By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Everything suggests the Seattle Mariners’ 25-man roster is pretty well set even though 38 players remained in camp after Monday’s 7-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
“I think it’s just a matter of logistics at this point,” manager Lloyd McClendon acknowledged. “We’ll get a couple of things ironed out. But for the most part, I think we’re dwindling down.”
McClendon didn’t “anticipate doing anything” Monday in terms of roster moves but added, “we’re running out of time” for borderline candidates being able to play their way on or off the roster.
The Mariners did make one move: They released pitcher Scott Baker after he declined an assignment to Class AAA Tacoma. His roster chances dimmed when he allowed 13 runs over 131/3 innings in his last three starts.
Baker was a strong rotation candidate for one of two projected openings before his recent struggles placed him behind rookie Roenis Elias and veteran Randy Wolf and no better than even with returnee Blake Beavan.
Releasing Baker leaves two players in camp — outfielder Endy Chavez and catcher Humberto Quintero — who qualify under Rule XX (B) as major-league free agents who agreed to minor-league deals.
Both must be notified by today if they will be added to the 40-man roster, which effectively means, in their case, that they will make the club.
And both are no better than long shots.
Quintero’s role, all along, has been to serve as veteran insurance should anything happen to Mike Zunino or John Buck.
Chavez has played well, but the club officials appear to prefer rookie Stefen Romero because he offers a right-handed bat with power potential.
Officially, the Mariners have until noon Sunday to set their 25-man active roster but, if they already know what they plan to do, why are they waiting?
It’s those “logistics” that McClendon cites.
Those XX (B) qualifiers, if they don’t make the roster, can choose to become free agents or accept an assignment, if offered, to a minor-league club.
The Mariners appear interested in retaining Chavez and Quintero, but if they agree to go to the minors, they get a $100,000 retention bonus and a June 1 option to become a free agent if not in the majors at that time.
Wolf isn’t a XX (B) qualifier, but his minor-league deal permits him to opt out of his contract later this week and become a free agent.
The Mariners are under no obligation to disclose their intentions to Wolf but, as a practical matter, such discussions typically take place before the player makes a decision.
If the Mariners keep Wolf, the major-league portion of his contract kicks in with a $1 million guarantee and performance bonuses that could add another $750,000 for meeting criteria for roster time, starts and innings pitched.
Here’s the catch:
The Mariners might not need Wolf (or Elias or Beavan) for more than a few weeks to bridge the gap until Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker are recovered from injuries and ready to rejoin the rotation.
But while Beavan and/or Elias could simply be optioned back to the minors to clear space, Wolf could choose to become a free agent and retain the guaranteed portion of his contract.
Iwakuma threw a baseball Monday for the first time in camp, while Walker is slotted to work three innings today in a minor-league game.
Barring setbacks, both could be ready by mid-to-late April.
“It will all become clear,” McClendon said, “in the next day or two.”
The spring’s most-anticipated game of catch took place when Iwakuma tested his recovery from a strained ligament in his right middle finger by making light throws with a baseball for about six minutes.
“It felt good; the ball felt great going out of the finger,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I look forward to making progress from here on.”
Iwakuma played catch from distances ranging up to 45 feet. He did so with tape on his middle finger for protection. The game of catch followed three days of throwing a tennis ball.
“It’s getting better day by day,” he said, “but (the finger) is still stiff. I don’t have that (full) range of motion yet. I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s getting there. Slowly but gradually.”
Plans call for Iwakuma to throw every day from increasing distances and with greater intensity. He is scheduled to keep tape on his finger for one week.