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February 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM

Mariners have fewer options on some guys

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Friend of the blog and all-around content distributor Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors emailed me the other day. Dierkes is putting together a list of players on all teams who are out of minor league options and wanted to know who the Seattle candidates were. Should be an interesting read, given how there are always some last minute waiver claims made on these guys by the end of spring training. The way it works is, when a guy is out of options, you have to “outright” him to the minors by having him clear waivers first. So, at the end of camp, if an out of options guy doesn’t make the major league squad, you risk losing him by sending him back down.
Please note, this does not apply to guys on minor league deals. Chris Shelton was sent to the minors last spring because he was on such a deal and technically was already “in” the minors. Had Shelton been a 40-man roster guy like Mike Morse, I have no doubt he’d have been snatched up, given how good a spring he had. Morse did not have as good a spring and cleared waivers once outrighted to the minors. Hey, it’s a chance you take. Mariners farmhand Guillermo Quiroz, who caught a few games for the team last year, was once Toronto’s catcher of the future but wound up claimed by Seattle at the end of 2006 spring training because he was out of options and did not clear.
Now, obviously, whether a guy still has minor league options left could have an impact on whether he makes a team out of spring training.
Let’s look at the Mariners and who is out of options when it comes to 40-man roster guys with under six years of service time (meaning guys still under club control before their free agency period).
David Aardsma
Brandon League
Ryan Langerhans
Ian Snell
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Franklin Gutierrez
So, what does this mean for spring training?

Well, obviously, Aardsma and Gutierrez don’t factor into much. They are stars on this team and were going to make the major league roster regardless of any spring developments. You can probably pencil Rowland-Smith into that “sure thing” category as well given that he’s currently the No. 3 starter.
Others are not sure things or proven in Seattle and may have been in closer races at their positions. But still, in a close race, a team will be more likely to keep one of these guys over another who still has minor league options.
We’ve written before that League does a lot of what Sean White did for the team last season. He’s a sinkerballer who can be used in the late innings with runners on base. Now, it’s possible that both guys make the major league bullpen. But let’s say, for a moment, that the team decides it can only keep one? Maybe the M’s opt for a situational lefty instead and need the room? Who knows?
In that case, when a guy like White still has options left, you can bet he’ll be packing for Class AAA. No way the M’s would risk trying to slip League through waivers. He’d be claimed in a heartbeat.
Let’s continue on.
For me, one of the more interesting cases involves Langerhans and how this pertains to Michael Saunders making the team out of spring training. The M’s have said Saunders will compete for a job, but realistically, with Milton Bradely and Eric Byrnes on the team, he won’t be bouncing them out of a major league roster spot. His best hope would seem to be in displacing Langerhans as an extra outfielder. But again, Saunders has minor league options left and Langerhans does not.
What are the odds that, if put on waivers, Langerhans would be claimed? I’d say very good. He’s a guy capable of playing all three outfield spots in a pinch. No way the M’s risk losing him when Saunders can be shipped to AAA to bide some tiime. Again, if it comes down to keeping one or the other, the options Seattle has are limited because of the lack of options remaining in the case of Langerhans.
Finally, let’s turn to the starting rotation.
The past few months, we’ve seen Snell’s name thrown in there with Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson, Doug Fister , Luke French and others competing for a back rotation spot. But folks, Snell is out of options. Given his past performance and upside, there is an excellent shot he’d be snatched up off waivers if the M’s attempted to outright him to AAA. Even with a higher salary. You just can’t get enough good pitching and Snell’s skillset (or at least, his reputed skillset) doesn’t grow on trees.
So, he is not exactly on equal footing with any of those other guys we’ve mentioned. Olson, French, Vargas and Fister can all be shipped to the minors without being put on waivers. If it comes to an odd-man-out situation for one or two of these guys, you can bet it won’t be Snell.
Anyhow, this is just an example of how some of the minutae of baseball’s rules can have a big impact on decisions made by a team. We don’t always have a handle on it, but believe me, each team employs guys who do understand the rulebook inside and out and immediately grasp how it will impact them.
By the way, thanks for all the kind words about the giant tortoises of the Galapagos. In case you missed the earlier video, shot by me last week in Ecuador, here it is again.



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