The champagne has finished flowing, the celebratory goggles are put away, and playoff tickets are being sold.
For the first time in 21 years, the Seattle Mariners are heading to the postseason. It’s been quite a journey for this franchise, but now it’s time to get down to business, and the business at hand is making sure the team is nothing more than a flash in the playoff pan. To do that, the team needs to figure out what 26 players give them the chance of winning two games in a three-game wildcard series on the road. In a three-game survive and advance series, the team’s roster will probably look a bit different than it would during the 162-game regular season, and some tough calls will have to be made. For the bulk of the season, the team has played with an expanded pitching staff, made even larger with the roster expansion to 28 players for September. However, for three games, you don’t need as many pitchers but do need more roster flexibility. That leaves a few players on the bubble for the 26 men who will make up the three-game wild card series roster.
Here are the players who are locks to be on the roster.
Position players (13)
Catcher (3): Cal Raleigh, Curt Casali, Luis Torrens
Raleigh has been nursing an injured thumb on his catching hand for the better part of a month, so the Mariners will be taking three catchers even if they didn’t want to. In the best-case scenario, Raleigh’s thumb holds out, and the team can use the extra depth to enable them to pinch run or pinch hit for the catcher’s spot if the situation calls for it. Plus, if the team somehow really gets into a pinch, Torrens is physically capable of playing second and first base.
Infielders (7): Ty France, Adam Frazier, JP Crawford, Eugenio Suarez, Sam Haggerty, Dylan Moore, Carlos Santana.
Frazier has struggled for almost the entire season but makes the postseason roster because of his speed and ability to play the outfield if needed. Haggerty and Moore provide the team with swiss-army knife options all across the diamond and may find themselves inserted into the starting lineup. Santana, France, and Suarez figure to juggle duties between the infield and the designated hitter spot. However, Haggerty was injured on a stolen base in Monday’s game against Detroit, and if his injury is at all serious, he’s probably out for the playoffs.
Outfielders (3): Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, Mitch Haniger.
Kelenic returned to the majors after Rodriguez went down with a back injury in mid-September and has looked at least somewhat improved to the player who spent most of the season in the minors trying to fix his swing mechanics. His swing is now shorter and more compact, and the Mariners will need at least something from him, as he is really the only other option in centerfield beyond the ailing Rodriguez. Speaking of Rodriguez, the rookie-phenom put the team on his back at times to get them here, and they are going to have to return the favor in the playoffs as he is unlikely going to be 100% when the postseason starts.
The Mariners’ pitching has primarily been responsible for getting them in this position, with one of the league’s best bullpens for most of the year. However, that unit began to falter down the stretch, and some tough calls will need to be made for who is in and who is out. Let’s start with the easy decisions.
Starting pitchers (3): In order of appearance: Logan Gilbert, Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray.
There are no real arguments to be had here. Ray and Gilbert were the team’s top two starters until the trade deadline when Castillo joined the team from Cincinnati and largely kept right on the roll he had been on the entire year. You could consider George Kirby, but he has been running on fumes over the final month, so the choice isn’t even close for these three. Gilbert should start game one, Castillo for a clinching or win-to-stay-alive game two, and Ray and the bullpen for game three. All three can go deep into games, but in a three game-series, manager Scott Servais will need to be ready with a quick hook and hope that the bullpen can rediscover its lockdown form.
Relief pitchers (7): Paul Sewald, Andres Munoz, Eric Swanson, Matt Boyd, Diego Castillo, Penn Murfee, Matt Brash.
The locks account for 23 players of a 26-man group. The remaining three spots will likely be determined based on how many pitchers the team wants to carry. Three starters and an eight-man bullpen should be plenty for three games, so I guess it will be 15 position players, mainly if Haggerty is out, and 11 pitchers.
That means the team will pick three players from the following group: Pitchers- Matt Festa, Marco Gonzales, George Kirby, and Chris Flexen. Position players- Taylor Trammel, Abraham Toro and Jessie Winker.
You don’t need five starters in a three-game series, nor do you particularly need a long reliever. However, should a starter suffer a last-minute injury or a game turn into a marathon, you need a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option. Neither Gonzales nor Kirby has pitched out of the bullpen this year, and this is the longest Kirby has pitched in a professional season. Festa has been the weakest link in the team’s short relief corps in the stretch run. While it’s tough leaving Gonzales, the Mariners’ “bulldog,” off the wildcard roster, Flexen gets the nod as the emergency option. Kirby and Gonzales, who don’t figure to pitch in the wild card round anyway, get to cheer from the bench.
That leaves two spots left for the group of three position players, potentially three if Haggerty is out. Winker was an all-star last season and has been on the major league roster all year but has seen his role diminish to part-time designated hitter after putting up disastrous defensive numbers in left field and having his bat grow even colder than it already was. Trammel does not bring much with the bat, but he has speed on the basepaths and can play all three outfield spots. Toro, again, does not provide much offensively other than the ability to run into an occasional mistake pitch, but he can play third base, shortstop, and second, if needed. There is a reason that doesn’t sound like a particularly ringing endorsement for any of them. However, there is no way Winker should be allowed near left field in a playoff game, and there just isn’t room for a situational designated hitter in a short series roster, so Toro and Trammel get the call here. If Haggerty is out, Winker makes the roster as a bat off the bench.