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Apart from Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, there is nothing certain about the 2012 rotation right now. That needs to change before Spring Training gets underway.
I hope Jack Z doesn't decide to trade Jason Vargas because I think Vargas is the perfect middle-of-the-rotation pitcher for the M's. He's not ace material, but the Mariners aren't the Philadelphia Phillies—there's no Phantastic Phour here.
Vargas doesn't keep his ERA as low as Felix or Pineda, but he stays late into games and works through at-bats efficiently. He wouldn't fetch a great trade value since he isn't sensational, but he's also in just his second year of arbitration, so the Mariners have control over him for a few more years.
Danny Hultzen is obviously another huge name that comes up when we talk about the 2012 rotation. I've said it a number of times, but I'm confident that Jack Z wants to get Hultzen into the five spot from the get-go—he drafted Hultzen (as a junior in college) for major league-readiness.
Hultzen is already pitching well in offseason leagues, so with some more adaption time during Spring Training, I don't see why he couldn't take the fifth start of the Mariners' season. If he proves he can stay, Jack Z will have a wicked threat: The Big Three.
That leaves one more spot. At the end of the 2011 season, we saw Anthony Vasquez, Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan. Personally, I have trouble getting very excited about any of them. Although they're still young, they may've missed their chances.
There's a quick pace with Mariners pitching prospects right now, so a small look may be all anyone gets. Taijuan Walker, Mauricio Robles and James Paxton all have call-ups in the relatively near future, and any of them could earn a starting spot within the next three years.
Currently, however, it's James Paxton who has the lead in that race. He had a great season in Double-A last year, and he owns a blazing fastball that was clocked up to 98 mph.
My proposed solution to the current conundrum: Felix, Pineda, Vargas, Paxton, Hultzen.