Mariners

Churchill: Elias, Romero Should Make Roster

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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Michael Saunders (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Michael Saunders (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan Jason A. Churchill
Jason joined 1090 The Fan after 4 1/2 years at ESPN Insider, covering...
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The Seattle Mariners have just over a week until they need to submit a final 25-man roster to Major League Baseball. Most of the roster is set, with a few exceptions, including two spots in the starting rotation, one or two bullpen spots and whether or not the club will keep five outfielders.

Here’s a breakdown of who should be already on the roster, plus which spots are open for continued competition. Note the absence of Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. Both are battling back from medical issues and will not be ready for Opening Day.

Starting Rotation
Felix Hernandez, RH
James Paxton, LH
Erasmo Ramirez, RH
OPEN
OPEN

The battle in the rotation appears to put four arms for two jobs; veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf and youngsters Blake Beavan and Roenis Elias. Beavan is the only one of the four that is currently on the 40-man roster, which could come into play when the Mariners make these decisions, though I don’t believe it should matter. The best five options should come out of camp.

There are easy ways to create 40-man roster space, including placing Danny Hultzen on the 60-day disabled list. He’s not going to pitch in 2014 after undergoing shoulder surgery. The Mariners also can designate for assignment a number of players, starting with right-hander Hector Noesi, who appears to be a long reliever and emergency starter at best as the ’14 season nears.

Baker has yet to show he throw strikes consistently, let alone command the fastball on both sides of the plate. At this stage, he appears to be falling behind in the competition. Beavan is what he is, unfortunately. He’ll throw strikes, but not quality strikes, and his slider, changeup and curveball are all pedestrian. The best move is to option Beavan.

The left-handed Elias, who has yet to pitch in Triple-A, would be making the same jump Brandon Maurer made a year ago, but there are a number of reasons to believe he’s a better bet than Maurer to sustain serviceable performances. He’s athletic, both in terms of raw abilities and within his delivery, which allows him to repeat, pound the strike zone and create some deception. His fastball will sit 89-92, but he can reach back for 93-94 on occasion, and has tagged 95 a couple of time in shorter stints. His breaking ball is a sweeping-style slider at curveball velocity. It’s below average and not a strikeout offering, but he hides the ball well and with consistent arm speed the pitch can be effective, particularly to left-handed batters. If he can spot in on the outside corner to right-handed hitters he’ll have a second weapon versus them, which is key since his changeup is inconsistent.

Whether or not Elias can shoulder a full season of innings is another question, but in the short term, he’s a better bet than is Beavan, Baker and Wolf, and neither his inexperience at the big-league level nor the 40-man roster situation should prevent him making the club.

Between Baker and Wolf, Wolf is winning and certainly a safer gamble to get through five or six frames for a month or two of the season until both Iwakuma and Walker can take flight.

In the end, the rotation should be: Hernandez, Paxton, Ramirez, Wolf, Elias, in some order. Keeping Wolf and Baker is a rather large mistake.

Bullpen (7)
Fernando Rodney, RH
Danny Farquhar, RH
Yoervis Medina, RH
Charlie Furbush, LH
LHR — OPEN
Middle — OPEN
Middle/Long — OPEN

Some have Tom Wilhelmsen inked into the bullpen, but he doesn’t appear to have his mechanics in order and until he does I don’t trust him, despite the mid-90s fastball and the curveball that once was devastating but is now inconsistent. I’d much prefer to go to an arm that will throw strikes, even if it’s a rookie such as Carson Smith or Dom Leone.

Joe Beimel and Lucas Luetge are battling it out for the second left-hander role, and though there is no guarantee skipper Lloyd McClendon heads north with two southpaw relievers, he’s likely to do so. Luetge has options left, Beimel is not on the 40-man roster. Both have performed inconsistently this spring. I’d bet on Beimel winning this, but Luetge has better stuff and has improved dramatically versus right-handed batters. The veteran is just more predictable.

The long role is likely to be Beavan, Noesi or Zach Miner, though I’d forget the ‘long’ role and just take the next best reliever. It’s rare that a team has to go to the long reliever for 3-plus innings, and when they do it’s a blowout in one direction or the other, making the roster spot nearly useless. The best option here is Miner.

Leone can be nasty and long term he’s a late-inning option, but today I’d take Smith first, because he stays down in the zone better and the breaking ball is a true out pitch. Down the road, I like Leone better, but he’s more susceptible to leaving fastballs up, partially due to his 5-foot-11 stature. Either one is a good choice, though, and one should make the team over a third lefty or second middle-long man such as Noesi.

The bullpen should be: Rodney, Farquhar, Furbush, Medina, Beimel/Luetge, Miner, Smith. I don’t believe the Mariners will take fewer than seven relievers north with them, which creates a crunch elsewhere on the roster. Yes, I believe Wilhelmsen should be sent to Tacoma, but he won’t be, so expect him to make the roster in place of Leone or Smith.

Infielders (6)
Justin Smoak
Logan Morrison
Robinson Cano
Brad Miller
Kyle Seager
Willie Bloomquist

There are no competitions here, Miller will be the starting shortstop, Smoak will start at first regularly and Morrison will be the designated hitter. Morrison could see an occasional start in the outfield, though, and he will spell Smoak here and there, too. Bloomquist is the backup at second, short and third and serves as one of the two main pinch runners late in close games.

Outfielders (5)
Michael Saunders
Corey Hart
Dustin Ackley
Abraham Almonte
Stefen Romero

Romero has earned a role, with the one question being: Is it better for Romero to head back to Tacoma so he can play every day or is 1-2 outfield starts per week, plus a start at DH and pinch-hitting duty enough? I think the latter works. If the Mariners end up signing Kendrys Morales, Romero probably loses his roster spot unless and until the club moves Morrison or Smoak in a trade.

I believe Jack Zduriencik wants to see what Romero, Smoak and Morrison do for a few months before committing to another player such as Morales and consummating the necessary moves to accommodate him.

Saunders should start in center with Almonte sliding into the spot when Hart needs to DH, play first or take a day off; he’s coming off microfracture surgery on both knees and hasn’t played in the majors since 2012, so these scenarios will occur, which makes Romero more valuable, too. Almonte, however, may play more regularly with Saunders the ‘extra’ outfielder. It’s a joke, as Saunders is just flat out better and brings tons more upside thanks to his power potential. Almonte can reach the gaps, but he’s nearly useless as a right-handed batter, so he doesn’t offer the club a single thing Saunders doesn’t.

Catchers (2)
Mike Zunino
John Buck

Zunino will likely start 16-18 games per month behind the dish, perhaps getting a few starts at DH, too, leaving 10-12 starts per month for Buck. Early on, expect Zunino to start 5-6 times per week, however, as the club continues to establish a rapport with he and the starting staff.

If the club is simply trying to take the best roster to Anaheim to open the season — which should always be the objective coming out of spring training — both Romero and Elias will be on that trip, Noesi will be in the waivers portion of his DFA process and Hultzen officially will be on the 60-day disabled list.

Zduriencik will not close the door on more upgrades, including Morales, but it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see a trade of Nick Franklin at this point, so get your Tacoma Rainiers tickets now if you want to see the former first-round pick play in April.

- Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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