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September 2, 2008 at 1:24 PM

September callups: Should they play?

Larry Stone here, taking my turn as conductor of the blog train (You remember the O’Jays hit, “Blog Train” don’t you? “Join hands, start a blog train, blog train….Tell all the folks in Russia, and China, too…”
Yes, Geoff should be back tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.
But I’d like to pose a question to chew on before then. We were talking to Riggleman about September callups on the last road trip — I believe it was in Minnesota. He said he felt an obligation to keep playing the guys that had been there all year. I went back to my files and found the exact quote:
“If you feel guys have been giving all they have all year, you don’t want to take September away from them.”
Riggleman specifically said, “I’m not going to take at-bats away from Ibanez, Beltre, Lopez, Betancourt.”
Do you agree? The Mariners today called up third baseman Matt Tuiasasopo (who will join the team tonight in Texas, along with catcher Rob Johnson, and pitchers Mark Lowe, Brandon Morrow and Jared Wells; a day earlier, they had called up second baseman Luis Valbuena and pitcher Justin Thomas).
It would make a lot of sense to give Tuiasasopo a showcase in September to see how close he is to being ready for a major-league job. I’ve already advocated using Adrian Beltre as a potential trade chip to hasten the rebuilding process. If that happens, they would need to know if Tuiasosopo is ready to handle the job. He’s just 22, and had a pretty strong year at Tacoma, particularly in the second half. I still love this guy’s potential; he just looks like a baseball player. But he’s still raw. How raw? That’s something that September could help answer.
On the other hand, I agree with Riggleman’s sentiments. It would be hard to suddenly take away September from Beltre, who in the last week has had a walk-off home run, a two-homer game, and a cycle. Yes, the team is going nowhere, but he has earned a chance to boost up his statistics in September. And, the better his stat package, the better case the Mariners can make in trade talks.
Johnson is another one that I’d like to see. There are still a lot of questions about Jeff Clement’s defense. I think it makes a lot of sense to try him at first base or DH, considering the catching depth in the organization. Maybe Johnson could hold down the catching position for a year until Adam Moore is ready. (Yeah, I know Kenji Johjima is still around, too. I’m not smart enough to figure out an answer to that dilemma. Hey, it wasn’t me that signed him to a three-year extension. A three-year extension!! Yes, folks, his new contract hasn’t even started yet. Could he be the first player released before his contract extension even begins?). So, anyway, it would be nice to give Johnson some action, too. But Clement needs his at-bats.
It’s a dilemma. Riggleman has some juggling to do. I doubt if Johnson will get that much time. I haven’t heard any organizational sentiment toward moving Clement out of the catching spot at this point, and I suspect he’ll continue to get the bulk of time. The DH position is one that Riggleman can use to get some playing time for the kids, especially Tuiasasopo. Beltre is playing hurt anyway, so that seems like a good place for him. He can get his at-bats, pad his stats, and the Mariners can still look at Tuiasasopo at third. I doubt strongly that suddenly Clement is going to show up at first base, but he could rotate into DH as well.
As for the other guys, I suspect playing time will be thin for Valbuena. The young relievers will have their oppoortunities, as Thomas did in finishing up Monday’s game. Morrow, of course, will join the rotation on Saturday against the Yankees. His starts the rest of the year will draw considerable scrutiny. If Morrow can make a smooth transition to starting, that really solidifies the rotation for next year. This is one of the major story lines of the last month.
On the other hand, September numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of future success. Who can forget Jeremy Reed’s .397 in 2004? Or Willie Bloomquist’s .455 in 2002? Remember Ted Cox, the Boston Red Sox catcher who in September of 1977 started his career 6 for 6 and hit .362 in September? He played parts of four more seasons (including 1980 with the Mariners) and finished with a career .245 average.
So let’s sit back and watch what the Mariners do with their September callups. And remember: “All of you brothers over in Africa, tell all the folks in Egypt and Israel, too. Please don’t miss this train at the station ’cause if you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you. … Start a blog train. Blog train.”

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