Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

We’re at about the midway point of the Cactus League schedule and at last a step or two closer to a revealing of the Seattle Mariners Opening Day roster. The competition at shortstop is over — more like postponed for 4-6 weeks, but for Opening Day purposes, it’s over — due to Chris Taylor’s wrist injury and the other few battles this spring appear much closer to being clear, if not decided.

Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias each have made three appearances, the candidates for the No. 2 left-handed reliever — if there is to be one — may be down to two and the backup catcher spot seems like a no-brainer at the moment, too.

Let’s take a shot at the projection, through March 15, 2015:

Rotation
Felix Hernandez
Hisashi Iwakuma
James Paxton
J.A. Happ
Taijuan Walker

Bullpen
Fernando Rodney
Danny Farquhar
Yoervis Medina
Tom Wilhelmsen
Carson Smith
Dom Leone
Charlie Furbush

There still is a number of scenarios that could come to fruition, including the inclusion of a second left-hander in the bullpen. For me, it’s down to Tyler Olson and Rule 5 pick David Rollins, and Olson clearly has been better. Rafael Perez isn’t throwing enough strikes and since he’s coming off an injury and a year spent in the minors, I can’t trust his big-league experience and ignore what I am seeing in spring training. If a second lefty is kept, the odd-man out candidates range from Leone and Smith to the idea that perhaps the No. 5 starter — likely Walker in this projection — may not officially make the Opening Day roster. The club could keep an extra reliever for the first nine days until they need their No. 5 starter, but in Walker’s case they’d have to burn an option on him to start him off in Triple-A.

James Paxton’s situation is one to watch here, however. He fell early in camp and hurt his forearms and a wrist. He has yet to make a start this spring — he’s slated to go next Tuesday after a live BP session this week that went well enough — and if he doesn’t knife through his four scheduled starts as the club hopes he could conceivably start the season on the disabled list, simply to buy him the necessary time to ready. A player can be placed on the 15-day DL on or retroactive to a date up to nine days prior to Opening Day, which means he’d be available to return before the Mariners needed the fifth starting pitcher.

Another player to note here is Erasmo Ramirez, who is out of options and cannot be sent to Triple-A Tacoma without clearing waivers first. He’s not likely to clear waivers, so if the M’s use their temporary extra roster spot on a reliever, they could choose Ramirez and improve their chances to get him through waivers and to the minors. It’s unlikely he’d clear waivers April 12 or 13, but the chances are better than sometime prior to Opening Day. The club could seek to trade Ramirez so they don’t simply risk losing him for nothing, but he’s not of high value considering his rough 2014 and shaky roster status.

If Rollins does not make the club, he must be offered back to the Houston Astros. If the Astros accept, that’s that. If they decline, the M’s get to keep Rollins, but this almost never happens. The two clubs also can work out a trade.

Joe Saunders does not appear to fit, despite his history of success versus left-handed batters and right-hander Kevin Correia needs work and is likely headed for the minors to start the year.

In the above scenario, Elias starts the year in Tacoma, too, which would mean a starting rotation including Jordan Pries, Danny Hultzen, Mike Kickham, Correia and Elias. That’s pretty darned good.

Lineup vs. RHP
Austin Jackson, CF
Seth Smith, RF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Logan Morrison, 1B
Mike Zunino, C
Dustin Ackley, LF
Brad Miller, SS

Lineup vs. LHP
Jackson
Justin Ruggiano, RF
Cano
Cruz
Seager
Rickie Weeks, LF
Morrison
Zunino
Miller

Bench
Willie Bloomquist, IF/OF
Jesus Sucre, C

Manager Lloyd McClendon may prefer to use any extra roster spot early in the season to keep an extra position player, rather than the extra arm. If this is the case, outfielder James Jones probably has the edge, since he brings something to the table the roster otherwise lacks: an premium base stealer. He’s also the second-best option in center field and a very solid defensive corner outfielder to use late in games. Other options include Stefen Romero — more likely to hit than Jones — and utility infielder Shawn O’Malley.

What remains to be seen is what direction the club will move once Taylor is healthy. Perhaps the time Taylor misses will provide the necessary time to evaluate Bloomquist and Miller. On The OFP Report this weekend this subject is discussed. Click Here to listen.

– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan

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