Some of you may have thought Jason Bay leading off was fun. Well, tonight, he’ll be starting in center field for the Mariners. No, Franklin Gutierrez is not playing. Yes, Casper Wells is, but he’s in left. I’m told Gutierrez is not hurt, the Mariners just want to make sure he gets to the regular season healthy. So, he gets a second day in a row off, then will be back in tomorrow night. And the team wants to see Bay in center.
Translation? The Mariners know that if they keep Bay over Wells, they may be in a pickle if Gutierrez gets hurt or sick or whatever, which, well, judge for yourself this spring and…the past four years. So, anyhow, if Gutierrez goes down and there is no Wells, then Michael Saunders is still the only guy who can play center and then you don’t have a fourth outfielder who can play all three positions in a pinch.
That’s where Bay comes in.
He’s played center field before, but not since the 2009 World Baseball Classic for Team Canada. The last time he played it in the majors was with the Pirates back in 2005.
“It’s probably not a long-term position for me out there,” Bay said. “But in a pinch, I could do it.”
And that’s really all the Mariners want to know here. Can Bay fill in mid-game in an emergency, or for one game or maybe two, without huting himself or the team?
Let’s not get carried away with ths whole Wells situation. I mean, he is what he is, a decent fourth outfielder. But the team already has guys who can play the corners and hit, so the real value Wells brings is his ability to play center. But the team already has two guys who can play that spot full-time. If one gets hurt, then you go with the other. If the other guy (Saunders) gets hurt, too, well, that’s too bad for you, but there’s a limit to how many outfielders any team is allowed to carry. Or how many center fielders it should carry because of fears somebody will get hurt.
You don’t see three shortstops on the team and Brendan Ryan isn’t always a model of health. You’ve got Ryan, Robert Adino and — in a pinch — Kyle Seager who can play short. That’s what the Mariners want to know about Bay. In a pinch, can he be their Seager in center?
And if the answer is yes, then choosing Bay over Wells becomes a much easier task.
Long term? Well, you don’t keep a guy just so he can be your fourth or fifth outfielder for years to come. Young part-time players are not nearly as valuable as young full-time players.
So, this is Bay’s audition tonight. It’s not a joke. It actually shows the team is seriously considering him and has a test he has to pass first.
“After playing the corners, I think I have more time in center field than in right,” Bay said.
That’s true. Bay has played 40 games in center in his career, just one in right.
But the team have used him in right field this spring. Now, he’ll get the test in center. If he’s still standing after that without a whole bunch of errors on his ledger, he likely makes the squad.
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