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What to know: Mariners' offseason FAQ

@gregjohnsmlb
November 1, 2020

SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has already begun some offseason roster reconstruction, clearing space for winter additions and setting the stage for what’s to come. But with the World Series now complete, free agency and the Hot Stove season are officially ready to begin. Here's a list of

SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has already begun some offseason roster reconstruction, clearing space for winter additions and setting the stage for what’s to come. But with the World Series now complete, free agency and the Hot Stove season are officially ready to begin.

Here's a list of frequently asked questions -- and answers -- about what to expect from the Mariners in the coming days and weeks.

Which players are free agents?
Right-handed pitchers Yoshihisa Hirano and Kendall Graveman and second baseman Dee Strange-Gordon are the three Mariners who were among the 147 MLB players who became free agents on Wednesday morning after the conclusion of the World Series.

Hirano was the only pending free agent on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, but Seattle also chose not to exercise contract options for 2021 on Graveman and Strange-Gordon. The Mariners had exclusive rights to re-sign the three until Sunday at 2 p.m. PT, when all free agents became eligible to sign with any other team.

2020-21 free agents, position by position

Four other Mariners -- outfielder Mallex Smith and right-handed relievers Bryan Shaw, Zac Grotz and Jimmy Yacabonis -- were already designated for assignment and outrighted to the Minor Leagues during the season and are now Minor League free agents. Four others who finished the season on the 45-day injured list -- relievers Carl Edwards Jr., Matt Magill, Nestor Cortes and Gerson Bautista -- were outrighted to the Minors over the past week and will be free agents as well.

How did the contract options play out?
Strange-Gordon had a $14 million club option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout. Graveman had a $3.5 million club option with a $500,000 buyout for '21.

While the Mariners elected not to exercise Graveman’s option, they re-signed the 29-year-old on Thursday on a one-year deal for $1.25 million, sources told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. He signed as a free-agent starter last season and made just two starts before being sidelined by a benign tumor in his neck, but returned in a relief role for the final three weeks and looked impressive with an upper-90s fastball, posting a 3.60 ERA in nine outings.

Strange-Gordon hit just .200 in 82 plate appearances in 2020 -- his third and final season with the Mariners -- and clearly wasn’t part of the future at age 32.

Were there any qualifying offers?
No. This year’s qualifying offer figure is $18.9 million, and the Mariners didn’t offer that to Hirano, Graveman or Strange-Gordon.

Are there any non-tender candidates?
Teams often choose not to tender contracts to some players who are still under club control as arbitration eligible, preferring not to get locked into a salary under the arbitration system that applies to players with between three and six years of MLB service time. The Mariners have three arbitration-eligible players: outfielder Mitch Haniger, catcher Tom Murphy and shortstop J.P. Crawford. Edwards Jr. and Magill were also in that group until being outrighted.

Mariners reinstate Haniger, Murphy, Muñoz

Of the three, Crawford is the only one who was healthy all season. He’ll obviously be tendered a contract as the starting shortstop, while Murphy also appears a sure thing as the No. 1 catcher despite missing all season with a broken bone in his left foot. Both are arbitration-eligible for the first time.

Haniger, entering his second year of arbitration, earned $3 million last year despite spending the entire season on the injured list. The Mariners could conceivably non-tender Haniger by the Dec. 2 deadline if they think he’s unlikely to be healthy again, but Dipoto said recently he expects the 2018 AL All-Star to be at full strength by Spring Training and open the season starting in right field.

Who needs to be added to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Minor League players who were drafted out of college in 2017 or earlier or drafted out of high school or signed as international free agents in '16 or earlier are eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft unless they’re on a team’s 40-man roster by Nov. 20. For the Mariners, there are some interesting youngsters who fall into that group, including newly acquired outfielder Taylor Trammell, the club’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Juan Then, a promising 20-year-old right-hander and Seattle’s No. 14 prospect, is another who’ll likely need to be protected. Other ranked prospects who’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 process are right-handed relievers Sam Delaplane (No. 20) and Wyatt Mills (No. 23) and third baseman Joe Rizzo (No. 21). But 40-man roster openings are valuable, and the Mariners will need to decide if other teams think they could keep one of those prospects on their Major League roster for an entire season.

What about players on the 45-day injured list?
Here’s why Dipoto has already been busy doing considerable roster maneuvering, as the Mariners finished the year with eight players on the 45-day IL. The three remaining on that list -- Haniger, Murphy and Muñoz -- were reinstated Sunday, thus rejoining the 40-man roster.

Mariners' 40-man roster

The 40-man roster is at 35 since Hirano, Strange-Gordon and Graveman became free agents, though that will be offset if Trammell, Then and any of the other prospects need to be protected.

Muñoz is a promising 21-year-old reliever acquired from the Padres as part of the Austin Nola trade on Aug. 31. Dipoto whittled down the original eight on the IL by outrighting Edwards Jr., Cortes, Magill, Bautista and Taylor Guilbeau to the Minors, with Guilbeau being claimed off waivers by the D-backs and the rest becoming free agents.

How active will they be in free agency?
The Mariners certainly have payroll flexibility if they decide the time is right to jump into the free-agent market, given that Kyle Seager ($18 million), Yusei Kikuchi ($15 million) and Marco Gonzales ($5 million) are the only players currently under contract for more than $1.3 million in 2021. But Dipoto isn’t looking to block his younger prospects by signing placeholder veterans.

While Dipoto hasn’t ruled out a big splash-type free agent to add to the long-term nucleus if the right situation arises, the Mariners seem more inclined to focus right now on acquiring three or four relievers to bolster an inexperienced bullpen and let the young rotation and position players continue advancing as a group.

It’s likely that they’ll sign an experienced starter as well to add rotation depth, with Taijuan Walker’s return a possibility after dealing the 28-year-old to Toronto ahead of the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline.

How else can they add talent?
Dipoto is always scouring the waiver wires for players he thinks might provide upgrades to the 40-man roster and has already claimed right-handed reliever Domingo Tapia, a 29-year-old who flashed a 99-mph fastball in his brief time as a rookie with the Red Sox this past season.

That works both ways, however, as the Mariners also have lost Guilbeau to the D-backs and No. 25 ranked prospect Art Warren to the Rangers when they were claimed after being outrighted to the Minors to open up spots on the 40-man roster.

Never count Dipoto out of the trade market as well, though he seems fairly set with the young nucleus of talent now either in place or just waiting for their opportunity in the Minors.

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