As the season ended (with an excellent 12-0 blowout of an Angel team that looked sloppy after being eliminated on Monday) on Wednesday, it became officially time to look at next year (even though we have already been doing that here).
Tacoma Broadcaster Mike Curto (@CurtoWorld) tweeted something that was interesting to me. He listed 5 players that had played with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers and the Seattle Mariners this year that were out of options. For those that are not familiar with the term (or just find the many rules of MLB rosters and transactions confusing), here is Rob Neyer explaining the situation:
When a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man Major League roster, he is on “optional assignment.” One common misconception about the rules is that a player may only be “optioned out” three times. Actually, each player has three option years, and he can be sent up and down as many times as the club chooses within those three seasons.
When you hear that a player is “out of options,” that means he’s been on the 40-man roster during three different seasons, beginning with his fourth as a pro, and to be sent down again he’ll have to clear waivers
If a player placed on Major League waivers is not claimed by another team during the three business days after waivers have been requested, then the players is said to have “cleared waivers,” and the team has secured waivers for the remainder of the waiver period.
This generally means one of three things:
(1) They can send him to the minors (subject to his consent, if he’s a “Veteran Player,” more on that below).
(2) They can release him, which makes the player a free agent and thus available to sign with any team.
(3) They can trade him to another team, even if the so-called “trading deadline” has passed. Any trades made after July 31 may only involve players who have cleared waivers.
If a player doesn’t clear waivers — in other words, if he’s claimed by another team or teams — the club requesting waivers may withdraw the waiver request.
If the club doesn’t withdraw the waiver request, the player’s contract is assigned in the following manner:
(A) If only one claim is entered, the player’s contract is assigned to that claiming club.
(B) If more than one club in the same league makes claims, the club currently lower in the standings gets the player.
(C) If clubs in both leagues claim the player, preference shall always go to the club in the same league as the club requesting waivers.
So this situation applies to 5 Mariners (actually more, but guys like Jason Vargas and Franklin Gutierrez are not going to be demoted to Tacoma): Mike Carp, Josh Kinney, Hector Noesi, Trayvon Robinson, and Casper Wells. So going into next season, the Mariners are going to have to make the decision as to whether or not these players are worth keeping on their roster, or risk losing them (the links attached to each player is my latest article on each):
With the (at least apparent) revitalization of Justin Smoak, Mike Carp looks pretty expendable. He is really only a first baseman, and it looks like the Mariners will give Smoak another start as the main first baseman going into 2013. The Mariners lack an immediate replacement to backup first baseman (unless the Mariners move Montero to 1st, which seems likely as John Jaso apparently failed in Spring Training this year), so Carp may be asked to just fill that role for now. Or, as rumors have been circling, he may actually be traded. There were actually rumors during the season that he would be DFA’d after a disappointing rehab assignment ended, but that probably wasn’t a realistic situation. He could be a solid bench player for some team, but really struggled to find playing time at the end of the year. I would be a little surprised (but not this surprised) if he was a Mariner next year (the Mariners may choose to replace him with a cheap veteran to play first, or even play Dustin Ackley at 1st on days Smoak doesn’t start, which I personally don’t think is a good idea).
Kinney is arbitration eligible this offseason. I suppose that he could be a useful piece going into next year with the Mariners, but he doesn’t exactly have a lot of value. I most likely would non-tender him. I would invite him to sign a minor league contract to come back to the Mariners, but would be shocked if he took it. Though not worthless, he is a guy you can afford to lose, especially with the Mariners bullpen situation.
I think this pretty much solidifies his role as a bullpen pitcher. They won’t be able to send him down to Tacoma to work as a starter anymore. He clearly showed this season that he is not a MLB starter at this point, and barring some really weird event in the winter or spring (I don’t know if he is going to pitch in Winter ball, he got plenty of innings this year, so there is a good chance he won’t), he won’t be a MLB starter in the spring. I think everyone can agree that he has looked good in the bullpen in his last couple of outings, and I think the Mariners can stick him in there instead of risking losing him (he simply throws too hard to be pushed through waivers, someone would claim him). If he can improve his slider (the only secondary pitch he will need in the bullpen unless he wants to throw an occasional changeup), he could be a really good bullpen piece for the Mariners. With Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, and Charlie Furbush already in the bullpen, a Hector Noesi could allow the Mariners to trade Tom Wilhelmsen if they are not in serious contention in June/July and help the Mariners get new talent into the system. It is apparent that the plan of getting Noesi in the Jesus Montero deal was not to put him in the bullpen, but reality must be accepted. The Mariners would be seriously hurting their chances of winning by using him in the rotation or risk losing him by sending him to Tacoma. I could see him possibly being used as a swing man/emergency starter for the first half of the season (until one of the big 3 or Brandon Maurer is ready), but I would love to see him pitch in a 1 inning/match up type role where Eric Wedge can just give him the ball against mainly right-handers and tell him to throw as hard as he can for 60 or so innings a year.
Robinson played in 44 games last year and struck out nearly 40% of the time and had a wRC + of 64. This year, he played in 45 games, and didn’t improve that much as far as results go, with a 72 wRC +. However, his walk rate improved, and his strikeout rate went down (but was still too high). He has shown a little potential for power, but at the end of the day, he has a .327 SLG and .116 ISO in 89 games in the Majors.
Evidence also suggests that he was more consistent on the bases and defensively this season. His arm really limits him, and with Saunders and Gutierrez on the team, there isn’t a point in letting him play centerfield.
The 2013 Mariner outfield situation going into spring training will probably look something like this: Saunders, Gutierrez (when not on the DL), Thames (who evidently still has options),Wells, Robinson, and a free agent. I figure they have to sign someone in the free agent market that will make the big league club. It may or may not be a real impact guy, but I doubt that the Mariners can go into Spring Training with a straight face without at least one new MLB outfielder.
Wells’ stock is obviously higher than Robinson’s now, but Wells wasn’t very impressive with the bat this season. He struck out a lot (25.7%), walked less than Robinson (8.0%), and hit for a little power, but not as much as you would expect (.160 ISO). Interestingly, this year broke a string going back to 2007 where Casper Wells was an above average hitter (according to wRC +) at whatever league he happened to be playing in at the time.
If nothing else, he has a better throwing arm as shown by his throw out of Mike Trout at home plate on the final day of the season. He is a solid outfielder on the corners with decent to good speed (I’ve gotten a 4.16 to first base from him, which is pretty quick, especially from a right-handed hitter). Wells is probably the Mariners “4th outfielder” (assuming they sign a free agent), while Robinson is the 5th outfielder.
I would much rather see Thames sent down than risking losing Robinson (Thames’ lack of on base skills and defensive problems are certainly a big reason). Alex Liddi and Carlos Peguero should start in Tacoma and probably stay there (especially Peguero). When I originally started this post, I wrote that even though it made sense for Chone Figgins to be released, there was no reason to think he would not be a Mariner next year. Recent news suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t assume this. They really don’t have anyone in AA or AAA that is knocking down the door to be in the Majors. This is why bringing in at least one serious (by serious I mean a player that has a high probability of being helpful in the Majors) outfielder is going to be so important this off-season. Because of that, I hope to look at a few free agent outfielders this off-season and do scouting reports on them.