For the majority of 2014, the Mariners had eight relievers to call on in the bullpen. With a young back end of the rotation and a number of injuries to start the season, that extra reliever saw a significant amount of work and allowed Lloyd McClendon to keep his starters fresh long into the dog days of summer.
The obvious downside to keeping an extra reliever with the major league club is a shortened bench. With the backup catcher holding one spot, that left two spots on the bench. Logan Morrison, Willie Bloomquist, Endy Chavez, Stefen Romero, Chris Denorfia, and Cole Gillespie all took shifts on the bench for the Mariners. These players saw the majority of their time in the outfield as center field and right field were revolving doors last year. The Mariners' infielders also enjoyed great health last year allowing McClendon to leave a backup infielder off the active roster for parts of the year.
With less than two weeks left until Spring Training starts, one of the unresolved questions facing the Mariners is whether or not they'll carry seven or eight relievers on the active roster. I briefly touched on this question when I took a look at Erasmo Ramirez's situation. With six spots in the bullpen guaranteed to contributors from last year, the seventh man has three candidates: Carson Smith, a second lefty, or a long man/spot starter. If McClendon wanted two of those options in his bullpen this year, he'd have to add an eighth man to the bullpen.
Keeping an eight man bullpen might be harder this year than it was last year. Because of the platoon in right field, the Mariners are locked into keeping Justin Ruggiano as their fourth outfielder and platoon partner for Seth Smith. That would leave one spot on the bench for a backup infielder or another outfielder. As the roster is currently constructed, the last spot on the bench will probably go to Willie Bloomquist. His flexibility allows McClendon to use him as both a backup infielder and outfielder.
Using Bloomquist in any role certainly isn't ideal since there are other in-house options that could take his spot and produce more value. The Mariners are going to be paying him $3 million this year, and even though that isn't huge percentage of the total payroll, it's still a non-insignificant amount that I don't think the Mariners will eat by cutting him. There had been some talk of using Brad Miller in Bloomquist's super-utility role, but at this point, it's just speculation. Everything that Jack Zduriencik and Lloyd McClendon have said this offseason point to a true competition between Miller and Chris Taylor for the starting shortstop position.
Since both Miller and Taylor both have minor league option years remaining, another option would be to use the 25th spot on the roster as a rotating position based on need. Most of the other candidates for that spot (Jesus Montero, Carson Smith, Edgar Olmos, etc.) also have option years remaining. The Mariners would be able to keep both Erasmo Ramirez and Willie Bloomquist while shaping the roster to best fit whatever situation the team finds itself in. If the Mariners are facing a long stretch of games without a day off (like the last two weeks of May)? Call up an extra reliever to make sure your starters are fresh through the long stretch. Is there a six-game homestand bracketed by two days off coming up (like the second weekend in April)? Call up Chris Taylor or Jesus Montero to be used as a defensive replacement or late-game pinch hitter.
The reality will probably look something like this flex option mixed with keeping an extra reliever for an extended period of time. The Mariners' schedule in May and June is particularly brutal with a twenty-game stretch followed by another sixteen games straight. Injuries will inevitably occur and the roster should never be static. Things will change and circumstances will force the front office to make difficult decisions. But knowing Lloyd McClendon's desire to keep his players fresh during the long and grueling season, keeping an eighth reliever during these long stretches makes the most sense.