Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals on their World Series victory. So while the Mariners season was done the first week in October (or even before that), the Royals’ closing out the series on Sunday night in New York means baseball’s offseason officially begins on Monday.
For a reference point, here are some key dates to remember …
- Nov. 2 — Eligible players become free agents at the conclusion of the World Series. Full list from the MLB players’ association
- Nov. 5 — Last day to request waivers on a draft-excluded player.
- Nov. 6 — Last day for teams to tender a qualifying offer to players. Those must be submitted before 8 p.m. (Pacific). It’s also the deadline to outright potential minor league free agents without MLB contracts. Minor leaguers that qualify become free agents at 5 p.m.
- Nov. 7 — Free agents, major league and minor league, become eligible to sign with teams besides their former team.
- Nov. 13 — Deadline for players to make decide whether to accept or reject a team’s qualifying offer. The deadline for the formal decision is 8 p.m.
- Dec. 2 — Deadline for teams to tender or non-tender their players that are arbitration-eligible.
The Mariners haven’t announced a report date for spring training yet. But expect pitchers and catchers to report around Feb. 19 or 20.
Obviously, the free agent deadline is the most pressing. The Mariners have three players that have become free agents — Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Beimel and Franklin Gutierrez.
New general manager Jerry Dipoto made it known that bringing back Iwakuma is an offseason goal.
“It’s a priority to at least explore that,” he said shortly after being hired. “I know Kuma wants to be here. We’d certainly like him to be here. Now it’s a matter of sitting down and finding out if there’s a common place we meet. It seems a good marriage.”
Iwakuma went 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 20 starts this past season, missing two months with a lat strain. In four seasons with Seattle, he’s posted a 47-25 record with a 3.17 ERA in 111 appearances (97 starts).
He would prefer to stay with the Mariners. He lives in Seattle year round and his children are enrolled in local schools.
Baseball sources have said Iwakuma, 34, is seeking a three-year contract. Even though he has battled injuries, Iwakuma has been a bargain for the Mariners, who have not paid him more than $7 million per season. It’s likely he’ll want more than $10 million per season. The Mariners would likely prefer a two-year deal with an option for a third year.
Is that too much to give Iwakuma?
Well, given what starting pitching goes for on the free agent market, a three-year deal at over $30 million might be considered a bargain. Iwakuma’s injury issues, age and mileage on his arm are a concern.
It’s not a secret that the majority ownership, which is based in Japan, likes to have a Japanese player on the team. Regardless of those desires, Iwakuma is a productive player when healthy and a solid No. 3-4 starter.
There were many teams scouting him heavily late in the season in anticipation of him becoming a free agent. The Mariners starting pitching depth consists of Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery and Vidal Nuno. Montgomery is out of minor league options, while Nuno seems most effective pitching as a long reliever in the bullpen.
That doesn’t leave much for starting pitching depth.
The Mariners can and likely will offer Iwakuma a qualifying offer of an estimated $15.8 million for 2016 to protect themselves. If Iwakuma declines the offer as expected (no player has ever accepted a qualifying offer), the Mariners would receive a compensatory draft pick if he signed elsewhere.
Also it gives Seattle some leverage in bringing Iwakuma back since any team that signed him would have to forfeit its top draft pick (unless that pick is Nos. 1 through 10). Teams have been reluctant to give up that draft pick for players that haven’t been considered front-line free agents — Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew in 2014, for example.
It’s also instructive to remember that the Mariners would lose their No. 11 draft pick if they do sign a free agent that had been extended a qualifying offer from their former team. Offering Iwakuma a qualifying offer gives them some additional protection if they lose Iwakuma and sign another free agent that has a qualifying offer. Though Dipoto has made it clear that free agency isn’t a big part of his offseason plan.
Gutierrez had a very productive season as a bench player, starting in a platoon against left-handed starting pitchers. He hit .292 with a .974 OPS with 10 doubles and 15 homers in 59 games.
The limited role, which is a necessity because of his constant battle with ankylosing spondylitis, seemed to work. Gutierrez admitted that he couldn’t play in a larger role because of health concerns. He expressed a desire to stay with the team.
“This is my first choice,” he said at the end of the season. “This will always be my first choice. Anything can happen. I have to wait until everything is over.”
Gutierrez would be a small investment to bring back, most likely a one-year MLB deal loaded with incentives based on playing time and performance.
Beimel was a solid reliever before overuse led to a stint on the disabled list. But he likely isn’t a priority. The Mariners’ best left-handed reliever — Charlie Furbush — missed the last few months of the season with rotator cuff issues. He’s expected to be healthy come spring training.
They also have Nuno, Rob Rasmussen and Tyler Olson on the 40-man roster. They can also look to bring in lefties to spring training on minor league contracts.
While the non-tender deadline isn’t for a month, the Mariners could make decisions based on some of those players before that. There is some debate whether they will tender a contract to Mark Trumbo or Logan Morrison.
Trumbo is projected to make around $9 million, while Morrison projected at just over $4 million. The Mariners have a glut of first base/DH types. It’s a possibility that they won’t tender Morrison and move Trumbo to full-time first base/DH.
Dipoto also traded Trumbo when he was with the Angels after the team signed Albert Pujols. Trumbo’s strong second half and one year of control might be mildy attractive to a power hungry AL team via trade.
Links to use
- Mariners page on Cot’s baseball contracts
- Free agent list from MLB Trade Rumors
- Projected arbitration figures from MLB Trade Rumors
- Robinson Cano (signed through 2023)
- Nelson Cruz (signed through 2018)
- Felix Hernandez (signed through 2019)
- Danny Hultzen (signed through 2016)
- Kyle Seager (signed through 2021, option in 2022)
- Seth Smith (signed through 2016, option for 2017)
Free Agents following season
- Joe Beimel
- Franklin Gutierrez
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Charlie Furbush (second year)
- Logan Morrison (third year)
- Mark Trumbo (third year)
- Tom Wilhelmsen (second year)
Out of minor league options for 2016 Season:
- Ramon Flores, OF
- Lucas Luetge, LHP
- Danny Hultzen, LHP
- Jesus Montero, 1B/DH
- Mike Montgomery, LHP
- Edgar Olmos, LHP
- Jose Ramirez, RHP