When the Seattle Mariners decided the step back this offseason, the club placed a renewed focus on acquiring young, controllable players. This meant the Mariners entered the 2019 campaign without postseason aspirations.
So, how’s the Mariners’ re-shaped roster performing so far? Which players may be on the move this summer? Who may join the team from the minor leagues?
We’ll try to answer these questions and more in the final segment of our Mariners Thru 40 Games series.
So far, we’ve covered run production effort plus the pitching staff and defense. Let’s wrap up with a discussion regarding key roster elements – injuries, the bench, minor league depth, and players the team may deal later this season.
Despite these setbacks, Seattle has remained relatively unscathed through the early part of the season. Most of the players currently on the IL project to return in the near future.
When closer Hunter Strickland rejoins the club is tough to estimate due to the nature of a lat injury. Getting the right-hander back certainly would help the back-end of a bullpen trending in the wrong direction lately.
Conversely, reliever Gerson Bautista appears to be close to returning. As Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill notes, Bautista brings an intriguing repertoire to the bullpen mix.
Seems Gerson Bautista is close to starting a rehab assignment in Modesto. Big velo 95-99, 50-55 slider, 40 command.
— ⚾️ Jason A. Churchill 🎙️ (@ProspectInsider) May 8, 2019
Another bullpen arm close to his 2019 debut is Sam Tuivailala. The 26-year-old suffered a torn Achilles tendon shortly after the Mariners acquired him from the Cardinals last summer. Adding both Bautista and Tuivailala could potentially reinvigorate the struggling relief corps.
Starter Wade LeBlanc should be back with the club this month too. How the 34-year-old fits into the mix likely depends on the status of the rotation at the time he completes his rehab.
The player who’ll have the biggest effect on the lineup and the overall roster composition is third baseman Kyle Seager. The 31-year-old’s return will further pressurize an already jam-packed first base/designated hitter situation.
Who’s On First? And DH too?
During Spring Training, team observers were unsure how the Mariners intended to handle their logjam at first base and designated hitter. In the mix were last year’s first baseman (Ryon Healy), two offseason veteran acquisitions (Edwin Encarnación, Jay Bruce), and a former prospect (Daniel Vogelbach).
Seager’s injury temporarily moved Healy to third base letting the team kick the 1B/DH can down the street a little further. But Seager likely returns near Memorial Day meaning decision time is approaching for general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff.
Obviously, Healy can play at both infield corners. Despite briefly playing second base this week, Encarnación is a first baseman/designated hitter type – as is Vogelbach.
Bruce has been an outfielder most of his career, although he’s been splitting time equally between first base and right field this year. However, outfield playing opportunities with the Mariners likely diminish for the 32-year-old as the season progresses.
A short-term solution may involve sending Healy to Class-AAA Tacoma since he has minor league options remaining – Vogelbach does not. A permanent remedy likely involves trading at least one of the players clogging up the roster.
Overall, the reserves have performed admirably with the most notable contributors being Moore and back-up catcher Tom Murphy.
Despite one terrible inning at third base last month, Moore has proven valuable. The 26-year-old rookie owns an above average .339 OBP with starts at both middle-infield spots, third base, and left field. He’s even tossed an inning to save the bullpen.
The team acquired Murphy shortly after the home opener and has delivered better than respectable offense when subbing for regular backstop Omar Narváez. Murphy is slashing .314/.368/.417 with two home runs in limited action.
To date, Murphy has ensured run production doesn’t take a significant step back when he starts for Narváez. Time will tell whether he can sustain that level of offense.
Minor leaguer Braden Bishop assumed the roster spot of starting center fielder Mallex Smith when the club shipped Smith to Tacoma to help him reset his struggling bat. With Smith’s stay in Tacoma expected to brief, Bishop’s stint with Seattle may be short-lived – at least for now.
It’s encouraging to see the Mariners having capable farm hands available to help the big league club. That hasn’t been the case in recent years. Moreover, we’re getting a potential preview of the club’s future.
Long probably remains with the Mariners until Gordon returns to the lineup. At that point, the team likely adds an eighth reliever to the overworked bullpen. To make room for Long, the club sent Chasen Bradford to the minors.
Here are the other prominent names who may see time with the Mariners this year. Some have already been with the team.
Potential Farm Help
|Braden Bishop||Justus Sheffield||Shed Long|
|David McKay||J.P. Crawford||R.J. Alaniz|
|Gerson Bautista||Matt Festa||Nick Rumbelow|
The players listed above are on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone else available to help. For example, Austin Nola and Jose Lobaton could be options if a need arises at catcher.
The older brother of Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola hasn’t made his big league debut. However, the 29-year-old boasts an OPS over 1.000 with the Rainiers. Nola has also played first and third base this season.
Splitting time with Nola is journeyman Lobaton. The 34-year-old has played with four MLB teams since 2009 with the most recent one being the Mets last year.
Maybe not, unless the team endures the loss of multiple starters within a short period. Even then, Seattle may look to other options, such as using an opener.
There are prospects who may push their way into late season consideration with the Mariners. Churchill discusses those candidates in Prospect Insider’s most recent Top-40 prospect update.
Minor League Options
We’ve already mentioned minor league options may affect the team’s decision at first base. Healy has three remaining; Vogelbach has none.
When a player has an option, teams can send them to the minors without exposing them to waivers. Those without an option must clear waivers, which creates the risk of losing a valuable contributor.
Players Without Options
|Domingo Santana||Daniel Vogelbach||Tom Murphy|
|Marco Gonzales||Roenis Elías||Zac Rosscup|
|Connor Sadzeck||Mike Wright||Hunter Strickland|
Some of the Mariners without options aren’t likely candidates for the minors. However, the lack of roster flexibility with relievers Connor Sadzeck, Mike Wright, Zac Rosscup, or Sam Tuivailala could be problematic.
Potential Trade Chips
As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, the Mariners will be sellers. Considering Dipoto’s trade history, any major leaguer will be available for the right price.
Instead of naming the entire 25-man roster, let’s look at the most prominent candidates to change addresses by August 1.
Player Who May Be On The Move
|Jay Bruce||Edwin Encarnación||Anthony Swarzak|
|Tim Beckham||Cory Gearrin||Wade LeBlanc|
|Connor Sadzeck||Zac Rosscup||Chasen Bradford|
|Dee Gordon||Roenis Elías||Brandon Brennan|
|Félix Hernández||Mike Leake||Ryon Healy|
Bruce is making $14 million this season and set to make the same amount in 2020. The team holds a $20 million option with a $5 million buyout on Encarnación for next season, but Seattle isn’t likely to pick up the option.
We’ve already discussed the over-manned 1B/DH spots. Dealing Bruce and/or Encarnación would streamline the situation and potentially free-up playing time for youngsters such as Vogelbach and Bishop.
Of course, it’ll take a market demand pulse for the Mariners to find trade partners for Bruce or Encarnación this summer. There may not be much of an appetite from contenders to add aging sluggers with limited defensive versatility.
On that note, why wouldn’t Ryon Healy appeal more to contenders than Bruce or Encarnación?
Healy doesn’t possess the distinguished résumé of his veteran teammates. But the Oregon alum possesses corner infield experience, is crushing the ball this season, and under team control through 2022.
Will the Mariners move Healy this season? Perhaps not, but I only wanted to illustrate buyers may be able to find less expensive, more versatile options than Bruce or Encarnación. Then again, it only takes one desperate club or an innovative deal-making JeDi to create a trade opportunity.
Assuming the Mariners are ready to use Crawford as their regular shortstop, Tim Beckham may be available in the trade market. After a torrid start at the plate, Beckham’s stats are regressing towards his career .252/.305/.430 slash line. The 29-year-old has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
You’ll notice I listed every able-bodied reliever who’s been performing well – and even one who isn’t. Let’s face it, the high-demand commodity every July is pitching. The Mariners don’t have much to offer the starting pitching market, but they do have several interesting and inexpensive relief arms to peddle.
Roenis Elías, Brandon Brennan, Rosscup, Gearrin, Sadzeck, and Bradford are relievers delivering positive results for the Mariners. Anthony Swarzak is struggling, but he does have a proven track record and there’s still time for the 33-year-old to rebound.
Will any of these relievers return a big haul? No, but Swarzak and Gearrin are free agents after the season, while the remaining players probably aren’t in the Mariners long-term plans. Why not recoup value if there’s trade interest?
As noted already, the Mariners don’t necessarily have much to offer clubs looking for starting pitching. Félix Hernández is a free agent at the end of the season, but he’s struggling for a third consecutive season.
Mike Leake is an innings-eater averaging 5.9 innings/start, which is usually appealing to contenders. That said; Leake’s home run rate is the highest in MLB and his xwOBA among the worst.
Another sticking point; Leake’s salary, which is $11 million annually through next year with an $18 million club option/$5 million buyout for 2021.
Although currently on the DL, LeBlanc could attract interest from clubs looking for a versatile performer. He’s relatively inexpensive and controllable – the Mariners hold annual $5 million options through 2022. Then again, the crafty lefty offers depth and versatility Dipoto may prefer to retain for his own club.
Dee Gordon also has a big contract, making a deal more challenging. Gordon is earning just over $13 million this year and next. Moreover, there’s a $14 million option for 2021, which vests if the 31-year-old has 600 plate appearances in 2020 or 1,200 in 2019-20. That’s a doable do, if he remains healthy.
I’m not directing this at Gordon, but any contract can be traded. We recently witnessed proof of this when Dipoto shipped Robinson Canó and his exorbitant pact to the Mets in the offseason.
Considering only six AL clubs currently have a winning record (eight in the NL), there may be a glut of sellers prior to the July 31 trade deadline. For this reason, don’t be surprised if the ever-aggressive Dipoto strikes a deal early to get ahead of the market. He’s used the same strategy every offseason.
In the coming months, management may make the tough call regarding Hernández and part ways with the 15-year veteran. While it’s easy for some fans to endorse getting rid of Félix, it’s not that simple.
Félix won’t command any value on the trade market, so the club may have to designate him for assignment. That may be a bridge too far for the ownership group, especially when they could simply let the icon finish 2019 with the only team he’s ever known.
Depending on the health of the injured infielders, Crawford and Long probably return to Tacoma within a few weeks. However, their next call-up may be their last. At that point, they’ll integrate into the club’s roster and perhaps its future.
While it’s great seeing Bishop and Vogelbach on the 25-man roster, it’s disappointing both players aren’t playing more often – at least to me.
As already noted, Bishop likely heads back to Tacoma when the Mariners deem Smith ready to return to the big league club. Unfortunately, he’s been used sparingly by manager Scott Servais.
Vogelbach is seeing more action with 124 plate appearances entering the weekend. However, that’s just 14 more than Smith, who hasn’t played for the team since April 28 and missed the first two games of the season in Japan.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing Servais nor Dipoto. They know their players best, and Servais has to maintain a good clubhouse culture. Keeping veterans engaged, especially ones who are performing, is important to that culture.
Realistically, the missed playing opportunities for Bishop and Vogelbach are less of a reflection on them than a 25-man roster laden with placeholder veterans. The impasse likely clears within the next two months.
When the roster finally opens up, we’ll see a lot more of youngsters such as Bishop, Vogelbach, Long, and Crawford. Same with starter Justus Sheffield.
It’s going to be a hectic summer for the Mariners’ roster, but that’s a good thing.
A fun thing.
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins