Michael Saunders is leaving the only professional baseball club he’s ever known, but not without wanting to make one thing clear after being traded by the Mariners on Wednesday for Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ.
While there has been talk this offseason of unhappiness between Saunders and the Mariners, the 27-year-old outfielder said it won’t be easy leaving Seattle despite joining a Toronto club that plans to play him every day in left field and figures to be a strong contender in the American League East.
“They’ve got a great lineup in Toronto and I’m excited to be part of it,” he said. “But that said, I’ve grown up a Seattle Mariner and I’ve been through a lot there. You can tell Seattle is moving in the right direction and I was looking forward to being part of that.
“Seattle has a lot to be excited about with the Mariners. I’m sure Jack [Zduriencik] isn’t finished making moves and making the club better. I’ll miss being part of that. The fans there have had my back through thick and thin. They made me feel like Seattle was home and we were part of their family and I’ll never forget them for that.”
Saunders said he understands the deal and believes it fills a need for both teams. Understandably, he said he had “a lot of emotions running through me right now” after learning he’d be headed to Toronto and a new start for a club in his homeland, having grown up in Victoria, B.C.
“I’m very proud to be Canadian, not only to represent the Blue Jays, but my country,” said Saunders, who starred for Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. “I’m very excited for that. And Toronto has everything in place, not only to make a push in the AL East, but for a championship.”
Saunders admitted this past season didn’t go as he’d hoped, with two stints on the disabled list due to a sprained shoulder and a torn oblique. And he clearly has chafed at postseason remarks by Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon that he needed to work harder in the offseason to avoid injuries.
“I know a lot of people are speculating and forming opinions,” he said. “My conditioning in the offseason has never been a concern for me. That was not the reason I was injured. I played the game hard and ran into a wall [in 2013] making a play. I hurt my shoulder and then hurt it again this year. And when I tore my oblique, nobody was more disappointed than I was. I felt like I let the club down. But it had nothing to do with my conditioning. To give me the injury-prone label I think was unfair.
“I’m confident in my conditioning and I work just as hard as anybody to play 162 games. That didn’t happen this year and it was disappointing. As far as the comments, we’ve had conversations since then and I have nothing but good things to say about the organization and how they’ve treated me in the past. They saw a chance to make the club better by acquiring Happ and he’s a good fit for them.
“I was frustrated this year. The Blue Jays are going to give me an opportunity to play every day and I appreciate that. But I’m definitely sad to be leaving Seattle. It’s the only organization I’ve known since I signed when I was 18. They helped me become the man and the player I am today. Seattle and its fan base and organization will be sorely missed.”
Looking to add veteran depth to one of the American League’s top pitching staffs, the Mariners acquired left-hander J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays on Wednesday in exchange for outfielder Michael Saunders.
The Mariners have not announced the trade, but a source confirmed the news to MLB.com.
Happ, 32, went 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA in 30 games (26 starts) as the fifth starter for Toronto last season. The eight-year Major League veteran has a contract for $6.7 million for 2015 and will be a free agent next year.
Saunders, 28, has been with the Mariners his entire career since being drafted in the 11th round in 2004, including the past six years in the Majors. He put up a .273/.341/.450 line with eight home runs and 34 RBIs last year, but played only 78 games due to two trips to the disabled list with a sprained shoulder and a strained oblique.
Saunders hit .231/.301/.384 in 553 games in his time with Seattle, with his best season coming in 2012 when he hit 19 home runs with 21 stolen bases and a .247 average in 139 games.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik wanted to add a veteran to a rotation that is topped by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and also returns a trio of talented youngsters in James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, who all pitched as rookies last season.
With Chris Young departing in free agency, Happ apparently fills that role. The 6-foot-5 southpaw has a career record of 51-53 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.387 WHIP. He went 19-20 with a 4.39 ERA in three seasons in Toronto, but pitched only 10 games in 2012 due to a broken foot and 18 games in 2013 after being hit in the head with a line drive that put him on the disabled list for three months in midseason.
Happ started out last season on the disabled list with a back issue and then pitched out of the bullpen upon his return, but soon was moved into the rotation and wound up throwing 158 innings, his highest total since his rookie season with the Phillies when he was 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Happ pitched in eight playoff games with the Phillies in 2008-09, including two relief appearances in the ’09 World Series against the Yankees.
Carlos Rivero has yet to play a game for the Mariners after being claimed off waivers from the Red Sox last month, but the 26-year-old infielder was not tendered a contract prior to Tuesday night’s deadline as Seattle opened up a spot on its 40-man roster.
Rivero thus becomes a free agent and can sign with any other club or possibly return to the Mariners on a Minor League deal.
Seattle tendered contracts to all 31 of its other unsigned players prior to Tuesday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline, including six who are arbitration eligible – outfielders Austin Jackson, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley; first baseman Logan Morrison and relievers Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen.
Those six players are expected to combine for about $19.5 million in the arbitration process, according to projections by MLBTradeRumors.com. Jackson made $6 million last year, Saunders $2.3 million, Morrison $1.75 million, Ackley $1.5 million, Furbush $750,000 and Wilhelmsen $528,000.
All can expect to earn more next season in the arbitration process, with Jackson in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, Saunders and Morrison in their second years and Furbush, Wilhelmsen and Ackley beginning the process for the first time. MLBTradeRumors.com, which has been pretty accurate with its past projections, estimates Jackson will wind up at about $8 million, Saunders $2.9 million, Ackley $2.8 million, Morrison $2.6 million, Wilhelmsen $2.1 million and Furbush $1 million.
Kyle Seager also would have been eligible for his first year of arbitration, but the All-Star third baseman finalized a seven-year, $100 million deal on Tuesday that buys out all three of his arbitration years as well as his first four years of free agency. He was projected to earn $5 million this year. Instead, his new deal calls for $4 million in base salary for 2015 along with a $3.5 million signing bonus.
The other 25 players tendered contracts Tuesday are players in the pre-arbitration (0-3 years of service time) phase of their Major League careers.
Rivero wasn’t eligible for arbitration, having only played three Major League games in his career thus far for the Red Sox, but the Mariners chose to non-tender him in order to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. With the impending signing of free agent Nelson Cruz, Seattle’s 40-man would have been full.
By opening a spot, the Mariners can either add another player in the coming days, or have a spot open to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 11. Rivero is out of Minor League options, so unless he made the Opening Day 25-man roster, he would have been exposed to waivers at the end of Spring Training if he’d remained on the 40-man roster.
Rivero has limited Major League experience, but he went 4-for-7 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in his four games for the Red Sox in the final month last season. He also hit .264 with seven homers and 53 RBIs in 105 Minor League games, mostly with the Red Sox’s Triple-A Pawtucket club.
Rivero is having a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .291 with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .935 OPS in 36 games for Cardenales de Lara. He’s played mostly shortstop and third base in nine Minor League seasons, along with some limited outfield duty.
Calling it “a great day for the Seattle Mariners,” general manager Jack Zduriencik officially announced Kyle Seager’s seven-year contract extension on Tuesday and confirmed there is a club option for an eighth season that could take the deal through 2022.
Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed, but the seven-year pact will pay Seager $100 million, as was reported when news of the agreement leaked out last week.
According to MLBtraderumors.com, Seager will earn $4 million this coming season, $7.5 million in 2016 and $10.5 million in 2017, $18.5 million in 2018, $19 million in 2019 and 2020 and $18 million in 2021. The option year would be for $15-20 million, depending on performance levels.
The contract also includes a $3.5 million signing bonus, bringing the seven-year total to $100 million, with potential of up to $120 million with the option year.
Seager had to fly to Seattle and complete a physical exam and sign off on the paperwork before Tuesday’s confirmation, which came in a statement from the club. A press conference with Seager will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT at Safeco Field and streamed live on Mariners.com and MLB.com.
Seager earned his first American League All-Star selection and Rawlings Gold Glove this past season while hitting .268 with 27 doubles, four triples and a team-leading 25 home runs and 96 RBIs in 159 games.
The 27-year-old would have been eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter, but instead agreed to the seven-year deal that buys out his three years of arbitration as well as the first four years of free agency.
“I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity that the Seattle Mariners have given me,” Seager said in the statement. “This is an amazing honor for me and my family to remain with such a great organization for the foreseeable future.”
Seager joins Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman and Buster Posey as the only players to sign a $100 million deal in their first season of arbitration eligibility. The Mariners view him as a cornerstone of the young nucleus of players that helped Seattle to a 16-win improvement in 2014 and just miss an AL Wild Card berth with an 87-75 record.
“This is a great day for the Seattle Mariners, our fans and the Seager family. As one of our homegrown players it is nice to know that he will remain with us for at least seven more seasons,” said Zduriencik. “Kyle has taken a step forward each season since joining the organization in 2009, and has turned into one of the premier third baseman in the game.
“He has exhibited class both on and off the field and is someone we are all extremely proud of. We are very pleased to announce this joint commitment by the Seattle Mariners and Kyle Seager as we strive toward our goal of winning a World Championship.”
Seager became the first Mariners player since Raul Ibañez in 2005-2008 to record 20 or more home runs in at least three consecutive seasons. The North Carolina native hit 20 homers in 2012, 22 in 2013 and 25 last season. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Presley as the only Mariners with 20 or more homers in three of the first four seasons of a career.
In his three full Major League seasons, Seager has averaged 31 doubles, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs and hit .262 in 474 games. His 168 extra-base hits and 251 RBIs rank second among AL third basemen and his 67 home runs are tied for fourth-most over the last three years.
Seager has proven durable as well, appearing in 520 of the Mariners last 540 games since Aug 2, 2011. He rose quickly through the Mariners system after being drafted in the third round in 2009 out of the University of North Carolina, making his Major League debut on July 7, 2011 and quickly establishing himself as a key part of the club’s future.
That future now extends at least through 2021, when Seager will be 33.
General manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear from Day One this offseason that the Mariners top priority was a big right-handed bat to put behind Robinson Cano in Seattle’s lineup and the club appears to have filled that need with a reported agreement with free agent slugger Nelson Cruz.
Multiple news sources have confirmed an initial report by Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes that the 34-year-old Cruz has agreed to a four-year, $57 million contract. The Mariners have not confirmed the deal, which would need to be finalized with a physical exam and official signing.
The Mariners have been interested in Cruz for the past two years, engaging in talks last offseason that never came to fruition before the Dominican native signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles late in Spring Training. Cruz went on to lead the American League with 40 home runs while putting up a .271/.333/.525 slash line with 108 RBIs.
The Mariners sorely need some right-handed balance to their lineup and Cruz would slot in between left-handers Cano and Kyle Seager, who is expected to finalize a seven-year, $100 million extension of his own this week.
Cruz played 89 games at designated hitter and 70 in the outfield last season for the Orioles. Seattle’s designated hitters had the worst production in the AL last season with Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales getting most of the at-bats.
Cruz has spent eight of his 10 Major League seasons in the AL West with the Rangers and is a career .268 hitter who has averaged 29 home runs a season over the past six years.
Cruz also had a strong postseason for the Orioles last year, hitting .357 with two home runs and eight RBIs in seven games. The Orioles wanted to retain the player who was voted the “Most Valuable Oriole” by the Baltimore chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, but apparently wereunwilling to go beyond a three-year offer.
The Orioles extended a qualifying offer to Cruz, so Seattle will lose its first-round Draft pick, which currently is the 21st selection.
The Mariners finished 87-75 in 2014, coming one win shy of tying for a Wild Card berth, with a club that led the AL in ERA, but was tied for 11th in runs and last in the league in OPS.
The Mariners have yet to sign a free agent this offseason, but they are on the verge of wrapping up another one of their own stars for the next seven years as third baseman Kyle Seager is close to agreement on a seven-year, $100 million deal that would keep him in Seattle through 2021.
Seager, 27, earned his first American League All-Star and Rawlings Gold Glove awards last season while hitting .268/.334/.454 with a team-leading 25 home runs and 96 RBIs in 159 games.
Seager is just entering his first arbitration season and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018, so the deal will buy out his three arbitration years as well as the first four years of free agency, with an additional eighth-year club option that could go as high as $20 million with incentive clauses.
The agreement was first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by MLB.com. The Mariners have not confirmed the agreement and had no comment on Monday. Club policy is to not comment on pending deals until after a physical exam is completed and a contract is officially signed, which likely won’t be until next week at the earliest.
The Mariners have been working on extending Seager’s contract over the past few months, wanting to wrap up a player who has emerged as one of their cornerstones since his arrival in 2011.
Seager, who made $540,000 last year, would become the third-highest paid Mariner behind second baseman Robinson Cano and ace Felix Hernandez. Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal in free agency last year, while Hernandez has five years remaining on a seven-year, $175 million extension he agreed to in 2013.
Seager was a third round Draft pick by the Mariners in 2009 out of North Carolina and moved up quickly through Seattle’s Minor League system. He joined the Major League club midway through the 2011 season and has put up a .262/.328/.429 slash line in 3 ½ seasons.
Seager has proven durable as well as dependable, sitting out just 12 games over the past three years while averaging 22 home runs and 84 RBIs. He took a big step forward defensively as well this past season, setting a club record .981 fielding percentage and winning his first Gold Glove.
Once the deal is culminated, Seager will be the fourth Major Leaguer to sign a $100 million deal in their first season of arbitration eligibility, joining Mike Trout, Buster Posey and Freddie Freeman.
Neither player has reached the Major Leagues yet nor was on their team’s 40-man roster at the time of the deal, though the Cardinals immediately put Kelly on their 40-man to protect him from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Gaviglio, 24, went 5-12 with a 4.28 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) for Double-A Springfield last season with 126 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings. He posted a 2.90 ERA in 11 games, including 10 starts, during the second half of the season after a 5.42 ERA in 14 first-half starts.
The 6-foot-2 Gaviglio is a native of Ashland, Ore., and was drafted in the fifth round out of Oregon State in 2011.
Kelly, 26, was acquired by the Mariners in midseason in 2013 from the Orioles in exchange for outfielder Eric Thames. He hit .263/.381/.412 with 15 home runs and 80 RBIs in 134 games for Tacoma last season while splitting time between second, third and the outfield.
Kelly would have been exposed to the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 11 since he wasn’t protected by Seattle, but the Mariners chose to move him in exchange for a right-hander who will add some starting pitching depth to the organization.
The Mariners added three of their top Minor League prospects – reliever Mayckol Guaipe, catcher John Hicks and infielder Ketel Marte — to their 40-man roster on Thursday to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.
Players who signed their first professional contract at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons.
Like all clubs, the Mariners moved to protect eligible prospects they felt might be coveted by other teams prior to Thursday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline. The Rule 5 Draft will be held Dec. 11 on the final day of the Winter Meetings in San Diego.
With the Mariners also claiming left-hander Edgar Olmos off waivers from the Marlins on Thursday, their 40-man roster now stands at 39. Here is the current 40-man roster.
Guaipe, 24, was 1-3 with 12 saves and a 2.89 ERA in 40 appearances for Double-A Jackson last season. He had 56 strikeouts in 56 innings and posted the lowest WHIP (0.964) among Mariners full-season Minor Leaguers. Guaipe is having a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason as well.
Hicks, 25, split last season between Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma, batting .290 with five home runs and 47 RBIs in 81 games. The young catcher has thrown out 47.6 percent of attempted base-stealers during his four Minor League seasons. The former Virginia standout hit .304 in 13 games with Surprise in the Arizona Fall League that wrapped up last week.
Marte, 21, hit .304 with 79 runs, 32 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 29 stolen bases and 55 RBIs in 128 games with Jackson and Tacoma. He was a Southern League All-Star while batting .302 in 109 games with Jackson before being promoted to Tacoma on Aug. 10.
As one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League, Marte batted .313 in 19 games with Tacoma.
Among the Rule 5 eligible players not protected by the Mariners were outfielder Jabari Blash, first baseman/outfielder Jordy Lara and pitchers Stephen Landazuri and Jordan Pries.
Olmos, 24, went 3-3 with three saves and a 4.06 ERA in 51 appearances while splitting last season between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans. Opponents hit .248 against the 6-foot-4 southpaw and he totaled 60 strikeouts and 30 walks in 77 2/3 innings.
He has one Minor League option remaining.
Olmos just finished up in the Arizona Fall League, where he went 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in 11 innings over nine games with the Salt River Rafters.
Olmos pitched five games in the Majors with the Marlins in 2013, posting an 0-1 record and 7.20 ERA in five innings. He was drafted by the Marlins in the third round in 2008 out of Birmingham High School in Los Angeles and began his career as a starter. In seven Minor League seasons, he’s 15-37 with a 4.50 ERA in 179 games, including 71 starts.
The addition of Olmos puts the Mariners 40-man roster at 36, with more roster moves likely before Thursday’s 9 p.m. PT deadline to protect players from being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.
The Mariners’ Refuse to Abuse campaign against domestic violence has earned the franchise its first Commissioner Award for Philanthropic Excellence, a prestigious honor that was announced Thursday at the Major League Baseball Owners Meetings in Kansas City.
The CAPE Award was started by Commissioner Bud Selig in 2010 to recognize extraordinary charitable and philanthropic efforts by MLB clubs. Previous winners were the Red Sox in 2010, White Sox in 2011, Blue Jays in 2012 and Tigers in 2013.
The Mariners received the 2014 award for their public service campaign against domestic violence, which last year featured ace pitcher Felix Hernandez, outfielder Michael Saunders and manager Lloyd McClendon in television, radio and print advertisements.
Mariners Care will receive a $10,000 grant from Major League Baseball Charities as part of the recognition.
“I am very proud of the Seattle Mariners and Mariners Care for taking a leading role in educating fans and other members of their community on the importance of respectful relationships,” Selig said. “This is a vital societal issue that impacts the lives of individuals and families in harrowing ways.
“Having communicated with many experts, we continue to work diligently toward a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity of domestic violence and how to best serve the interests of victims and their families,” said Selig. “The efforts of the Mariners, who encourage fans to take a public stance against domestic violence, are exemplary. I thank the Mariners and all of our clubs for their year-round efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
The Refuse to Abuse program was first implemented in 1997 as a spinoff of the popular “Refuse to Lose” motto of the 1995 club. Working with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the club began promoting an educational campaign conveying the need for respect at home as well as on the field.
“When we were approached by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence with an opportunity to support this difficult and serious issue, we recognized it as a unique way to use our brand to send the message that domestic violence is not okay,” said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln. “It is a great honor to be recognized by Commissioner Selig for the work we have done over the years with our partners at the Coalition.”
For the last three years, the Coalition and Mariners have sponsored a 5K run/walk at Safeco Field to raise money for the Coalition’s prevention work and allow fans to join the effort to end domestic violence. The Refuse to Abuse 5K, which takes place in and around Safeco Field, encourages participants to start conversations about healthy relationships, and gives them concrete tools to do so.
The Refuse To Abuse campaign ads reach millions of Mariners fans each year and more than 1,300 people attended the 5K run/walk in July. The 5K has raised more than $200,000 for the Coalition over the last three years.