The Seattle Mariners have all but finalized their Opening Day roster after several more moves before Sunday’s Cactus League tilt versus the San Diego Padres.
Though it’s been clear enough for a few weeks and as close to official without being so, the club has set its starting rotation after optioning Roenis Elias to Triple-A Tacoma. The Mariners also optioned right-handed reliever Carson Smith, which clarifies the bullpen too.
The injury to Chris Taylor two weeks ago made the shortstop and bench decisions a pair of no-brainers, too, and that bullpen battle was aided by the suspension of Rule 5 pick David Rollins.
Here is what the roster looks like, but note this is officially unofficial, despite the fact that these are the only 28 players left in major-league camp.
Felix Hernandez (R)
James Paxton (L)
Hisashi Iwakuma (R)
J.A. Happ (L)
Taijuan Walker (R)
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez remains on the roster and his situation is cloudy. If the club keeps him for the Opening Day roster, he’ll serve in a relief role and one of the below relievers will be the roster casualty as Ramirez is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be assigned to Tacoma, which he’s unlikely to do at this stage of the season.
Fernando Rodney (R)
Danny Farquhar (R)
Charlie Furbush (L)
Yoervis Medina (R)
Dom Leone (R)
Tyler Olson (L)
Tom Wilhelmsen (R)
Lefty Edgar Olmos also remains on the roster but is injured as is not part of the 25-man roster consideration.
If Ramirez makes the roster, Leone or Olson are the top two candidates to miss out on starting the year with the big club, with Olson the heavy favorite since he’s not yet on the 40-man roster, which means he can be re-assigned without using an option. Such a decision, however, means the club starts the year with just one left-handed reliever.
This was the easiest ‘battle’ of the spring to handicap since non-roster invite John Baker wasn’t getting much time with the projected starting rotation. Without that experience in March it’s difficult to ask a catcher new to the organization to handle the staff come April, even if it’s only 3-5 times per month.
With Taylor out, Bloomquist has to make the team or the M’s would be without a second player with any experience at shortstop. Bloomquist also is a backup option at second base, third base, first base and the corner outfield spots.
Nelson Cruz (DH)
Cruz will be the primary designated hitter and Weeks is going to play left field more than anything else, though he’s a viable option at second base, if needed, and first base if the club gets desperate. Ruggiano is the backup centerfielder and Ackley has experience at second base and can handle first base, if necessary. Smith can handle both corner outfield spots.
Optimally, the Mariners’ roster includes Taylor and not Bloomquist, but the bullpen doesn’t take a big hit without Smith early, and the right-hander will see The Show sooner than later, anyway. Don’t be surprised if the M’s find a trade partner for Ramirez, just don’t expect much in return if they do move him before Opening Day.
Kevin Correa was re-assigned to minor league camp Sunday, too, along with righty Mark Lowe, left-hander Joe Saunders, Baker, outfielder Endy Chavez, right-hander Jordan Pries and infielders Carlos Rivero and Shawn O’Malley. Correia has an opt-out in his minor league deal that he can exercise Wednesday. If he opts out, the M’s considerations regarding Ramirez may change. If Correia stays, which is unlikely, Seattle’s need for Ramirez is alleviated some.
Whether Saunders and Lowe will accept their assignments remains to be seen. Generally, veterans attempt to find work elsewhere, but neither had teams banging down their doors over the offseason, so we’ll just have wait and see on those two. Baker is in the same boat; it’s be fantastic for the M’s if he started the season sharing catching duties in Tacoma with John Hicks. He’d provide an experienced third option should an injury occur at the big-league level, and he knows the game so well he’d make Hicks better due to his mere presence.
O’Malley can play multiple positions — a backup Bloomquist, if you will — and Rivero can handle second and third and serve as an emergency shortstop option. I like Rivero’s offensive upside in a reserve role moving forward.
James Jones was sent to minor league camp in the last round of cuts but don’t be surprised if he’s the first call-up among position players. He offers something the rest of the roster does not — elite base-stealing speed. Jackson can run and is a decent thief on the bases, but Jones is vastly superior and manager Lloyd McClendon clearly loves using that pary of his game.
Expected Opening-Day Lineup
1. Jackson, CF
2. Smith, RF
3. Cano, 2B
4. Cruz, DH
5. Seager, 3B
6. Morrison, 1B
7. Ackley, LF
8. Zunino, C
9. Miller, SS
SP: Felix Hernandez, RHP
We’ve seen games where the club’s opponent started a right-handed pitcher and McClendon went with Zunino, a right-handed bat, batting seventh behind Morrison, but we’ve also seen Ackley batting seventh in the same scenarios, including Sunday. With a lefty starter, Zunino may get that nod. With Garrett Richards not available just yet, the Los Angeles Angels likely will start right-hander Jered Weaver a week from Monday at Safeco Field.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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