Battle for backup first-base job heating up

Korean slugger Lee in running for spot with Montero, Romero

Battle for backup first-base job heating up

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The battle for Seattle's backup first-base job among Dae-Ho Lee, Jesus Montero and Stefen Romero remains wide open, according to manager Scott Servais, as the club looks for the best right-handed-hitting complement to lefty Adam Lind.

Lee, a 33-year-old Korean who played the past four years in Japan, is competing with Montero and Romero for one of the few open spots on the 25-man roster. Lee agreed to a Minor League deal with some potential bonuses that could pay him up to $4 million, but has an opt-out in the deal that triggers in if he's not placed on the 40-man roster by Sunday.

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Montero and Romero are both on the 40-man roster, but Montero is out of Minor League options, so he'd need to clear waivers if he's not kept on the final 25-man Major League group. Romero has hit better than either Lee or Montero this spring, but he can be kept in the organization even if he's sent down, so that could weigh in the decision.

Romero is batting .412 (14-for-34) as an outfielder who has shown the versatility to play first base as well this spring and is definitely in the running.

"He certainly is," Servais said. "He had the little back issue and hasn't been as hot [the past week]. He was killing it before that happened. But he's definitely still in the mix there."

Montero had a big year offensively in Triple-A Tacoma last year, but has hit just .237 so far this spring.

"He's struggled," Servais acknowledged. "It was good early. It hasn't been as consistent of late. It's still competition. We'll group up with staff and front-office people here in the next couple days and kind of discuss where we're at roster-wise. We'll get a clearer picture going into next week."

Lee remains an intriguing candidate as a potential power threat, given his history in Japan. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder has surprised some with his agility as a big man, but has struggled at times adapting to Major League pitching and is batting .250 in 36 at-bats.

"His ability to make adjustments is pretty good," Servais said. "I think coming over, he doesn't really know the pitchers or how they're going to pitch him or anything like that. There are certain pitchers he's obviously more comfortable against and guys he's handled better than others.

"He does a little something every day. Yesterday, he went first-to-third on a ball where you think, 'Oh, he can't do that,' and he does it. A bunt play later in the game he got to it pretty easy and made a normal little flip to first. There are things like that that have stood out, but again, you have to hit. What we're looking for out of that position, you've got to be able to swing the bat."

They'll also need someone who can handle first base defensively in key late-inning situations, and that remains part of the equation.

"I don't think there's one that is head and shoulders above the other defensively," Servais said. "I've been surprised Romero looks very comfortable over there. I have no issues with any of them defensively right now. Are they all Gold Glovers? No. They are not Gold Glove candidates. But they can certainly handle the rigors of the position."

Worth noting

• Former Green Beret and Afghanistan veteran Nate Boyer -- who was in Seahawks camp briefly as a long snapper last year -- talked with the Mariners at their morning meeting Friday as Servais continued bringing in occassional speakers to address the club.

"It's an opportunity to bring different people from different backgrounds in to deliver a message about teamwork and discipline and sacrifice and being a servant and leadership and all those things," Servais said. "The timing of it is very good. I've run a lot of meetings this spring and it's always good to bring some new people in to spice it up a little."

Hisashi Iwakuma will pitch against the Rockies' Triple-A club in a Minor League game in Peoria, Ariz., at 1 p.m. PT on Saturday and is slated for another Minor League outing on the Mariners' off-day next Thursday in his final two tuneups before his regular-season debut on April 6 in Texas.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.