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July 7, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Time for Mariners to do something about 20-man roster

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Good thing that Mariners offense is “improved” over last season, huh?
I mean, after the first 87 games a year ago, the M’s had scored 296 runs.
This year, after having all winter to bolster things on an offense some sabermetric pundits were arguing was the worst in baseball history, the Mariners have now played 87 games and scored exactly…292 runs.
Good job on those winter additions. I mean…oh, er, um…never mind.
Yeah, history is indeed repeating itself in Seattle. The difference this year is that the Mariners are now pushing some veterans aside and calling up younger players like Dustin Ackley and tonight’s newest addition, Kyle Seager.
It is indeed exciting to see some of the “future” now here in the present, though you’d probably rather not have Carlos Peguero out in left field every night for a team supposedly in a playoff race. You have to take the good with the worrisome in any youth movement, though. Seager coming in is better than merely standing pat and watching an untenable situation continue to unfold at third base.
As we wrote a couple of days ago, you cannot keep playing Adam Kennedy five or six days a week and hope to have him make it to August intact. And Chone Figgins is just not getting the job done in the field or at the plate and probably can’t get any better given how little he’s playing.
So, in the absence of a trade — still likely this team’s best option to help its 2011 chances — running Seager out there at third can’t backfire any worse than continuing with the same Kennedy-Figgins combo.
But that can’t be the final move. Not merely for contention’s sake in 2011. Also for the sake of keeping the Mariners competitive on a nightly basis. Without some of the best pitching in franchise history, this team would be headed for another 101 losses. Maybe worse.
As we’ve shown you, the offense is looking as bad as last year. Felix Hernandez has been great, though not as great as last year. Erik Bedard is the wild-card. And really, this team has been carried to where it’s at by the unexpected boost of Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, Brandon League and David Pauley.
So, while 100 losses is probably out of the question now, there is a remote chance at 90 if this pitching falters in any great way.
And that means, just to avoid what an embarassment that would be after such a promising first half, the Mariners must — absolutely must — do something about this crazy 20-man roster they’re now sending out there in a league where opponents get to have the 25-man stuff.
Right now, you have Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson and Jack Cust reduced to spectators among position players. They might as well just buy tickets and sit in the stands. On the pitching side, anybody seen Jeff Gray? Chris Ray?
At least with Chris Gimenez, we no longer have to send out a search party. We know he’s on the 60-day DL, and that the M’s at least have a backup catcher in Josh Bard that they will hopefully use so that .656 OPS-hitting catcher Miguel Olivo doesn’t collapse from fatigue on the late July road trip — or see his bat fall below a .600 OPS as it did in the second half of last season. Hopefully, because if Bard plays as sparsely as Gimenez did before getting hurt, that would make this a 19-man roster.
Hey, I know all about roles and bench players. Know that it’s good to have a pinch-runner or glove specialist around for late. Know about how you usually have at least one pitcher — often a long guy — in the bullpen who for whatever reason doesn’t always get used.
But two such relievers is a luxury for even a championship-caliber team. This isn’t one of those. This is a sub-.500 team with an historically poor offense trying to stay in a playoff race courtesy of unbelievable starters.
And teams like that can’t afford all the spectators the M’s have.


This might go down as one of the most expensive benches in major league history. You have Figgins at $9 million, Wilson at $5 million, Cust at $2 million and are still paying Milton Bradley $12 million to no longer be here.
Bradley had to go and there’s nothing you can do about him now.
But the Wilson situation has been badly managed from the start. A guy still recognized as one of the top glovemen in the game — regardless of his low batting average — was coming off a strong spring and could potentially have had some trade value given the number of teams out there seeking middle infield help and/or insurance.
Now, he’s been taking up a valuable roster spot for half a season and has had a grand total of two at-bats the last nine games. He’s had seven at-bats the last 15 games and 50 of them the last two months.
Not how you build up a trade piece.
I could understand if the team was keeping Wilson around as a backup shortstop, as claimed. But Brendan Ryan hit .204 in June and is at .208 for July so far. Hey, guys? Um, anytime now on that backup shortstop!
On the Cust front? I understand he hasn’t hit a whole bunch of home runs. Yes, that’s a problem for a DH. But on a team as bad offensively as this one is, it’s tough to see a guy with a .359 on-base percentage ride the pine as much as he has — even if that OBP is hugely walk-generated. So what? Who on this team gets on base these days? If you want to replace Cust because of the lack of home runs (would have had one in Oakland the other day but it went to deepest part of ballpark) then do it. But don’t leave him rotting on the bench so that when you need a pinch-hitter, he’s forgotten what live pitching looks like.
Cust had 33 at-bats in June. You can blame some of it on interleague play, sure, but not all of those games were in NL parks. The last three in Oakland were most definitely in an AL park and after nearly homering in Game 1, the M’s benched Cust for Games 2 and 3.
You can’t make the DH spot into a resting ground for seniors. That’s what it’s been the last two nights with Ichiro and Adam Kennedy taking a turn there. And if you do want to make it that, then you can’t have the one-dimensional Cust taking up a roster spot. Well, OK. You can. If you want to lose.
Now, with Kennedy due to get more playing time at DH, Cust will not be getting regular time at DH. Ackley and Seager aren’t going anyplace, so that’s the best spot for Kennedy right now.
As for Figgins, the M’s are in a bind. They almost certainly will not designate him for assignment with 2 1/2 years left on his contract. That would be a very early — probably unprecedented — admission of defeat for a general manager to make. Doesn’t mean the Mariners have to play him. We’ve said for some time that the team would start scaling back his playing time once it became clear he had no trade value to build for this year. And that’s what has happened.
Can’t fault the team for that. They can hold on to Figgins and try to make another Bradley-type swap for him (hopefully a better one) now or this winter and use him as a fill-in and pinch-runner when he’s needed in the interim. Or, they can wipe the slate clean and hope he comes to spring training in 2012 and shows something. It’s not going to be easy.
And so, yeah, the team is stuck with that roster spot for now unless a trading partner emerges.
But it isn’t stuck with all the other wasted roster spots.
I can overlook most of the bullpen stuff. You don’t want two rusting pitchers on a six-man bullpen staff but there are worse problems to have. You never know when Gray will be needed. Might happen tonight, even with Fister out there. As for Ray, everyone expects the back-end of this bullpen to start running into a second-half wall, so it’s good to have another late-inning arm around.
But all of these guys have to be used more. And really, Zduriencik does need to pull off a trade or two very soon — or DFA somebody — to unclog this roster drainpipe. It’s one thing to have roles for players. Another thing not to use them and for them to have no real purpose for being around.
The Mariners can’t continue to play with a 20-man roster when other teams are using 23, 24 or all 25 spots.
Time to start managing the roster more effectively. Both for contending in 2011 and for the sake of avoiding potential embarassment in the second half.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins

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