There are just eleven days left in spring training, and the opening day roster appears to be mostly set -- as far as position players go. The rotation is all but confirmed, as even though Lloyd McClendon won't quite admit Taijuan Walker has won the #5 starter job, it seems fairly evident Roenis Elias is heading back to AAA to stay stretched out as insurance, and what a luxury that will be. It's the bullpen that remains the biggest storyline remaining in spring training.
It's a wealth of riches for the Mariners, who simply have too many good candidates to cram into a seven-man bullpen. Otherwise, they have to hold onto two guys who might not otherwise make the bullpen, or they'll lose them. Rule 5 lefty David Rollins has impressed so much this spring that his long shot is now a threat, and before yesterday, Erasmo Ramirez had done well enough to give the Mariners pause about letting him go on waivers or trying to deal him for organizational filler.
Let's take a look at where things are as of right now.
Fernando Rodney (RHP, CL)
Danny Farquhar (RHP)
Tom Wilhelmsen (RHP)
Yoervis Medina (RHP)
Charlie Furbush (LHP)
These guys are in. Rodney is firmly entrenched as the closer for the second straight year, and he's prominently featured in a Mariners commercial. This has always been a tell when it comes to the opening day lineup, although that certainly isn't the case when July runs around -- several years ago, the Mariners had to start rolling old commercials after they dealt half the players from the yearly batch by the trade deadline. Not only is Rodney the star of his own commercial, but he's easily one of the team's best relievers, the inevitable rocky roads aside.
Furbush and Wilhelmsen also appear in a commercial this year, but that's not the reason they're safe -- despite Tom Wilhelmsen looking fairly miserable for long stretches last year (I, last April, called him broken), he still managed to post a 2.03 ERA (though his 3.68 FIP painted another story). Furbush, given the wealth of other possible future lefty options, isn't a lock for the year -- but he's done enough to return yet again.
Farquhar and Medina have enough of a track record to lock down another two spots, and even though watching Medina is an excruciatingly painful process sometimes, the results have remained effective. He was also a favorite of Lloyd McClendon in 2014, pitching in more setup situations than Mariner fans would have liked, especially when conceding them to Farquhar.
Almost definitely in:
Dominic Leone (RHP)
It's a testament to just how good the Mariner bullpen was last year, really. Leone combined his 2.17 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 2.81 SIERA, and 9.5 K/9 rate to put together an outstanding campaign -- one that would garner future closer suggestions in many other organizations -- and he's an inch short of being a lock for this year's bullpen.
On performance alone, he's in. The only hesitation here is a) he's yet to establish a career track record b) they can stash him and not lose other guys they otherwise would. There's a non-zero chance Leone ends up as the best reliever in the M's bullpen this year, but there's just a fraction of a chance the M's could send him down to make room for the two guys they might otherwise lose.
On the fringe:
David Rollins (Rule 5, LHP)
Carson Smith (RHP)
Assuming Leone is in, this is probably where the final spot sits. Smith flashed dominant ability in his late-season audition in 2014, posting an incredible 1.81 FIP without allowing a run over 8.1 innings. But he's had a rocky spring, and while that means just about nothing towards his regular season success, it's probably a factor when competing for a job. Even though his minor league career has been equally dominating, he looks like he may be a casualty of the numbers game.
Lloyd McClendon has spoken about his preference to have a bullpen with two lefties, and that's where David Rollins comes in. Snagged in the Rule 5 draft, Rollins has been the talk of camp, blazing in fastballs up to 95 mph with a 0.63 WHIP. He's been nothing short of dominant, but it's not the numbers that are impressing as much as the polish. Rollins has pitched all of six career innings in AAA, but his talent may be too much for the Mariners to let go back to the Astros. As a Rule 5 pick, the Mariners could always attempt to trade back for his rights after returning him, but after the buzz he's getting, don't expect that to happen. Last week Peter Gammons tweeted this, remarking that scouts in Houston are asking who evaluated Rollins, with the implication being they missed something here.
If Rollins is in, McClendon gets his second lefty, the Mariners get to stash a supremely talented reliever in AAA. If Rollins can't cut it against big league batters, Smith will likely be the first to get the call and no harm is done other than the innings Rollins torched.
The sad reality:
Erasmo Ramirez (RHP)
We all knew this day would come. It's not to say Erasmo hasn't had his chances, because they've been aplenty. But injuries and inconsistency have written this chapter before it was read, and now, in a year when the Mariners are trying to contend, they can't wait around for him any longer. While the idea of a long man isn't the worst thing in the world, there's just too much talent across the board for the M's to likely stash him. If they could ship Rollins down to AAA, Ramirez might actually have a chance. But unless there's a late injury in camp, it seems like the end of the line for Erasmo, who will face a new stage in his career in two weeks.
Erasmo is out of options, so the Mariners would have to pass him through waivers to try to get him down to AAA. This is the part of the season when every single player who's put on waivers gets a serious look, and Erasmo has flashed enough through his career to get picked up by somebody. It would be a huge upset if Ramirez actually slipped through waivers, which is why the Mariners will probably try to trade him before attempting to outright him. At this stage, don't expect much in return. Think organizational depth, or high-risk/mediocre-ceiling A-ball prospect.
I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see Erasmo settle in another organization and finally become the diminutive control-freak innings eater we all though he could once be. The stars needed to align for Erasmo to get a chance, and for the past two years, he was never able to capitalize in this organization. It's the worst part of the business -- letting somebody go you know has a lot of talent when your hand is forced. No regrets, but certainly some sadness.