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February 22, 2011 at 1:00 PM

A look at where youngsters like Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley fit into the Mariners’ immediate plans

Mariners manager Eric Wedge met with the media after today’s workout, which featured a second day of live batting practice. Felix Hernandez was not among those facing actual hitters.
Wedge explained that the idea, as has been mentioned before, has been to limit some of Hernandez’s activities — and live hitters at this stage is one of those — during the early stages of spring training. Jason Vargas has been placed in that category as well, given the heavy number of innings he threw last season, so both pitchers just did regular bullpen sessions today.
So, anyway, other pitchers did do live BP today and one of them was Brandon League, who you can see in the video above.
Wedge said the Mariners will announce their pitchers for Friday’s intra-squad game tomorrow morning. The team has the game on Friday, then FanFest on Saturday and their annual charity game here on Sunday against San Diego.
mari02182011 008.JPG
A reporter from USA Today stopped by and asked Wedge where Michael Pineda fits into the team’s plans. Whether he’s “in the mix” for a starting job. Wedge said Pineda was indeed in the mix.
“We don’t have anything pre-determined with him,” Wedge said.
So, I asked him whether service time issues would play into it and was told that they would not.
Now, you have to understand one thing. When it comes to service time issues, teams are very reluctant to admit that they will play a role in whether or not a player is called up out of spring training. But we’ve discussed here before how both Dustin Ackley and Pineda would be eligible for Super-Two arbitration status a year early if they break camp with the M’s (or get called up before mid-June) and stay with the team. If that happened, they could qualify for arbitration after two-plus seasons, meaning at the end of 2013. To avoid this status — for a team not expected to contend for anything — the M’s would have to avoid calling either up until after that June period. At that point, they’d have them for the remainder of this year and three more seasons through to the end of 2014 before arbitration became an issue.
Their service clock time towards free agency would also be impacted if they break camp now and have their 2011 time count as a full season. By waiting until later in the year to promote them, the M’s could get both for this season and then six additional years after this one — making them eligible for free agency after 2017 instead of 2016.
It is a big deal, especially on a team as cash-conscious as the M’s have been this off-season. Why pay a guy arbitration money a year early if you don’t have to? Especially when you aren’t going to contend?
But teams do not like to talk about it. They worry that fans will think they are being cheap, rather than just smart.
And in most cases, they can offer a very realistic counter that any decision to hold a player back will be based on development issues.
So, keeping that context in mind, after Wedge nixed the idea that service time issues would impact Ackley or Pineda, here’s what he did say.
“You look at the individual, but then, to be consistent, you look at the options at-hand,” Wedge said. “Everybody’s at a different spot in their career, a different situation. Roster guy, non-roster guy, Younger guy, older guy. You take all of that into consideration ultimately, when you decide what you’re going to decide.”
Wedge then added, once again, that: “The depth factor is real to me. It’s real to our organization. It’s real to any big league club. And all of that has got to come into play.”
And really, that’s the telling quote. So, what exactly does it mean?

Wedge says it simply means: “You’ve got to take into consideration the lack of experience with one guy, the experience with another guy. And then making sure that you’ve got the type of depth you need to have.
“And sometimes, all things being equal, you might go with one guy that’s going to allow you to keep another guy so you can have that type of depth.”
In other words, sometimes you keep a non-roster player and send a younger guy down to Class AAA because he still has minor league options. You can do it the other way around, too, allowing a non-roster guy to stay in the minors (since they’re on minor league contracts to start with) while promoting the younger player, but that doesn’t work with certain types of non-roster folks.
Some non-roster players have language built into their deals that allows them to become free agents if they don’t make the club out of spring training.
When it comes to Ackley and Pineda, they are competing directly with non-roster guys for spots.
In Ackley’s case, the M’s are going to keep both Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan and would also like to keep Adam Kennedy as a part-time second baseman and backup infielder. Kennedy, however, has an out-clause in his contract which allows him to become a free agent if he isn’t on the Opening Day roster.
So, if keeping Ackley in the big leagues right away means losing Kennedy to free-agency, the M’s are obviously not going to go that route.
Same thing with Pineda, who is in competition with non-roster types like Nate Robertson and Charlie Haeger. I don’t know whether they have similar opt-out clauses in their deals (trying to find out) but most veterans usually include something. And even if they don’t have it, teams can usually be very accomodating in allowing veterans to look elsewhere for work rather than forcing them to stay in Class AAA.
So, again, if it came down to keeping Pineda and losing a non-roster veteran, the team would likely be much more inclined to leave Pineda in the minors to work on his development.
And that’s the thing with both Pineda and Ackley. They have areas of their games that could use further AAA development. If the club needed an excuse, leaving Ackley in AAA to work on his defense and Pineda there to perfect his change-up would be 100 percent valid.
But the service time issue thing is enough of an excuse. And taken into account with all these other factors, it makes no sense to have either Ackley or Pineda with the Mariners on opening day.
Not unless they have designs on winning the AL West. If they don’t, then leaving both in the minors is a no-brainer. Even if the Mariners choose not to voice it as such, for the sake of keeping some strong competition going in camp.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan


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