PEORIA, Ariz. – Unlike a year ago, the Mariners’ opening-day roster won’t have to be decided in mid-March. There is no trip to Japan to cut spring training short.
Instead, they still have 20 days to choose a handful of spots in the bullpen and the final two position-player spots — and adjust their thinking if someone gets injured.
After enjoying a Tuesday free from games and workouts, the Mariners plan to pick things up in the coming days, playing projected starters longer in Cactus League games and culling the spring-training roster down to a more manageable grouping.
The official 26-man roster has to be submitted on the morning of March 26, hours before the team opens the 2020 season at T-Mobile Park vs. the Texas Rangers.
But until then, there’s time to speculate what the roster will look like on opening day.
Starting Rotation (5)
- Marco Gonzales, LHP
- Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
- Kendall Graveman, RHP
- Justus Sheffield, LHP
- Taijuan Walker, RHP
Notes: Last year, a fair amount of debate and drama surrounded who would get the honor of starting on opening day. But with Felix Hernandez now gone via free agency and pitching for the Braves, there is little doubt as to who will get the honor this season.
Marco Gonzales ended Hernandez’s string of 10 straight opening-day starts, taking the ball in the Tokyo Dome vs. the Oakland A’s to start the 2019 season.
He’ll begin his own streak in 2020. It’s such a given that manager Scott Servais has yet to be asked about it.
After eclipsing the 200-inning mark last season, putting together a solid season with a 16-13 record and 3.99 ERA and emerging as the unquestioned leader of the rotation, the Mariners rewarded Gonzales with a 4-year, $30 million contract extension this offseason.
Walker’s progression will be worth monitoring as he builds up arm strength after missing most of the last two seasons due to elbow surgery and a shoulder strain. He has yet to pitch in a Cactus League game this spring. And there is some internal concern he might not be ready by opening day. If that happens, right-hander Justin Dunn – the Mariners’ No. 8 prospect in the organization, per Baseball America — would fill that last spot in the interim.
- Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP
- Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
- Dan Altavilla, RHP
- Matt Magill, RHP
- Sam Tuivailala, RHP
- Erik Swanson, RHP
- Taylor Guilbeau, LHP
- Nestor Cortes, LHP
Notes: The Mariners have carried eight relievers for the last few seasons out of need. But now with the rule change to a 26-player active roster and a limit of 13 pitchers, most teams will be carrying at least eight relievers. With another new rule that every reliever must face at least three batters, the projected bullpen will have few one-inning and no one-hitter specialists.
Cortes and Swanson will be used to pitch multiple innings if needed. And they could be needed with Graveman and Walker expected to be on limited pitch counts early in the season.
Neither Magill nor Tuivailala has pitched in a game this spring. Both are dealing with minor shoulder issues and expected to start facing hitters in the coming days. If that happens, they should be on track for opening day. If not, right-handers Brandon Brennan or Zac Grotz would be the next viable candidates.
The bullpen is lacking in option flexibility. Only Swanson, Guilbeau and Cortes have minor-league options remaining, meaning the other projected relievers would have to be designated for assignment if removed from the active roster.
- Mallex Smith, CF
- Jake Fraley, LF
- Kyle Lewis, RF
- Braden Bishop, OF
Notes: With Mitch Haniger’s injury, the Mariners are projected to feature Mallex Smith in center and three rookies surrounding him. Though he doesn’t fit the organizational plan of playing young players to gain experience, former All-Star Carlos Gonzalez signed a minor-league contract to compete for a spot. Some sources indicated it was more of a favor to let Gonzalez showcase himself for other teams. But with Haniger undergoing a second surgery that will likely push his return back to July, Gonzalez represented an experienced option. Multiple opposing scouts have remarked how slow Gonzalez’s bat has looked this spring against pitchers with decent velocity. While it isn’t a lot by baseball standards, a $750,000 guarantee if Gonzalez makes the team might be too much for a player whose skills are eroding rapidly.
The fourth outfield spot will instead come down to Bishop or Jose Siri. Both are plus runners that can play center field at a high level while also offering a right-handed-hitting option against tough left-handed starters.
Bishop does have some big-league experience, but he was robbed of a chance to solidify a roster spot last season when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a ruptured spleen.
The Mariners love his attitude and work ethic, but he has yet to show he can be an adequate presence at the plate at the big-league level. His at-bats early in the spring had not been strong until his last game.
Siri, an MLB-ready center fielder with considerable talent, was claimed off waivers from the Reds this offseason. He has power potential that Bishop doesn’t. But Siri has contact issues, meaning he doesn’t make it often, as evidenced by a 30% strikeout rate in the minor leagues.
Don’t be surprised to see the Mariners pick up a right-handed-hitting outfielder late in spring training, one who is out of minor-league options and isn’t going to make a team’s opening-day roster.
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- J.P Crawford, SS
- Shed Long Jr., 2B
- Evan White, 1B
- Daniel Vogelbach, DH
- Dee Gordon, 2B/SS
- Dylan Moore, Utility
Notes: This group has basically been set since well before spring training. Gordon isn’t pleased about losing his starting second-base job to his good friend Shed Long and certainly isn’t happy about being relegated to a backup infielder. But he’s also accepted the situation and will try to make the best of the playing time given.
Even though he’s missed the last five games with a concussion, Dylan Moore gets the nod over Tim Lopes for the utility spot. While the job doesn’t have the shortstop requirement because of Gordon’s presence, defense still matters. Moore is the better defensive player at every position, including Lopes’ natural position of second base. Moore beat out Kris Negron for the job last season and played well as a rookie, earning the trust of Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto.
Lopes is the better hitter in the competition, and that definitely matters to Servais, who has expressed some concern about the team’s offense given the number of rookies they will be playing. This competition could go down until the last day of spring training.
- Tom Murphy
- Austin Nola
Notes: Usually teams like to have one right-handed hitting catcher and one left-handed hitting catcher, but the Mariners will go with two right-handed-hitting backstops. The concept of a catcher being an everyday player is pretty archaic. Because they can’t platoon based on what arm the starting pitchers throws with, the Mariners will divvy up playing time based on matchups and other factors.
It won’t be a 50-50 split. Murphy is expected to play 65-70% of the time. Given Nola’s versatility on defense and ability to play first, second or third base, Servais said there will be times when both catchers are in the starting lineup with one of them as the DH. It will likely come against tough left-handed starting pitchers.