PEORIA, Ariz. — Jon Garland loaded a big bag of gear in a rental car. He quietly left the complex a short time later. Back in the clubhouse, his locker was empty. His name card had been removed. His time with the Seattle Mariners is over.
On Friday afternoon, general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge met with the veteran right-hander and told him it wouldn’t be in the organization’s best interest to guarantee him a spot on the 25-man roster and, more important, a spot in the starting rotation with 10 days remaining until opening day.
“We weren’t prepared to — at this moment in time — commit a roster spot and one of the starting spots in the rotation to Jon (Garland),” Zduriencik said. “There’s still some games left to be played and we couldn’t put ourselves in that position. At this time, we still have a battle going on for a couple spots in the rotation.”
Upon that news, Garland then exercised the opt-out clause in his contract, terminating his commitment to the Mariners. There’s a 24-hour grace period until it becomes official in the eyes of Major League Baseball.
Seattle signed Garland to a minor league contract during the offseason, taking a low-risk flyer on a pitcher with a lot of experience but who hadn’t thrown in a game since 2011. Garland missed all of the 2012 season as he covered from surgery to repair a torn labrum he suffered in 2011.
He was brought in to compete for a starting spot, if healthy, and to bring some major league experience (330 career starts). It worked in 2012 with veteran Kevin Millwood, but it didn’t work in this situation.
“Jon threw the ball well, it was more than just about Jon,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It was about everybody else involved in it. When you have an out this early in camp, you are put in a position where you have to make a decision.”
The Mariners have two open spots in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Joe Saunders. Garland was vying for one of them along with holdovers Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan, veteran Jeremy Bonderman, who was also signed to a minor league contract, and prospect Brandon Maurer.
“We are going to watch these guys pitch,” Wedge said. “We still have multiple people vying for those last two spots. We haven’t made any decisions in regards to who it’s going to be. We still have a little bit of time to do that.”
Those four pitched as well if not better than Garland this spring.
Garland, 34, made four official appearances this spring, posting a 1-0 record with a 2.25 earned run average in 12 innings pitched. However, those numbers don’t include a forgettable outing against the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Garland pitched three innings, giving up five runs on six hits — including a three-run homer to former Mariner Wladimir Balentien.
His best outing was his most recent one. On Thursday night, Garland threw six innings, giving up two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and a walk against the Chicago Cubs.
Afterward, he seemed at peace with his fate.
“I think I’ve shown them everything I can,” Garland said. “Now the decision is on them. There are a lot of young arms that have proven themselves worthy. It’s going to be a tough decision on them.”
The decision was tough for many reasons. The Mariners would have had to put Garland on the active roster immediately, which meant they would have had to designate a player for assignment. It seems likely the Mariners may have to do more roster shifting if they decide to keep Jason Bay, Kameron Loe or Bonderman.
There are players to designate: Yoervis Medina, Chance Ruffin, even Casper Wells (if they decided to keep Bay). But the Mariners are going to want to wait until the very end of the spring training in hopes of sneaking them through waivers.
“You have to take everything into consideration,” Wedge said. “With the talent we have in this organization now, any time you take someone off the roster, you risk losing them. We have multiple non-roster guys in camp that have a chance to make this club. So we’ve got to take the big picture into account.”
Garland will now try to hook with up another team and try to make its rotation in the short time before the season starts.
“There’s been scouts in the stands every time I’ve thrown,” he said Thursday. “If they don’t want to keep me, I think there might be a phone call for me; and like I said before, if not, I will be poolside at the house hanging out.”
Desperate teams like the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros might give Garland a chance, even teams in the American League West like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels aren’t overwhelmed with pitching depth.
Wedge called the early opt-out an unusual situation.
“I understand why he had it,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll get other opportunities.”
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
MARINERS 3, PADRES 1 (AT PEORIA STADIUM)
The facts: Seattle banged out nine hits and got solid pitching, holding San Diego to just four hits, and the Mariners improved to 18-8 in the Cactus League season. Kyle Seager, Michael Morse and Dustin Ackley had two hits each, and Kelly Shoppach homered to push Seattle’s spring total to 47 — the most in the majors.
Play of the game: Minor league shortstop Chris Taylor found himself in a big position in just his second Cactus League at-bat. With the bases loaded and two outs in a 1-1 game, he worked to a 3-2 count and then ripped a hard single to center to score the two eventual winning runs — his first hit of the spring. Taylor was drafted out of Virginia in the fifth round in 2012.
Who was hot: Felix Hernandez threw six innings, allowing two hits and striking out nine. He threw just 70 pitches, 50 of which were strikes. Hernandez gave up a two-out single and a double in the second inning, but got Alexi Amarista to ground out to end the inning. He retired 13 straight batters after those two hits, including six strikeouts in a row.
Who was not: Jason Bay made his second consecutive start in center field. He made a few nice plays despite not having played in center field much in the past six years. But at the plate he struggled, going 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts.
Quotable: “This is a good young player — a guy we feel strong about. … That was a great at-bat in a tough situation. I loved the way he hung in there, took some pitches, fouled off some pitches and ultimately came through. He should feel good about that.” — Mariners manager Eric Wedge on Taylor’s winning hit.
Extra innings: Hisashi Iwakuma will throw in a minor league game today to keep him on normal rest. … First baseman Mike Jacobs is no longer at spring training. His locker was cleaned out on Friday. The Mariners have yet to announce a roster move with him. … Former Mariners pitcher Arthur Rhodes made an appearance in the clubhouse and watched the game in the stands.
On tap: The Mariners host the Cleveland Indians at 1:05 p.m. at Peoria Stadium. Right-hander Blake Beavan will start for Seattle. Also scheduled are Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, Tom Wilhelmsen and Lucas Luetge. Cleveland will start lefty Scott Kazmir. The game is being televised on Root Sports and also broadcast on 710-AM.