Notes: Spots all but spoken for
Roster battles limited to bench, bullpen, backup catcher
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Crowded train station or congested clubhouse? It's hard to tell one from the other these days inside the bustling Mariners clubhouse at the Peoria Sports Complex.
There are 61 players in camp, including the non-roster invitees. Some are already assured spots on the Opening Day roster while, just as there is every spring, there's a deep pool of others who are hoping to land a job here by impressing the Mariners' brass with their play this spring.
Even if that happens, it might not matter.
The problem is there just aren't that many projected openings on that 25-man roster, as for the first time in recent memory, nearly all those spots were spoken for before these guys ever arrived in Peoria.
Consider that an ominous sign for those non-roster hopefuls who are here attempting to open eyes with their play once exhibition play begins on Friday with the annual charity game against the Padres.
"It's tough for guys coming in competing for the two or three jobs that are legitimately open," Seattle manager Mike Hargrove said. "The tough part is keeping an open enough mind to allow someone's really good performance to make you start seriously considering them winning a job."
Chances are, though, that won't happen, as other than addressing the bench and bullpen and backup catcher, there aren't any spots open as the Mariners' starting nine (including designated hitter) and rotation are set.
That leaves the Mariners' bullpen, bench and backup catcher as the only real spots where there could be some jostling before Opening Day on April 2 when the Mariners face the A's at Safeco Field.
"Things can change," Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said. "Non-performance, injuries ... you hope it all stays together."
It seldom does, and the Mariners are in a position where they have two bargaining chips -- designated hitter Ben Broussard and outfielder Jeremy Reed -- other teams might well be interested in.
Seattle figures to keep three or four bench players, with two of those jobs essentially spoken for as utilityman Willie Bloomquist -- who can play nearly everywhere and is the team's most proficient basestealer -- and reserve catcher Rene Rivera are all but promised spots. Bavasi and Hargrove, though, could be looking for an upgrade at catcher to play behind Kenji Johjima as Rivera hit just .152 in 2006 in 99 at-bats.
Broussard -- who lost his designated-hitter job when the Mariners traded for Jose Vidro in the offseason -- seemingly doesn't have a role. Richie Sexson is the everyday first baseman and the switch-hitting Vidro figures to play every day.
Reed -- the 2006 Opening Day starter in center field -- figures to make the team as a fourth outfielder. Reed's forte is playing defense and that he's left-handed adds to his value. Outfielder Mike Morse is another option.
The bullpen picture is muddled as there appears to be only two openings. J.J. Putz has a lock on the closer's job. Chris Reitsma will be the right-handed setup man with Arthur Rhodes and George Sherrill, both left-handers, likely handling the late innings against left-handed batters.
Julio Mateo and Jake Woods figure to be in long relief. That leaves strong competition for the last few spots among right-hander Jon Huber, left-handed Eric O'Flaherty, right-hander Sean Green and a handful of non-roster invitees with Major League experience like Jim Parque, Justin Lehr and Aaron Small.
"It'll be interesting to see guys battle against each other, neck to neck," Seattle pitching coach Rafael Chaves said. "For me, it's going to be a very competitive Spring Training."
Chaves said the non-roster invitees, coupled with the returning pitchers, should make for a very competitive spring.
"The organization did a nice job of signing guys that have had success in the past in the big leagues," Chaves said. "I think we are deeper than we were last year. A year ago we were a little younger and inexperienced in the bullpen. But now we have guys who have done it already competing for these jobs."
Being cautious: Perhaps it was just the cold weather here on Friday that made Sherrill's left elbow feel a little tender. The same, Sherrill, said, was the case for the rest of his body.
"I'm sure it's nothing to be alarmed about," he said.
But Sherrill experienced discomfort in that same elbow last season following the All-Star break when he appeared in five games in a six-game stretch in July.
"It didn't feel too good," Sherrill said, referring to Friday's workout. "With the weather, you never had a chance to get loose and never had a chance to warm up. Just being cold, it felt weird."
Sherrill said that his elbow -- which he thinks was sprained but never required him to go on the disabled list -- largely accounted for his second-half struggles.
After posting a 3.42 ERA in the first half of the season his ERA nearly rose two runs to 5.51 with 11 walks in 16 1/3 second-half innings.
"I felt like I didn't have a breaking ball anymore," he said. "I couldn't get extension on it. I felt like my numbers started to go up from there. My walks were really up. That's the thing that killed me."
Sherrill appeared in a career-high 72 games which is why he scaled back his offseason throwing routine, throwing more from short distances and saving on long toss.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.