Report: Mariners prospect Michael Pineda favored for rotation spot

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Mariners prospect right-hander Michael Pineda has garnered all sorts of attention this spring by flashing mid-to-high 90s heat on the radar gun.

And while spring training performances aren’t the be-all end-all, he has also pitched pretty well, posting a 2.57 ERA and 5/3 K/BB ratio over his first seven Cactus League innings. Still, the assumption has been that the 22-year-old will remain in the minor leagues until June in an effort to delay his service time.

Not so, at least according to what Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has heard from multiple sources. In fact, Baker hears that the final spot in the starting rotation is “Pineda’s to lose.”

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik won’t confirm Baker’s report, but said that Pineda’s service time won’t have an impact on his decision.

“I don’t think we’re going to worry about service time,” Zduriencik told me. “No one’s going to hold them back. If they’re ready to play, we’re going to let them play.”

In other words, if he continues to pitch well, he’s in.

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Pineda has a 2.49 ERA over parts of five seasons in the minors. After being limited to 47 1/3 innings in 2009 due to elbow soreness, he posted a 3.36 ERA over 25 starts between Double-A West Tennessee and Triple-A Tacoma last season, averaging 9.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.

Nate Robertson needs elbow surgery and Zduriencik essentially dismissed David Pauley as an option during today’s conversation with Baker, so that leaves Luke French as the only reasonable alternative to Pineda.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.