Assuming John Buck is on his way to Seattle on a one-year deal as reported, at least somebody is getting the axe, as the Mariners 40-man roster is currently full. Buck isn't likely to be the last signing this off-season that will knock somebody else off, as the Mariners are likely to sign at least one more reliever and starting pitcher. By the time the off-season ends, I'd expect upwards of 3 or 4 players to be bumped, and some of them won't make it back through waivers for the M's to stash in the minors.
It's time to take a look at the players who are most likely to be in danger.
James Jones, Stefen Romero, Ji-Man Choi, Logan Bawcom, Jesus Sucre, Blake Beavan
This group was all recently added to the 40-man on November 20th, and it's pretty reasonable to assume they won't be first on the chopping block given the alternatives. James Jones hasn't developed that quickly, but the returns are admirable for a 4th round pick (.776 OPS with AA Jackson). He's now 25, but he's highly athletic and plays all three outfield positions, and is projected to be a starter with the Rainiers. In 2014, he'll be an emergency call-up guy and I wouldn't be shocked if he saw some 4th outfielder time if/when Franklin Gutierrez and others get hurt.
The Mariners have awful outfield depth, which means Stefen Romero is probably safe as well. Though he took a step back in 2013 (.779 OPS) and had an awful showing in the AFL, he was good enough in 2012 to merit future consideration. Choi is still relatively highly regarded despite his positional limitations, and Bawcom may find himself as a member of the bullpen out of camp, especially after seeing Carter Capps and Oliver Perez depart.
The organization is high on Sucre's defense, and last year proved again and again that you can never have too much catching depth. Even with Buck, Sucre represents the 3rd catcher on the 40-man roster. They need him. He's safe.
Beavan will likely stick around as the emergency swing man and for the added bonus of not being Hector Noesi.
Carlos Triunfel, Carlos Peguero, Bobby LaFromboise, Lucas Luetge
There's a decent chance Triunfel got his last chance to prove himself as a future starter in 2013, and he didn't do much with it. Though Triunfel has shown marginal improvements at the plate the past year, his plate patience is horrific and his defense hasn't taken a step forward. The power hasn't developed as it was supposed to either, and while he's probably the least likely of this group to get removed given his middle infield ability, his future with the organization is murky at best, especially with Bloomquist locked in as the backup infielder for the next two seasons. It's hard to believe he's still only 23. If he isn't removed now, he's likely to be later.
Peguero will forever tantalize with his light-tower power, but he took a big step back in 2013, finding his only good tool, power, shrink thanks to a career high ground ball rate of 46%. He'll be 27 in a month, and even though the Mariners have horrible depth in the outfield, you only get so many chances, and he's regressing. The end is near.
LaFromboise was great in 2012 and pretty good in 2013, but he's a minor lefty reliever without great stuff who got hit harder by lefties than he did by righties in 2013. He doesn't profile as a particularly effective reliever at the big league level, and while the lack of depth in the bullpen may save him for now, he may be a guy who eventually gets bumped in exchange for another, more certain reliever. It'd be surprising if he was the choice to make room for John Buck.
Luetge is kind of like LaFromboise, except he's been occasionally successful at the big league level. While Luetge got knocked around in a lot of clean-up work in 2013, he's still moderately effective against lefties, holding them to a .280 wOBA. His positive second half may have saved him for now, as previous to that he'd been fairly terrible for a 12-month stretch.
Pack your bags:
Xavier Avery, Hector Noesi, Anthony Fernandez
The Mariners got Avery in exchange for Mike Morse, and he represents the kind of outfielder that most organizations have on their 40-man roster because they got him for free. Call it the Corey Patterson role. Avery plays center and left, has speed, but can't hit. He may not even have at-bats available in Tacoma with James Jones, Stefen Romero, Nate Tenbrink, Abraham Almonte, and Ty Kelly all eating up time in the outfield. He's gone. If it isn't happening now, it will be soon.
Noesi has to go at some point. Despite the live arm and ability to spot start, what good is it if he's a disaster nearly every time he takes the hill? At some point, enough is enough. He probably won't pass through waivers as another team tries to fix him, but I'd be surprised if he makes it through this round of inevitable roster fatalities.
Fernandez is the last likely candidate to be removed, but he's also the most likely person to pull a Yoervis Medina, who managed to survive round after round of 40-man cuts without most of us understanding why. Fernandez is a big lefty who put together a solid run at High Desert in 2012 (that's hard) before playing the bizarro part of a High Desert-departing hitter and crashing back to reality in Jackson. He doesn't throw hard, (sits 89-91 mph), doesn't have good breaking stuff (see Rick's profile of him at his site), doesn't strike anybody out (5.6 K/9), he doesn't generate ground balls (36.4% in Jackson), and his peripherals are bad as well (4.43 FIP, 4.72 SIERA in 2013). He did have some health issues last year, and he's only 23. If he sticks around, it's because the Mariners hope he develops into something he's currently not, but it's hard to see him making it through three or four additions to the 40-man. Because he's more developmental at this stage, he's safer than some of the other options to avoid being claimed if the hammer drops.