The Seattle Mariners have been a team that has used a lot of roster-filler type players over the past several seasons. Guys like Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, Wily Mo Pena and Eric Byrnes -- all attempts to catch lightning in a bottle while filling a roster spot because the organization didn't have any players ready in-house. All of those attempts noted above failed, by the way. But a good sign about the progress being made by General Manager Jack Zduriencik and his front office staff is that in the next few days -- as outfielders Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez get set to return from their stints on the disabled list (Carp Tweeted tonight that he is headed to Fresno to meet up with the Rainiers on Friday) -- a couple of good, MLB-ready players are going to have to be sent down to Triple-A Tacoma.
The most likely candidate to go is infielder Alex Liddi, who had a great spring in being named the Peoria Sports Complex Rookie of the Year after hitting .370/.453/.587 in 46 at-bats with seven doubles and 11 RBI while playing at both first and third base. Liddi got his first start of the regular season Thursday and went 1-for-4 with an RBI in the Mariners' 5-3 loss to Texas in the getaway-day finale. Liddi was up last September and showed promise as he did this spring, but at this point he is more promise than polish, and more time playing every day in Tacoma -- likely as the Rainiers first baseman -- is much more beneficial to him than rotting on the M's bench.
Munenori Kawasaki led the Cactus League in hitting with a .455 average (20 for 44) and also tied for the club lead (with Carlos Peguero and Jesus Montero) in RBI with 13. He's snuck into half of the M's first eight games and is the club's second best defensive infielder behind Brendan Ryan. He does have options left and could be sent out, but Kawasaki -- like Ryan -- also seems to be taking on a role as a 'rah rah' guy, on the bench and when he's playing.
Kyle Seager led the club in total bases in spring, tallying 36 in 50 at-bats, good for a .720 slugging percentage, which was 5th best in the Cactus League. And he hasn't let the regular season slow him down. Helped out from a playing time perspective when Carp first went down with his injury in Japan, Seager leads the Mariners in RBI with six and is batting .321/.345/.500 following his towering upper deck homer in Texas today. He's also playing well defensively at third base, the position he played last year when Chone Figgins was injured. Figgins shifted to the outfield to accommodate Seager, a natural second baseman, and both have been hitting well.
But what happens when Carp an Gutierrez are back and the outfield becomes a little too crowded for Figgins? Where does that leave Seager? And Kawasaki? And we haven't even mentioned Michael Saunders, who is also having a tremendous start to the season? Will one of those three be sent down?
Although it may make sense from one point of view as it would ease up the roster congestion a bit, a team like the Mariners that has been starving for offense the past few seasons doesn't have the luxury of crafting their roster in a nice, clean manner.
Right now Seager, Figgins and Saunders need to play as much as possible to give the Mariners a chance to win. And winning is important this season, even if a playoff berth is an incredibly far-fetched dream at this point. Changing the culture of losing is achieved with baby steps, and those three players are helping inch the club in the right direction right now.
So the only real logical roster move appears to be to send outfielder Casper Wells -- who also just saw his first start of the season on Thursday -- down to Triple-A. Wells is the only right-hand hitting outfielder on the team right now, and one of three (Saunders and Figgins) that has seen time in center field as a Mariner. There could be a disabled list move in the next week or so that could mutate things some, but aside from cutting back the pitching staff -- which probably isn't logical for a few more weeks, honestly -- Wells to Tacoma appears to be the only way to trim the roster and keep the best players in the big leagues.
But then the real problem begins: how to get all of these guys into the lineup on a consistent basis. With Jesus Montero taking the lion's share of the time at DH, we're really looking at five guys -- Seager, Figgins, Saunders, Carp and Gutierrez -- for three spots (left, center and third), and with no obvious platoon situations to take advantage of. The likely contrivance is that Seager and Figgins will both end up seeing some time at shortstop, where they've each played before. Neither are ideal defensively there, and neither are remotely close to Ryan or even Kawasaki, but both players can handle the position here and there without killing the team.
Carp figures to see some time at first base to rest Justin Smoak every now and then, and at least three of the five figure to get some time at DH -- which all could mean Montero catches more and Miguel Olivo plays less. The Mariners want to see what they have in these players -- Montero at catcher, Seager at third, Carp at the plate, Saunders in his last option year -- and they likely want the rest of the league to see what Figgins has to offer.
It will be crowded, and certain players will probably sit at times even when they are hot, but the Mariners need to make these tough decisions to better understand what they have.