When the Seattle Mariners open the regular season, they'll take 12 pitchers and nine regulars for their lineup – meaning there are only four open spots on the bench.
Start with who won't make the team: Mike Morse, Chris Shelton, Bryan LaHair, Mike Carp, Rule 5 draftee Reegie Corona, Matt Tuiasosopo, Greg Halman or Mike Wilson.
From there, start with the backup catcher.. The assumption has been that left-handed hitting Jeff Clement will be that man but if the season began today, he wouldn't be.
Clement isn't a solid defensive player yet, so his only chance to make the team is with his bat – and he's not hitting. Not for power, not for average, not in the clutch. In short, this spring he's looked a lot like the Clement who batted .227 in 203 at-bats with Seattle a year ago.
If not Clement, who? Jamie Burke (pictured) is the logical choice: a solid defensive catcher pitchers love, and a small-ball hitter who'd fit nicely into the end of a lineup. The other possibility is Rob Johnson, who has two things in his favor – youth and speed.
Yes, speed. If, late in a game, a Russell Branyan or Mike Sweeney reaches base, Johnson is a viable pinch-runner. His defense is good, his hitting a work in progress. If the Mariners want to be seen as building, they might go young. If they want immediate results, it's Burke.
Ok, three more spots to fill. One of those is Sweeney, the 35-year-old coming off surgery to both knees. He can't run. In a pinch, he can play a little first base, but is no longer a defender with much range. What Sweeney gives the team is a veteran bat with some pop off the bench – and attitude.
Sabermatricians will cringe, but as the 25th man on the roster, Sweeney has already shown the ability to break down cliques in a clubhouse, to motivate and cajole teammates.
Two spots left.
One belongs to Ronny Cedeno, the anti-Yuniesky Betancourt. Where Yuni has range and the ability to make spectacular plays, Cedeno is rock solid fundamentally. When a shortstop forgot to back up a play at second this spring, or was out of position for a relay or seemed briefly disinterested, that player was Betancourt, not Cedeno.
Cedeno doesn't have Betancourt's power or skill at the plate. He is, however, willing to bunt – even on his own – and do little things that help win games. Cedeno is on the team, and if Betancourt doesn't adjust, Cedeno might start some games at shortstop.
One spot left.
More than likely, it's outfielder Wladimir Balentien. The irony is, if the Mariners keep him as a reserve, he'll rarely play in the outfield – Ichiro Suzuki, Franklin Guttierrez and Endy Chavez are the best defensive group, and Ken Griffey Jr. figures to get some at-bats as an outfielder.
Balentien has no minor league options left, but keeping him without getting him at-bats – after he batted .202 in 2008 – doesn't seem the best way to see what you've got. If the general manager doesn't want to give him up for nothing, however, Balentien is on the team.
As of today, that's the Seattle bench: Burke, Sweeney, Cedeno and Balentien.
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