SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The longer-than-normal curly hair, and accompanying facial growth, are something Mariners right-hander Kanekoa Texeira wants to keep. But it all depends on where he starts the regular season. If the Maui, Hawaii, native lands a spot in the Mariners bullpen or stays in the organization, the current look stays. But if he goes back to where he was a year ago, he must get a shave and haircut.
Rules are rules. As a Rule 5 Draft selection from the clean-cut Yankees on the final day of the Winter Baseball Meetings in December, the 24-year-old must be on Seattle's 25-man Opening Day roster -- and remain there all season -- or be offered back to the Yankees for $25,000. Another option would be to work out a trade, which could clear the way for him to be sent to the Minors. The future may be unknown, but the present is coming into focus, and the Mariners like what they see. "Most Rule 5 guys are coming from lower Minor Leagues," Mariners assistant general manager Jeff Kingston said, "but he seems to be handling it well." Texeira played for Double-A Trenton last season, posting a 9-6 record and 2.84 ERA in 41 appearances, including six starts. He logged a career-high 101 1/3 innings, walked 43 and struck out 88. Even so, the Yankees removed him from their 40-man roster, leaving him unprotected, and the Mariners pounced. "We thought he could be able to help us in the bullpen," Kingston said. "Our scouts pointed out that he was actually better against left-handed batters than right-handed batters because he developed a really good cut fastball. "Our bullpen is predominantly right-handed, so it was a good fit."
The Mariners sent the World Series champions $50,000."We decided to roll the dice, take a look at him for 45 days in Spring Training and see what happens," Kingston said. "You never have too many arms, and we had room on the roster at the time." The Mariners are pleased with what they've seen so far. "He's a mature kid," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "For a young guy, he handles himself well and I have been impressed with him." Pitching coach Rick Adair agrees. "He has the same demeanor, no matter what's going on, and his stuff is there." The big question is whether the Mariners can find room for Texeira on the 11- or 12-man pitching staff. The back of the bullpen is rock solid, but there could be an opening for a middle or long reliever. If he demonstrates the ability to pitch three or four innings at a time, and also have the ability to go several days without pitching and not lose sight of the strike zone, he might be a perfect fit. "That's our biggest need [in the bullpen]," Wakamatsu said, "and there will be plenty of chances to see him pitch." Texeira made his fourth appearance of the spring during the Mariners' 6-2 Cactus League victory over the Giants on Thursday. He extended his scoreless streak to four innings, retiring all three batters he faced. "Everything is going all right so far, no complaints," he said. "They are giving me an opportunity to pitch and show what I can do. I want to make it a tough decision for them." The Yankees faced a tough decision late last season when their 40-man roster was being finalized, despite the solid season Texeira had in the Minors last season. "The Yankees have a very deep system and have had a lot of 40-man issues over the years," Kingston said. "Sometimes you wonder why teams leave guys off, and in this case, we felt he was squeezed off because of the numbers. That was a small aspect of it." A larger aspect was Texeira's resume. "One advantage of the Rule 5 is you potentially acquire a Major League player pretty cheaply," Kingston said. "You don't have to give him a big signing bonus and develop him for several years. "You feel like he's already ready [for the Majors] and get a 45-day look at the kid and how he goes about his business. If he makes it, you have a real quick and high return on a pretty minimal investment." And if it doesn't work out, the Mariners get half of their initial investment back and move on. But Texeira wants to stay. "I like this group of guys and the staff is nice, too," he said. "I would rather stay here. I have made some good friends and would see them later on. To stay here would be awesome, but that's out of my hands. "But if I go back [to the Yankees], I would have to shave and cut my hair." And he's not quite ready for that.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.