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Mariners slip Kristopher Negrón through waivers, Opening Day roster coming into focus

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The most surprising member of the 40-man finally slips through waivers.

MLB: Spring Training-San Diego Padres at Seattle Mariners Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners 40-man roster has been relatively settled for the last couple weeks, but Seattle took this moment to slip a veteran UTIL through waivers. In so doing, they answered the question about the utility spot, and opened a spot for a fill-in or another move in the wake of Kyle Seager’s hand injury.

Kristopher Negrón has been the Clarence Terhune of the Mariners 40-man, surprisingly sustaining a spot all winter at age-33 despite a slim track record of production at the plate. Negrón has drawn positive reviews as a fielder across the diamond and is an asset as a baserunner, but seems better-suited for being a solid bat and veteran presence in Tacoma’s lineup than Seattle’s bench. That means Dylan Moore has all but guaranteed his spot on the Japan roster, and should carry the UTIL role forward into the rest of the season.

This move also helps us further crystallize the Opening Day roster. We’ve gotten reports throughout the week on a few injuries, but it sounds like Gerson Bautista and Mallex Smith will not travel, while Seager’s injury will likely be replaced with Ryon Healy at the hot corner. A Healy-Beckham-Gordon-Vogelbach/Encarnación infield defense might send a shiver up even Perry Hill’s spine. Negrón’s DFA opens a spot for Ichiro to be added to the 40-man as well, and how he’ll be handled will impact the way the lineups shake out. With 28 available players to begin the season, Seattle will likely look like this to open the year:

Original table from Baseball Reference

15 pitchers and 13 position players seems likeliest, unless the M’s choose to add a catcher or extra infielder with the spot they’ll get by placing Sam Tuivailala on the 60-day IL. As it stands, every pitcher whose name does NOT have a note on their remaining option years is believed to be out of options, meaning Seattle may have a tough choice when they have to pare down to 25 by the end of March. Just Altavilla, Bradford, and Festa can be demoted without exposure to waivers, along with Bautista, who may get an extended opportunity to rehab from his pectoral strain. Altavilla and Festa are two of the more interesting bullpen arms on the 40-man, while Bradford was plenty capable last year. It could be challenging if the team is forced to demote a superior player to keep one of their veteran bounce-backs.

On the position player end, there’s less drama. Probably. Ichiro will likely return to a Special Assistant role or something to that effect following the Japan trip, and the roster will remain as-is when the M’s make their home debut against the Red Sox. Mallex Smith may return, bumping Braden Bishop to Tacoma, but the rest of the lineup looks solidified. By the time Kyle Seager returns, possibly in May or June, J.P. Crawford may have already been called up, Jay Bruce or Edwin Encarnación may have been dealt, and/or the Healy/Vogelbach logjam may have finally settled itself.

There’s plenty of optimism worth having for the future, but with the injuries to Mallex and Kyle, and the bevy of unknowns in the bullpen, this will likely be the shakiest Opening Day lineup since 2013. Come May, however, the sun may begin to shine.