Indeed, one of the more interesting questions looming these last three weeks of camp will be who wins the final outfield berth. At this point, the first four seem pretty certain, with Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. So the big choice seems to be Jason Bay or Casper Wells, both of whom are having excellent springs.
Wells is the better defender and is out of Minor League options, but Bay is an intriguing candidate, given he's showing serious signs of returning to the level that had him among the better power hitters in baseball from 2004-09. Carlos Peguero is also having a great spring, but he has Minor League options and can still work on improving his contact rate at Triple-A Tacoma.
This is a good problem to have, some serious competition for roster spots, and the best thing is, if somebody gets hurt, there is a ready option. In fact, a minor injury could be the solution to this battle, as it would allow someone to open the season on the disabled list while things sort themselves out.
What do you think the season-opening rotation will look like?
-- Billy F., Kenai, Alaska
This is the other hot question hanging over the remainder of spring. Pretty safe to pencil in veterans Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders at the top. But the last two spots seem to be boiling down to Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez and non-roster veteran Jon Garland at this point. If Garland stays healthy and keeps throwing as well as he has early on, I think he'll make it.
Beavan or Ramirez could start the year in Tacoma and be a phone call away, or Ramirez could also start the season in the bullpen as he did last year, and provide a needed long man. Remember, both Iwakuma and Ramirez started in the 'pen last year. Things change over the course of a season and rotation depth is critical.
Does Brandon Maurer have a legit shot at the fifth-starter job?
-- Spike H., Surprise, Ariz.
The young right-hander has been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp so far. Though he's 22 and has never pitched above Double-A, Maurer appears the most polished of the young prospects and has definitely opened eyes. Barring injuries, I'd expect him still to open the season in Tacoma as the natural next step in his progression. But that said, I suspect we'll be seeing Maurer before long, someway, somehow.
Has Ted Simmons been at camp? What role does he play? Is he active with the players?
-- Bill B., Skagit County, Wash.
Simmons indeed is in camp. In his third year as a senior advisor to general manager Jack Zduriencik, he's one of the valued voices in the front office. Like all the special assistants to the GM, Simmons spends a lot of time watching and evaluating and sharing his thoughts. He's not involved with much hands-on coaching in that role. But as you know, Simmons was an eight-time All-Star catcher in an outstanding 21-year Major League career, and I have seen him chatting with the Mariners catchers and undoubtedly imparting some of his wisdom. Definitely a good man to have involved in any aspect of the game.
What position do you think Morse will play when both Gutierrez and Saunders are in the field? Now that the fences have been moved in at Safeco Field, what corner outfield spot makes more sense to hide Morse and his below-average defense?
-- Geoff S., Edmonds, Wash.
I assumed Morse would play mostly left field, given the better defensive player normally is put in right, due to the longer throws required. But Morse says he's more comfortable in right field and manager Eric Wedge has started him there six times this spring, compared to once in left and once at first base.
However, Wedge has only had Saunders in left once during that time when Morse played right. And Wedge continues to say he wants to move his corner guys back and forth to get them comfortable, so we'll see. Morse does have a strong arm. His problem is he's such a big guy that he doesn't always get in good throwing position quickly or get to flares down the line.
But as Morse notes, playing next to Gutierrez certainly helps and he can shade toward the line. He said his biggest task so far has been to "stay out of Guti's way." With Saunders and Gutierrez in the outfield, certainly the Mariners can afford one slugger with less range.
When will the Mariners release their TV commercials?
-- Ryan H., Bellevue, Wash.
This year's spots will be released Wednesday, and you'll be able to see them here on Mariners.com. So far, all I know is Brendan Ryan and his buffalo friend star in one of them, so as always, there should be some interesting surprises.
When a team trades for a "player to be named later", what determines how that player is selected?
-- Daniel S., Renton, Wash.
Sometimes teams will agree on a small group of players that will be chosen from, depending on how much or how well the traded player performs. Sometimes a player to be named is already determined, but just can't be named because he was drafted within the past year.
Sometimes it's worded so it will either be a player to be named or cash, perhaps because compensation couldn't exactly be agreed upon, but the teams wanted to make a deal before some kind of deadline. In most major trades, the player to be named is a lower-level prospect and the primary participants in the deal have already been determined.
Last year, our 25-man roster included Chone Figgins, Alex Liddi and Mike Carp, and all were primarily infielders who could play outfield. With the exception of some outfielders who can play first base, what does this reduced flexibility mean for the final 25 this year?
-- Bryan P., Canberra, Australia
Excellent point, which is why the addition of Robert Andino was so critical. Andino is a versatile veteran who can play second, short or third and also swings a decent bat. Andino's presence should allow the Mariners to carry five outfielders, which helps with the depth they have there.