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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.

March 6, 2013 at 10:21 AM

A quick look at where Mariners stand in roster battles

Franklin Gutierrez bats during Monday's game with Colorado. Photo by Associated Press.

Franklin Gutierrez bats during Monday’s game with Colorado. Photo by Associated Press.

Having reached the first of three scheduled off days this spring, and 11 games into a 35-game spring schedule, it seems like a good time to look at where things stand.

Here are the players who I see as locks to make the team (excluding injuries, of course)

C Jesus Montero

1B Justin Smoak

1B/DH Kendrys Morales

2B Dustin Ackley

SS Brendan Ryan

3B Kyle Seager

IF Robert Andino

OF Michael Morse

OF Michael Saunders

OF Franklin Gutierrez

OF Raul Ibanez

SP Felix Hernandez

SP Hisashi Iwakuma

SP Joe Saunders

RP Tom Wilhelmsen

RP Charlie Furbush

That’s 16 players. In the category of virtual lock, I’d put:

C Kelly Shoppach (Ostensibly, he’s battling Ronny Paulino for the backup job, but I don’t think it’s much of a battle. For one thing, Shoppach is on the 40-man roster, and Paulino isn’t. For another, manager Eric Wedge has a history with Shoppach and likes him. It’s just not in the cards for Mike Zunino to make the team, both for reasons of development and service time).

RP Oliver Perez

RP Josh Kinney

That brings the total to 19, leaving six spots open — and some very interesting battles. Two spots, of course, will go to starters rounding out the rotation. I think Jon Garland is making a good case for himself. The key will be how his surgically repaired shoulder holds up to the rigors of increased usage. Same with Jeremy Bonderman, but he’s a longer shot after missing two years from Tommy John surgery. Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan are obviously strong candidates. And there are still the kids. I was very impressed with Danny Hultzen in his early appearances, in which he was dominant at times, but we don’t know how much of a setback his hip injury will be. If it’s truly as minor as he believes, Hultzen would miss about a week and still have plenty of time to make his case. Brandon Maurer has been impressive so far. James Paxton could still put some thoughts  in their head  I don’t think this is Taijuan Walker’s time yet, because of his youth and ongoing efforts to develop his off-speed pitches. Tremendous raw tools, but still not polished enough for the majors. In other words, at this point, I don’t think anything is close to being resolved. As for Hector Noesi, I don’t even see him being in the mix at all.

Two more starters brings the roster up to 21. Presumably, that means three more relievers to bring the bullpen to seven members, and another outfielder. But if the decision between Casper Wells (who is out of options) and Jason Bay gets too tough, could the Mariners opt for a six-man bullpen and keep them both? Perhaps if someone like Beavan is kept as a long man, but they open the season with 14 straight games before a day off, then 16 more games in a row. Because of that workload, I think the preference will be to keep a standard seven-man bullpen, which would pretty much leave four pitchers — Lucas Luetge, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor and non-roster veteran Kameron Loe – vying for those three spots. Some of the younger arms have been impressive, like Carson Smith and Brian Moran, but they’re longshots at this point.

Add three relievers, and the roster is at 24, leaving it down to Bay or Wells. Yes, Carlos Peguero may be working his way into the conversation with his .421 average and impressive at-bats so far, but I still think he’s a long way from overtaking the other two. Peguero remains an intriguing player with his tremendous power, but the fact is he has an 82 to 9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 63 major-league games. It would be hard to overcome that in one spring — and Peguero has options remaining. Bay has looked very good so far, displaying power (two homers) and discipline (four walks) at the plate. If Bay convinces the Mariners he has regained the form that made him a two-time All-Star, he’ll be hard to deny. But Wells — coming off a five-RBI game on Monday — is a more suitable option as a defensive replacement who can play all three outfield positions. And he’s looked good at the plate, too.

It’s going to be a tough decision, one that could go down to the wire or even result in a trade. It’s still too early to come up with any definitive answers to any of the roster battles. All these matters will continue to be clarified as the spring grinds on.

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