With fewer than three weeks remaining before Opening Day in Tokyo, let’s take a stab at the 28-man roster.
First, a couple of caveats:
1. The 28-man roster the clubs are allowed to take to Japan can be any three additional players, arms, infielders, catchers, whatever.
2. While it could be advantageous, in a vacuum, to leave three starting pitchers behind and take extra bench players and relievers — since only two starters will be needed — players the club leaves behind can’t be suspended in thin air. They either have to be optioned, traded, DFA’d, placed on the Injured List or on the 28-man active roster. Here is where decisions on players without options need to be made.
3. The extra three spots do help with the optionless players, however, if the Mariners so choose. One of those spots is going to Ichiro Suzuki, though. So it’s two extra spots, really.
Fringe-roster players out options noted in italics.
Players in bold have injury status that may impact their chances to break camp for either Tokyo or stateside Opening Day.
Projected 28-man Tokyo Roster
Anthony Swarzak, RH
Sam Tuivailala, RH
Assuming Swarzak will not be able to go to Japan as a part of the active roster — he’s yet to make his spring debut through March 3 — and since we already know Tuivailala will not be ready until at least late June, the seven bullpen locks listed above could be added to for the trip. Of the four favorites, Rumbelow has the most experience and Bautista has looked the best this spring.
I wouldn’t completely rule out Erik Swanson or Justus Sheffield just yet. There’s value in such a trip for players the clubs feel are part of their future. The chances both make it are probably close to zero, but Sheffield has thrown the ball well this spring so it wouldn’t be a complete shock if he was part of the 28-man for the Tokyo games and was optioned after that, rather than before the trip. Unlikely, perhaps, but not implausible.
I believe it’s possible Seattle will take just 12 pitchers, rather than 13, to allow them to take an extra catcher and still bring at least one extra bat on top of Ichiro, so it’s unlikely more than one from the Favorites group wins a spot, unless there’s an injury that juggles the options.
That doesn’t mean Vogelbach doesn’t make the preliminary roster, however, and this is where taking 12 pitchers, rather than 13 or 14, could come into play.
The backup catcher decision, as it stands today, is between Jose Lobaton and David Freitas. Lobaton, 34, has the experience and is a switch hitter, but comes with a career .215/.293/.319 triple-slash, which doesn’t improve much when leveled to his stronger split.
The two are basically the same defender. It’s a tossup. Both players can be assigned to Triple-A Tacoma since Lobaton signed a minor league contract, but it’s believed Lobaton has an out clause for sometime in April or May that could come into play.
There’s a chance, however, that Seattle takes three catchers to Tokyo.
The final three roster spots may very well come down to the third catcher, Vogelbach and a 13th pitcher.
There’s also a chance the Mariners make a few small trades to further sort out their roster, especially if Vogelbach or one of the relievers catches a club’s eye.