Well, I think the performances in tonight's ballgame given us a better indication of how the Mariners' Opening Day roster will look.
Yesterday afternoon and this morning there were rumors going around that Rule-5 pick R.A. Dickey was offered back to the Twins. Prospect Insider was the only site with this info, and Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times called Dickey's roster inclusion "a given" as recently as this afternoon. After thinking about it today it boiled down to one question: Why would Seattle pitch Dickey tonight if they were giving him back anyway?
Seattle wanted to see how Dickey's knuckleball looked outside of the Arizona air. I am assuming that they were going to make their final decision on who the long reliever would be based on tonight's appearance. Most of us had a hard time believing Prospect Insider's "report" this morning, and it looks like they are second-guessing themselves as well. Their sidebar now reads:
Watching R.A. Dickey tonight, albeit versus an awful lineup the San Francisco Giants put out there, makes ya think twice about potentially picking Cha Seung Baek over the knuckleballer, eh?
If Baek's durability wasn't a big question mark, I'd prefer him to Dickey. But I think the M's are nuts if they don't trade Baek and keep the 33-year-old.
Dickey pitched brilliantly tonight, tossing 5 scoreless innings of 1 hit ball. His knuckler was dancing and he was mixing it well with his fastball. R.A. Dickey is going to be on this team and their shouldn't be any doubt about it. Cha-Seung Baek pitched great this spring, but Dickey's skillset is more of what manager John McLaren is looking for. Dickey isn't going anywhere.
As for the rest of the bullpen, I think Brandon Morrow's outing helped sort a lot of things out. He came in very wild, especially with his breaking pitches, and loaded the bases with three straight walks. He then opted to repeatedly throw his fastball down the middle to the next three hitters, which amazingly led to a popup, a strikeout and a flyout. He only gave up one run in his inning of work tonight, but that looks awful given the fact that he didn't surrender any hits. Against a better team that may have been a 5 run inning.
Morrow could still make the team, but I think he'll start the year in AAA Tacoma. That would be his first minor league stint since he pitched 7 games in rookie ball and one game in high-A back in 2006.
With that, the Opening Day bullpen will likely include J.J. Putz, Sean Green, Mark Lowe, Eric O'Flaherty, Ryan Rowland-Smith and R.A. Dickey. McLaren could opt to carry deserving long reliever Cha-Seung Baek on the team as well, but it would not improve the team and it would only be to buy some time for Seattle to trade him.
Speaking of trade, I have a hard time believing Seattle can trade him for anything worth while at this point. I'm sure interested teams have read Baek's quotes about opting for free agency rather than reporting to AAA. I'm sure they're also aware of Dickey's performance this spring. Why would a team give up anything worth while for Baek when they can just wait until he's a free agent?
If he goes with the 6-man bullpen, McLaren has five bench spots with two left to fill. Willie Bloomquist, Jaime Burke and Miguel Cairo all have job security, leaving Jeremy Reed, Mike Morse, Charlton Jimerson and Greg Norton as the only position players left in camp without a guaranteed roster spot. I think it's safe to pencil Norton in at this point. McLaren reportedly wants him on the team but his lack of versatility rule him out as a possibility on a 4-man bench. With two spots available McLaren can carry both Norton and an outfield, making Norton's lack of defensive skills obsolete.
Reed should fail to make the roster. McLaren stated a long time ago that he wanted a right-handed outfielder on the bench, something that Reed isn't. I believe that Reed is being showcased for other teams, and that is the only reason he's still on the roster and getting playing time. It's been widely reported that both the Rays and Padres have recently contacted the Mariners about Reed.
So it comes down to Mike Morse versus Charlton Jimerson for the last spot. To many fans Morse seems like the obvious answer. 81% of you think he should make the team, according the poll that is currently running on the right sidebar. He's been hitting a ton this spring, can play four positions, five in a pinch. He seems like a good bench player, right? Not so fast.
Many have reported that McLaren favors Jimerson, and Jimerson is the better option when you consider the position Seattle is trying to fill: fourth outfielder. Morse is a better hitter, but he is atrocious when playing in the outfield. He's a converted infielder with Raul Ibanez range who takes bad routes to fly balls. Jimerson, on the other hand, is a natural outfielder with fantastic range and a good arm. He can play center field, unlike Morse, and would also be Seattle's fastest baserunner off the bench.
The only benefit I see to having Morse on the team is that he would be a better offensive option than Bloomquist and Cairo when it comes to spelling Adrian Beltre and his aching thumb at third. His value at first base is hindered by the potential presence of Norton, who would be a better offensive option should Sexson slump again or get hurt.
There are still tough decisions to be made but as of right now, Friday at 12:06 AM PST, this is the team I expect to see on Opening Day:
The only prediction I don't feel good about is Jimerson over Morse. That could go either way, but if Morse is picked the defense suffers. How do you all think the final cuts will go?
Morrow: MLB or AAA?
Norton, Jimerson, Reed or Morse for the final bench spot(s)?
Dickey or Baek in long relief?