Battle for Rotation Spots Heating Up


As the start of the season draws near, we begin to get a more clear picture of the roles each individual will play on the team. Some teams have extensive battles for playing time, others don’t. For the most part, the M’s fall in the latter group. There aren’t many major battles going on, and it’s pretty easy to see how the roster will end up looking.

But there’s one thing that is still a little “open-ended”: the last two spots in the rotation. Its been clear since last month that the top three slots were going to be filled by Felix Hernandez, Joe Saunders and Hisashi Iwakuma. But the back-end has been up in the air. The candidates right now look to be Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Maurer, Jon Garland, Blake Beavan, and Erasmo Ramirez. Now from that list, there are a couple who seem like long shots at this point. And that’s Bonderman and Maurer.

Bonderman was brought in after being out of baseball for the last two seasons, and was given a shot to earn his way back into the league. Maurer on the other hand, pitched exceptionally well in AA last year, and it seems that trend has continued through the spring, as he is the only remaining “Big 4” member at the major league camp.

Bonderman seems like a long shot because he really hasn’t been that impressive himself, and fellow veteran Jon Garland (who also did not play last year) has looked much better. If they want to go the veteran route, Garland is the obvious choice. Plus, Bonderman wasn’t really that great before his injury, while Garland was a solid #3 type for years.

Mar 19, 2013; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Brandon Maurer (37) pitches during the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing holding Maurer back is his young age, and lack of experience. He has yet to pitch for AAA Tacoma, so it seems unlikely that he will be thrown into the bigs straight from AA. He has been impressive though, seeing as he is still around. And he just had a very good outing a couple days ago, and got a lot of people talking. A small part of me thinks the organization wants to give him the 5th spot, but another part thinks they won’t want him to bypass Triple-A. He will still most likely see time with the M’s this year, but not to start the season.

So that leaves us with three. Ramirez, Garland and Beavan.

As I mentioned, Garland did not pitch last year, and was given a shot by the Ms to try to earn a spot. He has looked good so far, posting a 1.50 ERA, but in only 6 innings of work. His velocity hasn’t been impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be for him to be successful. He also has the experience on his side, and the club may feel that he will be able to pick up more innings than some of the younger guys. Wedge loves his vets, so I could see Garland getting the nod.

We all know about Beavan from the three stints he has had with the M’s. He throws tons of strikes, but that’s about all he’s got going for him. His stuff is pretty underwhelming, although he changed his mechanics and there has been talk of him getting a little more on his pitches this spring. I get the feeling the organization really likes him for some reason, and that scares me a little considering he isn’t very good to this point (4.37 ERA, 4.70 FIP career). He had a solid performance the other day and that surely helped his chances. I’d say he is one of the two favorites because the team has stuck with him in the past, and they don’t seem to have a great grasp advanced stats that suggest he has not been effective, even with the boost given by Safeco. He isn’t bad as very back-end guy, but that’s about the extent of his skills.

The last, but certainly, 100%, not least, option is Erasmo Ramirez. Erasmo pitched his way into the bullpen last year out of Spring Training after being under-appreciated in the minors, mainly due to his size. He eventually found himself in the rotation, but injuries prevented him from making more than 16 appearances, 8 of them starts. But even in small sample, E-Ram was very impressive. He used his deceptively firm fastball (93-95) and three other average-and-above pitches to post a 3.36 ERA, 3.55 FIP and 0.9 WAR–which is equal to Beavan’s career WAR total–in his injury shortened season.

In fact, Erasmo is the main reason I wrote this post. There has been talk by other writers, such as Geoff Baker, who seem to believe that the front runners for the last two spots are Beavan and Garland. Now, Baker catches a lot of flak for his opinions, but he does have knowledge of the situation.

In any event, if what Baker thinks will happen does happen…I don’t even know what to say. There is no way that Erasmo should not be the #4 starter for the Mariners to start the year. Not only has he out-preformed the other candidates, he projects much better. He is 23, has a great arsenal of pitches, and figures to be in the team’s plans long term. Whereas Garland is only on a one year deal, is 33, and has some injury concerns, and Beavan just isn’t much more than a #5 or long reliever at this point, and hasn’t impressed so far in his career.

Now, I have to believe Erasmo will be the #4 starter, but I just do not fully trust this organizations talent evaluation (i.e. Bay and Ibanez). There is always a chance that they see the situation differently and do not appreciate Erasmo’s talent, but I sure hope that’s not the case.

With that said, I would like to see Erasmo and Beavan in the 4 and 5 spots to start the season. If you can’t already tell, Erasmo I am a little more serious about, and it wouldn’t affect me if Garland got the nod over Beavan. The main reasons I say Blake over Jon is because of his age, higher upside (albeit compared to a 33 year old coming off an injury), and, to quote every young Spring Training invite ever, “the way he goes about his business.” He interacts with fans well (signed a girls iPhone at a game I went to, and did his best young girl impression to imitate girls that were yelling “Blake, Blake!”), and just seems like he gets it. And I am probably more critical of him than most, so that is saying something. I don’t have tons of hope for improvement, but he should get the job done for now. And who knows, maybe this mechanical change will help him out.

I think that (Erasmo and Beavan) is probably what ends up happening. Both guys are young (unlike Garland and Bonderman) but still have major league experience (unlike Maurer), and probably figure to have the best success, and durability, of all of the candidates.

How do you see the rotation filling out? Moreover, who do you think SHOULD have the last two spots?