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The impending lefty battle in the Mariners' bullpen

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In order to replicate their successful 2014 relief numbers, the Mariners have some decisions to make about the final arm out of the bullpen.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, the Mariners' recent signing of Rickie Weeks has complicated what seemed like a fairly set roster entering spring training next week. Position battles once centered around starting roles will now be sending losers to the minors, additional roster cuts are bound to be made, and as Scott mentioned in the hours following the news itself, the M's bullpen is now all but guaranteed to be a seven-man rotation.

Which is fine, really. The Mariners remain relatively deep with bullpen arms at their top two levels, and with impending injuries and single-day roster shuffling during the season, they should be able to take advantage of their depth without sacrificing roster flexibility underneath Edgar's Cantina. Still, this extra body on the bench makes life much more difficult for players vying for the second lefty bullpen spot, which should now prove itself to be one of the more interesting battles during this year's spring games.

The weirdest thing about this is that the battle really is probably all over one single position. That has to be a bit of a bummer for right-handed NRIs like Mark Lowe and Justin Germano, both of whom will probably be spending their summers in Tacoma or jumping around Peoria clubhouses without ever really unpacking their bags. That's because the Mariners' efficient 2014 bullpen wasn't only one of the best in the league--it was also (and still is) composed mainly of young, affordable, good arms under team control.

Think about this for a second: the Dodgers are paying Brandon League almost $10 million dollars to trot out a 5.43 K/9 next season. The Reds have $13.4 million dollars tied up in two relievers. Even if Tom Wilhelmsen wins his pending arbitration case next week, the Mariners' entire bullpen will cost around $12.5 million dollars. Yes, the bullpen is just about set, and it feels safe to assume that six of the arms currently on the roster are all but guaranteed to break camp this April, pending trades or unforeseen injuries:

  1. Fernando Rodney
  2. Tom Wilhelmsen
  3. Charlie Furbush
  4. Danny Farquhar
  5. Yoervis Medina
  6. Dominic Leone
With Charlie Furbush as the only southpaw of the group, Lloyd's going to have to pull one more lefty arm out of the ether if he wants to go forward with his preferred two-LHP rotation this year. So who do we have in the tank to look forward to?

1. David Rollins

The Mariners snagged David Rollins from the Houston Astros in December's Rule 5 draft, and he'll have to spend every single day of the 2015 MLB season on the big-league roster in order for the club to keep him around. That isn't reason enough to hold onto a roster spot on a club that fancies itself as a playoff contender, but it seems pretty clear the Mariners are high on the guy, and he probably has the best shot of breaking camp with the team if he can perform at the same level he has in the past. Rollins owns a 95 MPH fastball from the left side, and the 25-year old lefty has averaged around a 9.0 K/9 as a starter in four minor league seasons. It wasn't enough to win over Astros fans at Crawfish Boxes, but then again, maybe his new future as a reliever will be the make-or-break between what has been and what could be.

Rule 5 picks are always weird, and you should remember that the M's got Lucas Luetge through the exact same process ahead of the 2012 season. Rollins doesn't have the job by any means, but you know, that's some of his strongest competition. Do with it what you will.

2. Lucas Luetge

Luetge has remained insurance for the M's following his Rule 5 season in 2012, but has failed to put up consistent numbers in sporadic playing time between Tacoma and Seattle. He only pitched in 12 games in 2014 while the M's trotted out Joe Beimel in his place, but remains on the 40-man roster going into 2015. I ate a bagel this morning without cream cheese, and it was kind of gross but it went down fine. I don't know why I did that. I probably won't do that tomorrow morning.

3. Rafael Perez

The Mariners just signed Perez to a minor-league deal on Thursday, coming off a year that saw him splitting time between the Rangers and Pirates systems and the Mexican league. He hasn't appeared in the majors since 2012, but the 32 year old was once called "the best left handed reliever on the planet" by Peter Gammons, which is one of the weirdest sentences I have ever typed on this website in my life.

Perez started to run into this awful thing that happens when the human body is forced to reconcile with the fact that people aren't supposed to throw baseballs 90+ miles an hour, and then he had to get shoulder surgery after the 2012 season to return to Gammons' idealized version of him. Unfortunately, that didn't happen...yet:

perez velo

Still, Perez has been ramping up his approach in the minors and international leagues, and seems by all accounts a typical, safe bet for a minor league deal this spring a la Joe Beimel. You have to be curious about the timing however--the M's signed Perez only a day before announcing the addition of Rickie Weeks...which lost them one Edgar Olmos...who was supposed to vie for the second lefty job in the bullpen. Perez, Luetge, and Rollins seem the safest bets for the job pending additional roster moves, and to be fair, Perez probably replaced Olmos with the drop of a hat last week. Onward and upward.

4. Joe Beimel

The Mariners continue to speak diplomatically about Beimel, not ruling out a return or a break as spring inches closer and closer. But roster moves do speak a language of their own. Here's Shannon Drayer:

You have to have the feeling that the Mariners wanted to offer Beimel a minor league deal like last season, putting him in the mix to compete for his old job with the rest of the players mentioned in this article. Beimel is probably holding out for a safer contract, and as a relatively serviceable lefty with some gas left in the tank, he should be able to find work somewhere in the league. It's just not happening here.

5. Another righty, or someone else

The Mariners are going to break camp with two lefties, but that doesn't mean that each of those six aforementioned bullpen arms are absolutely guaranteed a job coming out of the spring. If you recall, Tacoma closer Carson Smith spent last September with the M's, and could be an option sooner rather than later. Erasmo is out of options, so the M's would only be able to store him in the pen if they wanted to keep him around, but let's be honest. The Mariners recently traded for former Giants LH reliever Mike Kickham, but he's been mostly starting in the minors as of late, and Tacoma needs some fun too.

My money is on Rollins breaking camp this spring, as long as he doesn't shit the bed in Spring Training. You can still store Luetge in the minors for injury, where he'll be spending some time with Kickham as an insurance partner or just as a warm body. Still, it will be fun to see which of these guys does something special this spring, because in any case, somebody is going to have to be sitting in sunflower seeds on the corner of the metal bench behind left field this spring. And when you put it that way, boy it doesn't sound fun at all, does it?