This season is rapidly winding down, with the Mariners managing to finish August a game over .500 for the month despite last night’s 10-0 demolition at the hands of a superior Angels squad. Things could improve slightly with the additions of Ichiro and Adrian Beltre, but don’t expect instant fixes. Bith haven’t played in a while.
For all the talk of how the August 31 trade deadline might prove just as exciting as the July 31 non-waiver one this year, well, that really didn’t happen. There were a handful of somewhat interesting moves right at the end, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Mariners made their one move to acquire Bill Hall, essentially the equivalent of a waiver pickup, but that was it. None of the veteran pieces the team could have moved for future parts, as happened with Jarrod Washburn in July, wound up going anyplace. In the cases of Beltre and Erik Bedard, their injuries made them untradable. With Russell Branyan, the team held on to him because it is more concerned with finishing above .500 and making season ticket sales a little easier this winter — check out attendance stats, this is a serious concern — than flipping him for some minor leaguers who might pan out a few years down the road. This offense, obviously, needs all the help it can muster to finish off the final 4 1/2 weeks. But then again, the time to trade Branyan was back in July. He’d never have slipped through August waivers.
So, here we are, with major league rosters about to expand from 25 up to 40.
Who should the Mariners call up to finish the season? Let’s take a look at the possibilities. Going off what the Mariners have said, that they are only going to call up three to five players, I doubt you’ll see many 20 year-olds from Class AA as there’ve been in the past. Especially with what we’ve just said — that the team’s front office is concerned about finishing as close to .500 as possible.
So, we know that Brandon Morrow, who went 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in August, with 22 strikeouts against 11 walks over 37 1/3 innings, is going to be one of the additions. Don Wakamatsu told us as much last month.
Who else? Well, consider the areas of the major league team most impacted by injury.
We know that Branyan is out indefinitely, which leaves a gaping hole at first base. Jack Hannahan has done a great job defensively of filling it at that position, but everybody, including Hannahan’s immediate family and closest friends, knows he won’t be a future cornerstone at that part of the infield.
So, the most logical move is to bring up a first baseman. Make that two.
You’ve got at least one guy in Class AAA who figures to be a part of this team’s future. That would be Mike Carp, now hitting .271 with 15 homers and 25 doubles for the Rainiers. Carp has a .372 on-base percentage and an .818 OPS. Both are highly encouraging numbers for a guy in his first year of AAA, though they are not entirely a guarantee that he should have a major league job waiting for him next spring.
But why not bring him up now and see what type of progress he’s made at handling the glove aspect of the first base job? His bat could still be an improvement over what the M’s are currently trotting out at first base and the team would gain some further information about how far off from the majors Carp actually is.
That takes care of the lefty-hitting side of first base.
For the righty side — remember, Mike Sweeney can’t really play the field anymore — you bring up Chris Shelton. He’s hitting .312 with a .390 OBP and a .508 slugging percentage. All of that while manning positions other than his usual first base because of the logjam of guys at that position in AAA. So, you know he can hit. He’s done it in the majors. Your major league team just got shutout 3-0 and 10-0 in back-to-back games. Why not bring up the guy slugging better than .500? You might score some runs.
Some of you will be asking, why not Bryan LaHair? Now, normally, I’d tell you all to pipe down. But not this time. LaHair does not factor into the future as much as a guy like Carp does even though both are lefty-hitting first basemen and LaHair is out-hitting Carp to the tune of an .866 OPS. He’s another .500 slugger, posting a .519 in that department.
But if LaHair factored as prominently as Carp in the M’s future, he would be playing first base and Carp would be the one in left field — the position LaHair has mostly been playing. If you think LaHair has a future in left field for the M’s, well, think again. Michael Saunders is going to get every opportunity to play there next season.
So, why call up LaHair in September?
Well, there’s the little matter of Ken Griffey Jr. and the fact that he seems to sit out several days every time he plays consecutive games. That’s what happens when you’re nearing the end of your career and your knees can barely hold you up anymore. Happens to the best of them. Griffey’s health will remain a concern the final month and the team will need another lefty bat to offset him on those days when he can’t answer the bell.
You could keep allowing Sweeney to head out there as the DH versus righties, but he’s another guy whose health has been an issue for most of the season. How long before his back goes? It makes sense to being up at least two lefty bats to offset the injury concerns of Branyan and Griffey and you accomplish that with Carp and LaHair. They could alternate between the first base and DH slots if need be. Shelton is there to be the right side of a first base plattoon.
And hey, if LaHair, in his second September call-up, goes on a hitting tear, maybe he can be included in a future deal this coming winter.
So, that’s four guys, including Morrow. Anyone else? Normally, I’d say an extra bullpen arm is needed because there are serious concerns about burning out the younger ones already here. But Randy Messenger is already up, so that takes care of the short-inning issues. The long-inning issues should not be a problem either, since Carlos Silva is coming back to work in the bullpen, Chris Jakubauskas is back and the addition of Morrow will bump at least one starter unless the team goes with a six-man rotation.
The M’s have talked about using Garrett Olson as a starter in September, depending on how he looked down at AAA in building more towards that role.
Olson gave up eight runs in four innings in his first start back at AAA, then settled down and threw six innings of one-run ball — striking out seven.
His last start saw him yield four runs over five innings. His walk totals have been high in the three outings: three in each of the last two contests and two in the first,
Still, might not be a bad idea to have him up here and stretched out.
So, there you have it: the five guys this team could very well have up.
Many of you will ask about Matt Tuiasosopo, who saw much of his season derailed by injury. Normally, I’d be all for him coming up here so the M’s could gauge their options at third base heading into next year. Like the first base situation, Beltre is also a health concern at third. But unlike the first base situation, the M’s have two viable replacement options at third base in Hannahan and Hall. No need to have Tuiasosopo up here now, fighting for ABs when he is coming back off a fairly serious injury.
As with all such lists, I have my doubts this one will nail all five players. Consider it an educated guess. And what fun would it be if there wasn’t a surprise or two? Maybe Jason Vargas gets a return shot? Maybe the M’s decide they want to see where Tuisasosopo fits? Who knows? But for now, I’ll go with these guys.