SEATTLE — After 3 1/2 months on the sidelines, baseball is about to return. So what better time to crack open the Mariners' Inbox again. If you have more questions, keep them coming by e-mailing me at [email protected] or hit me at my Twitter account @GregJohnsMLB and we'll try to get you on the next one.
• Mariners FAQ: Details on the upcoming season
Why is Mitch Haniger having such a hard time returning? Do you think he’ll be back at all this year?
— Phil K., Stanwood, Wash.
Haniger’s return from a ruptured testicle 12 months ago has been complicated by two ensuing issues that both required surgery last offseason for a torn adductor muscle in his groin and a herniated disc in his lower back. Those surgeries were done in August and the expectation all along has been to give Haniger all the time needed to completely heal and avoid further setbacks.
The Mariners placed him on the 45-day injured list Sunday so that he’ll have time to continue recovering from his back surgery without any pressure to play before he’s ready, and he won’t be taking up a spot on the 60-man player pool for now. The downside is that Haniger won’t be able to work out or rehab with the Mariners until he’s added to that 60-man pool.
• Mariners set player pool ahead of camp
Haniger will be eligible to come off the IL on Aug. 12, which would mean only missing the first 20 days or so of the 60-game season. But it’s hard to know how realistic that would be at this point and there’s little reason to risk rushing him in this strange season.
What three players do you think will benefit the most by the 60-game season and what three will it hurt the most?
— Gregory G., Touchet, Wash.
Interesting question. I’d say the shortened season helps rookie starter Justin Dunn, because the Mariners are now going with a six-man rotation and that means he’ll be part of the mix from the start. The new rules help Daniel Vogelbach, as there’ll be a designated hitter even in Interleague games in National League parks, so he won’t have to sit out much, or at all. And the delayed start certainly helps reliever Austin Adams, who used the extra time to fully heal up from knee surgery.
• Mariners mindful of development as return nears
As for hurting, Dee Gordon will likely pay the price for the 60-game season if Shed Long Jr. and J.P. Crawford stay healthy, since the Mariners will want to get as much playing time as possible for the youngsters. Taijuan Walker could be hurt because he signed a one-year free agent deal for $2 million with the intention of proving that he’s healthy again, but he’ll have limited time now to build his arm back up and display any durability or earn the $1 million in performance bonuses that were also in the deal.
And, obviously, we could list any of the young players who were expected to use this as a developmental season, since they suddenly have just 37% of the schedule remaining to gain experience and show how they fit in the Mariners' future plans.
Does the shortened season make it more or less likely we might see Logan Gilbert or Jarred Kelenic debut this year? Or no real change?
— Mike A., Edmonds, Wash.
While Gilbert, Kelenic and a host of other top prospects are among the 60 players invited to camp and destined to be part of the “extra player pool” once games begin, the shortened season greatly reduces their chances of promotion to the actual big league roster this year.
Had things gone to plan, both Gilbert and Kelenic would have had three more months of Minor League experience by now and perhaps shown they were prepared for their MLB debuts. But it makes little sense to rush them now and start their Major League clocks and use a year of service time for at most two months of games before they’re ready.
It’s also worth noting that while the initial roster will be expanded to 30 players to allow teams to carry extra pitchers coming out of the short camp, roster sizes will be reduced to 28 after two weeks and 26 after four weeks. There will be no September callups this season.
Can players not among the invited 60 players — maybe some of the better prospects like Joe Rizzo or Sam Carlson — hang around the facility and work out? Or even help form a scrimmage team?
— Scott P., Renton, Wash.
No, this is a rough year for Minor League players who aren’t among the “extra player pool” group. The Mariners are hoping to be cleared to put on some regional workout camps in different areas of the country or have an expanded Arizona Fall League or instructional league for their young guys, but it remains to be seen if any of that will be allowed.
How is this shortened season going to affect a player’s service time? For example, if Evan White plays 60 games, does that count as one year of service time or is it 60 out of 162 games for 2020?
— Brian W., Grandview, Wash.
If a player is on the big league roster for all 60 games, that will count as a full year of service time. If a player is on the roster for 30 games, that would be the equivalent of half a season of service time. In other words, it will be pro-rated, just as their salaries, so basically every game will be roughly equivalent to three in a normal season.
Do you think any Mariners will choose not to play this year?
— Randy S., Portland, Ore.
Players are just arriving in Seattle in preparation for report day on Wednesday, but I have not heard of anyone choosing to opt out.
Is there any chance we’ll be able to watch the workouts at T-Mobile Park or Cheney Stadium, given that there’s plenty of room for social distancing?
— Frank B., Tacoma, Wash.
No, there will be no fans allowed at any of the practice sessions and there will be very strict limits on media access as well, with all interviews being done via Zoom calls or phone instead of in person. There also will be no chance of fans attending regular-season games at T-Mobile Park unless King County advances to Phase 4 of its pandemic protocol before the end of the season in September.