PEORIA, Ariz. — Let’s state this up front: While much of the attention last year focused on Kansas City’s potent late-game trio, the Mariners had baseball’s best top-to-bottom bullpen. And it wasn’t close.
The unit compiled a 2.59 ERA. San Diego ranked second at 2.73. The second-best American League club was Oakland at 2.91. No other team in either league was better than 3.00.
It was also a deep unit.
The Mariners became the first AL club in history to have seven relievers make at least 50 appearances — ranging from 69 outings from All-Star closer Fernando Rodney to 56 by lefty specialist Joe Beimel.
So what about this year?
Beimel is likely gone — he remains an unsigned free agent — and converted starter Brandon Maurer went to San Diego in the trade that returned outfielder Seth Smith.
But right-hander Carson Smith flashed impressive potential as a September promotion, which suggests the key issue is finding a Beimel replacement to serve alongside Charlie Furbush as lefty options.
WHO IS IN CAMP?
On 40-man roster (10)
NO PITCHER B-T Primary 2014 club W-L ERA
40 Danny Farquhar R-R Mariners 3-1 2.66
41 Charlie Furbush L-L Mariners 1-5 3.61
71 Mayckol Guaipe R-R AA Jackson 1-3 2.89
52 Dominic Leone R-R Mariners 8-2 2.17
44 Lucas Luetge L-L AAA Tacoma 3-2 3.13
31 Yoervis Medina R-R Mariners 5-3 2.68
56 Fernando Rodney R-R Mariners 1-6 2.85
73 David Rollins L-L AA Corpus Christi 3-4 3.81
39 Carson Smith R-R AAA Tacoma 1-3 2.93
54 Tom Wilhelmsen R-R Mariners 3-2 2.27
Non-roster invites (2)
NO PITCHER B-T Primary 2014 club W-L ERA
57 Mark Lowe L-R AAA Columbus 4-3 5.62
38 Rafael Perez L-L 6-3 195 AAA Indianapolis 3-1 1.77
THE LOCKS: Other than Rodney (and maybe Furbush), everyone is pitching this spring to hold/win a spot in the bullpen. Note also that everyone but Rodney, with one key exception, has options.
So the Mariners have lots of flexibility.
Sure, right-handers such as Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen are well-positioned, but spring competition figures to be cut-throat.
SPRING BATTLES: The first issue is whether the Mariners opt for a traditional seven-man bullpen or, as they did for much of last season, choose to go with eight relievers.
The way the roster shapes up, after a series of off-season acquisitions, points to a four-man bench. That means a seven-man bullpen, which will only amp up the competition.
Do the math.
Manager Lloyd McClendon wants two lefty relievers, which probably means Furbush and one from the group of Lucas Luetge, minor-league invite Rafael Perez and Rule 5-pick David Rollins.
That leaves room (probably) for five right-handers. Rodney will be one, which positions Medina, Farquhar, Wilhelmsen, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith in a battle for four slots.
Veteran Mark Lowe is also in camp as a non-roster invite.
Now add this twist: Erasmo Ramirez is out of options. Much needs to happen for him to win a spot in the rotation, but Ramirez is still just 24, has shown potential in the past and is coming off a dominant winter season.
In short, he’s unlikely to clear waivers.
The Mariners, like all clubs, are loathe to surrender inventory in spring training or early in the season. That could result in Ramirez, if he pitches well, making the club as a long reliever.
A year ago, the Mariners must just such as decision with Hector Noesi before cutting him loose after two poor outings. Noesi then put together a solid season with the Chicago White Sox after a brief stop at Texas.
So, yes, competition this spring should be fierce.
HELP IF NEEDED: The big plus to the looming spring competition is the Mariners should have two or three reliable bullpen arms stashed at Triple-A Tacoma if replacements are needed due to injury or ineffectiveness.
KEY SPRING DATES
Friday: Pitchers and catchers report to camp.
Saturday: First workout for pitchers and catchers.
February 24: Infielders and outfielders report to camp.
February 25: First full-squad workout.
March 4: Cactus League opener vs. San Diego at Peoria Stadium.
April 4: Cactus League finale vs. Colorado at Salt River Fields.
April 6: Regular-season opener vs. Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
TNT SPRING PREVIEW SERIES
Monday: Starting pitchers
Tuesday: Relief pitchers