The Tacoma Rainiers season comes to an end on September 1st, the same day as roster expansion. At 71-66, the Rainiers sit third in their division, five games back from the first place Sacramento River Cats. Unless the Rainiers somehow climb in the playoffs in the final seven games, there won't be any reason to hold players back, and the Mariners could benefit from roster expansion for what could be a taxing final month of September.
The Mariners have shuttled a bunch of players up and down from Tacoma this year, and some of them could play fairly decent role on the M's during the stretch run. For today, let's examine which hitters are likely to come up, and what to expect from them.
Hart is on a rehab assignment right now, but he seems likely to remain there until roster expansion, given that the Mariners simply don't have room for him right now and Hart has mostly been terrible. Because he's already getting paid a major league salary, Hart will be back but probably in more of a mentoring role, as the recent play of Logan Morrison and Kendrys Morales has left him without a job. Hart has probably missed enough time to be well under his playing time incentives, but that might be a factor as well -- those specific milestones were never released. It's clear his body isn't right this year, so Hart's contributions should be few and far between the rest of the year -- maybe occasional spot starts against lefties or pinch hitting opportunities, if that.
Remember all the waiting, the teasing, the shots to the warning track, the crushing disappointment and apathy that Justin Smoak spawned about the Mariners offense, or Seattle baseball in general? The best thing that's resulted from the Mariners being a good baseball is leaving mediocrity in the past, as this team is full of new faces on offense. When we look back on the dark days of Z's early regime, Justin Smoak may be most representative of busted prospects and flailing stopgaps. But he'll almost certainly be back next week, and the Mariners could find ways to use him.
Smoak is a defensive upgrade at first, so even if he's used as a late-inning replacement, he'll have some small value there. He's also still a better hitter than Endy Chavez, and the Mariners have started Chavez at DH 12 different times. Smoak has done about what you'd expect in in Tacoma, .321/.405/.487 with six home runs in 222 PA, and he's been on fire over the last two weeks. He'll get a small opportunity to return value, but any hopes of him coming back in to take a major role on this team should probably be squashed. The M's have moved on and so have I, temptress. I will not respond to the siren calls of Justin Smoak I will not respond to the siren calls of Justin Smoak I will not respond to the siren calls of Justin Smoak I will not respond to the siren calls of Justin Smoak
Saunders should have been up before rosters expand, but a few things have gotten in the way. Saunders has had a long road back from his oblique injury, taking time away for paternity leave, resuming his rehab, and now a viral infection has forced the Mariners to pull Saunders off his rehab, meaning he can't return to Tacoma for five days, as of the 24th. He'll return for the last four games of Tacoma's season, and will slide right back into a regular starting role in right field with the Mariners when he returns, mostly at the expense of Endy Chavez.
Jones is really the quintessential September roster expansion guy for a playoff contender, and that's awesome. For years we've all watched the Mariners try to win meaningless games in September, only to see other teams use pinch running specialists in late innings to run all over worn and defeated Mariner relievers. This time, Jones gets to have some fun. His role should be exclusively pinch running in a crowded outfield, and he's not going to steal starts away from Dustin Ackley or Austin Jackson. He might get a start or two in right field, but a more likely scenario probably moves Logan Morrison to right when Saunders needs a day off with Smoak, Morales, or Hart at first base.
Thinking about Jones entering games in the 9th inning to pinch run for Kendrys Morales is such an actual, tangible, game-changing swap that I can barely stomach my excitement. While Jones has fallen off the table at the plate and on the field, his baserunning ability has been a wonderful surprise, especially his stolen base efficiency. I imagine he'll get the green light early and often during his September vacation, and if not, he'll still be a major distraction for pitchers to keep track of.
As Connor detailed yesterday, Romero has been on fire over the last few weeks with Tacoma, but he's unlikely to see much playing time if recalled. It's too late in the year to wait for players to break out against higher competition, and while an extended role on this year's team probably earns Romero a promotion and inflated monthly paycheck, he shouldn't see much playing time. Romero could also be an emergency backup infielder, though he hasn't played hardly any second or third base since 2012.
The Mariners haven't shown any willingness to reward Montero for his quality year in Tacoma, and I don't know if they'll see a reason to now either. Montero would get few, if any, opportunities to play given his position limitations, and the Mariners might seem content to let him take what's essentially an entire year off to mature and come back in shape next season. Even though he's on the 40-man, I'm not so sure we'll see him. Call it a coin flip.
Choi embarrassed the organization with a mid-season 50-game PED suspension, and we saw what the Mariners did to Jesus Montero this year after he did the same to them last year -- buried him in AAA all year long. Plus, there's nowhere to Choi to play, and he hasn't earned a promotion -- Choi has hit just .282/.376/.359 this year while playing first and left field, and his former sleeper prospect status has come to a screeching halt. Choi has hit well over the past few weeks, but it would be a big surprise if the Mariners rewarded him for what he's done this year.
If there's ever a chance we'll see Ty Kelly, it's now. Willie Bloomquist is out for the year, and the Mariners have spent weeks now without a true backup third baseman on the roster. Kyle Seager has played every single day, but with rosters expanding, the Mariners are going to want another backup infielder. While Kelly won't turn any heads with his glove, he's still played both second and third with regularity this year, and is wrapping up a solid campaign built around his legendary plate patience, walking 82 times in 523 PA. Kelly can take a spot on the 40-man by shifting Bloomquist to the 60-day DL. This might be the only legit chance Kelly gets to return any value to the Mariners. It's a long shot.
Quintero isn't on the 40-man roster either, but a lot of teams like to carry three catchers through September to help lighten the load. Quintero's had a pretty decent year in Tacoma, but the 40-man crunch might prove difficult. He's another guy who could come up if the Mariners decide to free up a spot on the 40-man by putting Bloomquist on the 60-day DL.