1. To Cruz or Not to Cruz?
Latest reports indicate that the Mariners are willing to pay Nelson Cruz an acceptable amount of millions, but that there is still disagreement as to years. Presumably, that means the Mariners are not willing to guarantee a third year, and Cruz is holding out for as much. But it’s by no means clear that any other team is willing to give Cruz a third year, so it’s not immediately apparent what his leverage is. If so, it should just be a matter of time before Cruz gives in to some sort of face-saving measure like a mutual option, but it may not happen until the last minute.
2. How Does the OF Shake Out?
In the pre-Cruz world, indications are that Corey Hart would be the primary DH, Logan Morrison would be the primary RF, Michael Saunders the primary CF, Dustin Ackley the primary LF and Franklin Gutierrez would have spot duty at all three locations. Hart would get RF time as his knees allow.
If Cruz signs, then he probably becomes the “primary” RF, but with DH time as well. Hart probably gets more 1b time than he would without Cruz. LoMo and Ackley would split LF time, and Ackley probably gets more time in CF. Guti would be more likely to be held in reserve for late-inning defensive duties when Cruz or Hart is in the field.
Or Ackley could end up on the trading block if they decide they need a roster spot for Nick Franklin. Or, in theory, they could trade Morrison as well, given that the ground has shifted since they acquired him.
No room for Abraham Almonte in either scenario as far as I can see.
3. Wither Nick Franklin?
It’s not, at all, the end of the world to send Franklin back to AAA.
It would be the latest and strongest indication that Franklin will not beat out Brad Miller at shortstop, and — unless he plans on waiting 10 years — second base is no longer an option either.
And finding a super-utility spot on the roster means removing Willie Bloomquist (or making room by moving Ackley or LoMo, as noted), and they seemed to pretty much lock Willie B. into that spot with his contract.
So Tacoma seems like a holding pattern with no obvious exit strategy barring an injury or Miller undergoing a major reversal. But it also seems like the most likely result at the moment.
4. Bolster the Bullpen?
The right side of the pen already looks formidable. Fernando Rodney brings a strong track record to the 9th inning, and Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen have the potential to be a lights-out setup crew. And Stephen Pryor, when he gets healthy, could have better stuff than any of them.
It’s the left side that probably needs work, given that Charlie Furbush is best used in a longer role. Oliver Perez filled the short-lefty role nicely early in 2013, but struggled in the second half, and the Mariners have yet to agree on terms to bring him back. The in-house options were reduced by one when Brian Moran was taken in the Rule 5 draft, but Lucas Luetge and Bobby LaFromboise remain.
Don’t be shocked, though, if West Point graduate Nick Hill works his way into the picture.
5. What’s the Schedule?
Pitchers and catchers report for physicals on Feb. 12, with the first workout on Feb. 13.
Position players report for physicals on the 17th, with the first workout on the 18th.
The opening game is the Charity Game against San Diego on Thursday, Feb. 27.
Opening Day is Monday, Mar. 31 in Anaheim.