Qualifying offer likely changes Cuddyer interest

Colorado Rockies v Cleveland IndiansMonday was the deadline for Major League teams to extend $15.3 million qualifying offers to their own free agent players and, as expected, the Mariners declined to make any such offers to their own seven pending free agents.

But that does not mean that Monday’s decisions didn’t impact the Mariners.

Twelve players in MLB were given qualifying offers and the biggest surprise was the Rockies making that move with outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who seemed exactly like the type of player Seattle would be interested in on the free-agent market.

But much as with Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew last year, Cuddyer is a player most teams – including Seattle, presumably – won’t likely be willing to sacrifice the high draft pick compensation that goes with signing a player who has been given a qualifying offer.

In Seattle’s case, their first-round pick next June currently would be the 21st overall selection and they will forfeit that pick if they sign any of the 12 qualified free agents.

Those chosen 12 are: starting pitchers Max Scherzer of the Tigers, James Shields of the Royals, Ervin Santana of the Braves and Francisco Liriano of the Pirates, closer David Robertson of the Yankees, catcher Russell Martin of the Pirates, shortstop Hanley Ramirez of the Dodgers, third baseman Pablo Sandoval of the Giants, outfielders Nelson Cruz of the Orioles, Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays and Cuddyer of the Rockies, and designated hitter Victor Martinez of the Tigers.

Last year, the Mariners willingly parted with their highest unprotected draft pick – which turned out to be their second-round selection, the 47th pick overall – in order to sign Robinson Cano. In that scenario, their first-round pick (sixth overall) was protected because it was in the top 10.

But the Mariners are slated to pick 21st in the first round this year and thus will lose that pick if they do sign one of the Big 12. And that makes a player like Cuddyer less attractive, given he’s a 35-year-old who played just 49 games last year due to a broken left shoulder socket and hamstring issues.

That’s unfortunate for the Mariners and other teams who likely would have bid for Cuddyer, based on the fact he’s a quality right-handed hitter who batted .331 and .332 his past two seasons with the Rockies with an OPS of .919 and .955 when he was healthy.

Cuddyer may well become the first player in three years to accept a qualifying offer, rather than try his luck on the open market and face the situation Morales and Drew took on last year when both wound up not signing until two months into the regular season – after the draft and thus when teams no longer faced losing draft-pick compensation.

If the Mariners are going to go after a player tied to draft-pick compensation, they’d be more likely to take that plunge for a bigger impact bat like Martinez, or perhaps Cruz or Cabrera.

There’ll be plenty of speculation on all that in the coming weeks. And that picture will likely change dramatically as events and signings progress. MLBtraderumors.com already came out with its initial Top 50 free agent predictions last week and had the Mariners signing Royals DH Billy Butler and Cuddyer. That seemed like a perfectly logical projection … until the Rockies gave Cuddyer a qualifying offer. That’s how quickly scenarios can change, so we’ll see how things play out in the coming weeks and, yes, months.

Cuddyer and the other 11 qualified free agents have one week to accept or decline those offers. The rest of baseball’s free agents can begin talking with other clubs at 9:01 p.m. PT tonight. And that includes Seattle’s seven – starting pitcher Chris Young, reliever Joe Beimel, catcher Humberto Quintero, outfielders Chris Denorfia, Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez, and DH Morales.

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