There's no shortage of questions surrounding the Mariners as they go about their business in Spring Training, but two of the most popular are whether Dustin Ackley, and whether Michael Pineda, will break camp with the big club. These are two of the brightest stars in what's recently been a dim organization, after all, and a lot of fans are curious when they'll get to see them arrive.
Now, we've talked about this before. I don't think we'll see either Ackley or Pineda right away, and I think it's in large part because of the whole service time issue with which fans are growing increasingly familiar. Keep Ackley and Pineda on the roster all season and they're under team control through 2016. Start them in Tacoma and bring them up as early as the middle of April and they're under team control through 2017. There's also an additional Super Two concern that comes into play and pushes the preferred call-up date closer to June, but that has to do with future salary, and future salary is less important than future control.
We know this, the Mariners know this, and the players probably know this, too. It's no secret that teams have long been keeping talented players in the minor leagues in order to keep their future salaries down, or in order to keep them under control an extra year. But at the same time, teams can't just come out and say this is why they're doing what they're doing, because a lot of important people would be pissed off. Whether that ought to be the case, I can't say - MLB teams are technically playing by the rules as they're currently established - but that's the way it is. So teams need to find and give some other reasons for keeping good players down.
And with Ackley and Pineda, I think we can already predict what they'll be. Conveniently, they're both touched on in this Baker post. I expect that Ackley will begin the 2011 season with Tacoma to continue working on his defense at second. You'll remember that second is still a relatively new position for him to be playing, and while he's made a lot of rapid progress, he isn't yet quite where the Mariners would like him to be. So he should join the Rainiers and focus on his turns and his footwork and his coverage and then some time in May or June the M's should decide he's good enough and bring him on up.
And with Pineda, I expect him to begin the 2011 season with Tacoma to further hone his secondary stuff. His fastball doesn't need much work. It's hard, and it moves, and he knows how to spot it. But he wants to pull his changeup back a little bit, and the organization wants to see more consistency from his slider. Both pitches are close, and they're probably Major League-caliber right now, but they're not yet Major League weapons, so they could use some work in a lower-pressure, learning-friendly environment. Some time in May or June the M's should decide his secondary pitches are good enough and bring him on up.
So those are the two biggies I'm expecting. The M's may cite a number of reasons, but "defense" and "secondary stuff" should get the most emphasis. And it's really up to you to decide whether or not those reasons are sufficient. One the one hand, Ackley probably could use more work on his defense. Pineda probably could use more work on his slider and changeup. Development is the whole purpose of the minor leagues, and they probably won't improve by leaps and bounds in ST. On the other hand, Ackley's defense and Pineda's secondary stuff will always have room for improvement, and I'd imagine they're easily two of the 25 best players in the organization right now. So it's hard to say. But all that really matters is that the reasons are good enough for the M's to get away with playing the same little game that so many other teams do.
I should close by saying I can't guarantee any course of action. Not being privy to the Mariners' internal discussions, it's impossible for me to predict with certainty anything they're going to do. Ackley may break camp with the M's. Pineda may break camp with the M's, and Shannon Drayer has suggested it may be a very good possibility. All I'll say is that I would be very surprised by either. The issues of future salary and team control appear to me too significant to be outweighed by the benefits of having one or both of these players up for an additional one or two months in a rebuilding season. Particularly when such seemingly valid justification exists for sending them back to Tacoma. This team has surprised me before, but I don't think they're going to do it here.