The only downside of Tacoma's long playoff run is that the Mariners continued to play with 25 players (okay, 26 counting Guillermo Quiroz) through the majority of September. Prospects are more interesting to watch in lost seasons, so that was a bummer at the MLB level. However, I do think it was much more valuable for those prospects to experience winning together in meaningful roles at AAA. I'm not exactly sure prospects will get "The Big League Experience" watching this "big league offense."
In total, one player from West Tennessee and six players from Tacoma were added:
C Guillermo Quiroz - Actually, Quiroz has been with the team for a few weeks now. He is not a prospect. He is an "organizational guy," a more veteran presence that is a quasi-coach for the prospects working their way through the system. His promotion appears to be a well-deserved reward for his contributions to the franchise.
1B Justin Smoak - The centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal returns to the majors to finish out the year. Presumably, he will be the opening day first baseman in 2011. He got the call a few days early because of Tacoma's depth. Brad Nelson had a spot to play for the AAA Championship thanks to Smoak's promotion.
RHP Dan Cortes - I can't wait to see Cortes in a game. This is a shockingly fast ascension for a guy sporting an ERA in the 5.00-6.00 range in AA halfway through this year. Obviously, the move to the bullpen has something to do with the meteoric rise. Cortes still doesn't have a fantastic idea where the ball is going, but is his stuff so overpowering that it won't matter too much? Personally, I think he's still a little too wild, but I still haven't seen him. Like with Smoak, Cortes got called up a little ahead of the pack, presumably thanks to team depth. Basically the whole Rainiers rotation was available as relievers for the championship game.
3B Matt Mangini - I am also eager to get some glimpses at Mangini. I hope he steals some playing time from Jose Lopez, but that's going to be harder after Lopey's three homer effort tonight. I don't think Mangini's skillset is all that different from Matt Tuiasosopo, except for one noteworthy difference - Mangini is left-handed, meaning his power plays much better in Safeco.
OF Greg Halman - I hope Darren Brown finds a way to get Halman on the field a little bit in this final week. He is a tremendous athlete, but also a strikeout machine. Can he make enough contact to be a productive player in the majors? We won't get a definitive answer in a week, but I think he would significantly benefit from a chance to get his feet wet in this current, no-pressure situation. Plus, as a fan, wouldn't it be fun to drool all off-season over one of his monster home runs, if he just so happens to connect?
1B/OF Mike Carp - I think Carp is bench material, and that's what he will be this final week. I wouldn't mind seeing him log a little outfield time. He seemed to handle defense out there better than anticipated down in Tacoma. Carp is more valuable if he can handle some corner outfield duties here and there.
RHP Anthony Varvaro - I am glad to see Varvaro get a cup of coffee in the majors. I think he is a dark horse to make the opening day roster in 2011. His numbers weren't overwhelming in Tacoma, but better than his ERA suggests, and his pure stuff suggests that he can be a quality reliever. Varvaro has some control issues, but like Halman, I think an opportunity to get his feet wet would be significant for his chances to contribute quicker in 2011.
There are a couple of names conspicuously absent from the call-ups.
First of all, there is Dustin Ackley. I'm a little disappointed, but not up in arms over this decision. This was Ackley's first full season of pro ball, meaning he's playing more games than he ever has before. Since he will also participate in the fall league, I am guessing that the Mariners want him to have a bit of an extended break. He would get one naturally no matter what, since the Fall League does not start until October 12. However, I don't see many holes for playing time with Figgins, Lopez, Tui, and now Mangini around. The rest is probably as helpful as anything Ackley would get from getting called up for the final week.
The other notable omission is Josh Lueke. There are legitimate on-field reasons for not promoting him. Because of his legal issues last year, he didn't pitch much, so he has logged a ton more innings in 2010 than 2009. Since he will also be pitching in the fall league, the Mariners could be worried about overworking him.
However, let's not kid ourselves, Lueke isn't in the Mariners bullpen because of the controversy that won't die down around him and the charges he pleaded no contest to last year. The whole organization is trying their best to plug their ears and wait for it to go away. They haven't issued any public comments despite a small firestorm the past couple weeks, so not calling up Lueke falls right in line with their strategy.
I don't agree with the strategy at all. Lueke should be up with the Mariners right now. Let's get the shock of him appearing for the Mariners out of the way right now.
I went to two games last week. The M's drew a crowd of around 20,000 for the Boston Red Sox. That's shocking. Then, with Felix on the mound on Friday night, the crowd wasn't much bigger, and aided by several big groups. Notably, there was some group dancing around the right field upper deck for half the game, and a strong Nebraska Cornhuskers contingent down the third base line on the first level. I scored a free ticket through a friend that helped out with Camp Erin, a program started by Jamie Moyer (or more accurately, the Moyer Foundation). Yes, Moyer indirectly paid for a bunch of people to go to a Mariners game, and almost witness a no-hitter from King Felix.
I digress. My point is that the Mariners are as irrelevant as they've been in the past 20 years. I don't think that is an exaggeration. There are a few more fans at games than the really dark days in the Kingdome, but baseball across the nation is more relevant now than it was then. Red Sox Nation is a way bigger deal than it was back then. Guaranteed big crowds have clearly dwindled in Seattle, mainly because the 2010 Mariners are really hard to care about.
Josh Lueke is going to be a controversial call-up whenever that time comes. Why not get it out of the way now, when people aren't really paying attention? Why not now, when the season isn't on the line? When it will only be for a week, guaranteed? We are talking about one or two relief appearances, given that there is about a week left in the season. It's not like a call-up will tax Lueke's arm severely.
If I were running the M's front office, Josh Lueke would have joined the Mariners in Toronto, and he would pitch at least once before the team returns home. I wouldn't want him dealing with a potentially volatile crowd in his major league debut. More than anything, calling Lueke up would provide more closure to his situation than anything else the team can do. Even if for some wild reason Seattleites protest all WTO-style upon Lueke's arrival, it would only be for a week. I think the much more likely outcome is that a chunk of the fanbase freaks out, but everyone gets over it before next season, when baseball games matter again. Bottom line, the M's need to open Pandora's box at some point and see what comes out. I would do it now, in a lost season, where the stakes are lower, and fans aren't inclined to emotional responses.
Overall, September call-ups are what they are. They don't give any of us enough of a glimpse at players to know how successful they will be, and the only way younger players get regular time is if the season doesn't matter anymore. Still, September call-ups are awkwardly exciting, even if a couple noteworthy guys are not among them.