When the Seattle Mariners released Scott Baker – which they did, and quite recently at that – it sent the clear message that Randy Wolf, against all odds, would be part of the starting rotation. There were exactly six healthy starting pitchers in camp, and one of them was and is Blake Beavan, making the decision to include Wolf and Roenis Elias in the rotation rather simple, if not still an indictment of an unprepared franchise. But while the Mariners certainly should have been prepared for starting pitcher injuries, a large part of that preparation includes keeping available depth around. Shortly after releasing Scott Baker, the Mariners released Randy Wolf. This is something worth talking about.
With Baker, the reason for cutting ties was plenty obvious – he was still hurt, or at least damaged from his extended time on the shelf. When a guy who misses bats and hits spots starts missing the strike zone and hitting batters, something is seriously wrong. Wolf, too, has been injured and ineffective for the better part of the past several years, but unlike Baker, he flashed effectiveness at time and appeared to have retained or regained some of the talent that has allowed him to pitch over two thousand major league innings in his career. Baker was still a project, but with Wolf, the work had been done. He was a completed project, and the Mariners were ready to give him a few April starts. Instead, he’s no longer with the team because of a contract squabble.
We hardly ever think about the terms of minor league contracts, because they’re non-guaranteed and rarely involve notable salaries. Depending on how you feel, maybe a $1 million guarantee for making the 25-man roster is a lot for a Randy Wolf. The Mariners certainly seem to feel that way, since they chose to have no Wolf over a $1 million Wolf. As the story goes, the Mariners asked Wolf to sign a 45-day clause that, in short, gave them the ability to demote or release Wolf at any point and not be on the hook for his full salary. This seems to indicate that the M’s didn’t see the point in having Wolf in the same clubhouse as Taijuan Walker or Hisashi Iwakuma for even a second, and that they sure as hell didn’t value his three or so April starts at $1 million. Wolf was peeved and refused, and the Mariners were just absolutely unwilling to pay up.
Consider that Wolf wasn’t even brought into camp to start. The Mariners intended on looking at him as a reliever, but he started getting starts after the Iwakuma and Walker injuries threw the team into all-hands-on-deck mode. Originally the plan, from Wolf’s perspective, was to pitch well and make the team as a million dollar reliever. The Mariners, by all accounts, were willing to do this, too, or else they wouldn’t have agreed to the contract that they agreed to in February. Wolf didn’t just meet expectations in camp – he exceeded them, going from a fringe lefty relief candidate to the fifth starter. If the M’s thought he’d be worth a million bucks as a long man, surely he’d be worth that much as a starter, right?
Until yesterday, it appeared the plan would be for Wolf to make a few starts before heading to the bullpen to fill an important role as a desperately-needed swingman and another lefty behind Charlie Furbush. What the Mariners seem to be insisting in the wake of all of this is that they still had questions about Wolf coming off his injury. If that’s the case, why did he win the fifth starter spot? Scott Baker may be presumed broken, but it took only a few hours after his release before he signed on with the Texas Rangers. Blake Beavan is one of the most uninteresting, limited hurlers in the organization, yet he’s been bumped from Tacoma to Seattle in the wake of this. In releasing Wolf, the Mariners chose to stretch their depth as thin as possible. The team has five healthy starters, and one of them is a AA starter. It’s not like Lucas Luetge is an awesome lefty or anything, so really Wolf filled a couple of needs for this team. The situation doesn’t make any sense.
Based on what happened yesterday, it appears that one of two things is true: the Mariners just absolutely hate their rotation depth options to the point of viewing all of them as similarly disposable, or the Mariners are at their absolute payroll ceiling. For a number of reasons, we can all but eliminate option number two. The continued desire to find middle ground with Kendrys Morales, for one, and the fact that we’re talking about a $1 million salary breaking the bank and sending the whole thing spiraling out of control, for another. Any team up against a payroll limit can add a $1 million starting pitcher if they need to, so the Mariners are almost assuredly not doing this because they’ve reached the upper limit of their upper limit. Which means that this is more about Wolf, and how he likely sucks.
What seems most likely here is that the Mariners looked at what they had in Randy Wolf and Blake Beavan, and concluded that while it would be nice to go the route that gave them six healthy starters, that route wasn’t worth a few hundred thousand dollars. The Mariners trust that they’ll have Iwakuma and Walker back soon, and they probably trust that there will be other, better depth pieces available for cheap in the coming days and weeks, or at least, as needed. Releasing Randy Wolf over a minor monetary quibble was the Mariners way of saying that they just hate their current internal options.
Barring any late additions, the season-opening rotation will be Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Blake Beavan, and Roenis Elias. Randy Wolf won’t be there, and he won’t be in the bullpen. The Mariners probably could have used him in the organization, but apparently he sucks too much, which doesn’t say much about the four and five slots in the current rotation. The team couldn’t be thinner right now, and the front office keeps exacerbating this by tossing potential rotation pieces to the wind. The regular season is less than a week away, and the Mariners are a bit of a mess.