These days, teams almost always carry a minimum of 11 pitchers. There have been more and more cases of teams carrying 12 and even 13 pitchers at a time too. The latter seems a bit high for the Mariners, so I’ll stick with 11. These are subject to change due to injury of course.
1. Felix Hernandez. Thank God I’m here to tell you that, right? Because you never could have figured it out for yourself… Felix makes over $15 million per year. He is about to turn 26. He has 1,200 career strike outs, and has averaged well over 200 innings the last 6 years. Enough said.
2. Jason Vargas. This 29-year-old is set to make almost $5 million this year. He has quietly ate up almost 400 innings for the M’s the last two seasons with a combined ERA of around 4. His value doesn’t really stem from dominance, wins, or even consistency. However, he is a very reliable inning eater. Vargas is the glue that will hold a good rotation together and every team needs one. His stuff doesn’t really warrant a #2 starter role, but until the Mariners young guns mature, he will have to do.
3. Hisashi Iwakuma. This former ace Japanese leaguer has seen his best days already. He is about to turn 31 and was acquired on the cheap. His $1.5 million base salary does have an incentive laden bonus structure, but he could turn into one of the financial steals of the offseason regardless. Just two years ago the Oakland A’s submitted a bid of over $15 million to negotiate with Iwakuma. The sides were unable to agree and Iwakuma returned to Japan. Now, assuming his health lasts Iwakuma could be a top end #3 starter for a bargain price.
4. Blake Beaven. A 23-year-old former first round pick acquired in the Cliff Lee deal, Beaven looks to build on what would be considered a typical rookie season last year. He pitched about 100 innings with a 4.27 ERA. The encouraging part about his stats is that he only had 15 walks all of last season. That shows tremendous control for a pitcher his age. Beaven will only be the #4 or #5 starter this year, but he’ll have the opportunity to leapfrog into the #2 position a la Michael Pineda if he can perform consistently at his potential.
5. Kevin Millwood / Charlie Furbush / Hector Noesi. I’m honestly not sure who will warrant the 5th starter position as of right now. Kevin Millwood is 37 and his ERA is over 7 this spring. It’s not that I don’t think he can still pitch; I just don’t think he can pitch significantly better than Furbush or Noesi to deserve the extra roster spot and salary. Furbush and Noesi are still on their salary-friendly minor league deals. Also, Jack Z knows that the Mariners aren’t contending for a World Series this year. That being said, the experience a 5th starter gets is far more valuable when invested into a young arm than thrown away on a non-roster invitee like Millwood. Furbush didn’t exactly light it up last year after being acquired in the Doug Fister trade going 3-7 with a 6.62 ERA. Yikes. However, his numbers were good in Detroit, he is only 25, and a lot of Mariners stunk down the stretch last year. Noesi is sort of the wildcard in all of this. He was used solely as a reliever last year as a Yankee, but there has been speculation that he could vie for a starting role this year. He started one game this spring and pitched two scoreless innings with 2 walks. Meh. The one thing I’ll say is that Jack Z has had a decent history as the Mariner’s GM acquiring underrated back-end rotation guys as throw-ins for larger names. Something tells me that Noesi ends up as the opening day #5 starter.
Closer – Brandon League.
Setup – George Sherrill.
Setup – Shawn Camp.
Setup – Shawn Kelley.
Setup – Hong-Chih Kuo.
Long Relief – Charlie Furbush.
I don’t think that Kevin Millwood makes the team. I could see Oliver Perez taking a roster spot away from either Kuo or Sherrill. I still expect Jack Z to retain the majority of the roster’s youth. There will be a huge influx of youth next season with Hultzen, Walker, and Paxton. In two years, the Mariners could have the best starting rotation that money didn’t buy. Let’s just hope their bats can keep pace.