By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
OAKLAND — There wasn’t much drama to it. Outfielder Jason Bay was told on Friday and everyone else assumed it was a foregone conclusion. But on Sunday, the Seattle Mariners made it official, finalizing their 25-man roster with Bay winning the last roster spot up for grabs over Casper Wells.
With Bay making the trip to Salt Lake City on Saturday and Wells staying back in Peoria, Ariz., playing in minor league games, the message seemed pretty clear.
“Ultimately with what Jason Bay brings to the ballclub, we felt like that was the better fit for us right now and on into the season,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “With the way the guy came in here in great shape and the way he’s moving around, the way the ball comes off his bat, the quality at-bats he puts up, there’s a lot there you can lean on.”
Bay, 34, hit .321 this spring (17-for-53) with three doubles, a triple, two homers and six RBI. He also drew eight walks and posted an on-base percentage of .410.
For the first time in his career, he went into spring training without a roster spot. It was a new feeling for him.
“I actually kind of liked it,” he said. “It was different.”
But he also never really let the possibility of not making the team enter his mind.”
“I never really thought otherwise,” Bay said. “I felt comfortable with myself and what I’ve done. From the day I signed here, I was on the team in my own mind. I had to still go out and do that and I’m glad I did.”
Bay knows he’s won the job as the fifth outfielder and is far removed from his days as a starter.
“I knew coming in I wasn’t going to play 162 games here,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to just contributing any way I can, when I get to play. It’s a different part of my career. I talked to Wedge and Jack (general manager Jack Zduriencik) about where I stand and I think everybody sees it. You’re the fifth outfield guy and what happens, happens. But I’m actually quite happy with that.”
Bay has found happiness in a new start with the Mariners after three miserable seasons with the Mets, where he became the prime example of the organization’s failings.
“The fresh start is the big thing,” he said. “No matter what I was going to do in New York, it wasn’t going to be enough to make up for all the things I didn’t do. And I understood that. That’s why we came to the realization that a clean break was probably best for everybody and I came here knowing, and being comfortable, that I wasn’t competing for a starting job. I knew that and embraced it.”
Wells is now a man without a team for the moment. His future with the organization is unclear. He struggled this spring, hitting .189 (10-for-53) with five of those hits coming in two games. He also struck out 19 times. But it wasn’t just his spring struggles that hurt him. Wells had chances last season to define a bigger role for himself and simply couldn’t do it.
“When you talk about spring training, it’s a small window,” Wedge said. “Ultimately, you take into consideration everything leading up to that and as you move forward through this year as well. As we break camp, with 162 games ahead of you, you feel all your guys you break camp with at some point in time are probably going to play a little more than maybe they’re slotted for early on in the year. That’s something we took into consideration, too.”
The Mariners actually made a procedural roster move to be able to designate Wells for assignment. They selected minor leaguer D.J. Mitchell and added him to the 40-man roster first, and then optioned Mitchell to Class AAA Tacoma. To make room for Mitchell, the Mariners could designate Wells for assignment, giving them 10 days to either trade, release or outright him to the minor leagues.
Had they not made that move with Mitchell, the Mariners, per spring training rules, would have had to simply release Wells because he is out of Class AAA options.
By also waiting this long, the Mariners hope that they could place Wells on waivers and he goes through unclaimed allowing them to outright him to Class AAA Tacoma and keep him in the organization. Any team that would claim Wells off waivers would have to put him on its 25-man roster immediately. And since most teams have already finalized their 25-man roster for opening day, adding a new player could be difficult.
The honor and privilege that comes with starting on opening day hasn’t dulled for Felix Hernandez after all these years. Today Hernandez will be making his sixth opening day start of his career and fifth straight since 2008.
“It’s always special,” he said. “Not just for me, but for all the guys. It’s just very special.”
Hernandez has been special on opening day. He has a 3-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in his five starts.
“I really don’t do anything different, I just try and go out and win,” he said.
For the fourth straight season, Hernandez will face the Oakland A’s on opening day.
“I face the A’s a lot,” he said. “I can’t do anything different. I just have to be the same game.”
While Hernandez will get the start for the Mariners, left-hander Brett Anderson will go for Oakland. First pitch is set for 7:07 p.m.