Is it me, or does the situation involving the Seattle Mariners' starting rotation seem more confusing today than it did last week?
You would think that sending off most of the team's young pitching prospects would help clarify a few things, but instead, hearsay and conjecture are running rampant—depending on who you believe.
Lost in the wave of home runs, young prospects and Felix Hernandez's contract extension this spring is the fact that, behind Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, the back half of the M's starting rotation appears to be a three-part question with no real answers.
Beyond the loose assumption that veteran Joe Saunders will likely lock down a spot (again, depending on who you believe) the final two spots in the rotation could go to roughly five different hurlers.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be such a problem with two weeks of spring training left to go. However, it seems that one player in the mix might require the team to make a decision on his status within this week.
According to the Seattle Times' Geoff Baker, the M's will probably need to decide on Jon Garland soon:
Sources have said veteran starter Jon Garland has a contractual clause that will enable him to leave the Mariners as a free agent late next week if he is not assured of making the club. Such clauses can be standard for veterans on the bubble.
Garland has attracted interest from other teams, so the existence of such a clause would force the Mariners to decide on him well in advance of the end of camp.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge confirmed after Saturday's game—without divulging any player names—that contractual issues will force the team to make some rotation decisions well before camp ends.
After reading that, my initial impulse was to let him go.
Between Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Maurer, two pitchers should be more than capable of filling the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation.
In fact, hasn't Ramirez looked especially good this spring?
USSMariner.com's Marc W. cast his vote for Erasmo Ramirez in stating:
Erasmo Ramirez has clearly—clearly—earned the rotation spot based on his work down the stretch last year, and he’s done nothing this spring to indicate that his performance was a fluke.
Might he regress? Sure. His K rate exceeded his minor league rate (not his MLE, but his raw K rate in the minors) and his walk rate dropped. But so what? Regress it and you’ve still got a very very good starter. His home run rate could increase too, but it’d still be better than Beavan’s, and it would quite likely be better than Garland’s, even if Garland’s “back” from his shoulder woes. Erasmo’s quite good, and the M’s could use a good pitcher to slot in behind Felix and Iwakuma.
It's hard right now to argue with any of these points, especially with lefty Joe Saunders looking a little rough around the edges.
But is Ramirez ready to take on the workload?
You know Erasmo Ramirez, no matter how good he is, won’t throw you 200 innings this year. The team won’t let him do that to his arm. But with Garland, you don’t care and he doesn’t either. He’s had his career, as he’ll tell you. Ride his arm until it falls off. And that opt-out deal? That’s a big factor. Because it means, if you aren’t willing to wait for him to improve, there are other teams maybe with a bit more patience that will and you might wind up regretting it. Ramirez is yours for a long, long time. Garland isn’t.
Couldn't the same argument be put forth for Brandon Maurer as well?
Maurer has been a pleasant surprise thus far, yet it would appear that he's still too young to give you the innings you need at this point over the course of the season.
So, in effect, are we left with Blake Beavan and Jeremy Bonderman at No. 4 and No. 5?
In fairness to Beavan, he looked solid on Sunday (via the Seattle Times). At the same time, his situation reminds me a lot of former Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson last year at training camp.
Fair or not, it's hard to get too excited about his performance, because we are already so familiar with his work. In essence, Beavan is serviceable as a guy who can eat innings, but it's unlikely he will ever be great.
On the other side of the coin, his familiarity could help his cause, provided he suffers no major setbacks. Based on what we've seen, I think he grabs one of the two final spots.
But what about Bonderman?
I believe he holds the key to Garland's future. In a battle of rusty old men, Garland seems to have the edge on Bonderman and leaves me to ponder, "Why not keep Garland and see how he progresses?"
Yet, is it possible that Bonderman will come around over the next few weeks, with a little time and patience?
It's a tough choice, one I'm glad I don't have to make today. Having to choose either veteran at this point could have serious ramifications for this season, but what about the long term?
Fact is, the odds of Garland or Bonderman being here next season are slim to none.
Meanwhile, the M's have two promising young pitchers still in camp (Ramirez and Maurer) and the "Big Three" of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton waiting in the wings.
Perhaps these pitchers aren't ready quite yet, but when is the right time going to come? When are we going to put these young men to the test?
If the M's opt to keep either Garland or Bonderman and let them throw until their arms fall off in the quest for a Wild Card or mere relevance, that's fine. But what happens when they do fall apart? Are we going to continue hearing stories about how the M's can't or shouldn't bring up anybody and the need to limit innings while coddling these prospects?
At some point the team needs to take a chance.
I'm not saying the M's need to throw Erasmo Ramirez to the wolves, but if he's legitimately ready, then let's get on with it...at least, that's what my heart says.
However, in the back of my mind, I think manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik want to keep their jobs and, therefore, will keep Garland until his arm falls off.
Of course, you never know with the Mariners. But once again I believe the future will have to wait.