Teams had to figure out by Friday whom to add to their 40-man rosters in preparation for the Rule 5 draft. The Mariners added two players to their roster, 1B/3B/OF Patrick Kivlehan and OF Boog Powell. Neither are surprises whatsoever. It would have been surprising to see either of them unprotected.
However, to make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners had to cut one player loose. They chose LHP Danny Hultzen.
On one hand, Hultzen is the obvious choice. He has been injured for the vast majority of the past three seasons. There is no guarantee he will ever have a healthy enough shoulder to pitch in the major leagues, much less carve out a respectable career. Oft-injured arms yet to ever reach the majors are dispensable commodities.
However, not every pitcher is a former first round draft pick selected second overall. It is jarring to see a young man considered one of the Mariners brightest prospects a couple seasons ago cut loose without ever getting a chance in the major leagues. It is even more jarring considering that Hultzen was drafted in 2011, which is just four seasons ago. He was expected to move quickly through the minors, and did. He reached AAA before major arm woes surfaced. However, those injuries have now knocked Hultzen completely off the roster.
It's a sad situation, plain and simple. All accounts say that Danny Hultzen has tremendous character. He works hard, stays positive, and clearly had talent before the injuries. I always liked the pick, probably more than most, so maybe this move is especially disappointing for me. However, even those less enamored with the Hultzen pick would have to admit that this is a sad move. Even the Hultzen skeptics were mostly skeptical because he lacked a high ceiling. Nobody doubted that he was a safe bet to make the major leagues.
I have harped on the Mariners player development in recent months as Jerry Dipoto has taken the reins and cleaned house in that department. However, I am not convinced that Hultzen's failure rests in the hands of the M's player development. This looks like a case of bad injury luck. For better or worse, a new leadership that did not draft him came to town and decided his injured shoulder was not a part of the Mariners future core. Would Jack Zduriencik have come to the same conclusion? We will never know.
Hultzen's Mariners career might not be over. In fact, it might be likely to continue. He could pass through waivers, given the status of his shoulder and the premium that teams place on 40-man roster spots right now. Basically, at this point in the offseason, teams either have full rosters or reserved a few spots for free agent targets and/or eligibility in the Rule 5 draft. It's easy to believe that a handful of teams still like Danny Hultzen, but the real question is if some team likes him so much that they are willing to cut loose somebody they are currently protecting on their roster. That's a harder question to answer.
We will learn more about Hultzen's fate in the next couple weeks. I don't know if I want his Mariner career to continue, because at this point that would mean no team in baseball values him as a 40-man roster member. The only thing that is certain as of today is that he is no longer a core member of the M's future. Whatever rebound Hultzen may or may not make would be a pleasant addition. It is not something the Mariners are counting on.