BY John Hickey 02:12PM 03/15/2011

An argument for Pineda in the starting rotation

There are valid points on both sides, but it makes lots of sense.

Michael Pineda has made a strong case to make the Mariners rotation / Getty Images

The “Should Michael Pineda be in the Seattle Mariner starting rotation come April?’’ question is not a particularly easy one to answer.

As with most things in baseball (and life), it depends on your point of view.

Let’s look at things from several points of view then, shall we?

Pineda’s viewpoint: He’s a big, hard-throwing right-hander who has above-average stuff for a 22-year-old. More important, he doesn’t trade his 96-98 mph fastball for control. He throws strikes and has a history of keeping walks to a minimum.

He wants to pitch in the big leagues this year, but the way baseball works, that’s entirely out of his hands, so he’s going around the Mariner spring training camp with an “I’m lovin’ life’’ smile and waits to see what the next two weeks hold.

Manager Eric Wedge’s viewpoint: If Pineda is in fact one of the five best starting pitchers in camp, then Wedge needs to have Pineda on call every fifth day.

Wedge is taking over a team that lost 101 games last year, and while pitching wasn’t the problem for a 2010 team that redefined hapless offense, a manager needs to have the players available to him that give him the best chance to win.

Pineda seems to fit that category, and did even before the announcement that left-hander Nate Robertson was headed for surgery. Luke French and David Pauley did some nice work in limited time starting with the Mariners last year, but neither projects to be the kind of high-end impact player that Pineda does.

General manager Jack Zduriencik’s viewpoint: Here’s where it gets dicey. Zduriencik says he’s taking the road to building the Mariners from the ground up, and that’s not something that’s going to happen in one year.

So it makes sense to have a pitcher with Pineda’s apparent ability with the team for as long a stretch as is possible. And balancing the need to win now with baseball rules that make the club better off keeping him in the minor leagues for a couple of months to squeeze an extra year of Pineda down the line.

By keeping him from becoming a so-called “Super 2’’ player – one of the top 17 percent of players with more than two and less than three years’ of service time – down the line, the Mariners would tie Pineda to the Seattle through 2017. If he starts the season on the opening day roster, he’d be a “Super 2’’ and would eligible for free agency after 2016.

One trouble with waiting to make sure the “Super 2’’ deadline has come and gone is that there is no deadline. It can’t be determined until after the season is over just what is the cutoff date for the top 17 percent. Being called up before May 20 makes it likely a player will be a “Super 2’’ and being called up after makes it unlikely, but there’s no hard-and-fast date.

Management’s viewpoint: There’s another side to the “Super 2’’ issue: money.

If Pineda is as good as advertised – and there’s no way right now of knowing if he is – having him start the season in Seattle would get him to salary arbitration much more quickly, arriving at the big money as he starts his third year, not his fourth, as is the case with most players.

A case can be made that it would be in the best financial interest of CEO Howard Lincoln and club president Chuck Armstrong to keep the payroll dogs at bay for an extra year by having Pineda start in the minor leagues for 6-8 weeks while the Mariners try to get back on their feet after having gone nine years without a Mariner presence in baseball’s post-season.

Over time, it could be a matter of $10 million or more either saved or deferred, so it’s not pocket change we’re talking about.

The players’ union’s viewpoint: The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) closely monitors where there is a perception that teams could be holding back potential dues-paying members in the minor leagues just to skirt the issues of service time and early arbitration.

Pineda likely would be one of this year’s cases.

And, presumably, the status of the interpretation of “Super 2’’ rules themselves will come up for review when the owners and union butt heads over the next basic agreement. The current Basic Agreement expires at the end of this season.

The Felix, Ichiro and Seattle clubhouse viewpoint: The other 24 players on the roster are going to want to have the best possible chance to win. If Pineda gives them that, there will be internal expectations he’ll make the roster.

If another candidate is installed as the fifth starter without the thought that he’s the best man for the job, there will be grumbling and suggestions that the club is more interested in money than in winning.

That’s not good for the present … or the future.

The fans’ viewpoint: The Seattle fan base has evaporated some in the last half dozen years with a series of mostly bad teams and with the stars that were attractions mostly out of the game or playing for someone else.

Seattle fans have Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki at the top end of the star spectrum. They could use a third. There’s no telling that Pineda is that guy, but there seems to be a consensus among scouts that he’s one of the best young pitchers in the game, so that’s a place to start the search for the next Seattle icon as part of rebuilding the fan base.

As for me, based on what I’ve seen, I think the Mariners can’t do better than Pineda right now.

Bring him up and have him ready to go on Game 5, April 5 in Texas.

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Paul Harmening

    Excellent breakdown John. Much better than any of the other sports writers comments on this subject.

    I’m with you on letting him start now if he continues to show he deserves the 5th spot. Actually, if he does get the nod and happens to continue his spring training “wow’s” into the regular season from the get-go, that’ll produce a buzz that will bring more fans into the seats and more money into the till, although that should never be the reason to do so. The M’s would have a one-two punch with Felix (5th & 1st) that could do wonders for the players attitude and expectancy. And just what if Bedard brings it on with an injury free year. Just think about the media buzz that could develop over the M’s! The potential rewards certainly outweigh the other considerations that would delay his debut.

  • Dave

    Arguements abound, if he can pitch, bring him up, screw the bean counters, they ultimately screw the organization. Yankees, anyone. Except Arod, feed him popcorn.

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