What Do The Mariners Do When Rehabapalooza Ends?

There are more decisions to be made in the coming days/weeks, besides what to do with the fifth starter in this rotation.  Like, who stays and who goes when Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Corey Hart are ready to return?

Michael Saunders figures to return just as soon as he’s allowed tomorrow.  He’s been tearing it up in Tacoma, and presumably he’s back to normal healthwise.  His replacement seems to be a no-brainer, as this would be a Last-One-In/First-One-Out type of scenario.  Jesus Montero brings relatively zero value to the ballclub.  He’s a DH who is only allowed to face left-handed pitchers.  No sense in keeping that on the club at the expense of people who can, you know, actually play defense.

Saunders is really interesting because – before he got hurt – he was one of the hottest hitters on this team.  He can slide into an everyday role in the outfield with Jones and Ackley/Chavez and provide an immediate lift.  Of course, as I say that, Endy Chavez has been tearing it up at the plate the last few games, but with him I’ve always been a proponent of Less Is More.  He needs days off, whether his batting average says so or not.  And, in my mind, Ackley isn’t really proving to me that he’s an everyday player.  So, if we get some kind of time-share thing going between Ackley, Saunders, and Chavez for the two corner outfield spots (with an occasional day off for Jones in center), I’d be all right with that.  Play the hot bats, and cycle out the cold ones.

Saunders returning also provides a lift at the DH position.  Since Montero apparently is inept against righties, we’ve seen the likes of Willie Bloomquist and John Buck at DH.  Once again, the Mariners are at the bottom of the league at the DH position, for the millionth year in a row (approximately) since Edgar retired.  I mean, I don’t LIKE Endy Chavez as our DH, but I’m willing to accept him over the likes of Willie or Buck.

It’s a little mind-boggling to me that Cole Gillespie hasn’t been given a crack at some of these DH at bats.  Lloyd is REALLY going too far in his love for veterans.  I say that, knowing this team is one of the youngest in baseball, but that’s by circumstance.  He HAS to play young guys all over the field, because that’s all we’ve got.  But, if he had his druthers, I guarantee you we’d see some slob of a veteran in all nine holes.  I’m not saying Gillespie has earned the right to play more, but you’d think he’d at least get a chance over the likes of Willie for crying out loud!

Which leads me to wonder:  who leaves when Smoak is ready to return?  I think many Mariners fans would just as soon leave Smoak in the minors for as long as humanly possible, but I just don’t see that happening.  His defense at first base is as good as we’ve got in this organization, he can work a walk better than most people on this team, and while his hitting is sub-par, he’s been known to … oh, who am I kidding?  It’s just the walks and the defense with him!

In the end, it’s down to Stefen Romero and Gillespie as to who goes down to Tacoma when Smoak is ready to return.  Romero has, somehow, been on the Major League club for the duration of the season.  He’s skipping gently around the Mendoza line, and his defense isn’t all that good in right field.  If it were up to me, he’d be the one to go down and start getting more regular at bats again.  Gillespie has been around the game of baseball a little longer, so I think he can adapt to the bench role he’s been given.  Plus, he’s been more productive than Romero while playing in fewer games.  Done deal (let’s hope).

Because either way, when Corey Hart is ready to return, (and assuming there are no injuries or other circumstances to worry about), whoever DOESN’T get sent down between Romero & Gillespie when Smoak returns, will most definitely get sent down when Hart comes back.  But, I’m not really focusing on that now, because by all accounts, we’re still a good few weeks away from that even being a possible issue.

The team has weathered the storm pretty well in the absence of Saunders, Smoak, and Hart.  With two of those three ready to return in the coming days (and with the impending promotion of Taijuan Walker merely a formality), this team will FINALLY be able to show what it can do!

Here’s a projected (ideal) lineup:

  1. Jones (CF)
  2. Saunders (RF)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Seager (3B)
  5. LoMo (DH)
  6. Zunino (C)
  7. Smoak (1B)
  8. Ackley (LF)
  9. Miller (SS)

That – with a bench consisting of Buck, Willie, Chavez, and Gillespie – isn’t half bad.  It beats the hell out of the alternative, relying too much on Chavez and company, who really need to stick to being part-time players.

As insane as it sounds, there will be a roster crunch when Hart returns.  Ideally, you want LoMo as a DH, but I guess in a pinch you could run him out in a corner outfield spot.  If Hart is able to hack it, he’s going to have to remain as the DH and nothing else, otherwise you can kiss his brittle ol’ knees goodbye.  That puts a crimp in our outfield defense, but I suppose you could run a 3-man weave between Ackley, Smoak, and LoMo at first base, outfield, and bench.  None of those guys probably deserve to play everyday anyway, but if LoMo is going to continue his hot hitting, it’s hard to justify sitting him.

These are sort of nice problems to have, but even nicer problems would be having hitters who you can count on day-in and day-out.  Frankly, Hart’s timing issues at the plate make me skeptical that he’s ever going to make a positive impact with this team.  He needs at bats to get his timing back, but he’s not doing anything with those at bats to justify his playing time!  I honestly have to wonder if he’s even worth the trouble at DH full time.  This team lacks pop from the right side, and he certainly has the potential to provide that.  But, can you afford to exclusively play him against left-handed starters?  And, if that’s the way it shakes out, is he really all that much better than Jesus Montero?

These are questions I can’t believe I’m asking.  Fortunately, we won’t have to worry about Hart for another few weeks yet.  Let’s hope, in the meantime, we can keep the good times rolling.  Let’s hope, when the time comes, they are actually tough decisions to make!  That would mean guys we have now are producing, fighting for their lives to stay on the big ballclub.  Or, you know, it would mean the Mariners actually managed to go out and find a bat in a trade.

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