Predicting the Mariners' Opening Day roster
Busy offseason brings exciting new crop to camp, with bullpen set to be heaviest competition
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As pitchers and catchers report on Monday for the start of Mariners Spring Training, we'll take a stab at predicting the 25-man roster that will be in Seattle for the home opener on March 28.
The Mariners will get to carry three extra players for their Opening Series in Tokyo on March 20-21 against the A's, but we'll stick with the 25 who'll make up the regular roster. And it's safe to say, lots can and will happen over the next seven weeks, so we'll check back with periodic updates as things become clearer.
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Catcher (2):Omar Narváez and David Freitas
The Mariners would like Narvaez -- acquired from the White Sox -- to catch about 100 games. He's a solid on-base guy to replace Mike Zunino, while his pitch framing and defense will be points of emphasis. Freitas will compete with non-roster invitees Jose Lobaton and Austin Nola for the backup role. This is a place Seattle could look to add another veteran during the spring for more depth.
First base (1):Ryon Healy
Healy returns as the incumbent starter, though he's no lock since Daniel Vogelbach, as well as designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and outfielder Jay Bruce, will all see time at first base during camp. Vogelbach is out of Minor League options, so there'll be a decision to make with him. But it seems likely the Mariners will just go with one first baseman and let Bruce and Encarnacion fill in at times.
Second base (1):Dee Gordon
With Robinson Canó dealt to the Mets, Gordon resumes his natural defensive position after converting to center field last spring. This is a far better fit for Gordon, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at second, and he's looking to bounce back from a disappointing second half offensively.
Third base (1):Kyle Seager
This has been Seager's spot for the past seven and a half seasons, and he'll hold down the hot corner again while also looking to rebound from a rough 2018 when -- like Gordon -- he dealt with a broken toe that clearly impacted his production.
Shortstop (1):Tim Beckham
J.P. Crawford is the heir apparent to Jean Segura after his acquisition from the Phillies, but general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Beckham, a former overall No. 1 Draft pick, to buy some time for the young Crawford to acclimate at Triple-A. Beckham figures to open the season as the starter, barring spring surprises.
Outfield (4):Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, Domingo Santana, Bruce
Haniger will be a fixture in right field, with the ability to back up speedy newcomer Smith in center if needed. Santana was acquired from the Brewers to provide some right-handed pop in left, where he'll split time with the veteran Bruce, a three-time National League All-Star looking to return from an injury-plagued year with the Mets. Braden Bishop figures to get a good look in center field this spring and could provide depth if a fifth outfielder is needed, though he's destined to open in Triple-A Tacoma barring injuries.
Designated hitter: Encarnacion
It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Dipoto trades Encarnacion before Opening Day, though there is limited market for a 36-year-old DH making $20 million. If he's still with the club, the veteran slugger provides a quality bat in the middle of the order and a very capable replacement for Nelson Cruz. But Encarnacion isn't part of the long-term plans, and if he can be flipped to another team for a decent prospect, it would open up the opportunity for the 26-year-old Vogelbach to show if he might be part of the future. Bruce also figures to get some time here as the Mariners want to get him at-bats in left field, first base and DH.
Utility (1):Dylan Moore
The 26-year-old Moore was acquired from the Angels and can play anywhere in the field, though he's yet to reach the Majors and will need a solid camp to beat out the returning Kristopher Negrón, who joined Seattle late last season from the D-backs.
Starting pitchers (5):Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, Félix Hernández, Wade LeBlanc
If healthy, this quintet appears set to start the season, though the order remains to be seen. Four of the five started last year as well, with Kikuchi -- the free agent from Japan -- replacing James Paxton. Roenis Elias is available as a swing man. Newly acquired prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn are all knocking at the door and it's only a matter of time before they get a shot.
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Relief pitchers (8):Hunter Strickland, Shawn Armstrong, Cory Gearrin, Chasen Bradford, Zac Rosscup, Dan Altavilla, Gerson Bautista, Elias
Easily the toughest group to predict -- and also the most unproven part of the roster -- after Dipoto traded away Edwin Díaz, Alex Colomé, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio and released Nick Vincent and several others. Strickland, Gearrin and the lefty Rosscup were signed to one-year free-agent deals to help out returnees Armstrong, Bradford and Altavilla. Elias serves as a lefty long man, while Bautista could be a factor if the former Met shows he can harness his 100-mph heater.
But there are plenty of other bullpen contenders as well, and this group could fluctuate throughout the year as Seattle looks to see who steps up to take advantage of their opportunity. Veteran Anthony Swarzak definitely figures in the mix after coming in the Mets' trade, but he'll be slowed in camp by a tender arm, and it remains to be seen if he's ready by Opening Day.
The three extra players for the trip to Japan will include 45-year-old outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, as long as he stays healthy this spring. The two international games, as well as a pair of Tokyo exhibitions, could also buy time to give Vogelbach and the first-base situation a chance to play out, while an extra bullpen arm is a pretty safe bet to make the trip to Japan, as well.
For now though, we'll go with these as the chosen 25:
1B Ryon Healy
2B Dee Gordon
SS Tim Beckham
3B Kyle Seager
LF Domingo Santana
LF Jay Bruce
CF Mallex Smith
RF Mitch Haniger
RHP Hunter Strickland
RHP Shawn Armstrong
RHP Cory Gearrin
RHP Chasen Bradford
LHP Zac Rosscup
RHP Dan Altavilla
LHP Roenis Elias
RHP Gerson Bautista
RP Anthony Swarzak
RP Sam Tuivailala