SEATTLE -- Had life proceeded as normal -- before the coronavirus pandemic determined that was not in the plans -- we’d be one week away from the Mariners breaking camp and making their final roster moves before opening the regular season on March 26 against the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
But instead of finalizing their 26-man roster, the Mariners and the rest of Major League Baseball are on hold for at least the next eight weeks.
Whenever the Mariners do resume play, they’ll need to decide at least these three roster battles that were still looming:
The fourth outfield position
This one got interesting when Braden Bishop was optioned to Minor League camp shortly before the shutdown. That decision left expected starters Mallex Smith, Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley, along with non-roster invitees Carlos González, Collin Cowgill and Jarred Kelenic as the only healthy outfielders remaining.
Since the 20-year-old Kelenic is bound to start the season with Double-A Arkansas, that leaves Cowgill and CarGo as the apparent battlers. Cowgill, 33, hasn’t played in the Majors since 2016. González, 34, is a three-time All-Star and highly respected veteran, but hit just .200/.289/.283 in 45 games last year before being released by both the Indians and Cubs.
González hit .273 with one double in 25 plate appearances this spring and could be kept around to help mentor his young teammates, but it seems more likely the Mariners might opt to go the utility route to provide backup, the result of Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes both proving they could play the corner spots if needed last year. Additionally, José Marmolejos is capable of playing left field as well as first base. Also, expect general manager Jerry Dipoto to be scanning the waiver wire or looking at possible additions from outside whenever other teams finalize their own rosters.
If the fourth outfield spot doesn’t go to a full-time outfielder, that will open a spot for an extra utility man, and the Mariners are flush with options in that department. Veteran Dee Gordon appears ticketed for backup duties to young second baseman Shed Long Jr. and shortstop J.P. Crawford, so the normal need for a utility man who can handle defensive duties at shortstop is lessened.
With rosters expanded to 26 players this season, it’s possible the Mariners could carry Gordon as well as two more utility-type players if they don’t go with a straight outfield reserve. That scenario could definitely open a role for Marmolejos, a two-time Minor League hitter of the year in the Nationals farm system who offers an intriguing left-handed bat.
Marmolejos, 27, could provide a lefty option to the right-handed-swinging White at first base and also back up Lewis or Fraley in a corner outfield position. With a lefty-heavy lineup, the right-handed-hitting Moore or Lopes appear to be competing for each other's spot and would be capable of backing up Kyle Seager at third base or playing in the outfield. Lopes was having a strong camp offensively, while Moore is regarded as the better and more versatile defender.
Patrick Wisdom is another right-handed-hitting contender who could back up both first and third base, but he wasn’t hitting well this spring and doesn’t play the outfield, while Sam Haggerty injured his elbow recently and his status remains uncertain.
The final bullpen spots
These looked like the toughest decisions facing the Mariners, but the shutdown will buy them some extra time as teams will likely get a few extra roster spots to carry additional pitchers, at least initially, whenever the season does start due to the shortened preparation time for starters to get stretched out.
The delay also gives relievers Matt Magill and Erik Swanson the chance to get fully healthy after they were sidelined early in camp with arm issues. If those two are all ready to go, they’ll likely be joined by Yoshihisa Hirano, Carl Edwards Jr., Dan Altavilla and Rule 5 pickup Yohan Ramirez, which would leave two spots in the original eight-man bullpen plan.
That scenario figured to have a multi-inning reliever like Nestor Cortes Jr. or perhaps rotation candidate Justin Dunn as the final candidates. But if a couple extra arms are allowed to start the season, it’ll be much easier to fit several of the youngsters who’ve had strong camps into the mix, such as Gerson Bautista, Aaron Fletcher, Brandon Brennan, Taylor Guilbeau or perhaps even one of the younger prospects like Joey Gerber or Sam Delaplane.