By both the rules of logic and baseball, the Seattle Mariners are expected and required to maintain a 25-man roster consisting entirely of baseball players. Not 24, and not-often-but-not-never 26, but 25 men shall be eligible each day to appear in a game for the Mariners. Spring training is all about deciding which 25 men will make up the initial casting of the active roster. And right now, it looks as if Stefen Romero might well be a major leaguer come March 31st.
Since you’re probably wondering if Romero has ever been a major leaguer before, I’ll tell you now that no, he hasn’t, having reached AAA for the first time last season and playing just alright. As a member of the Tacoma Rainiers, Romero played almost exclusively in left field, with two games apiece at right, first, and second. He also dorked around at third for a little bit in high A ball, but realistically he’s the exact type of player the M’s are currently loaded with: severely defensively challenged, hanging around in an outfield corner.
There is, of course, a reason why the Mariners obsess over players like this: offensive upside. Romero may not have a position, and he may be nothing with the glove. That doesn’t make him an uninteresting guy to Jack Z and company, because there’s a chance he might hit. Romero’s always been a bat-first guy, and last year he hit .277/.331/.448 in Tacoma. But that line was only good for a 104 wRC+ due to the extreme offensive environment that is Cheney Stadium and, really, the whole PCL. In other words, Romero’s .779 OPS was barely above league-average, and barely-above league average with zero defense can’t be expected to translate well to the majors.
Though considered by some a top prospect, Romero is already 25 years old. He’s approaching his physical prime, and thus the Mariners are likely extra motivated to see what he can do for them. After all, his skill set is a skill set that the team is known to love and crave, for better or worse. Nelson Cruz picked Baltimore over Seattle, but luckily for Seattle, there’s a chance Stefen Romero could be some approximation of Nelson Cruz. This is simply a kind of player the Mariners wanted one more of, and Romero’s cheap, and he’s already here.
Despite the presence of Logan Morrison and the like, Romero has a place on the active roster. He’ll be a fifth outfielder in Seattle, if for no other reason than that the M’s can afford to carry him. The M’s will have nine starting position players, obviously, and then a four-man bench. One of those bench spots is going to John Buck, and another is going to Willie Bloomquist. Logan Morrison is all but guaranteed to be the backup 1B/LF/DH, which leaves one bench role open for the taking.
The competitors for that last spot are probably Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero, and while neither is terribly exciting, one is a 25 year old prospect and one was among the worst players in baseball last year. Neither Chavez or Romero is going to provide any defensive value, and while neither is likely to give the team anything offensively, Romero at least might. Between those two, Romero is the clear choice. As a result, he’s looking more and more like a roster certainty, somehow.
Stefen Romero has a lot of appeal to the Mariners brass because he looks the part of a slugger, regardless of his defensive hilarity. He’s getting infield work this spring, so maybe they really do see him as more of a Bloomquist and less of a Morrison. But that’s the thing with Romero: no matter what role he settles into, he’s highly unlikely to be a difference-maker. But you don’t have to be a difference-maker to be a Seattle Mariner, and in seven days, a Seattle Mariner is what Stefan Romero will likely be.