Pitchers and catchers don’t officially report to spring training for another week and the first full-squad workout isn’t until Feb. 21. The first Cactus League game isn’t scheduled until Feb. 27, and there could be some minimal schedule changes with Major League Baseball opting to eschew spring training games featuring split squads as part of its COVID-19 protocols. And opening day for the Mariners, which comes April 1 at T-Mobile Park against the Giants, still feels so far away.
But it’s never too early for some roster speculation and who might/should make the Mariners’ opening-day roster.
Of course, there’s a large segment of the fan base that’s irritated about the minimal additions this offseason to any projected roster. General manager Jerry Dipoto could still add to the group of invited players to spring training. Teams are allowed 70 players, and Seattle has 68 on its most recent list.
With the removal of the positional minimums for the 26-man roster, Seattle plans to carry 14 pitchers (six starters and eight relievers) and 12 position players.
Here’s a way-too-early roster projection with the start of spring training looming:
Starting Rotation (6)
- Marco Gonzales, LHP
- Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
- Chris Flexen, RHP
- Justus Sheffield, LHP
- Justin Dunn, RHP
- Nick Margevicius, LHP
Notes: It’s been mentioned often this offseason, probably much to the chagrin of Gonzales, but the Mariners are going with a six-man starting rotation instead of the typical five-man rotation. Dipoto and manager Scott Servais said they believe that the extra pitcher and the resulting extra day of rest will prove beneficial in terms of health, performance and development.
Of the group, only Gonzales has had any sort of sustained success at the MLB level. He’s made 88 starts in his 96 big-league appearances. By comparison, the other five pitchers have combined to make 91 MLB starts in their careers.
Kikuchi has been a disappointment since signing as a free agent before the 2019 season. Sheffield solidified his spot after his showing in 2020. Flexen was signed to a two-year, $4.75 million contract this offseason after finding some success pitching in South Korea last season.
Those four spots are set. The final two spots will be a competition. But given the remaining talent on the spring-training roster, Dunn and Margevicius likely will take the other two slots. The Mariners won’t rush top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert, opting to let him get some games in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut around midseason.
This is the position group in which the Mariners continue to look to add. But will it be a viable pitcher on a guaranteed Major League contract, or another bounce-back candidate on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training?
- Rafael Montero, RHP (closer)
- Keynan Middleton, RHP
- Kendall Graveman, RHP
- Brandon Brennan, RHP
- Casey Sadler, RHP
- Erik Swanson, RHP
- Yohan Ramirez, RHP
- Anthony Misiewicz, LHP
Notes: The ideal scenario for Dipoto and most general manager is to have a cadre of relievers with minor-league options on the 40-man roster, giving them flexibility to shuffle arms back and forth from the Class AAA team when needed. After losing that flexibility in the past few seasons, the Mariners find themselves with just two pitchers — Montero and Sadler — who are out of options on their 40-man roster. So pitchers such as Swanson and Ramirez could just as easily be swapped with right-handers Robert Dugger and Domingo Tapia.
It might be difficult for Rule 5 draft choice Will Vest to make the opening-day roster, meaning he’d be sent back to the Tigers. Depending on his health, left-hander Roenis Elias could be candidate to make the opening-day roster. His versatility to pitch in a variety of roles and multiple innings makes him valuable. He was Seattle’s best reliever in 2019 before being traded.
- Kyle Lewis, CF
- Mitch Haniger, RF
- Jake Fraley, LF
- Sam Haggerty, Utility
Notes: With touted prospect Jarred Kelenic unlikely to make the opening-day roster for a variety of reasons, this will be Fraley’s best opportunity at consistent playing time since his debut in September of 2019. He was frustrated when he didn’t make the team coming out of summer camp last July. The team cited his struggles at the plate and physical conditioning. When he did finally get a call-up, he battled injuries and never produced.
Jose Marmolejos will provide some competition for the spot, but Fraley is the more complete player. Haggerty can play anywhere on the field, including shortstop. As a switch-hitter, he could find playing time on days with a right-handed starting pitcher.
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- J.P. Crawford, SS
- Dylan Moore, 2B
- Evan White, 1B
- Ty France, IF
- Shed Long Jr., IF
Notes: Second base will supposedly be an open competition between Moore and Long. But comments from Dipoto and Servais seem to give Moore the early edge to be the everyday starter. Long isn’t a lock to make the team. Dipoto could use Haggerty as the backup infielder, keep Marmolejos or Braden Bishop on the roster for outfield help with Long going to Tacoma to play every day. France will be at designated hitter most days.
- Tom Murphy
- Luis Torrens
Notes: Murphy returns as the lead catcher after missing all of the 2020 season due to a fracture in his left foot. The Mariners love his leadership and work ethic. But he also will have to replicate his 2019 success at the plate where he posted a .273/.324/.535 slash line with 18 homers and 40 RBI in 75 games.
Torrens was acquired at midseason in 2020 from the Padres. He played in the final 18 games for Seattle, tallying 15 hits. The Mariners believe the former infielder can be a competent hitter at the MLB level, but he must refine some of his skills behind the plate.