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March 18, 2009 at 9:57 AM

Roster taking shape

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A look above at Chris Shelton, taking his cuts against the White Sox a couple of days ago. Some of you kept asking me, on yesterday’s Geoff Baker Live! (on today again at 11 a.m.) about Shelton, Mike Sweeney, Reegie Corona, Mike Morse, Jamie Burke and others. You want to know what the odds are that they’ll make the team. Or whether there’s any possible way they can make it.
Let’s look at each for a moment:
Burke — We know what he can do. Unless his bat speed falls off a cliff here, the team knows what he can do. He’s done it for two years — provided excellent defensive catching and shown an ability to hit after riding the bench for a week. Just two singles in 19 ABs down here so far (.105 average) but he’s done it in the big leagues before, as I said. Again, the staff will watch his bat speed (a concern in a player’s mid-30s) just to make certain this isn’t something more than spring training rust. Will likely make it only as a third catcher.
Sweeney — He’s also done it before, and very well at the big league level. But he can’t play first base on a daily basis anymore. Has been hurt on and off the past three seasons and nearly retired before taking one last crack with Seattle. The team loves his clubhouse presence and leadership intangibles, but the question is: can he hit better than others looking to be the RH bat in a 1B and DH platoon? That’s the question he’ll have to answer. In limited playing time, Sweeney is 4-for-12 (.333) with a home run and a double.
Shelton — Competing with Sweeney for that 1B/DH platoon job from the right side. Shelton had a monster April and May for the Tigers back in 2006, but has had fewer than 100 big league ABs since being demoted in early August of that year. He made an adjustment to his approach and swing that he felt “clicked” midway through last season in Class AAA. So far, he’s 13-for-25 (.520) with three homers, two doubles, a team-leading seven walks, .625 OBP and 1.585 OPS. Of course, he’ll never keep that up in the regular season. But his job was to open eyes here and he’s done that. Like Mike Morse last year, he’s making it tough for anyone to ignore him. Hitting stats get inflated in Arizona, but you can’t argue with his approach. He’s taking pitches when he has to, crushing others when he has to as well.
Morse — Would likely make it only as a fifth outfielder and backup 1B, 3B. We’re assuming Wladimir Balentien makes the team as a fourth outfielder because his outfield defense is superior to Morse’s and he’s out of options. Morse’s best chance would be a repeat of his 2008 spring performance, when he put up Shelton-like numbers. So far, he’s 7-for-29 (.241) with a homer and a double. So, his bat hasn’t jumped off the charts as it did a year ago. His defense, while making strides, is what it is. Lots of versatility, but nothing great at any position.
Corona — A Rule 5 draft pick who can play the middle infield positions well. Until the trade for Ronny Cedeno , Corona had a shot to stick as the team’s backup infielder. To be the next Willie Bloomquist. Now, it’s a longshot. He’s 5-for-33 (.152) down here and while the team is intrigued by him, he has to be left on the 25-man roster or sent back to his original team. So, unless Yuniesky Betancourt is traded, he could be the odd man out in the infield. Or, a deal would have to be struck to keep him in Seattle and he’d likely go to Class AAA.
So, how could any of these folks make it?
First, it depends on whether the Mariners carry 11 pitchers, or 12, into the season. With all of the injuries in both the rotation and bullpen, a 12-man staff is looking likely. But we thought that a year ago and the M’s went with 11 instead — keeping outfielder Charlton Jimerson at the expense of pitcher R.A. Dickey. At the time, the M’s worked out a deal with Dickey’s former team to keep him in the minors.
If the M’s go with 12 pitchers, that leaves:
C Kenji Johjima
1B Russell Branyan
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Ken Griffey Jr.
LF Endy Chavez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
RF Ichiro
C Jeff Clement or Jamie Burke or Rob Johnson
1B Chris Shelton or Mike Sweeney
INF Ronny Cedeno or Reegie Corona
OF Wladimir Balentien or Mike Morse
I did it this way because, we know Johjima has made the team regardless of anything else. We know Branyan will be the primary first baseman. So, the battles you see down below for the bench spots will determine who else makes it. Clement could be an interesting case, because he’s still learning the defensive side of things and has yet to see his bat come around this spring. It’s entirely possible he could begin the year in Class AAA to play every day and Johnson (considered more defensively ready with a lesser bat) left in the majors as the backup to start the season.
As for the rest, Shelton-Sweeney could come down to the wire. Right now, for reasons already mentioned, it looks like Cedeno over Corona and Balentien over Morse.
As for Mike Carp, a nice showing this spring but he’s yet to see Class AAA and bats lefthanded. The team needs a right handed complement to Branyan and Griffey. But Carp also plays the outfield (fifth outfielder anyone?) and could get squeezed in there if someone were to get hurt. I just see him starting off in the minors.
How could all of that change? Well, if the team goes with 11 pitchers, it allows one more position player to make it.
If the team goes with three catchers, this appears to be Burke’s best shot. A rebuilding team usually won’t go with two catchers in their 30s — even if one is more polished than the two other younger guys. This has to be about development too. And Burke isn’t on the 40-man roster, so a spot would have to be freed up for him and a player exposed to waivers. Looking like he makes it only as the third catcher.
Should the team only carry two catchers, it could allow them to keep both Sweeney and Shelton, or one of either Corona, or Morse.
As mentioned, I think Corona’s best shot, barring a trade, of sticking here is for a deal to be worked out with his ex-club and him being sent to Class AAA.
If Sweeney and Shelton both continue to produce, given the lack of power scattered throughout this lineup, I think they would both be kept. Neither is on the 40-man roster, which would require a couple of players to be exposed, but this team really wants a reason to keep Sweeney around. And it can’t ignore what Shelton is doing for a team not noted for plate discipline.
In that case, Morse would be the loser. He’d be placed on waivers and either outrighted to Class AAA or claimed by another club. A trade is tough to pull off for guys like him this late in spring training. That would free up one of the two roster spots needed to keep both Sweeney and Shelton.
Who would the fifth outfielder be in that scenario? Griffey. Not great, but not much of a difference from Morse, to be honest. We’ll start to find out just how he looks out there this week.
I hope that clears some things up. Talk to you all in about an hour.



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