-- Billy G., Everett, Wash.
With pitchers and catchers set to report to camp in just over a week now on Feb. 11, that's a question that will soon begin to take shape. I think we can all agree it's pretty safe to pencil Felix Hernandez in as the No. 1 starter. In fact, with the odd start to the year with two games in Japan and then a week before resuming regular-season play in Oakland, he should start the first and third games of the season.
At this point, Jason Vargas pencils in as the No. 2 starter. After that, things get interesting. If he's healthy and pitches well in camp, Iwakuma could well be the No. 3 man. Manager Eric Wedge is very high on non-roster invitee Kevin Millwood, an established veteran who pitched for him in Cleveland, and will give him every chance to earn a spot. At this point, I'd put Iwakuma, Millwood and Hector Noesi, the young right-hander acquired in the Michael Pineda trade, in a toss-up for the Nos. 3-4-5 spots.
That leaves last year's rookies, Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush, needing either impressive springs or injuries to the first five to crack the rotation. Both still have options and could open the season in Triple-A, or in the bullpen in Furbush's case as a potential lefty long reliever. Top prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker will get good looks this spring as well, though I'd be surprised if any made the team initially out of camp. But, hey, a lot can happen in the next two months.
Have a question about the Mariners?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Mariners beat reporter Greg Johns for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
With the Mariners bringing in a lot of candidates for Spring Training, which players would be out of options if they don't make the team, and how many times can you be sent down before you are out of options?
-- Lope A., Seattle
Options rules are a little complicated, but for the most part, a player on the 40-man roster can be "optioned" to the Minor Leagues three years. Of the current Mariners on the 40-man, reliever Cesar Jimenez and outfielder Mike Carp are two who are out of options. Carp figures to make the team, but Jimenez would have to be exposed to waivers if the Mariners decide not to keep him on the final 25-man roster.
Infielder Luis Rodriguez is also out of options, but he's a non-roster invitee who is not on the 40-man roster at the moment. If he were to make the team and be put on the 40-man, he then wouldn't be able to be sent down to the Minors later without being exposed to waivers.
Do you have any information on David Aardsma and how he is doing?
-- Duane J., Hayden, Idaho
The former closer is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and remains a free agent after being released by Seattle. But he continues working under the supervision of Mariners trainer Rick Griffin, who said he's rehabbing nicely and should definitely be able to pitch again at some point this coming season. Aardsma is hopeful for a midseason return, which would be about a year from his late-July surgery.
Whatever happened to the World Baseball Classic?
-- Robert K., Langley, Wash.
After a three-year gap between the initial tournaments in 2006 and '09, the format now calls for a WBC tournament every four years. So the next WBC will be next spring.
With Prince Fielder off the market now, who can the Mariners look to for a big bat?
-- Spencer H., Bremerton, Wash.
I know a lot of fans are clamoring for the club to sign a veteran like Johnny Damon or Vladimir Guerrero to DH, but I see this one differently. Newly acquired Jesus Montero needs to play every day, which means he'll be getting a lot of time at DH when he's not catching. And Carp and Casper Wells are both interesting youngsters who can split time in left field and DH as well. So I don't see a big need to sign an aging veteran to a short-term deal and take away at-bats from those youngsters in this situation.
I have looked at the new schedule and only see that the Mariners will be televised on MLB Network. Is this true?
-- Scott M., Boise, Idaho
No, that's not true. The early schedule didn't have finalized TV plans. Nearly every game this season will be televised again by ROOT Sports, with FOX-TV picking up a few Saturday games. The updated schedule, including broadcast plans, can be seen here.
With the Mariners adding catchers Montero and John Jaso this offseason, what does this mean for Adam Moore?
-- Michael M., Seattle, Wash.
It means Moore and fellow catcher Chris Gimenez have their work cut out for them if they hope to crack the 25-man roster. Miguel Olivo remains the starting catcher, Montero will be used initially in a backup role there and DH the rest of the time, with Jaso the likely favorite for a No. 3 spot. A lot can happen, but Moore and Gimenez both have Minor League options and could very well start the year in Tacoma. It'll be a very competitive camp for the catchers.
By the time the Mariners play the bulk of their Cactus League games, do you think they'll experiment with Chone Figgins leading off and Ichiro Suzuki batting second? This might give Figgins a fresh start.
-- Vern G., Shelton, Wash.
I think that is a very likely scenario this spring as Wedge looks to find a more productive lineup and see if Figgins can bounce back to his old self. Wedge wants to try Figgins in a variety of defensive spots to see if he can fill a roving utility role, or beat out Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi and now Carlos Guillen at third base. If Figgins can return to form offensively and earn a spot, I think he'll definitely get a shot at batting leadoff.