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Thoughts on Opening Eve 2011

I just finished watching the Giants and Dodgers play a quintessential pitcher's duel, and I eagerly await the debut of the Mariners tomorrow. In the meantime, a random assortment of thoughts:

  • In 2003, Bob Melvin made his managerial debut on opening night, and it was also in Oakland. That's about all that is the same between Eric Wedge and him, but it was an excuse to unearth the box score from that game. It is one of those random games I vaguely remember for no good reason. I remember the M's looking bad, and they did in a 5-0 loss. I didn't remember Mark McLemore starting at shortstop, Ben Davis at catcher, or Giovanni Carrera pitching a scoreless eighth. This is a team that won 93 games. Therefore, if the M's are shut out tomorrow, I will expect a 93-win season.

Lueke's Best Friend

Tom Wilhelmsen
The Mariners have whittled their roster down to the final 25 players that will suit up in Oakland. They include a few surprises, and a handful of nice stories.

The bullpen is settled (for now), and it includes two rookies, Josh Lueke and Tom Wilhelmsen. Both will presumably make their Major League debuts on the opening road trip. I mention that because I have a soft spot for debuts, and think they are awesome when you get a chance to see them.

I have written about Lueke before on this blog, and the difficult situation the Mariners put themselves in when they acquired him. I became particularly irked over the off-season, when the M's seemed to publicly ignore Josh, while also treating him on the field as a fast-moving prospect. The organization could not keep up that charade forever.

Now, the M's have played their hand. Josh Lueke is in the majors, and he will officially go down in the record books as a Seattle Mariner in a matter of days. They cannot conveniently overlook him at this point.

Perhaps they won't have to.

Designated Hole

Ben Broussard
I came across a tidbit early this morning that Mike Sweeney signed a one-day contract with the Royals to officially retire. He was a real good player in his prime, and a very high character guy to boot. It was always awkward for me as an M's fan to see him in the starting lineup. Every swing I was convinced he would hurt himself, but I wanted him to succeed, but I also knew if he was in the heart of the M's order, the offense needed some help.

Sweeney retires mere months removed from being a regular DH for the Mariners. As I thought more, I realized this has happened before. Really, though left field has been a mess for Seattle the majority of its existence, designated hitter has become as much of a problem since Edgar Martinez retired.

Arms Battle

With the volume of arms still in camp, instead of trying to pick out the most interesting players, I'll give you everybody, sorted according to a simple +/- system.

Here is how the +/- system works:

  • A pitcher earns 1 point for each out and strikeout
  • A pitcher loses 1 points for each hit, walk, hit-by-pitch, or home run

That's it. It's a quick and dirty picture.

Instead of linking to each player individually below, all of the Mariners spring training stats are available here. Without further ado, the +/- for each M's pitcher still in the hunt with a week to go:

Finally, Illuminating Roster Cuts

The Mariners trimmed their roster a bit before tonight's game, sending five players to the minor leagues. They are (drumroll please): 2B Dustin Ackley, C Steven Baron, INF Sean Kazmar, OF Gabe Gross, and LHP Fabio Castro.

I'll work my way from the least to most interesting.

Middle Infield Set

Jack Wilson
In a mildly surprising announcement, Brendan Ryan will be the M's starting shortstop, and Jack Wilson the starting second basemen. This officially puts an end to any hope Dustin Ackley would open the season with the Mariners, though really that was gone before pitchers and catchers reported.

What's surprising is that Ryan is at short, and Wilson is at second. The last time the Mariners tried shifting someone to second base wasn't all that long ago. It was Chone Figgins, last year, and he was horrible. Figgins also had 793.2 innings at second before the M's switched him over, whereas Jack Wilson has no experience at all.

Maybe this should not be surprising though. Brendan Ryan has some experience at second base, but much less than Figgins had. Really, he has played sparingly at second over the course of his career. Neither Wilson nor Ryan has played second base regularly, so one of them was going to be outside their comfort zone. The Mariners decided to push out the guy that is older, with worse legs, and likely worse defense at this point. Honestly, as great as Wilson was, Ryan is probably better. He is that good.

The Bonds Trial

Barry Bonds
As seems to usually happen when a big baseball story pops up that I think about writing about, Joe Posnanski beats me to it. He acts like it's his job to write, or something. He's so darn good at it too, and he did it yet again. The Barry Bonds trial is about to begin, and Posnanski weighed in with a well articulated article, as usual.

While I more or less agree with his view, I still want to write something about the trial. As far as the story of Barry Bonds, no matter the outcome, this is a fitting coda.

Let's be honest, there is no doubt that Bonds took steroids. Grown men in their late 30s don't just all of a sudden become Incredible Hulks and crush home runs at a pace they never have before. If it really was just flaxseed oil, somebody would be peddling barrels of it for $19.95 on television. We would all be on the Barry Bonds diet.

We aren't though. Yet Barry Bonds still won't fess up, not even to a federal jury, with the potential for perjury charges that are now a reality. The arrogance is somewhere between squalid and spectacular - perhaps even both at the same time.

More Inevitable Roster Cuts

Dan Cortes
Finally, the pitchers are getting whittled down. Gone today are Chris Smith, Charlie Haeger, Dan Cortes, and Manny Delcarmen. With all due respect to this quartet though, I wonder who goes next. These aren't terribly interesting cuts.

Chris Smith looked like AAA depth all along, and now he officially is.

Charlie Haeger, a longshot to begin with, was hurt to start spring training.

Dan Cortes couldn't throw strikes.

I suppose Manny Delcarmen is a little bit interesting, but he struggled to find the strike zone in camp too. If he stays in the M's system, they might want to think about stretching him out as a starter, just to see what happens. The odds are that it won't work, but he has three pitches he can get over the plate, and he doesn't have the kind of velocity to overpower batters anymore. At the very least, starting might help Delcarmen better develop ways to induce weak contact.

Honestly though, less than a week into the Cactus league schedule, I didn't see any of these guys making the roster. What's more interesting to me is who hasn't been cut.

Looming Roster Crunch

Matt Tuiasosopo
It is Lent right now, so the number 40 comes up.

Certainly, it's going around the M's front office too.

Picking the 25 players that open the season with the M's is going to be interesting enough, though most of the wide open battles are between relatively little-known players vying for relatively low impact positions. It's hard to get all that pumped up because of it.

However, the real interesting battle will be with the 40-man roster. There are going to be players cut, and some might grab headlines.

Here is the issue: the Mariners don't think many of their younger players are ready for the majors yet. So, stopgaps have been brought in as non-roster invitees. A handful of them are very strong candidates to make the roster. However, to be added, they have to also be on the 40-man roster - meaning someone has to get removed.

The MLB Side Of The NFL Lockout

The NFL is somewhere between an ugly disagreement and mild chaos after the NFLPA decertified, clearing the way for a lawsuit from NFL players, subsequently followed by the owners locking the players out. The unrest could, and probably will, last a while. Regular season games certainly are not in jeopardy yet, but they could be before a new agreement is reached.

Why do I bring this up on a baseball blog?

Well, first of all, I bet many of you watch some football. However, this is also baseball's business.

T-Mobile Mariners

This post is completely inspired by a similar (or maybe the better word is identical) post on Lookout Landing. Using my phone (perhaps you can take educated guesses on what I have from the title) and letting it predict what I'm trying to text, here are most of the interesting guesses my phone came up with:

Michael Pineda As A Swingman

Michael Pineda
One week in, the big story in Mariners camp is whether or not Michael Pineda will crack the starting rotation. He turned in a solid opening Cactus League performance, which was enough to cause a stir. Imagine what will happen if he goes out and pitches four or five productive innings.

An issue with Pineda is limiting his innings. He pitched in a career-high 139.1 frames last season, and pitching him every fifth day in a major-league rotation puts him on track to toss 160-180 innings, even assuming a pretty strict pitch count. Plus, Pineda is likely to make it hard to pull him at his pitch limit in some starts, because he has the kind of stuff that will flash brilliance at times.

It is time to revisit an idea I wrote about on my blog a year ago. I dubbed it the swingman position, and I laid out the rationale behind it with this post. In essence, I think it would make sense for many teams to keep four starting pitchers in a regular rotation, skipping the fifth starter as often as possible. When the fifth starter is needed, a team would use two or three swingmen to get through the first six to seven innings of a ballgame.

The Newest M's, Laffey and Paxton

James Paxton
Thanks to a busy work schedule, it has been forever since I posted. Plus, let's be honest, the most exciting thing about the first week of spring training is that baseball is back. The games themselves... well, are baseball in name.

Still, a weekend post on the first week of spring training is likely in order. For now though, why not talk about a pair of southpaws the Mariners have added since opening up camp?