Major League Baseball Free Agency is here, and from the sound of things, the Seattle Mariners could be big players in the open market, possibly raising payroll for the first time in the team's history with Jack Zduriencik as its GM. That doesn't necessarily mean that the club is going to land one of the top four or five, big name free agents, but it does mean that the roster will likely have a very different look when Spring Training 2013 opens.
Tying into that, we at SeattleClubhouse are all about what is in the organization. And in taking a look at what the organization has to offer, one specific area of interest is protecting players from being exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
First off, let's go over the housecleaning on the 25- and 40-man rosters: Pitchers Kevin Millwood and George Sherrill (who was on the DL most of the year with Tommy John surgery) have already been officially let go, and catcher Miguel Olivo didn't have his option exercised (no shock there) while infielder Munenori Kawasaki was released from his major league deal. It is possible, maybe even probable, that the club brings Kawasaki back on a minor league deal, but even if that is the case he doesn't stand a very good chance of getting back on the 25-man roster without some injuries or trades on the middle infield. Johermyn Chavez and Chih-Hsien Chiang were taken off of the 40 during the 2012 season and Luis Jimenez -- who was added to the 40 and the big league club in September -- was outrighted to Tacoma back on October 25th. All three of those somewhat familiar minor league names are now minor league free agents.
With that, here are the 37 players currently on the 40-man roster:INFIELDERS (8): Dustin Ackley, Chone Figgins, Alex Liddi, Francisco Martinez, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Carlos Triunfel OUTFIELDERS (7): Mike Carp, Scott Cousins, Franklin Gutierrez, Carlos Peguero, Trayvon Robinson, Michael Saunders, Eric Thames, Casper Wells CATCHERS (2): John Jaso, Jesus Montero
PITCHERS (19): Blake Beavan, Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Felix Hernandez, Danny Hultzen, Hisashi Iwakuma , Shawn Kelley, Josh Kinney, Lucas Luetge, Yoervis Medina, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, Oliver Perez, Stephen Pryor, Erasmo Ramirez, Mauricio Robles, Chance Ruffin, Jason Vargas, Tom Wilhelmsen
It is safe to say that not all of these players will be on the 40-man roster when 2013 Spring Training kicks off. In fact, some of them will be removed fairly soon -- either via trade or by being outrighted or released -- as the club has several minor leaguers that have reached the required service time to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster.
In case you aren't familiar with the rules regarding the 40-man, here is a rundown of the Rule 5 draft eligibility requirements: Any player who was 18-years-old or younger on June 5th of the season during which they were signed/drafted have to be added to the 40-man roster following the completion of their fifth minor league season. Players who were 19 or older on that date must be added following the completion of their fourth minor league season.
The Mariners have some prospects that you are familiar with and/or that we have covered in various rankings or reports here at SeattleClubhouse that fall into this group this season. Those names are as follows:INFIELDERS: Vinnie Catricala, Rich Poythress, Dennis Raben, Nate Tenbrink
OUTFIELDERS: Denny Almonte, James Jones, Danny Carroll
PITCHERS: Tyler Blandford, Andrew Carraway, Anthony Fernandez, James Gillheeney, Steven Hensley, Bobby LaFromboise, Brandon Maurer, Brian Moran
Clearly all of those names aren't going to be protected by being added to the 40-man, primarily because there just isn't enough room, and realistically because they don't all need to be. The players most at risk are those that have showed some success at the upper levels of the minor leagues or that had breakout campaigns in 2012. On that front, I fully expect the Mariners to add their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Brandon Maurer. Maurer pitched great for Double-A Jackson and was selected as the Southern League Pitcher of the Year as well. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was the M's 23rd round selection in 2008 out of Orange Lutheran HS in California. Left-handed reliever Bobby Lafromboise and IF/OF Vinnie Catricala are the next most likely options as both played in Tacoma this year and both are in the Arizona Fall League. Outfielder James Jones was recently named the club's Most Improved Player of the Fall Co-Op League, which is exciting considering the type of minor league numbers he has already posted. The rest of the names are certainly at least a little bit interesting, but all have their areas that still need some fine tuning, ideally in a minor league setting.
In looking ahead to what they need to add to the MLB roster through trades or free agency, the Mariners will have to make room for some younger guys by letting some of the older players go. And don't be surprised if you hear the names of these players that are on one side or the other of the edge of the 40-man come up often. Everyone in MLB front offices realizes the roster constraints, and the goal is not only to build your best team, but protect your best players and prospects while still being able to have depth at all positions.
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