Mariners finalize deal with lefty Joe Saunders and designate Mike Carp for assignment

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From MLB.com’s Greg Johns comes word that the Mariners have officially announced their one-year, $6.5 million contract with left-hander Joe Saunders. The deal includes another $1 million in performance-based incentives and a mutual option for 2014.

To clear a spot on their 25- and 40-man rosters, the M’s designated outfielder Mike Carp for assignment. He’s a 26-year-old with a decent .740 career OPS and should draw interest from several teams.

Saunders, 31, registered a 4.07 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 174 2/3 innings last season between the D’Backs and Orioles. He had a 3.69 ERA in 212 innings with Arizona in 2011, though he struck out only 108 hitters.

Seattle has added Saunders, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Kelly Shoppach, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay so far this offseason. And Jon Garland and Kameron Loe, if you want to count them too.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.