On Feb. 12, the Mariners made the news official, announcing they'd come to terms on a contract with veteran hurler Joe Saunders that would guarantee the left-hander $6.5 million to pitch for them this season, with the chance for some bonus money and a mutual option for 2014.
Having already signed Jon Garland and Kameron Loe earlier in the offseason, however, Seattle's roster was already at capacity. So in order to create space for Saunders on the roster, the Mariners designated for assignment 26-year-old outfielder and first baseman Mike Carp. He'd been made expendable when the club traded for both Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales, and when it signed both Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez off the free-agent scrap heap.
Well, exactly seven months later, Saunders has allowed more hits than anyone in baseball this season (219), which is a significant factor in his 5.18 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. Garland never pitched for the Mariners, getting released near the end of spring training. Loe lasted two weeks with Seattle, allowing eight runs in 6.2 innings before being cut.
Morse cost the Mariners 1.3 wins (against replacement) before being shipped to Baltimore on Aug. 30. Bay batted .204 with 20 RBIs over 68 games prior to getting a pink slip in early August. Morales has been pretty good, with a .784 OPS, and Ibanez has 27 home runs -- but if anyone needed a reminder that he's 41 years old, he's produced just three homers and six RBIs in 39 games since the All-Star break.
Carp, meanwhile, was traded to the Red Sox on Feb. 20 for the hefty price of a player to be named later or cash. He was excited by the opportunity, but he was no lock to make Boston's roster, either -- with the club also auditioning Lyle Overbay for a similar role, and asking Daniel Nava to take ground balls at first base. Had David Ortiz not started the season on the disabled list, and the Sox still wanted to reward Jackie Bradley Jr.'s torrid spring training with a spot on the opening-day roster, Carp might not have broken camp as part of Boston's organization.
But he did. And especially after his pinch-hit, 10th-inning grand slam won the Sox a game Wednesday night in Tampa Bay, the question is not whether he fits, but how he might impact the organization's decisions moving forward.
After lining the first pitch he saw from
Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez over the center-field fence, Carp now has a .314 average, nine homers, and a .938 OPS in 211 plate appearances this season -- 185 of which have come against right-handed pitching.
He's actually a .292 career hitter against lefties, though the Red Sox' reluctance to give him those opportunities suggests they might have reservations about what he would do as an everyday player. Although Carp has embraced -- and thrived in -- the role of a reserve. The base-clearer that crushed the Rays was his second pinch-hit homer of the year, and he's now 5-for-17 with a .400 on-base percentage and 1.106 OPS in those pinch predicaments.
Again, some of that is a result of being plugged in to a favorable matchup -- but generally speaking Carp has done whatever job the Sox have asked of him, whether it's his team-best .367 average with runners in scoring position, whether it's been to be a presences against righties, whether it's to play the infield or the outfield.
He's not quite in the class of DFA rescue that Ortiz was in 2003, but he has added plenty of value, and in the contractual sense the value should be there for a few years to come. Carp is making $508,500 this season, and moving forward his subject to arbitration until 2017. That means he's under team control for at least three seasons, likely at plenty-reasonable dollars.
So, moving forward, Carp could influence the Red Sox future of several players. If Ben Cherington decides he fits into the long-term plan -- and he's still just 27 -- it could influence the aggressiveness with which the general manager attempts to re-sign Mike Napoli at season's end. It might also play a role in the future of Jonny Gomes or Ortiz when their deals expire at the end of next season, considering Carp could theoretically assume some of the playing time or at-bats currently going to that pair.
It might even factor in to any thinking about whether or not Will Middlebrooks might move across the diamond to play first base. Or the Sox could trade him this winter, almost certainly flipping him for more than they paid last February, if they determine that there's a redundancy between he and Nava. (Carp, being younger, would likely fetch more in return.)
Those are decisions for later, though. For right now, Carp is a key member of a team that has a 9.5-game lead atop the American League East, has a magic number of 8, has asserted itself as one of the favorites to win a World Series over the past few weeks -- and at some point in that quest, chances are good that Carp and his beard will be sent to the plate in a big spot. Based on what he's done so far, there's also a decent chance he'll deliver.
Meanwhile, Joe Saunders takes the ball next on Monday night in Detroit, where he and the Mariners will keep playing out the string.
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||2-for-4, 2 R, BB: The new leadoff man was right in the middle of both Boston rallies, singling to start the three-run surge in the third, then working a walk to start things ahead of Carp in the 10th.|
|Shane Victorino, CF||1-for-4, R, 2 K, 2B: Now up to 25 doubles, he and Daniel Nava (26) give the Sox an outside chance of having seven hitters with 30 doubles. Last year's team had three.|
|David Ortiz, DH||0-for-3, 2 R, 2 BB: Both of his walks were intentional -- and both came back to bite the Rays, as Ortiz scored twice.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||1-for-3, R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, K, 2B: His double to right scored two, and brought him to 87 RBIs for the season. He's got 11 of those in nine September games, so if he keeps that pace the rest of the season he could conceivably reach 100.|
|Daniel Nava, LF||2-for-3, RBI: He had two singles, but most important might've been a simple ground ball to second, which scored Ortiz from third when the Rays elected to play the infield back with one out in the third.|
|Stephen Drew, SS||1-for-5, 2 K: His offensive contributions became irrelevant after the dandy diving play in the hole that he completed with a throw to second, saving Ryan Dempster from at least one run -- a run the Sox ultimately couldn't have afforded to allow.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||0-for-5: He was 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, including the bounder the Rays nearly turned into a triple play in the sixth. On a bang-bang play, the call went Middlebrooks' way.|
|David Ross, C||0-for-3, BB, 2 K: Since returning from the DL, Ross has made 27 plate appearances: nine times he's reached, nine times he's struck out, nine times he's made an out on a ball in play.|
|Jackie Bradley, Jr., CF||1-for-4, K, 2B: He's not making a major impact, but he's showing he belongs. Not just with his double, but with the ease he chases down flies in center field. His reads and his breaks are impressive.|
|Ryan Dempster, SP||5 IP, ER, 4 H, 5 BB, 7 K: He's had only one start where he walked more batters, and he also hit one, but he scratched and clawed his way to only give up one run in five innings.|
|Franklin Morales, RP||IP: If entering with a 3-1 lead made this an audition, then Morales should get a call back. He navigated a 1-2-3 inning in 17 pitches.|
|Brandon Workman, RP||2 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, BB, 4 K, HR: Workman continues to show potential of being a power arm that can help the Sox -- he's got 27 strikeouts in 21 innings as a reliever -- but his only clean appearance since Aug. 19 was the one-batter performance he had against Miguel Cabrera. That's not the makings of a reliable eighth-inning option.|
|Koji Uehara, RP||1 IP, 2 K: Ho-hum. Thirty-four consecutive hitters retired. And the aggressive use continues, as Farrell brought him in to pitch the ninth inning of a tie game.|
|Junichi Tazawa, RP||IP, BB, K: He hasn't pitched a full inning cleanly since Aug. 7, but he at least managed to get through the 10th Wednesday night without letting the tying run get to the on-deck circle.|
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