Answers to key FAQs about Mariners' offseason

October 4th, 2018

SEATTLE -- For the Mariners, the upcoming offseason looms as a busy and intriguing time with numerous roster questions and decisions hanging overhead for general manager Jerry Dipoto and his baseball operations staff.

Here are some of the key questions and the timing of how things will play out this winter.

Which Mariners are going to become free agents, and when does that happen?

The Mariners' pending free agents are designated hitter , outfielder , utility players and  and relievers , and Zach Duke. Outfielder also became a free agent when the club declined his $12 million option for 2019.

Players with six or more years of Major League service who have not signed a contract for the next season are considered free agents. Those players officially become free agents on the morning of the first day after the World Series ends, which could be any time from Oct. 28-Nov. 1.

Free agents can talk with any club at that point, though they can only re-sign with their previous club until 2 p.m. PT on the fifth day after the end of the World Series. After that, players are free to sign with any of the 30 MLB teams.

Will Seattle pursue any of its own free agents?

Cruz is the biggest question, and while he has been a huge part of the Mariners' offense and clubhouse, there seems to be some internal debate over that decision. Both Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have said they'd love to have the slugger back, and Cruz has said he'd like to return, but both sides also keep noting it's a business and no firm discussions have started.

The Mariners seem to be wrestling with whether they want to commit a big multi-year deal to a 38-year-old DH -- even one they love and have leaned on heavily -- or become more flexible by letting him go and using the DH as a rotating spot with and others, opening up that money for pitching or a center fielder while also helping to solve the logjam between Cano and Dee Gordon at second base.

None of the other pending free agents are likely prime targets, though Phelps spent the year with the club recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be a candidate to return on a Minor League deal or minimum MLB contract.

What kind of help do the Mariners need, and will they be active in free agency?

Dipoto typically prefers trades to free agency, and given the Mariners already have a very large payroll committed to seven returning players -- , , Mike Leake, , , Cano and Gordon are under contract for a combined $107 million -- it's unlikely they'll jump into the deep end of the free-agent pool with more big-money, long-term deals. It's more likely they'll use free agency to add depth, perhaps in the outfield, catcher or pitching departments.

Which players are out of Minor League options?

Pitchers , Alex Colome, , , , , , and Nick Vincent, catcher Chris Herrmann, first baseman and utility man are out of options, which means they'll either need to make the 25-man roster next year or be exposed to waivers before being sent down.

Gonzales is clearly part of the rotation, while Colome, and perhaps Armstrong and Vincent, are part of the bullpen nucleus. But the others are players that become potential trade candidates or could be designated for assignment if they don't fit clearly into the team's plans.

Who might be non-tender candidates, and when must that be finalized?

The Mariners have nine arbitration-eligible players -- pitchers , Colome, Cook, Elias, Grimm, Ramirez and Vincent, plus catchers Mike Zunino and Herrmann.

Non-tender candidates are typically players who are in line for higher salary bumps through the arbitration process than their perceived value to the club, which happens more in the final year or two of arbitration. There likely will be debate in that regard over Ramirez (who made $4.2 million last year) and possibly Vincent ($2.75M) as they enter their final season before free agency.

Grimm ($1.2 million), Cook ($1.1 million) and Herrmann ($937,000) are also entering their final year of arbitration and could be non-tendered rather than locked into guaranteed Major League deals at higher rates.

Those decisions must be made by Nov. 30.

Will Dipoto be active on the trade market again?

That seems almost a certainty, given his history as well as the need to solve some issues with a roster that didn't fit together particularly well after Cano returned from his 80-game suspension and Gordon had shifted back to second. Center field appears to be a need, unless the decision is made to return Gordon there on a full-time basis, and left field is also a question if Span departs.

If Dipoto wants to gain flexibility and youth, almost anything could be in play. But don't expect any news there for a while. The common practice in MLB is for teams to wait until after the World Series to finalize trades, so typically November is the start of trading season and many deals aren't hammered out until during or after the Winter Meetings, which are in Las Vegas this year from Dec. 9-13.