In short: I’m for it.
Boom. Post finished.
OK, not so fast. I guess I’ll throw some weight behind this argument a little bit. What we’re talking about here is a situation where there were two open spots in the rotation. Originally, there were five guys realistically in the running: Jon Garland, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brandon Maurer. Coming into Spring Training, everyone believed Bonderman was one of the longest shots simply because he’s older, he’s coming off an injury, he hasn’t pitched in a while, and even when he WAS healthy, he wasn’t that good. But, you know, you sign him to a minor league deal, you throw a pittance at him, you invite him to camp, and you see what he can do.
Garland, in my opinion, was the biggest lock of the group. Granted, he too was coming off of a major injury and a major layoff from pitching, but he struck me as a guy who was a little farther along in his recovery (having almost pitched last season before shutting himself down as a precautionary measure) and he was a guy with a better track record of success. Aside from this one injury, he’d had a nice career eating up innings and doing just enough on the field to make himself useful.
In between those two extremes, you had three younger guys of varying Major League experience (ranging from Some to None), all with minor league options. You could make the argument for any of those guys to start the season in Tacoma. Beavan could’ve used more time in the minors to work on his new delivery. Ramirez could’ve used more time to work on his secondary pitches. Maurer could’ve used more seasoning, especially considering he has never even pitched in triple-A (let alone the Majors). Of the three, Beavan has the most experience in the Majors, but he also has the lowest upside. Maurer has no experience, but he has the highest upside; so the argument for starting him in Tacoma is probably even stronger because you’d delay starting his service time and have an extra year’s worth of team control at a reasonable-to-cheap salary.
But, you know, say what you will about the Seattle Mariners: they don’t run their organization worrying about things like “service time” and “team control”. Which is weird, because I’ve been killing this team for YEARS now for being so tight-fisted with their money and throwing away season after season in the name of lowering payroll (under the guise of “rebuilding” and “doing things the right way”). But, they did it with Michael Pineda in 2011 and they’re doing it now, in 2013, with Brandon Maurer.
That isn’t to say they’re rushing these guys to the Majors. In 2011, the Mariners had alternatives to Pineda, just as this year they have had alternatives to Maurer. However, the sticky situation with Garland opting out of his deal last week, combined with Ramirez’s arm strength issues, pretty much made this a no-brainer. Yeah, Maurer has pitched amazingly this spring, but it feels to me that this is more out of default than it is because he stormed onto the scene a la Pineda.
In 2011, all anyone could talk about was Pineda’s stuff. His extreme fastball and his wicked curve. He was a dynamo and it would’ve been an absolute crime to leave him off of the Major League roster. This year … I mean, I guess some people talk about Maurer’s stuff. But, it’s more in conjunction with his poise, his command, and his depth of arsenal. Guy’s got four pitches and he can throw them in any count AND THAT’S GREAT. But, does he have a 98 mile per hour fastball and gigantic hands that make the baseball look like a golf ball?
What I’m getting at is: there isn’t quite the buzz surrounding Maurer that there was when Pineda cracked the team. More than anything, that probably dates back to hype and expectations. People were talking about Pineda in Seattle when he was an infant. Maurer’s hype has been mired behind The Big Three of Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker. Maurer – through his play last year (where he pitched in 24 AA games and generated 117 strikeouts in 137.2 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Southern League) – worked his way into fans reluctantly re-dubbing them The Big Four, but even then no one really took him as seriously as the other three (or even Pineda, for that matter, when he was Mariners property). Think about how you felt when the Mariners were trying to trade for Justin Upton and reports were coming out that one of The Big Three was being offered. You weren’t sitting there wringing your hands, worrying about losing Brandon Maurer to the Diamondbacks, were you?
But, who knows? Maybe you SHOULD have been concerned. Because here he is, at the top of the mountain as the dust settles on this starting rotation race. And I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shakes out. Like many of you, I’d rather see the young guy with the serious upside in the Majors over a guy like Garland or Bonderman – neither of whom have any future with this team. Yeah, Maurer will be on a strict pitch limit (a la Pineda in 2011). Yeah, if the Mariners find themselves in contention in September, we will all be talking about how the M’s are planning on shutting Maurer down pretty soon (a la Strasburg with the Nationals). And yeah, if Maurer sticks, we’re talking about losing a year’s worth of team control. But, in the long run, I think this is really going to be worth our while.
Get the kid’s feet wet now, when we’re still not realistically expected to challenge for anything in the American League. Get him that rookie experience now, so when next year comes around and the Mariners are looking to do even MORE damage, we won’t have to worry about Maurer’s pitch counts as much. We won’t have to worry about shutting him down after five months. Obviously, we’ll still be bringing him along slowly on the innings pitched front, but it won’t be as severe. If we find ourselves in contention in 2014, and Maurer is leading the charge, we won’t lose him for any playoff run.
I know this is a lot of Big Think coming from a guy who generally believes this team is going to suck balls (until they show me otherwise) for years and years to come. But, for entertainment’s sake, I’m GLAD we didn’t retain the Kevin Millwood type. I’m GLAD the rookie gets a chance to prove himself. And if he goes out and does the job, maybe that’ll give this organization more confidence going into next year. They’ll be able to trust OTHER rookies. They won’t have to bother with the runaround of giving aging, washed-up veterans minor league deals with Spring Training invites. They won’t have to be so concerned with a “veteran presence” and they can, instead, just go with the best players available – regardless of age or Major League experience.
There’s a lot riding on this kid’s shoulders. But, based on his Spring Training (2 runs in 20 innings, with 6 walks and 22 strikeouts), he has certainly earned it.