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The Mariners, as Larry Stone reported last night while trying to escape the Canadian lynch mob chasing him down Edgar Martinez Drive, have sent Tom Wilhelmsen to Class AAA and will be stretching him out a bit to see whether he can be converted to a starting role. Carter Capps is rejoining the bullpen from AAA and Jason Bay has been released. Franklin Gutierrez has ended his rehabilitation assignment but is not being actuvated off the 15-day DL yet. My guess is the Mariners will want to put him through some full-blown workouts first before gauging whether he’s ready to return. That and they have to figure out what to do with Dustin Ackley. And some of that might depend on Nick Franklin and his ability to stick at second base every day. Bunch of dominoes there.
We discussed this potential Wilhemsen move yesterday morning on the blog and it was a main part of my chat yesterday with Mitch Levy during our Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio KJR. So, as you guessed, I am in favor of this move. Not because I think Wilhelmsen is going to become the next Justin Verlander or anything. It is merely a creative way for the Mariners to try to resolve some issues they have.
The number one issue is that Wilhelmsen keeps putting guys on base and allowing runs. He did that again today in his two-inning “start” for Tacoma, giving up three runs on three hits — two of them homers. His command has plenty of work ahead of it before he’ll be effective in any major league role again. But his raw “stuff” is still top-notch, be it a high-90s fastball, drop-dead curve or serviceable changeup. Those three pitches are too much to waste in a middle innings role without at least trying to convert Wilhelmsen to a starting job.
His days as a closer, I’m pretty sure, are done. That’s more of a mindset thing than a “stuff” issue.
And as a middle reliever his trade value won’t be very high.
Wilhelmsen has one more year of pre-arbitration service time, which means he’s still to cheap to designate for assignment without exploring other options. So, the Mariners will do that. If he can start, he gives them a decent stable of borderline young arms for next year’s rotation and don’t forget, none of the “Big 3” is in the big leagues yet. The Mariners could have called up James Paxton today but did not.
In short, Wilhelmsen’s biggest value is as a starter or a closer. He’s already stumbled in the closer’s role this year and part of last. So, on to Plan B.
For Wilhelmsen, this is is not a transition to be trifled with. His big league future is at stake. He’s already pushing 30 and those six years he spent bartending away from baseball were the ones where he could have afforded to spend a season or two working this stuff out.
Time is against him here. And it is for the Mariners. Once he hits arbitration, they’ll have to have somebdy useful on their hands or else he’ll start to become too costly to experiment with.