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 now 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 importantly 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,” 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 till it becomes official in the eyes of Major League Baseball, but for all intents and purposes he is no longer with the team.
Seattle signed Garland to a minor league contract in the offseason taking a low-risk flyer on pitcher with a lot of experience but hadn’t thrown in game since 2011. Garland missed all of the 2012 season as he covered from surgery to repair a torn labrum suffered in the 2011 season. He was brought in with the intention of competing for a starting spot, if healthy, and perhaps bringing some major league experience (330 career starts), if he made the team. It worked last season for Seattle 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 basically have two open spots 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 in Cactus League, 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 three-run homer to former Mariner Wladimir Balentien.
But his best outing was his most recent. On Thursday night, 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 JasonBay or Kameron Loe or Bonderman. Sure you can find names to DFA – Yoervis Medina, Chance Ruffin, even Casper Wells (if they decided to keep Bay). But they are going to want to wait till 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 and hook with up another team and try to make its rotation in the short time before the season starts. It’s precisely why he had the opt-out clause in his contract.
“There’s been scouts in the stands every time I’ve thrown,” he said on 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 unusual situation.
“I understand why he had it,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll get other opportunities.”