The Mariners announced a handful of roster moves during tonight’s off day. Center fielder Julio Rodríguez is back from the injured list, while catcher Curt Casali has been reinstated from his own IL stint. To create active roster space, Seattle optioned outfielder Jarred Kelenic back to Triple-A Tacoma and designated catcher Luis Torrens for assignment. Torrens’ DFA drops the 40-man roster tally to 39.
Rodríguez returns after not much more than a minimal IL stint. He last played on July 30 before a right wrist contusion cost him around two weeks. The 21-year-old star is back to add to a Rookie of the Year-caliber resume, owner of a .271/.334/.482 line with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases.
He’s already the best player on a 61-52 team that currently holds the second American League Wild Card spot. The Mariners are 1 1/2 games in front of the Orioles and Rays, the clubs tied for the AL’s final postseason berth at the moment.
Kelenic and Sam Haggerty have platooned in center field over the past week and a half. Kelenic collected just two hits in 26 at-bats, continuing his struggles at the big league level. He’s hitting .124/.187/.265 over 123 MLB plate appearances on the season. The 23-year-old has a quality .288/.353/.550 showing over 252 trips to the dish with the Rainiers, and he’ll continue to get everyday run in the minors.
He’s joined in Tacoma by former Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who was optioned out yesterday, while the Mariners roll with an outfield of Jesse Winker, Rodríguez, Mitch Haniger and Haggerty, with Jake Lamb working as a corner bat off the bench.
In addition to the outfield shakeup, the M’s make a switch behind the plate. Seattle acquired Casali from the Giants in the hours leading up to last Tuesday’s trade deadline. The veteran backstop was on a minor league rehab assignment at the time, working his way back from an oblique strain suffered on July 4. He’d hit .231/.325/.370 through 41 games in San Francisco and will get an opportunity to back up Cal Raleigh for the remainder of the season. Casali is slated to hit free agency at the end of the year.
The timing of the designation has to smart for Torrens, who’s only two days removed from a walk-off single to cap a dramatic win over the Yankees. The acquisition of Casali seemed to suggest the writing was on the wall for Torrens with the big league club, though. He’s out of minor league option years, meaning he had to stick on the MLB roster or be designated for assignment. With Raleigh and Casali in the fold, there’d no longer be room for Torrens unless the team wanted to carry three catchers.
Of course, Torrens’ struggles were a driving factor for the club’s acquisition of Casali in the first place. He’s mustered just a .214/.262/.252 line across 141 plate appearances, striking out at an elevated 31.9% clip. He’s also consistently rated as a well below-average defensive catcher throughout his MLB career, annually posting subpar pitch framing metrics and being behind the dish for 17 wild pitches in only 267 1/3 innings this season. Those certainly don’t all fall on Torrens, but Defensive Runs Saved has pegged him as 24 runs below average in 1067 2/3 career frames as a catcher.
Manager Scott Servais got Torrens a fair bit of time as a designated hitter last season when he popped 15 home runs and 16 doubles in 108 games. That’s solid production for a #2 catcher, even a bat-first option, but Torrens’ offensive struggles mounted this year. Coupled with his defensive shortcomings, they eventually pushed him off the roster.
With the trade deadline having passed, the only option is to place Torrens on outright or release waivers within the next couple days. He’s playing this season on a $1.2MM salary after qualifying for early arbitration as a Super Two player last winter. He’s due around $369K through year’s end. Any claiming team would assume the remainder of that money and could control Torrens through 2024. As a player with more than three years of big league service time, he would have the right to refuse an outright assignment in favor of minor league free agency if he goes unclaimed on waivers.
Doing so would mean forfeiting the remainder of his guaranteed salary, however, as he has less than five years of service. It, therefore, seems likely he’d accept an assignment to Tacoma if he clears.