The offensive eruption of Taylor Motter has been lifesaving for the Mariners over the past couple weeks as they’ve had to overcome offensive slumps from several of their expected contributors and shaky bullpen work. The first two weeks or so of the season were marked by just two position players performing. One is Mitch Haniger: current Rookie of the Year front-runner. The other returns today.
#Mariners confirm UTL Mike Freeman optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. Clears space for SS Jean Segura to return Tuesday from disabled list.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) April 24, 2017
Jean Segura has healed from his hamstring strain and will retake his position as the team’s starting shortstop. Segura posted a 123 wRC+ with a .313/.353/.406 line before missing the last 12 games with injury. The lineup will undoubtedly benefit from his return to the leadoff spot, as allowing Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia to work lower in the order is appropriate for their solid but somewhat flawed skill-sets. His return puts the Mariners in an interesting position relating to roster construction.
Motter has played well enough to deserve consistent play. Lucky for him and the Mariners, positions 1-9 on the lineup card are available, as the Mariners’ emergency catcher has only yet to play catcher and center field in the first 50 games of his MLB career. Beyond his initial utility role, Motter could see more time in the outfield, particularly spelling Dyson against left-handed pitching, as well as pinch-hitting/running and playing first base. First base then becomes an issue, of course, as the M’s currently have Daniel Vogelbach and Danny Valencia rostered. Valencia can get by without disaster at third base. He can play corner outfield as well, where he would benefit from having one of Seattle’s rangy outfielders to cover some of his deficiencies. He has also been the sixth-worst hitter in the league by wRC+ this year, which makes him wholly unappealing at the moment. Vogelbach can only play first and he’s not likely to outhit Nelson Cruz, meaning Motter will either be an overqualified sub or starting at the expense of versatility on the bench. With Mike Freeman being sent down, a lineup where Motter started at first base would result in a bench of Valencia, Vogelbach, and Carlos Ruiz.
It’s not the worst problem to have - a guy hitting so well you don’t want to take him out of the lineup when another excellent player returns to health - but it’s a tricky situation. The determination of the Mariners to stick with an 8-man bullpen is interesting. 17/30 teams in the MLB (56.6%) currently are running with an 8-man pen, so it’s not as though it’s a particularly outside the box concept. JJ Keller made a strong case against this roster construction today. I’m ambivalent, to be sure.
There is value in having an extra level of safeguarding when your rotation is as frail as the Mariners’ is. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how passable the rotation has been, but considering Hisashi Iwakuma’s fastball is consistently a velocity matching as hard as I once threw a pitch, leaning towards pitching depth over bench depth is understandable. The extra depth has not been utilized to a maximal capacity, however, as JJ notes, with none of the relievers even approaching what would be considered high levels of use. If Motter is going to see more playing time, the bench’s flexibility suffers even more from the commitment to the bullpen as well. Servais appears to be learning, and committed today to getting Edwin Díaz involved more often as a high-leverage pitcher, not just a closer. That type of thinking is encouraging, but doesn’t guarantee anything yet as it relates to better bullpen usage overall going forward.
Regardless of how many folks are in the bullpen, Jean Segura being at shortstop again makes the Mariners a better baseball team than they were yesterday. Can’t wait to see you again at Safeco, Jean. You say it best: