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

March 22, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Here’s hoping the Mariners go young in their rotation decisions

Jon Garland pitches against the Dodgers on March 9. Photo by Associated Press

Jon Garland pitches against the Dodgers on March 9. Photo by Associated Press

I would be very surprised if the Mariners don’t announce today that Jon Garland will be part of their starting rotation. As Geoff has chronicled, Garland has an out clause that kicks in today allowing him to pursue a job with other teams if it doesn’t work out with Seattle. And it has worked out with Seattle — he’s pitched well enough that the Mariners aren’t likely to want to risk losing a proven veteran arm that can rack up those ever-valuable innings.

That said — and with similar admiration for the comeback efforts of Jeremy Bonderman – I sure would like to see the Mariners go young when it comes to the back end of the rotation. This is no knock against Garland, who is to be lauded for his diligence in coming back from shoulder surgery in July of 2011, in which. Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Dodgers cleaned up Garland’s labrum, bursa and rotator cuff.  ElAttrache also reinforced the rotator cuff. It’s been well-documented how shoulder surgeries are much more problematic to come back from than elbow operations — just ask Brandon Webb, Mark Pryor, Chris Carpenter, Erik Bedard, Chris Young, et al, just how daunting it can be. I hope Garland is one of the exceptions, and that he continues a long and fruitful career.

But the future of this Mariners team is their young pitching. We’ve heard that for awhile, right? We’ve also been told how the Mariners aren’t going to take any shortcuts in this rebuild. Seems like I’ve heard more than a few sound bites from Eric Wedge in which he talks about not going with the easy fix, even if it’s more painful in the short term.

This would seem to be one of those occasions. Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to take two from the group of Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan — who are much more likely to be part of their future — and find out what they’ve got? Ramirez and Beavan both have major-league experience, but they are works in progress, while Maurer, who hasn’t pitched above Class AA, has considerable upside and has looked poised and dominant in spring training.

Sure, there’s risk.  Garland could go somewhere else and taunt the Mariners by being a rotation stalwart for the next five years. He certainly has the smarts to reinvent himself at age 33. But if the Mariners’ young pitching is as strong as they think it is, they should have more than enough depth to compensate for that occurrence. Wedge loves the “veteran leadership” that guys like Garland and Kevin Millwood provide, but the Mariners already have one of those guys in Joe Saunders. And Felix Hernandez, with seven full major-league seasons, has certainly risen to veteran status, despite being just 26. Who better for young pitchers to emulate?

I know there’s concern about the workload that might accrue to particularly Maurer and Ramirez. Well, when they reach their innings limit, shut them down. The Nationals did it last year with Stephen Strasburg, and they were headed for the playoffs. The Mariners should have plenty of other young pitchers who could fill in those innings in that case, provided they are used prudently during the minor-league season. It’s also possible that Maurer might not be ready, and a rough major-league awakening would dampen his confidence and set back his development. I don’t think that would be an insurmountable outcome — plenty of young pitchers have gone through that experience and ultimately thrived. If it’s Beavan, maybe his new delivery and the development of a more potent strikeout pitch will turn out to be nothing more than typical spring-training talk. And maybe Ramirez’s struggles his last two spring outings are a sign that he’s not ready for the responsibility. I say, let’s find out.

It’s not like the Mariners are likely to contend this year, and they shouldn’t proceed with that mindset. My best-case 2013 scenario is for them to be competitive, crack .500, get some more definitive answers (positive or negative) about young core players, at some point break in young studs like Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen, hopefully James Paxton, maybe Nick Franklin or Brad Miller, hope Taijuan Walker hones his off-speed pitches, and be positioned at the end of the year to go for genuine contention in 2014. And I see a better chance for that by checking out some of those young arms now.

 

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