Six days before their pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Seattle Mariners signed two veteran free agent relievers to big-league contracts, and if you didn’t take particular notice, be assured of one thing – the team’s young relievers did.
Shawn Camp and lefty Hong-Chih Kuo could have been signed in November, but the fact they were signed Monday is likely a strong indicator that general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge didn’t like the only options in the bullpen being young. So Zduriencik gave Wedge two more options.
The move could be viewed as adding competition to the arms relief race that begins on Sunday, when Mariners pitchers – all 35 of them – take the field for the first time in Peoria, Ariz.
If you were a young reliever, like Steve Delabar, Chance Ruffin or Tom Wilhelmsen, you might view it as a problem.
There are, at most, six jobs available in the opening day bullpen. Two of them belong to closer Brandon League and lefty George Sherrill, another almost certainly to long reliever Aaron Heilman. For those three remaining spots, Camp, Kuo, Wilhelmsen, Ruffin, Delabar, Shawn Kelley, Cesar Jimenez and Forrest Snow will be among the competitors. That means five disappointed guys.
In some camp, in some years, veterans with big league contracts – like Kuo and Camp – get an edge no matter how they perform. Norm Charlton, for instance, never had a good spring in his life, but managers who believed he’d be there come April usually kept him. Most often, they were right.
Wedge showed last year he was willing to use youngsters, and the Mariners won 67 games because of, or in spite of those kids, depending upon your point of view. Any manager who wants to win, as Wedge does, leans toward the known rather than the unknown. Veterans have a track record, a history. Younger pitchers, like Delabar, Ruffin and Wilhelmsen, don’t have one. That makes them wild cards for any manager.
The safest choice for any manager in any spring is to go with vets, send the kids out to get experiencer and, if it all goes south, jettison the veterans in mid-May and start bringing kids up. A manager who doesn’t take a veteran pitcher making guaranteed money has to wonder if, down the road, the general manager who signed that pitcher is going to have his back.
In the perfect world, everyone comes to spring training with an equal opportunity to win a job. This is baseball. That means in all likelihood, when Camp and Kuo were signed, two young pitchers lost a spot on the opening day roster.