Jon Garland takes the mound for the Mariners tonight against the Chicago Cubs and it’s safe to say anybody with even remote input into the team’s pitching decisions will be tuned in closely. That includes GM Jack Zduriencik and members of his front office team.
Garland has an opt-out clause in his minor league contract with the Mariners that allows him to become a free agent as early as tomorrow if he so chooses. With other teams said to be interested in Garland, he could force the issue with the Mariners after a strong showing in tonight’s contest.
The stakes are simple.
The team will break camp with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders in the rotation for now. That leaves two empty spots and five pitchers — Garland, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer and Jeremy Bonderman — looking to fill them. Six days ago, Garland appeared to be in the driver’s seat for one of the two open spots. But then, he got hammered by Wladimir Balentien and The Netherlands and Mariners officials now privately say they need to see something against the Cubs if they’re to be persuaded Garland’s the guy.
Spring training results don’t often carry much weight. But Garland hasn’t pitched since 2011, is still feeling his way back, and the team needs a better gauge of where he’s at before committing a valuable rotation spot and having to send a young pitcher down who — on the results-based surface of it all — might be performing better in camp.
“We’d like to see something from him, yeah,” one source said. “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t anxious to see more. He had that game where he didn’t do so well last time, so we want to make sure it doesn’t happen a second time. If he goes out and he’s OK, then you take it from there.”
What that entails is still up to the team and whether it believes Garland would truly become a free agent.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik confirmed to the Times yesterday that Friday is the date when Garland’s opt-out can take effect. Such clauses are not uncommon with veterans and in this case, Friday gives Garland a full week to seek employment elsewhere before teams typically pack up their camps in Arizona and Florida and head north to start their seasons.
Zduriencik declined to comment ny further on Garland and what the team has planned in his regard. But he did spell out, in general, what the process usually is when it comes to a veteran who has such a contract clause.
“We know that typically, when a player has the out, he knows it, his agent knows it and we know it,” Zduriencik said. “So, what usually happens is, you’ll get a call from the agent the day the clause comes into effect and you’ll have a discussion and see where things are at.”
After such a discussion, if Garland felt the Mariners weren’t offering him as good a chance as he’d get elsewhere, he’d then have the opportunity to opt out of his minor league deal and go to another team.
“Nothing is automatic on that day,” Zduriencik said. “It’s just the day that the player can initiate something on his own if he wishes to.”
The leverage a player would have in such a case is if he believes his performances would cause other teams to guarantee him a job. In that case, the Mariners would either have to guarantee Garland something, or risk losing him.
Bonderman is another non-roster player who is also believed to have a similar clause — though that has not been confirmed.
In his case, though, there is not said to be as much outside interest given his nearly three years away from the game. With Bonderman, the Mariners could ask him to go to Class AAA for a couple of months of seasoning without much worry he’d leave for another club. The main worry in his case would be that he’d retire rather than spend time toiling in the minors in hopes of a call-up. Veterans of MLB don’t like to do that for very long.
With Garland, if the Mariners felt he was still a month or two away, they could make the same request that he go to AAA. But if there’s outside interest, then Garland would have the leverage of telling them no and that they have to take him or leave him as is.
This is the business side of baseball and it’s nothing personal. Players get done-in for money reasons all the time and teams get left holding the bag all the time for highly-paid players who don’t perform.
Both sides understand the game. In the Mariners’ case, it will depend on whether their need for Garland outweighs their desire to avoid sending at least one additional young player to AAA.
“Jon’s a veteran guy,” Zduriencik said. “He’s been around the block. He knows how this process works.”
This is what makes MLB different from college and high school baseball. There are considerations that go into every move that don’t always involve on-field performance at that very moment. Call it “politics” or “business” if you will. Generally, teams want the best possible guys out there. But when it comes to the game’s highest levels, proven track records and the skills it takes to stay on top for consistently long periods — not just one spring training session — mean much of the decision-making comes down to educated guesswork.
In Maurer’s case, there’s also the whole business of starting his service time clock. If the Mariners feel Garland can perform just as well over time, then there’s no need to jumpstart Maurer earlier than need be.
But let’s start with tonight. If Garland gets shelled again by the Cubs, it’s possible the Mariners might just be willing to let him walk. The interesting part will come if Garland goes out and shoves it down their throats. Then, it’ll be decision time. For now, Garland is still pitching for a job.
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