In some ways, this comes as a shock. Scott Baker, even though he was signed to a minor league deal, seemed like a pretty solid bet for the rotation -- even if his velocity wasn't completely back, it takes a lot of time for some pitchers to recover from elbow injuries. By all reports, Baker's velocity wasn't quite where it once was, but it was touching above where it sat with the Cubs last year.
Baker couldn't strike anyone out after he made his return with the Cubs, and he couldn't strike anyone out now, either. While you try not to look at ERA all that much in spring, you do certainly look at how many bats a guy is missing. Baker hit three times as many batters as he struck out. For a guy who's made his living on having pinpoint control and missing a decent amount of bats, this spring couldn't have been much worse for him. Seven walks, three hit batters, and one strikeout. That's not the old Scott Baker. That's not a guy you feel confident bringing out of camp, but Scott Baker went ahead and asked for his release today instead. He got it.
But the other options never seemed to be much more appealing. Blake Beavan got hammered for his second straight start today, and whether the line reflects his ability to perform in the future or not, the past is enough to damn him as an uninspiring option at best. The same goes for Randy Wolf, who hasn't been effective since 2011. Roenis Elias has been this year's Brandon Maurer, but his leap would be fairly astronomical, even if it was for a few games.
Now it's inevitable, barring a trade or waiver wire claim, that two of those three will sit in the rotation behind Felix, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez. It's an awful situation, and the poor pitching depth of this team has been exposed. The Mariners desperately needed to add another arm this year -- they even talked about it repeatedly -- and then they failed to do it, watching free agent pitchers go off the shelf to other teams at non-exorbitant prices. Now, their opening day rotation could be as lefty-heavy as their lineup and full of four huge question marks. Four. James Paxton impressed last year and in spring, but his AAA struggles from last year loom. Erasmo Ramirez has been solid, but he's had his own share of injuries and inconsistency. The final two spots speak for themselves. Nobody knows how effective Hisashi Iwakuma will be when he returns from a finger injury on his throwing hand, and Taijuan Walker is still a wildly talented but unpolished prospect. Six starts missed to injury isn't that big of a deal to most teams, but for a team on the fringe in what could actually be a relatively competitive division, it might be. The drop-off in replacement talent is likely to be quite large.
Perhaps this is a sign of things to come. The team may be close on a trade involving Nick Franklin, or maybe they like the idea of claiming cast-offs from other teams over the shell of Scott Baker they just sent packing. This is the time of year when a lot of players start to become available, and Erik Bedard, Freddy Garcia, and Aaron Harang are just three of the names that are, and will be available as this week progresses. They may only need 3 or 4 starts from whoever slots into the 4th (and 5th) spot, but shit happens and the Mariners need depth. They weren't prepared for these set of circumstances, and it's showing. This situation isn't Scott Baker's fault, it's that the Mariners penciled him into the #3 or #4 spot without enough around to step in if he failed. Baker should have been the Randy Wolf in camp, and Randy Wolf should have been unemployed.
Whether the team is close on another move or not, this wouldn't have happened if Scott Baker looked right. Striking out one batter while walking/hitting ten in 12 innings isn't right. Baker was a flier with nice upside we all endorsed on the site, but the unfortunate inevitability of fliers is that sometimes, they sink. The inability to surround Baker with better options is what might sink the Mariners.
Update: Bob Dutton tweets that the Mariners asked Baker to go to AAA before his release.
#Mariners confirm RHP Scott Baker declined an assignment to Triple-A Tacoma and was granted his release.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) March 25, 2014