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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 7, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Mariners running out an inexpensive starting lineup* (*except for right field)

Here is today’s Mariners minor-league report.

The greening of the Mariners lineup, with Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley all phased out of the starting positions they held on Opening Day in favor of rookies, has left the Mariners with an interesting salary dichotomy.

The lineup they are likely to trot out tonight in Anaheim, including pitcher Doug Fister, will earn a combined $11.4 million (using salaries from the definitive website Cot’s Baseball Contracts).

The exception, of course, is Ichiro, earning $17 million this year in the fourth year of his five-year, $90-million contract. It’s a contract he earned by being a perennial All-Star, though his production is down markedly so far this season.

According to the USA Today payoll listings, the Mariners ranked in the middle of the pack (16th out of 30 teams) in payroll at $86.5 million to start the season (Cot’s has them at $94 million, including pro-rated signing bonuses).

What that means, of course, is that a lot of money is either riding the bench (Figgins’ $9 million, Wilson’s $5 million), sitting on the disabled list (David Aardma’s $4.5 million), or sitting at home (Bradley, owed the remainder of his $12 million after he was released on May 16).

That accounts for $30.5 million, about 35 percent of their total. Throw in Felix Hernandez’s $11 million, and it brings the total to $41.5 million. Throw in Ichiro, and it brings the total to $58.5 million, leaving about $28 million for four-fifths of the rotation, the entire bullpen, and the starting lineup minus Ichiro.

Here’s a likely lineup tonight:

1B: Justin Smoak ($419,000)

2B: Dustin Ackley ($414,000*)

SS: Brendan Ryan ($1 million)

3B: Kyle Seager ($414,000)

LF: Carlos Peguero or Greg Halman ($414,000)

CF: Franklin Gutierrez ($4 million)

RF: Ichiro ($17 million)

DH: Jack Cust ($2.5 million) or Adam Kennedy ($750,000 plus $425,000 in performance bonuses)

C: Miguel Olivo ($2.25 million)

P: Doug Fister ($436,500)

*Ackley is tricky because he signed a major-league contract after being drafted No. 2 overall, which included a large signing bonus. But I still listed him as making the major-league minimum of $414,000, as most rookies do. He might be earning more than that).

Add it all up, and the non-Ichiro portion of the lineup is earning about $11.4 million — less if Kennedy’s starting instead of Cust, maybe a bit more if Ackley negotiated a higher starting salary). There can’t be many teams in baseball that have six position players plus the pitcher earning $1 million or less playing on a regular basis.

In modern baseball, salary is as much — or more — an indicator of service time and past performance as current performance. The Mariners’ current salary dichotomy is both a monument to their youth movement, and a glaring reminder of some bad contracts in their past.

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