The Morrow Dilemma
I've been giving this situation a lot more thought lately, and I've come to be less concerned about what the M's do with 2006 first-round draft pick Brandon Morrow. If he's anything like the type of pitcher I think he is, he'll handle whatever situation the M's throw at him just fine.
The concern seems to be that the M's are very strongly considering breaking camp with Morrow in the bullpen. A lot of this decision seems to hinge on J. J. Putz' health. Those who disagree with this decision have several concerns:
1) The M's are not going to contend in 2007. Morrow's 2007 innings are far less important to the team than his 2013 (or -14, -15, -16, since he has three years before he has to be protected from the Rule 5 draft) innings would be. You don't want to get his arbitration clock started too soon.
2) Having Morrow's young pro career start out in the 'pen would stunt his development as a starter. He needs to get his career established and get stretched out as a starter.
3) Putting him in the 'pen furthers the common discussion that the M's drafted Morrow all along with thoughts of moving him into the 'pen. You don't waste your first round, 5th-overall, draft pick on a relief pitcher. Especially since two potential front-line starters like Miller and Lincecum were available. If Morrow shows to be very effective in the 'pen, would it be easy for the M's to move him back into the rotation? Looking at what the M's did with Soriano, I'm not so sure...
There are other reasons, like the feeling that Morrow needs the time to develop a third pitch to round out his arsenal as a starter, but you get the main picture there.
Those are all legitimate gripes, as far as I'm concerned. Every once in awhile, though, a player seems to not quite fit into the mold that we like to try and fit him into. I honestly believe that Morrow could be one of these types of players. Yes, his innings this spring have been, as Churchill puts it, against guys who wear #88. But since he's coming out of college, and a bit older than a lot of other draft picks, he's further along and his mechanics are more well-developed than other guys. If his stuff is good enough to get the #88-level guys out consistently, then it should be worthy of at least a look out of the 'pen. It seems to be pretty much consensus that Morrow's a lot closer to the majors, and that he could probably pitch out of the Seattle bullpen right now.
With the trade of Soriano, and with Putz having some setbacks, the M's have a very strong need for a dominant reliever. Now, too, Hargrove appears to be losing patience with my guy George. I'm sure George will bounce back, and I'm sure he's doing all he can to stay on track. But it doesn't take away from the concern that the M's bullpen probably has as many, if not more, question marks than the rotation. I'm not sure how many leads the 'pen will have to protect, especially with Richie Sexson flailing away in the cleanup spot, but it's still something that you'd like to see a little more settled with a week and a half of spring training left. It seems that they're somewhat serious in giving Morrow some consideration for a spot in the 'pen. If they give Sean White back to Atlanta, that would free up a 40-man spot.
While I wouldn't be disappointed if Morrow were in the bullpen (I do think that even with his limited pro experience, he'd do well out of the Seattle 'pen), I'd like to see Morrow take the Jered Weaver route. Get a decent amount of starts in AAA (or, AA) and then see where he's at in a few months. Let him complete one season in the minors, and bring him to Seattle in September. If the M's are in contention, and they need some pitching help to push them over the top, then give Morrow the call.
I've changed my mind on Morrow a lot since draft day. I've been one to be extra concerned that the M's drafted him as a reliever. I've also been concerned about drafting a guy who had significant shoulder issues during his college days. After talking with some folks, I'm way less concerned with those things.
Edit 3/23 -- I like Dave Cameron's thoughts better. Sounds like we're on the same page here, too.