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A Rosterful Weekend

The Mariners set their 40-man roster heading into free agency by the Friday deadline. Players not on the 40-man roster are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, unless they are still pretty young (highly imprecise definition, but that's the basic idea). As we have come to expect under Jack Zduriencik, the M's were one of the most active teams. They added six prospects to the roster, lost a couple pitchers through waivers, and through it all the most interesting note from the weekend might be a potential position switch for a top prospect.

First off, the additions:
  • Dan Cortes, RHP - Cortes was the prize of the Yuni Betancourt trade. He still has good stuff, but has control issues. Still, he is likely to hit AAA at some point this year. Definitely worth protecting.
  • Ricky Orta, RHP - Orta spent most of the season in AA West Tennessee's bullpen, and enjoyed his finest professional season to date. He has a live arm, and maybe something clicked for him this past year. He should be in AAA in 2010.
  • Edward Paredes, LHP - I am surprised that Paredes was added to the roster. He is yet to show much potential, and he has not played above advanced A ball. I don't think a team would have looked at Paredes as a possible Rule 5 pick, and even if they did, I'm not sure I'd feel real bad.
  • JC Ramirez, LHP - The pitcher formerly know as Juan Ramirez (and still listed by most sources as Juan Ramirez) is an interesting case. Scouts continue to rave about his stuff and mental makeup. However, he is yet to turn that into real solid success, even in the low minors. Given how much some think of his future, he definitely is worth protecting, even though he has at least a few years before he is ready for the majors.
  • Anthony Varvaro, RHP - Like several M's pitching prospects this past season, Varvaro was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen, and found much more success. His stuff is electric, though he doesn't always know exactly where the ball is going. Still, especially after a solid AFL showing, it was time to protect Varvaro. It wouldn't be shocking if he plays with the M's at some point this season either.
  • Ezequiel Carrera, OF - As if the Putz deal didn't look bad enough for the Mets already, Carrera exploded in AA for the M's in 2009. He doesn't have power, but he makes consistent contact, has a great eye at the plate, and uses his speed for all it is worth. He has the skillset of a prototypical leadoff hitter, and will be in AAA in 2010.
In the process, the M's exposed three players to waivers. Josh Wilson was outrighted to AAA, so the Mariners held on to him. However, they lost RHP Chris Jakubauskas to the Pirates, and RHP Robert Manuel to the Red Sox. Jakubauskas was the surprise of last year's spring training, and carved out a spot in long relief for most of 2009. He had a long road to the majors, which certainly showed with how much he enjoyed his time with the Mariners. For all those personal reasons, I am sorry to see him leave.

Manuel never appeared in a game for the Mariners. He was the player acquired in the Wladimir Balentien trade. In the end, he was a Mariner barely long enough to say hi before we say bye.

Ultimately, Jakubauskas and Manuel are the definition of replaceable relievers. Every team can use a few of them, but they are not highly difficult to find. I would much rather have guys like Varvaro, Ramirez, and Cortes protected, because there are good reasons to think that they will be above replacement level once they develop. Holding on to replacement level players for dear life was part of what got Bavasi in trouble as a GM. It destroyed roster flexibility for no good reason.

All the moves leave the Mariners with 37 players on their 40-man roster. That number does not include free agents like Russell Branyan, Adrian Beltre, and Erik Bedard. Obviously, additions will be made, so the space is needed. Still, since I didn't have to give up Manuel and Jakubauskas yet, I probably would have kept them. On the flip side though, if it was certain that they were going to leave, it is nicer for their futures to let them move on as early as possible.

Now, despite all those transactions, the biggest news of the weekend regards Dustin Ackley. The Mariners are going to have him work out at second base in January. For now it is an experiment, but I think it is an experiment that Seattle really hopes works out.

The Mariners have a logjam in the outfield. Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro are not going anywhere anytime soon. Michael Saunders may be the opening day left fielder, and his future seems to be pretty bright. Ezequiel Carrera and Tyson Gillies both are promising top-of-the-order bats. Joe Dunigan performed fairly well in the AFL after a breakout 2009 campaign, so he can't be ignored either. It is hard to think that nobody out of that bunch of youngsters pans out.

The infield, however, is a different story. Matt Tuiasosopo is close to ready, but most do not see him sticking at second base long-term, if he ever plays there regularly. Carlos Triunfel lost a year with the broken leg, and he also does not appear to be a second baseman long-term. As of now, the M's best second base prospect might be Kyle Seager, Ackley's UNC teammate and fellow 2009 draftee.

If Ackley can play at second base, his bat would become even more valuable. There are not many good hitting second baseman, and even fewer of them defend well. Ackley, with his athleticism, baseball acumen, and work ethic, has a good chance to be the complete package at second.

I am excited that the Mariners are going to work Ackley out at second base. It makes some sense with where the roster is at right now. It further paves the way for Jose Lopez to get traded, or move to third base. Either move makes more sense than keeping him at second base.

This team continues to find ways to get better. It is either a sign of progress, or of complete ineptitude, when a guy who pitched as much as Jakubauskas is let go for nothing. In this case, it is progress. Two years ago, the M's were cutting players loose like Richie Sexson and Jose Vidro. Now, teams want the M's scraps. This roster still has a long way to go, but it has also come a long way.