PEORIA, Ariz. -- The dog days of Spring Training are in full swing for the Mariners, with position players already eager for meaningful games while pitchers continue to build their arm strength. Yet Opening Day on March 30 is closer than ever.
“The clock is ticking,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Thursday. “Everybody says, 'Ah, you've got a week and a half.' In my mind, now is the time I keep looking, and we've still got 26 to 28 players that we need to get out of camp yet. So a lot of [roster] discussions yet to be had.”
With the regular season looming, here are a few questions surrounding the Mariners:
Is the infield attrition concerning?
Dylan Moore being scratched from Thursday’s lineup ahead of what would’ve been his Cactus League debut raised a larger examination of where the Mariners' infield stands with just two weeks until the season opener. Moore has been intentionally slow-played after undergoing core surgery in December, and though he’s their backup middle infielder, the utility-capable Moore is slated for a more pronounced role in 2023.
“Multiple starts in a seven-day, eight-day span is what I'm hoping to do,” Servais said of Moore, who hit .224/.368/.385 (.753 OPS) in 104 games last year while playing every position but pitcher and catcher.
Consider that Tommy La Stella has seen his roster stock tumble with a right shoulder injury and J.P. Crawford hasn’t played shortstop in a Cactus League game since March 10 due to what Servais described as a “soggy shoulder,” and the infield situation looks more questionable than ideal. Crawford, who has served as the designated hitter in two games, is expected to take the field Sunday or Monday, but La Stella, who’s also been a DH, is farther away.
Even with a healthy Crawford, shortstop is arguably Seattle's most vulnerable position if he were to be sidelined later on -- which is precisely why they intend to use Moore in a more specialized middle-infield role, where he’ll also platoon with second baseman Kolten Wong.
External options for depth are limited, and the shortstop-needy Dodgers are also in the market after losing Gavin Lux for the season. The Yankees appear to be moving on from Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop and need starting pitching, which the Mariners possess plenty of. The same goes for the Cubs, who don’t have a clear role for Nick Madrigal. Neither is a massive upgrade, but they would represent depth.
The Mariners arrived at camp satisfied with their roster but open to trades for the right fit. Depending on the results of Moore’s MRI, there could be a need.
How will they round out their bench and bullpen?
The club believes that the situations with Moore and La Stella are short-term and not worrisome. In that context, Mason McCoy and Colin Moran represent the foremost internal reinforcements.
Servais has regularly pointed out that McCoy has had a strong camp, hitting .320/.346/.360 (.706 OPS) in 25 at-bats through 11 games. Last year, he had his most productive pro season, hitting .256/.332/.473 (.805 OPS) in 503 plate appearances across 124 games, all with Triple-A Tacoma, and nearly earning a callup for what would’ve been his MLB debut when Crawford was dealing with pectoral soreness last August.
As for the bullpen, despite having a pair of interesting prospects in camp -- Prelander Berroa and Isaiah Campbell -- both have since been optioned to Double-A Arkansas. Trevor Gott has given up four runs in six outings, but he’s also earning $1.2 million on a big league contract, meaning he’s likely going to earn the final spot.
Is Kelenic’s development for real?
Jarred Kelenic had another productive day on Thursday, ripping a 97 mph single up the middle and then immediately stealing second base. He nearly had another base hit -- also up the middle -- but was robbed by an impressive diving grab by Giants second baseman Wilmer Flores.
Even with that forceout and another groundout, Kelenic’s 1-for-3 day brought his Cactus League slash line up to .438/.471/.938 (1.409 OPS). He leads MLB in slugging percentage and OPS this spring and ranks second in batting average.
Again, results won’t matter until the regular season, but the signs continue to be encouraging.
Matt Brash returned to the Mariners on Thursday after pitching for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic and chatted about his experience.
Just how cool was it?
Brash: I think a big part of it was just meeting everybody. I didn't know any of those guys or any of the coaches, so just kind of sitting in a bullpen or in the dugout and learning from a lot of those older guys was a cool experience for me. And obviously, the atmosphere there was really cool.
What were the big takeaways from Team Canada coaches, such as Larry Walker, Russell Martin and Paul Quantrill?
Brash: I think it was more just hearing stories from some of the older guys from back in the day, playing. I still did my regular routine and felt comfortable and all that, but I think it was more just interacting with them and getting to know all of them.
Did the environment mimic the postseason?
Brash: It felt kind of like last year at the end of the year a little bit, just like with the crowd. It kind of got me going. But yeah, I’m just ready to go [for Opening Day].
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