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Inbox: Biggest surprise from new pickups?

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers questions from Mariners fans
February 1, 2017

Who do you see being the biggest surprise out of the Mariners' new pickups? -- Anthony S., Auburn, Wash.One guy flying under the radar going into camp is Shae Simmons, a hard-throwing right-hander acquired from the Braves as part of a pair of trades last month that also landed starter

Who do you see being the biggest surprise out of the Mariners' new pickups?
-- Anthony S., Auburn, Wash.

One guy flying under the radar going into camp is Shae Simmons, a hard-throwing right-hander acquired from the Braves as part of a pair of trades last month that also landed starter Drew Smyly from the Rays. The 26-year-old was a fast-rising prospect in the Braves' bullpen plans as a rookie in 2014, but missed most of the past two seasons after Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Simmons did get back to the big leagues for seven games last September and was throwing again in the 95-96 mph range. Assuming he's fully healthy now that he's nearly two years removed from surgery, the Mariners added another promising power arm to their 'pen.
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In the various iterations of the Mariners outfield for 2017, one name invariably omitted in comments by Jerry Dipoto and others is that of Boog Powell. Is he going to be the player to be named in the trade for Chris Heston or is he simply being punished?
-- Bill P., Port Townsend, Wash.

Powell will be in Mariners camp in Spring Training and Dipoto mentioned him as part of the outfield depth. The 24-year-old has five games remaining on the 80-game suspension he drew for testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance last season while with Triple-A Tacoma. The Mariners traded for a trio of athletic outfielders -- Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel -- and also are excited about Guillermo Heredia, so Powell has moved down the depth chart a bit. He'll likely start the season in Tacoma once his suspension is complete.
With Dipoto trading several starting pitchers but only picking up two new starters, what happens if several land on the disabled list at the same time like last year?
-- Annie, Spokane, Wash.

Dipoto traded Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns, but acquired Smyly and Yovani Gallardo. Those two are expected to join Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton in the rotation, with Ariel Miranda available if needed. But don't overlook the additional depth Dipoto added by acquiring Heston, Rob Whalen, Max Povse and Dillon Overton, while the club also believes Double-A Arkansas standout Andrew Moore may soon be ready to compete for a Major League spot.

Have you heard anything about former Mariner Dustin Ackley? I understand he was cut by the Yankees, but has anything developed for him in free agency?
-- Jessee F., Puyallup, Wash.

Ackley indeed was released by the Yankees in November after missing the last half of the 2016 season following labrum surgery. The 28-year-old was hitting just .148 in 61 at-bats at the time of his injury. He's still unsigned.
With Franklin Gutierrez gone, who plays left field vs. lefties? Jarrod Dyson has really struggled vs. lefties and seems like more of a platoon bat.
-- Jarrett A., Bainbridge Island, Wash.

Manager Scott Servais says he'll use Dyson against some left-handers and is also counting on other American League West teams to have fewer southpaws in their rotation this year. But the Mariners won't likely run Dyson out against a lot of lefties, which opens an opportunity for Heredia to grab a bench role if he plays well. And don't count out right-handed-hitting Taylor Motter, who was acquired from the Rays and is capable of playing multiple positions, including left field. Switch-hitting utility man Shawn O'Malley is another option.

It seems the Mariners are confident in Dan Vogelbach for half of the first-base duo. He hasn't proven to be a Major League hitter yet, so if that doesn't pan out, what is the backup plan?
-- Jon B., Bellingham, Wash.

I actually think the bigger question is Vogelbach's defense, which he's been working on this offseason in Florida. But if the 24-year-old struggles at the plate or in the field, the Mariners are confident in veteran Danny Valencia to play every day if needed. Valencia will definitely play first against left-handed pitchers, but he's also proven capable of hitting right-handers the past two years and would be a simple solution if Vogelbach isn't ready.
How many times can a player be sent down to Triple-A before he runs out of options?
-- Don S., Port Hadlock, Wash.

Any player on the 40-man roster can be sent to the Minor Leagues in three different years before his options expire. It doesn't matter how many times he's sent down in one year, the entire year counts as using one option. After that, a player can still be sent down, but must clear waivers and can be claimed by another team -- thus the difficulty in keeping a player who is out of options and isn't certain to make the 25-man Major League roster.
Three Mariners are out of options -- relievers Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner, and center fielder Leonys Martin -- but all are likely to make the 25-man roster if all goes well this spring. It's no coincidence that some other players who were out of options -- Jesus Sucre, Arquimedes Caminero and Stefen Romero -- are no longer on the 40-man.
Minor League options are one of the more confusing things in baseball and if you want more details, you can read a full explanation here.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [

@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.