PEORIA, Ariz. — Like the intermittent weather in the Phoenix area Tuesday, the situation with the Mariners’ final roster spots became clear for a brief time, only to be clouded by doubt.
With Major League Baseball rosters expanded to 26 players this season and teams expected to carry 13 pitchers (the maximum limit) and 13 position players, it has left a unique set of circumstances on how teams might fill out their bench spots.
For the Mariners, just when it seemed like you could project how they might fill those final two or three spots following roster moves Tuesday, a wayward pitch from an Angels pitcher in a Cactus League game hours later might have brought on more uncertainty.
The brief clarity came after the Mariners made pregame moves to trim the number of players in major-league camp to 51.
Among the moves: outfielder Braden Bishop and left-handed pitcher Nick Margevicius were optioned to Class AAA Tacoma; and outfielders Rymer Liriano and Julio Rodriguez, catcher Joseph Odom and left-handed pitcher Manny Banuelos were re-assigned to minor-league camp.
Most of these moves were expected. Rodriguez is arguably the organization’s top prospect, but he’s just 19 and was not expected to make the opening-day roster. He appeared in nine games, posting a .154/.267/.154 slash line with two hits and six strikeouts in 13 at-bats. Both hits were singles, but he did make hard contact in a few of the outs.
The Mariners were still pleased with how he handled himself on a daily basis. The question is where will he report to start the minor-league season. It seemed like he was a lock to return to High-A Modesto, where he finished 2019. But there are rumblings that the Mariners might let him try Double A Arkansas and join close friend Jarred Kelenic, who will return there to start the season.
Bishop, meanwhile, appears to have played his way off the opening-day roster.
With the multiple surgeries for Mitch Haniger this offseason and the Mariners’ plan to play younger players to get big-league experience in place, it seemed like Bishop could grab the fourth outfielder spot and join Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis and Mallex Smith. His defensive versatility and speed were obvious pros to keeping him. Though he has never been an above-average hitter, his struggles at the plate this spring were too much to overlook. Bishop played in just eight games, missing a handful because of the flu, and had just one hit with two walks and five strikeouts in 11 at-bats.
“Bish didn’t have a great camp offensively,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He had an awesome camp last spring and really opened some eyes. But the consistency that a lot of young players need to show is going to be key for him. He has things work on, no doubt. But I think he’ll be in our picture at some point during the season. Braden will be back.”
Despite the struggles at the plate this spring, Bishop still seemed like a roster candidate when the team optioned fellow outfielder Jose Siri to Double-A Arkansas a few days ago. Siri is no longer in the organization. He was claimed off waivers by the Giants, which leaves a 40-man roster spot open.
The quick assumption would be that 40-man spot might go to former All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who was brought into camp on a minor-league contract with a $750,000 guarantee.
But at the time of the signing, sources indicated that Gonzalez was added as a courtesy, an audition for a player trying to get into a major-league camp. Even after the recent roster moves removed outfielders from camp, the expectation is that Gonzalez won’t make the team. Per opposing scouts, his bat has looked slow, and he struggled against even right-handed pitchers with velocity.
Moreover, Gonzalez doesn’t fit the Mariners’ plan to play young players, or their roster set-up. Seattle’s projected 25-man roster is heavy on left-handed hitters, including Smith and Fraley. Ideally, the extra outfielder would be a right-handed hitter.
With that knowledge, the discussion around camp was that the handful of right-handed hitters with the ability to play multiple positions, including corner outfield, would vie for two of the open spots.
Utility players Dylan Moore, Tim Lopes and Sam Haggerty were all competing for the same role on the team, and Patrick Wisdom, who had seemingly played his way out of contention, suddenly had a new hope for a spot. Haggerty, a speedy switch-hitter, has been sidelined by elbow issues that likely will force him out of contention, leaving Moore, Lopes and Wisdom.
Of the three candidates, Moore is the best athlete and best outfield defender. He showed he was capable of handling all three spots on a part-time basis last season. For about an hour or so, you could project Moore and Lopes making the team. The Mariners love Lopes’ bat and his ability to handle velocity. He would represent an offensive boost against lefty starters. There is plenty of concern about the Mariners’ ability to generate offense this season, particularly with Haniger out indefinitely.
Then then projection of Moore and Lopes for the final two spots took a hit, literally, Tuesday.
In the third inning, Moore took a 93-mph fastball from Angels starter Dylan Bundy off his right wrist. The impact made a grotesque sound, and Moore was in immediate agony. He was removed from the game for what seemed certain to be a fractured wrist at the time.
Initial X-rays showed only a deep bone bruise, but further tests could change the diagnosis.
“It did not look good or sound good,” Servais said. “We’ll know more (Wednesday).”
It’s the wrong time for Moore to be sidelined.
Could that allow Wisdom to make another push for a spot? Signed as a minor-league free agent this offseason, the Mariners liked his power potential and ability to play first base, third base and left field. But he’s looked out of sorts at the plate this spring, slashing .143/.308/.238 with three hits with 13 strikeouts in 21 at-bats.
The Mariners also could sign a right-handed hitting outfielder toward the end of camp after other teams make roster decisions.