The starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners is far from set as the team gets ready to start spring training for the 2013 season.
Would it be a stretch to suggest that only two spots are assured at this point?
Felix Hernandez. Ace. Top of the rotation. In process of signing huge long-term deal. Check.
Hisashi Iwakuma. Signed two-year deal. Probable second or third, depending on other performances. Check.
Joe Saunders. One year-deal. Represents veteran experience, though there are no guarantees. Check?
Beyond that? Take your pick. Blake Beavan. Erasmo Ramirez. Hector Noesi. Jeremy Bonderman. Taijuan Walker. James Paxton. Danny Hultzen. Brandon Maurer.
Now you can add Jon Garland to the mix, as tweeted by Geoff Baker.
Jon Garland agrees to minor league deal with Mariners. Invite to ST. Will take physical in Peoria next week.— Geoff Baker (@gbakermariners) February 9, 2013
Which of these pitchers is most likely to make the rotation?
For those of you scoring at home, that is nine pitchers for two spots, and there could theoretically be more. Who will be the odd men out?
This really could be a sort of open tryout for those spots. Seattle currently has a penciled-in depth chart, but that could be completely negotiable.
There are positives and negatives to every one of these pitchers.
Blake Beavan is currently listed in the rotation, but he will arguably need to pitch well in order to keep that spot. His consistently high ERA and his propensity to give up the long ball have some wondering if he has reached his ceiling or if he is poised for a breakout year.
Erasmo Ramirez looked good in September, but he will also be auditioning for his spot in the rotation. Obviously the Mariners like what they see in Ramirez, but the youngster has a very limited body of work. He could theoretically lose his job in Arizona.
Hector Noesi seems destined for the minors unless he puts together an impressive spring. The add-on to the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade was dreadful in 2012, which means that he will need a rebound performance in order to stay on the roster.
Jeremy Bonderman and Jon Garland bring veteran savvy to a staff that could probably use some experience. Unfortunately, Garland has not pitched since 2011 and Bonderman has not thrown since 2010. Therefore, “veteran savvy” might be a nice way of suggesting that both are barely hanging on. Both will either have to pitch very well in Arizona or win jobs by default if no one else steps up.
At the risk of lumping the rest into one group, there is a common theme with the highly-touted youngsters. Now is the time where we see which players are ready, close to ready or need another year or two of seasoning. Will there be a breakout performance? You have to suspect that Seattle would love to see a Taijuan Walker step up, dazzle and win a spot in the rotation.
Still, there will be caution about rushing the young arms. This is why guys like Bonderman and Garland are in camp. The veterans may represent the future for this team, but they might serve as placeholders until the young arms are ready. At the risk of being insensitive, the veterans are a bit more expendable at this point.
A more conservative rotation probably looks like this:
Hernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Beavan/Ramirez, Garland
However, what happens if the young pitchers look really good? The rotation might then look like this:
Hernandez, Iwakuma, Saunders, Walker, Hultzen
Is the future upon us? Or will this be a conservative rotation that is filled in with uninspiring but semi-reliable experience?
Let the tryouts begin.