Looking ahead to shaping Mariners' 2020 roster
SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has said he expects this offseason to be a little quieter than the frenetic winters of the past as the club wants to give its promising young group of prospects the ability to now come together.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting and important decisions to be made. Here’s some questions regarding the Mariners’ Hot Stove season now that the World Series has ended and trades and free agency can commence for all 30 Major League clubs.
Which players are now free agents?
Félix Hernández is the big name in a small group, since the Mariners already moved most of their veteran players who would have fallen into this category. The right-hander's seven-year, $175 million contract extension has now ended and he’s on the open market for the first time in his career. Free agents are able to sign with new teams beginning Monday, though much of the action won’t take place until later in the winter.
The only other Mariners who are on the open market are veteran lefty Tommy Milone, right-handed reliever Arodys Vizcaíno, infielder Ryon Healy and outfielder Keon Broxton.
Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves in May as part of a salary swap for reliever Anthony Swarzak, never played a game for Seattle as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Healy and Broxton opted for free agency after being outrighted to the Minors earlier this week.
Do any players have contract options?
Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc has a $5 million team option in his contract and the 35-year-old has already been informed that option will not be picked up, which means the Mariners will invoke a $450,000 buyout in his deal in the coming days and allow him to become a free agent.
That $5 million option would have become guaranteed for 2020 if LeBlanc had pitched 160 innings, but an early-season injury and later move to the bullpen left him at 121 1/3.
Will any of the free agents receive qualifying offers or be asked back?
This year’s qualifying offer dropped slightly, to $17.8 million from $18 million in 2019, but none of Seattle’s pending free agents fall in that area. The Mariners will be looking to add some rotation depth, so it’s possible that Milone could be offered another Minor League deal, which is how he arrived in Seattle this season.
LeBlanc might fall in the same category, though he’d have to swallow hard after losing his starting role and not having his option picked up, so he'll likely look for opportunities elsewhere.
As for Hernández? It seems clear that both he and the team are ready to go new directions after a 15-year run in Seattle. Hernándezwants to keep pitching, but what kind of offers he receives on the open market after several difficult, injury-plagued seasons will be interesting to see.
Who might be a non-tender candidate?
Prior to the Dec. 2 deadline, teams will non-tender some players who have 4-6 years of service time so that those players become free agents, rather than be locked into an arbitration process that guarantees a salary that may be higher than their perceived value.
Shortstop Tim Beckham, who missed the end of the season after being suspended 80 games for a failed PED test, figures to fall in this category as he no longer fits in with the Mariners’ youth movement and was earning $1.75 million in 2019.
The Mariners already cut ties with Healy and Broxton, as well as relievers Anthony Bass and Matt Wisler, all of whom are arbitration eligible. That leaves outfielders Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana and Mallex Smith, catcher Omar Narváez and reliever Sam Tuivailala as the only remaining arbitration-eligible players.
Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Though teams have until Nov. 20 to make these moves, this is an area the Mariners addressed early this season, adding prospects from the team's Top 30 list (according to MLB Pipeline) Justin Dunn (No. 5), Kyle Lewis (No. 10), Art Warren (No. 25) and Donnie Walton (No. 27) in September, knowing that group would need to be promoted to the 40-man roster this offseason anyway in order to prevent exposure to the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 12.
Will the Mariners be active in free agency?
With the position group pretty well set with returners and young prospects ready for their opportunity, Dipoto figures to focus mostly on adding a back-end starter or two for rotation depth, as well as some veteran help for the bullpen.
The Mariners have significantly reduced their player payroll by jettisoning most of their longterm contract obligations, but Dipoto’s intent is to give young prospects a chance to arrive and begin developing before using the payroll flexibility to bolster that group when the time is right.
Seattle jumped last year to sign Yusei Kikuchi to be part of the core group going forward with what the club felt was a unique opportunity, so it's possible the Mariners will move if they see the right fit with a young pitcher, whether via free agency or trade.