The Mariners roster is about to undergo some changes. With the additions of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson, the M's have to figure out exactly how to shuffle players around and make playing time work for everybody. Some of these moves will occur today, and others will occur on Saturday, when James Paxton re-joins the rotation. Even tougher decisions loom when Michael Saunders and Willie Bloomquist return.
Even after the additions of Denorfia and Jackson, there will only be one casualty from the 40-man roster, thanks to the losses of Nick Franklin and Abraham Almonte. That move will be made for James Paxton, who will get moved off the 60-man DL to the active roster. Possible casualties include Lucas Luetge, Anthony Fernandez, and Blake Beavan.
Position player demotions/DFA:
Denorfia and Jackson will spell the end for a pair of Mariners outfielders, as they've yet to be added to the active roster. James Jones is the most obvious candidate to be replaced, given how terrible he's been at the plate of late, but he's a slight dark horse to stay due to his pure speed. Anyone who saw the Mariners game yesterday was painfully reminded of how slow Kendrys Morales is, and Jones could make an impact, far more so than Endy Chavez, in a late game situation on the basepaths. If Jones goes to Tacoma, he'll presumably play center field on an everyday basis. More than anything else, Jones needs to start hitting for some power again.
After that, it's down to Stefen Romero or Endy Chavez. Romero will presumably get the axe, given that Lloyd McClendon has already stated his intentions to play Denorfia in right field against left-handed pitching, which is more or less the only role Romero has performed, quite terribly, this season. That leaves Chavez on the roster with little playing time, though he may still get starts in right against right-handed pitching, at least until Michael Saunders returns. There's a sleeper reason for Romero's potential survival on the roster -- with Willie Bloomquist on the disabled list, Chris Taylor/Brad Miller are the only backup infielders. It's possible that Romero could be kept over Chavez as an emergency third baseman, where he's spent scattered time playing over his minor league career (mostly second base). It seems doubtful that they'd kick a veteran to the curb for an emergency infielder for a few weeks, though. For now, Brad Miller seems like a lock to survive.
After Saunders completes his rehab assignment, assuming everyone else is healthy, it'll be the end of the road for one of Endy Chavez, Corey Hart, or Logan Morrison. This is the move I'm most interested by, as the Mariners will have to decide whether to cut Chavez, left without any role, Morrison, struggling hard but manning first base, or Corey Hart, who clearly cannot play right field with any regularity and has been very bad at the plate. Hart is hanging on for now, but he's been finding playing time in right field recently, something that will probably start to go away with Denorfia around, and definitely go away with Saunders back in the fold. Morales will continue to hog all of the DH plate appearances, and unless Morrison heads down to Tacoma, Hart is left without anywhere to play. The Mariners can shuffle things around to make any two of these three get some playing time, but only one of them is going to have a clearly defined role.
That's a decision they won't have to make until next week, but shortly after, Willie Bloomquist will return from the disabled list, bumping yet another player off the roster. This is when, barring another injury, a DFA is probable, unless one of Chris Taylor/Brad Miller has ran away with the shortstop job, which is possible. Looking two weeks forward, it's nearly impossible to see where Endy Chavez and Corey Hart fit on this roster, there's simply no more room for them. Chavez is an easy DFA, as he'll likely slide right through waivers and end up on Tacoma's roster. Hart is more difficult, but he hasn't looked anywhere close to right in months, and if he hasn't shown signs of waking up by mid-August, cutting his season short won't be that difficult of a decision.
Since the Mariners were able to skip the #5 spot in the rotation this time around, they've been carrying an 8-man bullpen. Once James Paxton returns, presumably, they'll choose to send down a reliever to AAA. This is going to be really interesting, as there's no obvious candidates. Charlie Furbush has been the least effective, but that would leave Joe Beimel as the only lefty. Dominic Leone has the least experience but still has excellent numbers, Yoervis Medina has probably earned himself enough rope because of his track record, and Brandon Maurer has simply been too dominant to consider sending back down. Tom Wilhelmsen has settled into a crucial long-relief role, and it's hard to see Danny Farquhar going down, either. Rodney rounds out the eighth spot in the bullpen.
I'll be honest, I really don't know what the Mariners will do here. If it were up to me, I'd send Medina back to AAA, but I don't think it'll happen. My guess is Leone will get the boot, given that he's the least experienced and hasn't been quite as effective over the past few months. Leone has a 2.27 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and is striking out 9.9 K/9, and he might go back to Tacoma. That's crazy. It speaks to how incredibly deep the Mariners bullpen is, and why they chose to ship out two Tacoma relievers at the deadline.
Outfield playing time:
This should be fairly simple if we assume some of the predictions above will come true. Dustin Ackley starts every day in left field, Austin Jackson starts every day in center field, and for now, Chris Denorfia plays a lot in right field, eventually moving to a platoon role when Michael Saunders returns. Depending on what happens with Corey Hart/Logan Morrison, Saunders may also get some at-bats at DH. It's actually kind of hard to find playing time for Denorfia once Saunders comes back, and that's awesome. As long as Dustin Ackley keeps hitting, a lack of playing time for Denorfia is a very good problem to have.