One of the big roster stories of the Cactus League has been which of Jesus Montero, Dae-Ho Lee, and, apparently, for some reason, Stefen Romero will break camp with the team on Opening Day. If you want to judge it purely on spring stats Romero is the clear frontrunner. But if you're making roster decisions based on a few dozen Spring Training at-bats you don't work for the Mariners. You also don't read Lookout Landing.
For weeks the common perception has been that Lee holds the inside track, due to a combination of his track record in Japan, his experience, booming power, relative skill at first base, and the continued poor performance of Jesus Montero. Now, with Lee having an opt out in his contract that kicks in tomorrow he and the Mariners will have some decisions to make.
It seems cruel to have Jesus rise from the dead only to be immediately sent to Tacoma, however there are already rumors swirling that the once elite prospect has cleared waivers and will be assigned to the Mariners AAA team. If true, it not only serves as a sobering chapter in Montero's attempt to right his life and save his career, but a cold dash of water on anyone hoping he might net an intriguing relief arm in trade. If something seems obvious to us, it's most likely common knowledge among baseball teams, and Jesus Montero hasn't looked like a major league player for years, if ever. When I asked a member of the front office for confirmation of Montero's status with the team I received a brief, concise, "not good".
Ostensibly this leaves the decision between Dae-Ho Lee and Stefen Romero. Now, Lee has proven nothing, either in major league baseball or for the Mariners. Stefen Romero has also not proven anything in his career to this point, although he's gotten far closer to it than Lee has. Unfortunately for Romero what he's close to proving is that he's not very good. A 27 year old with a 56 wRC+ in MLB and minimal defensive value is an extreme longshot to develop into a useful player. Coupled with the ability to stash Romero in Tacoma for depth and the decision seems to strongly favor Lee as the Mariners Opening Day right-handed first baseman.
While Lee's performance in a Mariner uniform has done little to make him appear to be a league average player the lack of better options, and his ability to opt out of his deal if he believes he is unlikely to break camp with the team, makes him probably the correct choice. I won't be surprised if the Mariners have a different right-handed first baseman by the end of 2016, but if they're any good I'll be shocked if it's Stefen Romero or Jesus Montero. We'll find out tomorrow.