The Mariners announced a series of roster moves prior to Wednesday’s game, with utility player Dylan Moore and right-hander Diego Castillo each being reinstated from the injured list. To make room on the active roster, the club optioned both left-hander Brennan Bernardino and outfielder Kyle Lewis to Triple-A Tacoma.
The optioning of Lewis is arguably the most significant detail here, as he is a former Rookie of the Year and once seemed a lock to be part of the next great Mariners team. Now 27, he burst onto the scene in 2019, making his MLB debut and getting into 18 games. He hit six homers in that small sample and slashed .268/.293/.592 for a wRC+ of 128. He carried that over into the shortened 2020 campaign, hitting 11 homers, stealing five bags and producing a batting line of .262/.364/.437, wRC+ of 127. He was unanimously voted the American League Rookie of the Year that season.
Unfortunately, Lewis has been having a miserable time over the past two years. He suffered a meniscus tear in 2021, which ended his season after just 36 games. His recovery even lingered into 2022, with Lewis beginning the season on the injured list and not getting activated until May 24. Just five days later, his misfortune continued, as he landed on the concussion IL. The M’s sent him out on a rehab assignment over a month later, in early July, returning to the big league club in late July.
Lewis has hit very well in the minors during his various rehab assignments, putting up a batting line of .293/.408/.741 this year for a wRC+ 177. However, his MLB playing time has been much less successful, as he’s hit .143/.226/.304, striking out in 30.6% of his plate appearances in that 18-game sample.
With Mitch Haniger recently returning from the injured list, it seems Lewis got squeezed out of the outfield picture, as Haniger will take regular playing time next to Jesse Winker and Jarred Kelenic, with Moore, Sam Haggerty and Jake Lamb also capable of seeing some time on the grass. Julio Rodriguez is also expected to return from the IL later this week, which will only crowd things further.
The option could potentially have repercussions for Lewis from a service time perspective, as he came into this season with his service time clock sitting at two years and 20 days. Since 172 days is considered a full season, Lewis would need to accumulate 152 days on the active roster this season to cross the three-year mark. The season is about 125 days old at this point by my unofficial count, meaning Lewis is about 27 days shy of crossing over that barrier. If he gets recalled later in the season and makes up that difference, he would qualify for free agency after the 2025 season, but it would be pushed back by a year if he comes up short. He would almost certainly still qualify for arbitration as a Super Two player regardless, as he should finish the season at 2.145 even if he never returns to the big league club. The Super Two cutoff moves from year to year, as it includes the top 22% of players between two and three years of service time. The most recent cutoff was 2.116, with the highest of the past decade-plus being the 2.146 in 2011.
The option of Bernardino is also a notable development as he was the only lefty in the club’s bullpen, with Ryan Borucki getting placed on the IL recently. For the time being, it seems the club will operate with an entirely right-handed relief corps.
That relief corps will evidently include Chris Flexen, as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times notes that he has been moved to the bullpen. With the acquisition of Luis Castillo at the trade deadline, the M’s are suddenly dealing with an abundance of starting pitching. Castillo joins Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby in the rotation. It seems Flexen has been edged out for the time being and will work out of the ’pen. Flexen is just 3 1/3 innings away from securing himself an $8M guarantee for next year, as MLBTR’s Anthony Franco recently examined. Moving to the bullpen will delay Flexen vesting that salary for next year, though he should still have plenty of time to get over the line.