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March 24, 2013 at 8:58 AM

Casper Wells future in doubt as Mariners sign Endy Chavez

Endy Chavez spent last season with the playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles. He signed a minor league deal with the Mariners this morning. Photo Credit: AP

Endy Chavez spent last season with the playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles. He signed a minor league deal with the Mariners this morning. Photo Credit: AP

Walking into the Mariners clubhouse this morning, it was tough not to notice Endy Chavez in there. The former starting left fielder with the Mariners in 2009 had just been released by the Royals the other day and was here to ink a minor league deal with the his former Seattle club. Well, he just got looked over by the medical staff and the deal is now official.

“I’m not expecting anything crazy,” Chavez, 35, said. “I know I’ll still start in AAA, but that’s good for me. I’m getting the opportunity to play baseball and I’ll have a good chance to be back in the majors.”

As he says, he’ll start in Class AAA, but that’s not the real big story here.

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The bigger deal is that Chavez also plays center field and hence — he’s the team’s insurance policy in case Franklin Gutierrez goes down.

In other words, the bigger value Casper Wells brought to the Mariners just got taken away. If Gutierrez gets hurt and Michael Saunders has to slide into center field, the Mariners now have a non-roster, backup outfielder who can play the corners and center in an emergency. And so, the Mariners no longer have to worry about keeping Jason Bay on the team at the expense of Wells — meaning Wells just became highly expendable and will likely be traded in coming days if the Mariners can find a taker.

Bay has done all he can to earn a spot on the team. He came to camp lighter, is running better than scouts have seen him in years. He’s impressed the coaching staff with his defense and — more importantly — his hitting of all types of pitches to all different fields. The Mariners will now have a right-handed bat they feel they can go to off the bench with confidence and a guy they will have no problem starting in either outfield corner.

The biggest impediment to bringing Bay in was going to be the loss of Wells, who is out of minor league options. Wells is still young, can play all three outfield spots and slots in as a decent fourth outfielder in the majors. The thing is, you can find fourth outfielders all over the place if you look. The Mariners just found a potential one in Chavez and he cost them nothing.

Fact is, Wells was only going to be the fifth outfielder in Seattle and you can certainly find those anyplace.

Wells may very well go to another team and find his place in the game. He may indeed become a starting outfielder at some point and go on to have a good career. But he isn’t showing signs of playing every day in Seattle anytime soon. There will be those who say he never got a true audition with the team, but of course, that isn’t true. He had his audition last year. No, it was not for a long sample period, but for the Mariners, it was apparently long enough. Players at the MLB level don’t always get years and years to prove themselves. Things often come down to circumstance and the reality with this Mariners team is, they are entering the fifth year of their rebuilding plan and the time for endless auditions that last entire seasons or half seasons at a time is just about done.

The first clue about that was all the veterans the team brought in this winter to push young guys into earning — and keeping — their spots.

Wells did not do enough this spring to earn any spot. He did not do enough to keep any spot.

There were sporadic bursts of strong play, but too much inconsistency. On the surface of it, he got beaten out by 34-year-old Bay, a guy coming off three of the worst seasons a major leaguer can have. Below the surface, away from the stats, Wells was beaten out by that same aging veteran. There’s no other way to put it.

The best reason to keep Wells was the argument that Gutierrez gets hurt a lot and that if Michael Saunders needed to replace him in center — or even give him rest now and then — there would be no one else to back up the outfield spots in an emergency. Well, we’ve seen Bay play all three outfield positions this spring and the team is relatively sure he can handle it for a few innings if both Saunders and Gutierrez go down.

And then, if both are hurt for more than a day, they now have Chavez they can call up from AAA.

As we wrote last week, you can’t carry three or four guys on your roster who play the same position just because you’re afraid two of them might go down.

Now, the Mariners won’t have to.

Chavez says he still remembers quite a few of the Mariners now here, some of which were minor leaguers back when he was with the Mariners in 2009 before blowing out his knee in an on-field collision with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Chavez missed the rest of that season and 2010 before coming back with the Rangers and nearly winning a World Series ring in 2011. Last year, he spent 64 games with the Orioles in his 11th big league season. He now says the knee is feeling back to normal.

“It took almost three years,” Chavez said, “but I did it.”

Comments | More in spring training | Topics: endy chavez; casper wells; jason bay; franklin gutierrez

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