For a team that started the year with both Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez in their rotation and saw their ace win the Cy Young, the Seattle Mariners sure ended the year with a lot of question marks in their pitching staff. Sure, they had King Felix, who made 34 starts with a 2.27 ERA, but after trading Lee to the Texas Rangers for a prospect package centered around Justin Smoak, the Mariners looked decidedly light on starting pitching. By the team the season came to a close, only Doug Fister and Jason Vargas looked like they had any sort of a case to remain in the rotation behind Felix, which left the Mariners in need of two more starters.
Fortunately for the team, they already had them on hand. Erik Bedard (career 51-41, 3.71 ERA), who missed all of the 2010 season with an injury, signed a non-guaranteed contract and has been healthy and sharp in Spring Training, while top prospect Michael Pineda is considered just about ready to start in the majors despite some question as to whether the organisation should keep him in AAA for service time reasons. Bedard and Pineda will get slots four and five in the rotation, but both players have tremendous upside and if all goes well could turn the team's starting pitching from a potential weakness to a major strength.
After it became clear that Bedard was healthy, the major battle was between Luke French and Pineda, 22, for the fifth and final roster spot. According to manager Eric Wedge, Pineda was just too good to send down.
It was wide open coming in. You saw what I saw, a guy that was very consistent and kept getting better. And as we lengthened him out, he handled that very well. There were situations we thought he handled very well that he'll have to go through in the course of the regular season. All that enters into it.
French, who has a career 4.99 ERA in 25 major league starts, has been optioned to AAA Tacoma in order to free up a roster spot for Pineda. There's some question as to whether Pineda, who was ranked as the Mariners' #2 prospect by Baseball America coming into the season, will be able to hold his own against MLB-caliber left-handed hitters, but it looks like he'll be getting every chance to prove himself on the team.
For more on Bedard, Pineda, and the Mariners, check out Lookout Landing.