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Mariners Make Flurry of Minor Moves

There was a mini firestorm of moves across baseball yesterday because baseball teams procrastinate. Yesterday was the last day to add players and protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Every move the Mariners made (and everyone else for that matter) must be looked through with the Rule 5 draft in mind, because it is the reason for all the movement on what would have otherwise been the latest, slow-as-molasses offseason day in baseball.

I will go in reverse order from how things are usually reported, because it helps make more sense of what happened. Here are the players the Mariners added to their 40-man roster yesterday:
  • 3B Vinnie Catricala - "Cat the Bat" struggled in Tacoma, but he is still just a year removed from his monstrous breakout season. The Mariners sent him to the Arizona Fall League, so they clearly still have a vested interest in developing him. He is not a surprising addition to the roster.
  • OF Julio Morban - Morban feels a bit like this year's Yoervis Medina, the guy that gets added out of nowhere. Morban crushed California League pitching in the first half of 2012 but cooled off as the season progressed. A team would have been taking a stretch picking Morban in the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners decided the risk wasn't worth it. I have a hunch he was the last guy added to the 40-man roster. More on him a bit later in this post...
  • LHP Anthony Fernandez - This was another no-brainer, even though Fernandez doesn't get much publicity as a prospect. He's no budding star, but he is a southpaw with a good assortment of pitches and a great idea of how to pitch with them. I think he logs time in Tacoma next season, and it's pretty easy to imagine him eating up innings at the back end of a rotation within the next few years.
  • LHP Bobby LaFramboise - Another no-brainer. LaFramboise was sent to the Arizona Fall League, which as I said before is an indication that the organization is vested in developing a player. He has effective LOOGY written all over him. There's no doubt somebody would have taken him in the Rule 5 draft.
  • RHP Brandon Maurer - Brandon Maurer was named the Southern League pitcher of the year - ahead of teammates Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen. Maurer did well, and some within the organization seem particularly high on him. I don't see a star, but I see a good pitcher that obviously needed to be protected.
The Mariners started yesterday with 37 players on their 40-man roster, meaning they only had 3 open slots. So, a pair of players had to go. They were:
  • OF Scott Cousins - We never got to know you, Scott. He was picked up off waivers a few weeks ago. Maybe he can be like Aaron Heilman and come to M's spring training a few years from now and never appear for the Mariners again.
  • :( Chone Figgins - Why even list a position for Figgy? Let's hope the Mariners can find a way to replace the 2 wins below replacement value he has provided the last couple seasons.
Lastly, the Mariners also traded OF Trayvon Robinson to the Orioles for INF Robert Andino. Robinson was out of options so he had to make the MLB ballclub and stick for all of 2013. That was far from a guarantee in Seattle. Andino is a textbook definition of a light-hitting, decent-fielding infield backup. The Mariners needed one of those much more than a marginal outfielder that couldn't be shuttled between AAA and the majors.

Reading between the lines of these moves, here are some speculative takeaways on where the Mariners are at this offseason:
  1. The Mariners tried (unsuccessfully) to trade Chone Figgins. Heck, they still are trying to trade him, given that they officially designated him for assignment. Somebody could still pick him up on waivers and take on his salary as well.
  2. The Mariners tried (unsuccessfully so far) to acquire a substantial hitter. How strange is it that the team picked up Scott Cousins and dumped him just a few weeks later, especially considering that they added Julio Morban to the roster, an outfield prospect? My theory is that Cousins was insurance as the Mariners discussed a deal involving other outfielders on the team. The Royals scouted James Paxton heavily in the fall league this year. They were (and are) in the market for starting pitching. Perhaps the Mariners dangled Paxton, Trayvon Robinson, and another outfielder (Guti? Carlos Peguero? Michael Saunders?) for Alex Gordon.
  3. The new Mariners pile might be in the middle infield. Jack Zduriencik cobbled decent bullpens together year after year by signing journeyman AAAA-type relievers. However, the bullpen looks like it is in good shape already. If Trayvon was as good as gone with the nature of where the roster was at (a reasonable assumption if you ask me), then Andino is pretty much a risk-free pickup at league minimum. I'd expect him to be joined by a few other players that get minor league deals with invites to spring training.
A couple other noteworthy moves from across baseball yesterday, at least to Mariners fans:
  • The Royals designated a whopping seven players for assignment, including C Adam Moore.
  • The Cubs designated for assignment 1B/OF Bryan LaHair. Remember when he was an All-Star just four and a half months ago?
Consider these moves a light course before the heavy meal comes at the winter meetings, conveniently after everyone shrugs off their turkey-induced food comas.