. He was an outstanding catcher at Stanford, winning the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher in 2003. He didn’t move out of the position until 2005. Garko has also seen action in the outfield in both left and right.
Garko posted a .842 OPS with 21 homers in 541 plate appearances in 2007 with Cleveland, and drove in 90 runs in 2008 for the Indians. He split last year between Cleveland and San Francisco, hitting a combined .268 with 13 homers and 51 RBI, with a .765 OPS, in 118 games (354 plate appearances). He was a disappointment for the Giants, hitting .235 with two homers and 12 RBI in 40 games after coming over in a July 27 trade. The Giants didn’t tender a contract to Garko after the season, making him a free agent.
According to AP, Garko would earn up to an additional $25,000 each for 325, 350 and 375 plate appearances this season. He would get $50,000 apiece for 425, 450 and 475 plate appearances, and $100,000 each for 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances.
(Photo by Associated Press)