Cliff Lee is starting April 30, according to Don Wakamatsu. Incidentally, his first start will be on Felix Hernandez bobblehead doll night. It feels like the sort of coincidence that has some sort of mysterious, cosmic meaning. I hope it is a some sort of sign of an impending Cy Young race between the two.
Anyway, with Lee back, someone has to leave the rotation. On opening day, the logical candidates were Doug Fister and Jason Vargas. However, both Fister and Vargas are pitching very well right now. The obvious guy to replace, based on what we've seen so far, is Ian Snell.
Snell may be a better pitcher than Fister or Vargas, and as they all accumulate more innings, that may begin to show. However, I think it is important for players performing at high levels to get priority, because quality production needs to be a priority of any winning organization. Thus, if I were Don Wakamatsu, this decision is fairly easy to make. Ian Snell is the odd man out, at least until Fister or Vargas cools down. I would call Snell into my office this afternoon too, informing him of the decision.
Why notify Snell almost two weeks in advance of Lee's return? It's thanks to the schedule. The Mariners have consecutive Thursdays off, and Snell's next scheduled day to start is this Thursday. If his spot is skipped, everyone else starts on their normal rest. With the groove everyone else is in, keeping everyone in their normal rhythm makes good sense. Snell would still make one more start before Cliff Lee's return, but it wouldn't be until April 27, in Kansas City. In the meantime, he could be an extra reliever.
The other advantage of skipping Snell this Thursday is that it allows Ryan Rowland-Smith to start next Wednesday in Kansas City. Then, there is an off-day, and then Cliff Lee's glorious return. That means that both Fister and Vargas's spots will be skipped in the process. So, after Cliff starts on April 30, and Felix on May 1, the Mariners can pick Fister, Vargas, or Snell to start that Sunday. With only one start for each of them between now and May 2, I don't see any way Snell could grab it. The May 2 spot would go to Fister or Vargas, with Fister being the front-runner.
Ian Snell is out of options though, so I wouldn't try to sneak him down to Tacoma. Instead, I would place him in the bullpen, and send Jesus Colome down to make room for Cliff Lee. Snell's stuff may translate well in the bullpen, and he is a better fit for a long relief role than Colome anyway. I would like to see Snell take Vargas's spot in the rotation, but the performances of both pitchers can dictate that decision. For now, Vargas has earned his keep, and he may earn it all the way to Erik Bedard's return.
We will see what Wakamatsu does, but I think the best choice is to slide Ian Snell to the bullpen for the time being. I will be surprised if anyone but Snell or Vargas loses their rotation spot.