What happens when Mike Carp returns?

After six long months of offseason and two strange weeks to start the season, the Seattle Mariners finally return home today with a 4-4 record and a team playing relatively well.
Much of that solid play can be attributed to the young players either making their debut (Jesus Montero, Lucas Luetge, Erasmo Ramirez) or in their sophomore campaign (Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Blake Beavan, Tom Wilhelmsen et al). Unexpectedly, the Mariners are also getting positive contributions from Chone Figgins and Michael Saunders. Their play leaves manager Eric Wedge with some tough decisions to make as starters Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Carp make their way back from injuries.
Carp is maybe a week away and his return will necessitate a corresponding roster move to make room for him on the 25-man roster, but more importantly, some careful lineup maneuvering by Wedge to make sure hot hitters — Seager, Figgins and Saunders — still get regular playing time. How will that be done? Let’s take a look at some possibilities and the most likely lineup changes.
First of all with Carp, an outfielder being added to the roster, expect fellow outfielder Casper Wells to be sent down to Tacoma to make room.
Now for room in the lineup, I think for the first week Carp will be brought back relatively slowly to get him up to speed but to also keep from disrupting the aforementioned players who have been having some success early on. So expect probably four starts in the first seven games he’s back.
Obviously, having just completed spring training as the starting left fielder it would make sense to see Carp play all four of those games in left which would move Figgins either out of the lineup for those four games or back to third for all four or just some of those games. But with Figgins playing well so far and Wedge committing to him as the leadoff hitter preseason, don’t expect to see Figgins exit the everyday lineup.
I think it makes sense to split Carp’s starts between left and designated hitter, say two at each over the first week of games. When he plays left, move Figgins to third base and sit Seager once. The other time sit Figgins, leave Seager at third and move Ackley to lead off, Seager to the two hole. (By the way, for now and the future, I like that lineup the best). When he DH’s, move Jesus Montero to catcher and sit Miguel Olivo.
After that first week, I’d like to see Carp DH primarily (say four times a week) and Montero subsequently in the lineup as the starting catcher every one of those days. He can then play left the other two of the three games in the week, sitting the third, and moving Figgins out of the lineup once, Seager the other day.
That leaves you with Carp playing six of seven, Figgins playing six of seven, Seager playing six of seven, Montero seven of seven and Olivo — the biggest loser with Carp’s return — playing three of seven.
The situation gets even tougher at the end of the month when Gutierrez gets back. If the hot starters — Figgins, Seager and Saunders in particular — continue to play well, lineup decisions will be tough.
Gutierrez will also be eased back into things slowly for the first week, expect four starts or so with Saunders sitting to make room. But once Gutierrez is back playing every day — and make no mistake, he will be playing every day — don’t be shocked to see Figgins sitting more and Olivo potentially relegated to a backup catcher role as Montero shifts from DH to everyday catcher.
Those moves will allow Guti to play everyday in center, Figgins to play regularly in right, Carp at DH, Seager at third and Montero at catcher. Saunders could see playing time cut to perhaps three times a week and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him getting a start a week in right to give Ichiro a day off once a week.
In order to make room for Gutierrez on the roster, odds are Alex Liddi will be sent down to AAA but don’t be stunned if Wedge decides to cut a bullpen pitcher like Hishashi Iwakuma or Erasmo Ramirez.


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