PEORIA, Ariz. – Even with Major League Baseball shut down and spring training sites devoid of players or activity, teams can still make roster moves, cutting players from spring training and reassigning them or optioning them to minor league teams.
“There has not been a freeze put on roster moves,” Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a conference call Thursday. “Really anything to do right now is obviously a paper move, and any moves we would make would simply be situating rosters for the better when we do come back, reassigning or optioning players, but we don’t anticipate doing that at least in the immediate term.”
But that changed Friday as the Mariners made five roster moves, optioning four players on the 40-man roster to Triple-A Tacoma and placing right-handed pitcher Sam Tuivailala on unconditional-release waivers for the purpose of granting him his unconditional release.
The four players sent to Tacoma were Donovan Walton, infielder; Patrick Wisdom, infielder; Zac Grotz, right-handed pitcher; and Taylor Williams, right-handed pitcher.
The decision to release Tuivailala might seem like a surprise because he seemed like a lock for the bullpen entering spring training. But nagging shoulder discomfort and fatigue, something he battled last season, reappeared early in camp.
It put him behind in his throwing program and kept him out of Cactus League games. He pitched in a simulated game and struggled. His fastball looked lifeless and straight. Scouts watching the game wondered if he was hurt. His fastball was clocked around 85-87 mph and topping out at 88. In 2018, his fastball averaged 95.6 mph, and in 2019 it averaged 94.7.
In the days before baseball shut down, it became clear Tuivailala likely would start the season on the injured list or have to be designated for assignment because he was out of minor league options.
Acquired from the Cardinals at the 2018 trade deadline for right-hander Seth Elledge, Tuivailala appeared in five games for the Mariners, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings. His season was cut short when he suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon during a rundown play Aug. 8 in Texas.
He underwent surgery and started the 2019 season on the 60-day injured list. During the rehab process he battled shoulder fatigue, which slowed his return. He returned July 15, and he went 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA in 23 appearances. In 23 innings, he struck out 27 with 11 walks.
Walton, 25, is a middle infielder who had an outside shot to win the utility spot on the 25-man roster. He was expected to be Tacoma’s starting shortstop this season. Walton posted a .300/.390/.427 slash line in 124 games for Double-A Arkansas with 22 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 2019. He was a September call-up and had three hits in 16 at-bats for Seattle.
Wisdom, 28, was signed as a free agent and was expected to compete for the final roster spot with his ability to play first base, third base and left field while offering right-handed power potential. But he struggled in Cactus League play, hitting just .136 (3 for 22) with two doubles and 14 strikeouts.
Grotz, 27, was competing for a spot in the bullpen and made four appearances this spring, allowing three earned runs in five innings. Signed as a free agent last season out of the independent leagues, Grotz pitched well for Arkansas and earned a call-up late in the season. He made 14 appearances, posting a 4.15 ERA in 17 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and eight walks.
Williams, 28, was claimed off waivers from the Brewers on Feb. 21. The Vancouver, Washington, native made three appearances, pitching 2 2/3 innings and allowing three runs with five strikeouts this spring. He spent most of last season with Triple-A San Antonio. He made 46 appearances, posting a 2.83 ERA with six saves. In 54 innings, he struck out 57 batters and walked 21. He made 10 appearances with the Brewers and struggled, posting a 9.82 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.
With the roster moves, the Mariners have 45 players on their spring roster – 32 roster players, 13 nonroster invitees – and one player on the 60-day injured list.
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