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Looking ahead to shaping Mariners' 2020 roster

@gregjohnsmlb
October 3, 2019

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

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 frequently asked questions regarding the Mariners’ offseason.

Which players will be free agents?

Félix Hernández is the big name in a small group, since the Mariners already have moved most of their veteran players who would have fallen into this category. The right-hander's seven-year, $175 million contract extension ended and he’ll be on the open market for the first time on the day after the World Series ends later this month.

The only other players who’ll be unfettered free agents off the current 40-man roster are veteran lefty Tommy Milone and right-handed reliever Arodys Vizcaíno, who never played a game for Seattle. Vizcaino was acquired from the Braves in May as part of a salary swap for reliever Anthony Swarzak, but he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Do any players have contract options?

Veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc has a $5 million team option in his contract that must be extended within five days after the conclusion of the World Series. It seems almost certain the club will instead give the 35-year-old a $450,000 buyout and allow him to become a free agent.

That option would have become guaranteed 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 is expected to be about $18 million, so clearly 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 might prefer looking for opportunity elsewhere.

As for Hernandez? It seems clear that both he and the team are ready to go new directions after a 15-year run in Seattle. Hernandez wants 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 are in the 4-6 years of service time so that those players become free agents, rather than lock into the arbitration process that guarantees a salary that might 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 same might be true with first baseman Ryon Healy after he missed most of 2019 with back issues and is now rehabbing from hip surgery, as well as Keon Broxton, a mid-season acquisition when the team was shorthanded in the outfield.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?

This is an area the Mariners addressed early this season, adding MLB Pipeline Top 30 Prospects 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.

The Mariners will open a few 40-man roster spots when Hernandez, Milone, Vizcaino and LeBlanc become free agents, but several of those spots could potentially be filled by players that need to be shifted from the 60-day injured list to the 40-man roster.

That group includes relievers Connor Sadzeck, Chasen Bradford and Healy, all of whom are also potential non-tender candidates since further spots will no doubt be needed to add any Major League free agents, Rule 5 Draft picks or trade acquisitions.

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 long-term contract obligations, but Dipoto’s intent is to give the 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 younger pitcher either in free agency or trade.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.