Mariners hoping planned new MLB rule changes to fit their roster better

Jan 26, 2021, 2:44 PM

Mariners Scott Servais...

Mariners manager Scott Servais hopes a rule change will allow him to use 14 pitchers. (Getty)


Yes, the Mariners are really going to go with a six-man rotation again.

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The question that was answered at the start of the offseason continues to be asked, and when manager Scott Servais took his turn Tuesday meeting with the media as part of the Mariners Virtual Baseball Blast, the answer had not changed. The Mariners are going with a 6-man rotation in 2021, for realz.

The move makes sense from a heath standpoint with the Mariners targeting 140-150 innings for their starters coming off the 60-game 2020 season, although one veteran this week politely declined to give it his endorsement.

“It’s not my job to comment on that sort of thing,” Marco Gonzales said in his media session last week. “My job is to take the ball whenever it’s given to me and go out and win a ballgame whenever it’s given to me. I’m not going to comment on the structure of our rotation.”

Gonzales was clearly not thrilled with the move, which came as no surprise to Servais.

“I totally understand where Marco is coming from,” he said. “He’s one of the best competitors we have, he wants to be out there every day, that’s how he’s wired. I don’t have a problem with that at all but what we are trying to do here is make a decision that is best for the group, best for our organization going forward with what we have today. I don’t think we will be the only team that goes with a six-man rotation.”

Detroit and most recently the Padres have talked about utilizing the six-man rotation for at least part of the season. For those teams that do, a big question remains unanswered: Will the 26-man roster rule that limits teams to 13 position players and 13 pitchers, which was to go into effect in 2020, be carried out in 2021? According to Servais, clarity on the situation should be revealed in a managers call with the league later this week.

“Early indications are they will back off that,” he said, “so it will be up to individual teams to put your roster together any way you want to, and that’s the way it should be in my opinion. I think it is ridiculous that people would say you can only have this many players, this many pitchers – it really should be up to the teams.”

Which way the call goes plays directly into roster construction and will have impact either way. The Mariners were able to carry extra relievers with the 28-man roster that ended up being employed in 2020, and when they went with a five-man rotation prior to last season, they more often than not had an eight-man bullpen to go with it. With a six-man rotation, however, if they are limited to 13 pitchers this year it means they can carry just seven relievers.

If that is the situation in 2021, chances are it would be hard to carry Rule 5 pick Will Vest, and Servais at times could find his in-game options limited due to usage. Moves can be made to get help, but even with an eight-man pen in 2019, there were often days where the preferred arm was not available.

It appears chances are good that this will not be the case in 2021, though, and the Mariners will be able to go with the extra arm in the pen and one fewer player on the bench. They are better built for this with the versatility they have stressed of late, although with just three bench players it could wipe out the fourth outfielder spot. With the second catcher taking up one space, the final two spots (assuming a left-handed bat is acquired) would come down to a battle between Shed Long, Sam Haggerty, José Marmolejos, Donovan Walton, Braden Bishop and Jake Fraley, with Bishop and Fraley limited to outfield only.

It’s a small rule but one worth watching as it will affect spring training battles.

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Mariners hoping planned new MLB rule changes to fit their roster better