Jason Bay might have edge in battle for final outfield spot
Veteran Jayson Bay might get the fifth outfield spot over Casper Wells, but the team will delay a final roster decision until Sunday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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PEORIA, Ariz. — Building outfield flexibility was a Mariners priority all spring. And as they wrapped up the Arizona portion of spring training on Thursday with a 6-4 win over the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, the Mariners planned to go right to the very end of camp before finalizing their outfielder mix.
The team appeared to unofficially declare that veteran Jason Bay had made the squad by inviting him to join them for Saturday's final exhibition game against the Colorado Rockies in Salt Lake City.
Casper Wells, the apparent loser in the fight with Bay for a fifth outfield spot, was told to stay behind in minor-league camp. But the Mariners would not yet declare him out of their mix entirely. The team says the potential for injury or health issues has them putting off any final roster decision regarding Wells until a Sunday morning deadline.
"We don't have to have the rosters set until Sunday, so what we are going to do is let itself play out," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
One report out of Boston suggested the Red Sox were interested in adding Wells to their roster, fueling speculation about a trade. But Zduriencik said the team was prepared to wait until Sunday before doing anything.
Wells and Bay were brought in and told what their assignments will be in coming days. Wells had initially been on the team's travel squad to play the Cubs on Thursday, but was later told to play in a minor-league game instead. Bay made the trip to Mesa. A downcast-looking Wells was later seen seated inside his locker stall texting on a cellphone after his teammates had left the clubhouse to either play the Cubs or head home for the day.
Zduriencik said Wells was staying behind in Arizona so he could get more at-bats in three upcoming minor-league games than he would playing in Salt Lake City. Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the team decided to delay a decision on Bay or Wells in case of injury to another player.
"Quite frankly, what we're trying to do is just give ourselves a little more time," Wedge said. "When you talk about spring training and particularly, the end of spring training, you want to protect yourself against so many different things and one of them is injury, quite frankly. So, if you don't have to make a decision early, you try not to do it."
The team is clearly worried about the ability of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to stay healthy. Wedge admitted that Gutierrez still has lingering muscle tightness in his legs and that he's been "slow playing" him to avoid an injury setback.
"I'm going to continue to make sure we take care of him, especially early on in the season," Wedge said. "He's going to get days off. We're a better ballclub when he's in there. But if he's not an option for us, it doesn't do us any good."
If Gutierrez could not open the season on time, the team would have the option of putting him on the disabled list and keeping Wells on the squad as a backup center fielder for now. Wells is out of minor-league options, so he would need to pass through waivers — where any team could claim him — before Mariners could send him to AAA.
But if Wells opens the season with the Mariners, he would avoid being put through waivers until the injured player he was replacing was ready to be activated again. At that point, the Mariners would again have to decide whether to keep him on the major-league club or risk losing him.
Another benefit to waiting until Sunday is that rosters of most teams will be full and the Mariners might be able to sneak Wells through waivers to AAA if he goes unclaimed for 72 hours.
For now, it seems like the final outfield spot has been claimed by the 34-year-old Bay, regardless of what ultimately happens with Wells, 28, come Sunday. Teams generally do not make a player with Bay's veteran stature wait until the last day of camp before cutting him — reducing his chances of being added to another club's roster, since most will be full by then.
Nor would a team generally take a player like Bay on a final spring-training trip to Salt Lake City if he was the one they planned to cut. If Bay was merely the team's injury fallback plan in this case, then Wells would be the more logical choice to go to Salt Lake City with the regular squad.
If Bay beats out Wells, after the three worst seasons of his career with the Mets, it will be a huge comeback story. But for now, it's a story still awaiting an official, celebratory ending for him.
• The Mariners improved to 21-11 in Cactus League play, equaling their all-time mark for wins set in 1994.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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