Positional Battles: Politics Invade Bullpen

With three days left to make final roster decisions, Mike Hargrove has a tough job ahead of him. Deciding between Matt Thornton and George Sherrill and trying to find a role for Ryan Franklin in the bullpen, won't be easy.

But nothing in Seattle ever is.

If Thornton doesn't make the club, he has to pass through waivers before he can be assigned to the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Looks like Sherrill might be out of luck – literally.

Any other year in the past five or six seasons, Sherrill might have been a lock to make the roster, despite his inconsistent showing this spring. But due to the politics involved, the Memphis natve might start the season in Tacoma.

Matt Thornton's numbers aren't very good this spring, and coupled with his showing last season in the minors, hasn't had much success getting consistent outs. Command being his biggest problem, Thornton continues to struggle through outings.

While Sherrill has been somewhat sporadic this spring, he doesn't have the issue of throwing strikes that Thornton has had. There are times when Thornton can't get ahead in the count and goes 30 pitches deep, inning after inning. The six walks he has issued during Cactus League play don't even begin to tell the entire story. The 28-year-old is constantly pitching from behind in the count, and that isn't something many pitchers can get away with in the big leagues.

Sherrill's spring line isn't great. Five walks in nine innings is uncharacteristic of the 27-year-old, who walked just 18 batters in 74 innings split between Triple-A and the big leagues in 2004. His command hasn't been sharp, much like Thornton's, but he is rarely attemtping to fight back from 2-0 and 3-0 counts, walking runners into scoring position and battling himself, as much as the hitters, on the mound.

Last season, Thornton was 7-5 with a 5.20 ERA in 16 games in Tacoma. In 83 innings, the left-hander allowed 85 hits and 63 walks. Allowing that many baserunners is a nightmare for managers as they depend on relievers to keep the game in order.

Think about those totals – 148 baserunners in 83 innings, or nearly two per frame.

The M's are banking on Thornton finding the fountain of control and turning things around.

The alternative is losing Thornton, and the club isn't ready to risk the loss of a former first-round pick.

Ah, yes. Here are the politics involved.

Thornton was the club's first round choice in the 1998 draft. They have six years invested in him. They have paid him more than a million dollars in salary and bonuses. They aren't interested in throwing that away, just yet.

Anyone that has met Matt Thornton is rooting for him. Not just because he's a nice guy and plays for the Mariners, but because he is a good teammate and puts forth the required effort to get things done in the game.

But at some point, time will run out. And regardless of the fact that Thornton is likely to make the 25-man roster out of spring – and the fact that he is left-handed and throws 95 mph - the clock is still ticking on his baseball career.

There are very few signs that Thornton is going to miraculously find his control and become more than a marginal reliever. Sherrill has a history of throwing strikes.

Baseball is obviously not above political-style reasoning, and the reasons don't add up to make much sense.

I guess that falls in line with politics, in general.

Shiggy, Nellie and...

While either Thornton or Sherrill, or less likely, both, join Ron Villone and closer Eddie Guardado as the left-handed portion of the bullpen, veterans Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Jeff Nelson will be joined by J.J. Putz and Ryan Franklin as the right-handed half of the relief corps.

But, what about Julio Mateo?

If Sele is on the club, it's to start games for the Mariners, not serve as a long reliever. Therefore, the presence of Sele pushes Franklin into the bullpen.

Franklin's $2.4 million salary means he will make the team in some capacity. But if Franklin is moved to the bullpen, there isn't room for Julio Mateo.

Here again, politics have become the deciding factor. If both Franklin and Mateo were each paid salaries barely more than the league minimum, Franklin might be out of a job.

The nearly two million bucks in salary difference might make for an interesting final few days in Mariners camp.

There are nine pitchers vying for seven spots. Guardado, Nelson, Hasegawa, Putz, Villone and Franklin would seem to be locks to make it, considering there abilities and the finanacial commitments the team has made to them.

So, if Thornton makes the team, due to being out of options, then that leaves even Julio Mateo in the dark.

This is where the idea of trading Franklin might come into play.

Moving Franklin would make toom for Mateo and Thornton to both be members of the bullpen without the risk of losing Thornton through waivers.

The M's have already chosen Sele over Franklin in the starting rotation. They may soon choose Thornton and Mateo over the 31-year-old Franklin for the final spot in the bullpen.

Not necessarily because both Mateo and Thornton are better pitchers than Franklin, but because Franklin makes more money and the team would benefit from Franklin's payroll relief more than that of the other two candidates. Not to mention that Franklin hasn't been sharp this spring.

Politics are working both ways in the Mariners bullpen.

Politics. In Baseball. It's been this way for years.


Seattle Clubhouse Top Stories