With Tony Zych hitting the DL yesterday, it was encouraging to know that deadline acquisition David Phelps was returning imminently. Phelps is an excellent reliever, and immediately is one of the two or three best options in the bullpen. It is unquestionable that the Mariners are stronger and we should be thrilled to see him return. Today he is back, but the spot he’s taking is surprising to say the least.
Mariners activate reliever David Phelps off DL and DFA OF Leonys Martin, who hit .230/.266/.462 with 3 HR, 8 RBI in 19G since recall.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) August 23, 2017
Leonys Martín was atrocious this spring, and honestly it’s astonishing he’s dug himself out of the hole he placed himself in. He’s still not hitting all that well, but when you are fast-yes-very-fast and play brilliant defense you can make up for a lot. His 78 wRC+ since returning turns no heads but it does put him within the realm of reasonable combined with his other skills. With that said, yes, Martín is likely the most replaceable position player on the roster, especially if Jarrod Dyson returns healthy in seven days. Phelps was only on the 10-day DL, meaning no 40-man roster spot needed to be cleared for his return, only a 25-man, making this move more peculiar.
What Leonys isn’t is eligible for demotion without designating him for assignment and giving 29 other teams a shot at claiming him. The first time the Mariners rolled these dice Martín had a -18 wRC+ and a .111/.172/.130 line. Seeing Martín healthily and successfully return may have a team taking a gamble on Leonys and his $4.85 million contract, with one more year of arbitration remaining. Perhaps that’s intended, as a calculated risk for the team to shed some salary for next year or retain a player that certainly still has MLB value. It still seems like a peculiar risk when Taylor Motter is able to be demoted and recalled at will, and just eight days remain until the rosters expand for good.
The M’s are left with three healthy full outfielders now in Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger, along with Taylor Motter and Danny Valencia. It’s not nightmarish by any stretch, but it’s playing unnecessarily fast and loose with your assets. This also signals the return of the 8-man bullpen, which is pretty much a necessity at this point considering the Mariners cannot count on a single one of their starters to make it past the fifth inning. The cost may be Leonys, however, and that would leave a pretty bad taste in the mouth of this already snakebitten season.