SEATTLE — Surprise over Sunday’s decision to keep franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki on the roster by demoting outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Triple-A Tacoma continues to percolate throughout Marinerland.
Even general manager Jerry Dipoto acknowledges it was an unpopular move to make when the club needed to clear space in order to activate right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez from the disabled list.
“Based on the reaction,” Dipoto told MLB.com, “if it was about (public relations), we probably would have done it the other way.”
He gave two reasons for the move.
One was a hazy comment regarding Suzuki’s clubhouse presence. Let’s ignore that. Suzuki is indeed a presence, but this is a veteran clubhouse, not one filled with impressionable kids requiring direction.
But Dipoto also characterized the move as a temporary fix while noting the Mariners are expected to face few left-handers over the next 10 days. Heredia’s role is that of a right-handed platoon player and late-inning defensive replacement.
As such, Heredia wasn’t likely to play much over the next 10 days, which is the minimum required stay for a player optioned to the minors unless he is recalled to replace a player placed on the disabled list.
“Right now,” Dipoto said, “we're just doing our best to work through some choppy waters with the roster...Our thought is to give Guillermo the chance to play regularly and my assumption is he'll be back in 10 days.”
That frames the move as a baseball decision — and a reasonable one.
For now. And not because Suzuki reached base four times in Sunday’s 7-4 loss at Texas.
Let’s dig into this: While Suzuki is a left-handed hitter, he isn’t likely to play much over the next 10 days, despite that steady diet of right-handed pitchers from opposing teams. Ben Gamel figures to be the regular left fielder.
That means Suzuki, as would have been the case with Heredia, is essentially a spare part. But by keeping Suzuki and sending Heredia to the minors, the Mariners retain both as a hedge against an injury.
And after the last two seasons, if any club needs a hedge against injuries, it’s the Mariners.
Now add this: Had the Mariners released Suzuki in order to keep Heredia on the roster, an injury to another outfielder would have left utilityman Taylor Motter as the likely replacement.
That’s because no outfielder at Tacoma (other than Heredia now) is currently on the club’s 40-man roster. That means promoting anyone else would require a corresponding space-clearing move for what might be a temporary fix.
Clubs are loathe to make such moves to fill a temporary at any point but especially early in the season when player inventory is particularly valued.
Want to argue that you’d prefer Motter over Suzuki? Fine. Even so, that, too, reduces inventory.
By keeping Suzuki over Heredia for the short term, when neither was expected to play much, the Mariners keep all of their current pieces in play.
The key element in that reasoning, however, is “for the short term.”
When the schedule shifts back, and the Mariners are again facing a typical mix of right- and left-handed pitchers, then Heredia becomes a much more valuable part of the mix as a right-handed complement to Gamel.
Keeping Suzuki over Heredia at that point will be far harder to understand.