Another night, another set of Mariners roster moves. As spring training finally builds towards its exciting (?) conclusion, the Mariners are finishing up on the obvious cuts before moving in on the battles of real (?) significance, and tonight they continued that process by optioning Eric Thames to AAA and reassigning Mike Zunino and Logan Bawcom to minor league camp. None of these moves are remotely surprising, except maybe to the players themselves, but neither are they unworthy of discussion.
A few Zunino fans may be disappointed by his reassignment, and I'll admit that I too feel a little sick at the thought of Jesus Montero as the Mariners' primary catcher, but this move was telegraphed weeks ago by Zduriencik's comments about how difficult it would be for Zunino to make the team. It's probably for the best. Zunino hasn't even played a full season of professional baseball yet, he still has some receiving issues to work on, and his bat wasn't exactly destroying worlds in the Cactus League. We may see the promising catcher with the big club as soon as this year, but all talk of him making the opening day roster can now be put to rest. We'll have to follow his progress from afar, at least for the moment.
With Zunino and Paulino now in minor league camp, it's official: the Mariners are only going to carry two catchers on the 25-man roster to start the season. It'll be interesting to see what happens if Shoppach gets injured during a game. Still, despite their lack of depth in the major leagues, this was a pretty good spring for Mariners catchers, and I'm optimistic about the team's future behind the plate. Even if Montero doesn't stick at catcher, which he probably won't, Zunino looks promising and John Hicks made a bit of a name for himself out there. Today in an intrasquad game Hicks hit an inside-the-park home run. I don't know if that says more about Hicks, who hit the ball, or Francisco Martinez, who "fielded" it, but at least not all of the Mariners' catchers run slower than Windows Vista.
Thames was destined for AAA the moment the Mariners signed Raul Ibanez to a major-league contract. Still, while his demotion was a foregone conclusion, his future is not. Thames was badly rushed to the majors by the Blue Jays, but still managed to contribute almost a whole win in 400 PAs in 2011. There's still a chance that he might develop in the minor leagues and turn into a useful role player. It's not a big chance - his plate discipline needs serious work - but it's a better chance than I'd give, say, Carlos Peguero. Who is still in major league camp, by the way.
So, as predicted, the outfield battle has come down to Jason Bay and Casper Wells. All other competitors are either guaranteed jobs (Gutierrez, Saunders, Morse, Ibanez), gone (Thames, Carp, Robinson), or Peguero. The next few spring training games may have a meaningful impact on the future of the Mariners, which confuses and saddens me. Fingers crossed the front office makes the right choice.
Lastly but not leastly, the Mariners demoted right-handed reliever Logan Bawcom. I could respond in kind with witty barbs and references to Fangraphs projections, but instead I'll be the better man and look beyond this personal insult to see its greater implications.
Logan Bawcom was never going to make the major league roster out of spring training barring a sudden clubhouse outbreak of Andorian shingles, but his reassignment leaves only eight relievers in major league camp and marks the departure of the next-to-last member of Prospect House. In case you're not familiar with Prospect House, the rundown: Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, Stefen Romero, Logan Bawcom, and Jarrett Burgess have all been living in the same house for the duration of spring training. Now Maurer is the only one left. Awkward.
So that's it, really. All the minor stuff is out of the way, and the Mariners are down to their last two "big" decisions: who will fill out the back of the rotation, and who will be the fifth outfielder. I hope they make the right choices. I really, really hope they make the right choices.
We'll find out.