Bryan LaHair spent an entire off-season working to strengthen his core muscles in order to deal with a herniated disc in his back, and has come to spring training with the thought of winning a job.
A first baseman by trade, he’s found the field a crowded one.
"Everywhere I look, there’s a first baseman," he said, and laughed.
He wasn’t kidding. Russell Branyan, Mike Carp, Mike Sweeney, Chris Shelton, Jose Lopez and Mike Morse have all played the position, and the Mariners are getting a first basemans glove for catcher Jeff Clement, too.
It’s a position where the competition is deep, and LaHair – despite a new-found power swing – is down the depth chart a bit. He’s impressed hitting coach Alan Cockrell and infield coach Bruce Hines, but with all those other first basemen, making the opening day roster is a long shot.
That’s the situation at other positions, as well.
There are plenty of outfielders, infielders, catchers and relievers in camp. Too many starting pitchers. And it was designed this way – that’s why there are 63 players in camp, with outfielder Wladimir Balentien yet to report.
"We want competition for every position," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We want options, we want depth within the organization, we want versatility."
They’ve got it, and it’s going to make for tough decisions in another month or so.
Mike Morse and Balentien, for instance, are out of minor league options. If they don’t make the 25-man roster, they go on waivers for any team to claim. Morse is a right-handed hitter who can play the first base, third base, shortstop and – in a pinch – the outfield.
There are more candidates for utility jobs than there are first baseman.
So even though it’s early in camp, there are players looking around and doing the math. More than 35 players here won’t be heading for Minnesota when Seattle opens the regular season.
LaHair knows the odds. Morse knows them, too. So do Jamie Burke, Rob Johnson and a half dozen relievers. Jobs are scarce, competition considerable.
"We all have the opportunity," LaHair said. "All you ever want is that chance to show them you can help the team now, and everyone here has that. It’s not supposed to be easy. I’ve gotten stronger in the off-season and lost weight. I’m quicker at first base and strong enough to hit for power.
Can he make this team?
"I think so," LaHair said.