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Mariners, Morales make intentions known early

Seattle gives slugger offer he can refuse, with range of possible outcomes

SEATTLE -- It might seem a little surprising to hear that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has already indicated he will tender a qualifying offer to designated hitter Kendrys Morales and that Morales has already determined he will decline that offer, given neither of those decisions need to be finalized until November.

But consider this. Both Zduriencik and Morales' agent, Scott Boras, have nothing to lose by stating their early intentions. The Mariners are simply letting it be known they would like to keep Morales or obtain Draft-pick compensation should he depart, with Zduriencik stating his plans for the veteran designated hitter last week.

And because none of the nine Major League players who were given qualifying offers last year accepted those initial offers, Boras is not breaking any major news either, as Jon Heyman of reported Tuesday that Morales would reject such an offer from Seattle.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement that went into place last year, teams have until five days after the end of the World Series to make a qualifying offer to any of their own free agents. Such an offer consists of a one-year contract equal to the average of the 125 highest-paid players the prior season, which was $13.3 million last year and is expected to be about $13.8 million this year.

So the Mariners will offer Morales a one-year, $13.8 million deal, even knowing he will turn it down, because if a player rejects a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, his former team receives a compensatory Draft choice the following June at the end of the first round.

Players who receive a qualifying offer have seven days to accept the deal, which puts the final deadline at 12 days after the end of the World Series, which will conclude between Oct. 27-31.

Last year, in the first year of that system, all nine players who were given qualifying offers to stay with their former clubs declined the offers, with eight heading to free agency and one -- the Red Sox's David Ortiz -- signing a two-year, $26 million deal to stay with Boston before the negotiating period with other teams could begin.

Morales and the Mariners could go the Ortiz route and agree to a longer contract. If not, Boras will test the open market, as he did with several of his clients last year when he pushed well into the offseason before finding deals for outfielder Michael Bourn and pitcher Kyle Lohse.

Two of the eight qualifying-offer players who went to free agency last year wound up re-signing with their clubs. Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda signed a one-year, $15 million deal to remain with the Yankees, while first baseman Adam LaRoche re-upped with the Nationals in early January for two years at a guaranteed $24 million with an option for a third year.

Others found better money elsewhere. Rays outfielder B.J. Upton signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Braves in late November, while Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano took a two-year, $28 million contract from the Nationals.

Rangers star Josh Hamilton was the big winner with a five-year, $125 million offer from the Angels in mid-December, and Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Indians just before Christmas that included a fifth-year option for another $14 million.

Bourn did not sign until just before Spring Training, landing a four-year, $48 million deal from the Indians on Feb. 11, while Lohse waited until March 25 -- just days before the regular season -- to ink a three-year, $33 million contract with the Brewers.

Morales, 30, hit .277 with 23 home runs, 80 RBIs and a .785 OPS in 156 games in 2013 for Seattle after being obtained in a trade from the Angels for left-hander Jason Vargas.

The Mariners would like to keep Morales' switch-hitting bat in the middle of their order, as he hit a team-leading .312 with runners in scoring position and provided a veteran presence for a young club that has struggled offensively for several years.

It is not certain how big a market Morales might find elsewhere, given he has played mostly DH since injuring his leg and ankle in a home-plate celebration in 2010 with the Angels and then had to sit out all of 2011.

Morales has never run very well, but he hit .273 with 22 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS in 2012 for the Angels and posted similar numbers this past year for Seattle, where he started 31 games at first base and 121 games at DH.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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