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Mariners add reliever in Minor League part of Rule 5

The Mariners selected right-handed pitcher Isaac Sanchez from the Pirates in the Minor League portion of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, but didn’t add anyone in the Major League phase of the process as their 40-man roster was already full.

Seattle lost outfielder Jabari Blash, who finished last season with Triple-A Tacoma, in the Major League part of the Draft. Blash was selected by the A’s and then immediately traded to the Padres. The 26-year-old hit .271 with 32 home runs and 81 RBIs in 116 games between Double-A Jackson and Tacoma last year, including .264 with 22 homers and 47 RBIs in 56 games at the Triple-A level.

If Blash isn’t kept on the Padres’ 25-man roster throughout next season, he’ll be exposed to waivers and then must be offered back to the Mariners if he goes unclaimed.

Sanchez, 23, went 2-3 with three saves and a 2.71 ERA over 66 1/3 innings in 42 relief appearances with Single-A Bradenton in the Florida State League in 2015. The 6-footer limited opponents to a .242 batting average with 51 strikeouts and 24 walks.

“Isaac is a guy that our scouts and analytics really liked, some of the things he’d done at the lower levels,” Mariners player personnel director Tom Allison said. “We think he adds some depth to our organization and we’ll see where he plays out when we get him into Minor League camp.”

The Mariners also lost three players in the Minor League Triple-AAA phase. The Indians took left-hander Brian Moran and the Dodgers picked right-handed reliever Logan Bawcom and outfielder Julio Morban.

Moran, 27, was 2-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 25 relief outings for Jackson last year. Moran has gone through the Rule 5 process before. He was selected by Toronto in the Major League part of the Draft in 2013 and traded to the Angels, but eventually was returned back to the Mariners after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Bawcom, 27, was 2-4 with a 4.64 ERA in 45 games, including one start, in Tacoma. He was acquired from Seattle in 2012 from the Dodgers along with outfielder Leon Landry in a midseason trade for Brandon League.

Morban, 23, was a well-regarded prospect before breaking his leg in 2013 and then dealing with some recurring problems. He hit .206 in 48 games between Jackson and Tacoma last season.

Handy primer of Dipoto’s roster moves

It’s getting past the point where we need a scorecard to keep up with the fast-and-furious series of roster moves Jerry Dipoto has made since taking over as Mariners general manager, which now total nine trades and four free-agent signings after Wednesday’s deal for Adam Lind. So here you go:

TRADES

Nov. 5 – SS Brad Miller, 1B baseman Logan Morrison and RH reliever Danny Farquhar to Rays for RH starter Nathan Karns, LH reliever C.J. Riefenhauser and OF Boog Powell.

Nov. 12 –RH Enyel De Los Santos and infielder Nelson Ward to Padres for RH reliever Joaquin Benoit.

Nov. 16 – RH reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, OF James Jones and infielder Patrick Kivlehan to Rangers for CF Leonys Martin and RH reliever Anthony Bass.

Nov. 20 – OF Ramon Flores to Brewers for infielder Luis Sardinas.

Dec. 2 – 1B Mark Trumbo and LH reliever C.J. Riefenhauser to Orioles for C/1B Steve Clevenger.

Dec. 4 – RH reliever Jose Ramirez to Braves for PTBN and cash.

Dec. 7 – RH reliever Carson Smith and LH starter Roenis Elias to Red Sox for LH starter Wade Miley and RH reliever Jonathan Aro.

Dec. 8: RH reliever Trey Cochran-Gill to A’s for RH reliever Evan Scribner.

Dec. 9: RH pitchers Daniel Missaki, Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta to Brewers for 1B Adam Lind.

FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

LF Franklin Gutierrez (re-signed)
C Chris Iannetta (Angels)
RH reliever Justin De Fratus (Phillies)
OF Nori Aoki (Giants)

MINOR LEAGUE SIGNINGS

RH starter Donn Roach (Cubs)
OF Mike Baxter

ROSTER CLAIMS

OF Daniel Robertson (Angels)
1B Andy Wilkins (Orioles – since DFA’d)

LOST

RH  Hisashi Iwakuma (Dodgers signed)
LH Edgar Olmos (Cubs claimed)
C John Hicks (Twins claimed)

With Kuma gone, what now for Mariners?

IwakumaMinnAs the Winter Meetings officially get underway this morning in Nashville, the Mariners now know their starting pitching search is headed a new direction after the Dodgers landed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal that Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is reporting at $45 million.

That’s a healthy pay raise for a guy who’ll turn 35 in April. Iwakuma made $21.5 million total in his four seasons in Seattle, including $20 million over a final three-year deal that wrapped up at $7 million last season.

The Mariners wanted to bring Iwakuma back, to the point where general manager Jerry Dipoto openly talked of that as his highest priority this offseason. But their initial offer to Iwakuma was believed to be a two-year pact and it’s not known yet how far they moved from that or whether they got near the Dodgers’ final offer.

The price of pitching clearly is going up and the arms race has been the prime story in the early offseason. While position players seem to be waiting for dominoes to begin falling, pitchers have been moving quickly and Iwakuma joins the impressive likes of David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey who’ve now inked deals with new teams.

Where the Mariners turn now remains to be seen, but Dipoto knew there was a chance Iwakuma might opt elsewhere as soon as he declined Seattle’s one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer to become a free agent.

The Mariners figure to move relatively quickly, for two reasons. Dipoto already has shown a willingness to deal, having already engineered six trades and signed four free agents this offseason. Secondly, how the Mariners pursue answers to their first base and bullpen questions could hinge somewhat on how much money they spend on a starting pitcher, so Dipoto will want clarity as soon as possible and knows the market is moving in a hurry.

Iwakuma’s departure at least clarifies the rotation situation before all the options have disappeared, but the market has thinned already.

The most-prominent remaining free agent hurler — Johnny Cueto — sits above the Mariners’ target range, given he’s going to command a significant long-term deals and Dipoto has made it clear Seattle isn’t fishing in those waters after already spending big in recent years on Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

That may mean that other free agents like Mike Leake and Wei-Yin Chen are off limits as well, given they’re projected to command deals in the five-year, $80 million range. The  next tier of free agents includes the likes of Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon, or Dipoto may push more toward the trade route to add another starter as he did already once this offseason by acquiring Nathan Karns from the Rays.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports the Mariners have talked to the Red Sox about potential starters, speculating Clay Buchholz or Wade Miley as the potential targets. That makes sense, particularly Miley — an innings-eating lefty who costs only $15.25 million for the next two years and still just 29. But the flip side is, Seattle would have to give up something the Red Sox want, which likely would be an established quality Major League reliever or outfielder. The Mariners aren’t loaded with either of those, or prospects, so it remains to be seen if anything comes of it.

A word of caution, again. All teams are talking and throwing ideas around. That’s what the Meetings are about. It doesn’t mean a deal is imminent.

Dipoto will meet with Seattle area media this afternoon here in Nashville for the first of his daily updates during the four-day meetings, so it’ll be interesting to see what he says at that point in regard to pitching and his other pursuits as things get rolling at the Opryland Hotel.

In other early news, former Mariner starter Chris Young agreed to a two-year, $11.75 million deal to return to the Royals and reliever Mark Lowe agreed to a two-year, $13 million pact with the Tigers, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Both those veterans helped resurrect their careers with Seattle in the past couple years and it’s good to see them getting some security with guaranteed deals in the early going this winter.

Iwakuma reportedly close to deal with Dodgers

IwakumaNew general manager Jerry Dipoto has made one thing clear from the start of an already busy offseason for the Mariners. Priority No. 1 was to re-sign free agent right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. But that goal appears in jeopardy now with multiple reports surfacing Sunday night that the 34-year-old is close to an agreement with the Dodgers.

ESPN analyst Jim Bowden reported on Twitter that Iwakuma had agreed to a contract with the Dodgers, but numerous other reports followed that no deal was yet in place, though it could be imminent. The Mariners had no comment or confirmation of any reports involving Iwakuma.

Iwakuma turned down Seattle’s one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer to become a free agent and after a number of the top available starters — David Price, Zack Greinke, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey – came off the board in recent days, his name surged to the fore of much speculation as executives from all 30 Major League teams began gathering Sunday at the Opryland Hotel on the eve of the four-day Winter Meetings.

Both the Dodgers and Giants were reportedly pursuing Iwakuma on Sunday, looking to finalize deals before the Meetings began.

Because they made Iwakuma a qualifying offer, the Mariners will receive a compensatory Draft pick at the end of the first round of next June’s First-Year Player Draft if he does sign elsewhere.

Iwakuma has quietly been one of the American League’s top right-handers the past four years, posting a 47-25 record and 3.17 ERA with a 1.082 WHIP. And while he missed 10 weeks with a strained lat muscle last season, he still went 9-5 with a 3.54 ERA and threw a no-hitter against the Orioles in August.

The Mariners have ace Felix Hernandez atop their rotation, with promising 23-year-old Taijuan Walker coming off a strong first full season in the Majors and highly regarded left-hander James Paxton trying to get healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. Dipoto added Rays right-hander Nathan Karns via a trade last month and the club also has lefties Vidal Nuno and Roenis Elias returning and both have Minor League options, while Mike Montgomery also returns, though he’s out of options and thus provides less roster flexibility.

But Dipoto would like to bolster that group with a quality veteran like Iwakuma, who has been Seattle’s No. 2 or 3 starter since moving into the rotation in mid-2012 after signing with the Mariners following an outstanding 11-year career in Japan.

Iwakuma was an American League All-Star in 2013 and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting that season after going 14-6 with a 3.66 ERA. Age and durability are the main questions regarding the 34-year-old as he missed the first month of 2014 with a strained finger tendon and then was sidelined last year by the lat strain.

If Iwakuma does go elsewhere, the Mariners will almost certainly turn toward other remaining free-agent pitchers or pursue the trade market for a replacement.

Johnny Cueto is the biggest name remaining among the free-agent arms, though he figures to be in the blockbuster category that Dipoto has indicated the Mariners wouldn’t be pursuing.  Other prominent free agent pitchers include Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, Doug Fister, Mark Buehrle and Bartolo Colon.

Minor League staffs named, including Felix’s bro

The Mariners announced their Minor League coaching staffs on Friday and there are some interesting names in the new mix, including Moises Hernandez – the brother of Felix Hernandez – as the new pitching coach of the Low-A Everett club.

Two Mariners Hall of Famers – Dan Wilson and Alvin Davis – remain in the organization as Minor League coordinators for the second straight year and one-time interim Mariners manager Daren Brown takes over as manager of Double-A Jackson after working as a bunting and baserunning coordinator in the Minor League system the past two seasons.

New general manager Jerry Dipoto and director of player development Andy McKay put together a group of 18 coordinators, led by new field coordinator Mike Micucci, who was the Angels field coordinator the past four years.

Jack Howell will be the offensive coordinator, Wilson will be defensive coordinator and former Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits will serve as the pitching coordinator, all serving as roving instructors in the new set-up, Jim Pankovits returns as infield coordinator along with Brant Brown as outfield coordinator, while Davis – the first member of the Mariners Hall of Fame — enters his sixth season as special assistant coordinator.

Two new additions to Mariners farm system are former Major League pitcher Pete Harnisch as special assistant/player development, and John Hester as special assistant/player development and scouting.

On the international operations side, David Macias is the new coordinator of international player programs, Jose Moreno continues as Latin America field coordinator and Carlos Chantres joins the organization as Latin America pitching coordinator.

On the individual club levels, Pat Listach returns for his second year as manager at Triple-A Tacoma. Scott Brosius, another former big leaguer, joins the Mariners organization as the Rainiers hitting coach. He’s spent the past 14 years as a coach at Linfield College.

Lance Painter enters his 11th season with the Mariners, but his first as the Rainiers pitching coach after spending the last two seasons as the pitching coach with Double-A Jackson.

Brown, who has been in the Mariners organization the last 15 years and was interim manager in Seattle for 50 games in 2010, takes over as the skipper at Jackson. His staff will include pitching coach Andrew Lorraine, who moves up after two years at the High-A level, and second-year hitting instructor Roy Howell.

Eddie Menchaca returns as manager at High-A Bakersfield and Max Venable is back as hitting coach. They’ll be joined by new pitching coach Ethan Katz, who was a Minor League pitching coach for the Angels the past three years.

Northwest native Mitch Canham takes over as manager at Class-A Clinton. Canham was born in Richland, Wash., and grew up in Lake Stevens, Wash., before attending Oregon State. He was drafted by the Padres in 2007 and spent eight seasons playing Minor League ball. Pitching coach Rich Dorman returns for the LumberKings, but no hitting coach has been named yet.

Rob Mammau returns for his 16th season in the Mariners organization and second as the manager at Low-A Everett. Hitting coach Brian Hunter also returns, while Hernandez – the older brother of the Mariners ace – makes his coaching debut after retiring as a pitcher last season after 11 seasons in the Minors.

Zac Livingston, who spent the last four years as a Minor League catcher in the Angels organization, begins his coaching career as the manager of the Mariners’ Rookie affiliate in the Arizona League. Andy Bottin and James Lofton will be the hitting coaches and Yoel Monzon the pitching coach.

Wilkins added, Hicks lost, Olmos DFA’d

WilkinsAndyThe Mariners claimed first baseman Andy Wilkins off waivers from the Orioles on Thursday, but also lost catcher John Hicks on a waiver claim to the Twins. Additionally, Seattle designated left-hander Edgar Olmos for assignment to open a spot for Wilkins on the 40-man roster.

Hicks had been designated for assignment on Nov. 23 and now goes on to the Twins’ 40-man roster. He was a fourth-round Draft choice of the Mariners in 2011 and hit .063 in 36 at-bats in a brief stint with Seattle late last season.

Wilkins, 27, had been claimed off waivers by the Orioles in September after splitting last season between the Triple-A clubs for the Dodgers and Blue Jays. He hit a combined .251 with 29 doubles, 18 home runs and 79 RBIs in 126 games in Triple-A.

He gives Seattle some depth at first base following the trade of Mark Trumbo to the Orioles in a deal that still hasn’t been formally announced. With Trumbo’s departure, Jesus Montero was the only other full-time first baseman on the 40-man roster.

Wilkins was drafted by the White Sox in the fifth round in 2010 and played 17 games for their Major League club in 2014, hitting .140 (6-for-43) with two double and two RBIs. In six Minor League seasons with three organizations, he’s batted .272 with 111 home runs and 441 RBIs in 681 games.

Olmos appeared in six games for the Mariners last year, including two starts, and was 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA. He was 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 20 games for Triple-A Tacoma after being acquired on waivers from the Marlins last offseason.

The club now has 10 days to trade, release or outright Olmos to the Minors.

Hultzen clears waivers, outrighted to Tacoma

Hultzen2Left-hander Danny Hultzen, who was designated for assignment on Friday by the Mariners after three injury plagued seasons, has cleared waivers and will be outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma.

Hultzen thus remains with the Mariners organization that selected him with the second pick in the 2011 Draft and will continue his attempt to work his way back from rotator cuff and labrum surgery that sidelined him for all of 2014 and allowed him to pitch just eight innings last season with Double-A Jackson (0-1, 3.38 ERA) before being shut down again.

Hultzen was moved off the 40-man roster when infielder/outfielder Patrick Kivlehan and outfielder Boog Powell were promoted on Friday to protect them from Rule 5 Draft exposure. Hultzen could now be selected in the Rule 5 Draft, but that seems unlikely since any interested team could have claimed him now instead of waiting for the Dec. 10 process.

If he is selected in the Rule 5 Draft, he’d have to be kept on that team’s 25-man roster for the entire season or offered back to the Mariners.

The 25-year-old hasn’t thrown since being shut down last August, but is expected to begin a normal throwing program in January with the goal of being ready to go at the start of Spring Training.

“He just wants to continue to rest and rehab and strengthen the shoulder before picking up a ball in the new year,” assistant general manager Jeff Kingston said. “Obviously, that’s an unknown at this point, how he’ll feel when he does pick up a ball. He feels he’ll be good to go in Spring Training. We’ll just have to wait and see on that.”

Hultzen looked strong in camp last year for Seattle, but couldn’t maintain that in the regular season and wound up appearing in just three games for Jackson. He’s totaled just 43 2/3 innings over the past three seasons.

The Mariners still feel Hultzen’s best role would be as a starting candidate, but it’ll take time to build up his arm strength and innings total. When healthy, he’s posted a 14-9 record and 2.84 ERA with 186 strikeouts in 167 2/3 innings over 35 Minor League starts.

Dipoto signs free agent Iannetta

IannettaNew Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto reached back into his former Angels team to make his first new free-agent acquisition, signing veteran catcher Chris Iannetta to a one-year Major League contract on Monday.

John Hicks, a 26-year-old catcher who hit .063 in 32 at-bats for Seattle last season, was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster.

Iannetta, 32, spent the last four seasons with the Angels after being acquired by Dipoto in a trade with the Rockies in 2011 for pitcher Tyler Chatwood. He gives Seattle an experienced catcher to go along with Mike Zunino, a well-regarded 24-year-old who has struggled to hit at the Major League level and finished last season with Triple-A Tacoma.

“This move improves our depth at a critical position,” said Dipoto. “Chris provides us with a solid veteran presence behind the plate, as well as an experienced Major League hitter with strong on-base skills who will lengthen our lineup.”

Iannetta is coming off a rough 2015 season himself, having batted .188 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 92 games after getting off to a slow start with a .093 average in April. But he carries a career line of .231/.351/.405 in 10 seasons in the Majors with the Rockies and Angels and hit .252/.373/392 in 108 games in 2014.

Iannetta earned $5.5 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $15.5 million contract and was credited with helping mentor Angels rookie Carlos Perez, who eventually replaced him as the starting catcher in the second half.

Iannetta’s .351 on-base percentage since the start of 2006 is tied for the third-best among catchers with a minuimum of 3,000 plate appearances behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.375), Toronto’s Russell Martin (.352) and tied with Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz (.351). Among catchers with a minumum of 800 games since 2006, he has the top fielding percentage in the Majors at .995.

Adding an established catcher was one of Dipoto’s primary targets this offseason. Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft, is a strong defender and handles pitchers well, but hit just .174 with 11 homers in 112 games in 2015 and .199 with 22 homers in 131 games in 2014.

The Mariners used five catchers last season – Zunino, Hicks, Jesus Sucre, Welington Castillo and Steven Baron – and they combined to bat just .159, by far the lowest production in the Majors.

Dipoto has made four trades involving 16 players in the past three weeks and also re-signed Mariners free agent outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, but Iannetta represents his first free agent pickup from another club.

Hicks joins former Virginia teammate Danny Hultzen on the DFA list. The Mariners designated Hultzen for assignment on Friday. The club has 10 days to trade, release or outright both players to the Minors. Hicks, a fourth-round selection in the 2011 Draft, has hit .280 in 403 games over five Minor League seasons and batted .245 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 83 games for Triple-A Tacoma last season before being called up in late August.

Hampton, Candaele added to coaching staff

HamptonFormer Mariners pitcher Mike Hampton has been hired as the team’s new bullpen coach and long-time utility player Casey Candaele will be the new first base coach, the club announced Monday.

The two hirings fill out the primary coaching positions for new manager Scott Servais, who previously had named bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Edgar Martinez, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and third base coach Manny Acta.

“Casey brings a great presence and high baseball IQ to our staff,” Servais said. “He’ll be working with our outfielders and on baserunning, both areas that he is uniquely prepared for given his experience over the past five years. Mike brings a tremendous amount of experience. His competitive nature will team well with Mel Stottlemyre as they help guide our pitching staff through the season.”

Hampton pitched for the Mariners in 1993 at the start of a 16-year Major League career during which he posted a 148-115 record with a 4.06 ERA with six different clubs. The 43-year-old was a pitching coach in the Angels’ Minor League system in 2013 with Double-A Arkansas and 2014 with their Arizona League squad.

Hampton, originally drafted in the sixth round by the Mariners in 1990, was a National League All-Star with the Astros in 1999 and Rockies in 2001, a Gold Glove winner in 2003 and a five-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He finished second in the 1999 Cy Young Award voting after going 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA for the Astros.

Candaele, 54, spent last year as the field coordinator for the Rangers, overseeing instruction for Minor League players at all levels of their organization and coordinating Spring Training and instructional league operations. He was the Minor League infield and base running coordinator for Texas the previous four seasons.

Candaele played nine seasons in the Majors with the Expos, Astros and Indians from 1986-97, hitting .250 in 754 games. He was primarily a second baseman, but also appeared in games at every other infield position and all three outfield spots.

Candaele’s late mother, Helen Callaghan St. Aubin, played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, making him and his mother the only mother-son combination believed to have ever played pro baseball at the highest available levels.

Chris Woodward initially was offered the opportunity to return as Seattle’s first-base coach, but he subsequently informed the team he wanted to work closer to his family in Florida. That leaves Martinez as the only returning member of last year’s coaching staff.

Dipoto claims Angels outfielder Robertson off waivers

Texas Rangers center fielder Dan Robertson (19) dives for a ball hit by Los Angeles Angels Josh Hamilton (32) for a single in the first inning of a Major League Baseball Game at Globe Life Park, Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)

Texas Rangers center fielder Dan Robertson (19) dives for a ball hit by Los Angeles Angels Josh Hamilton (32) for a single in the first inning of a Major League Baseball Game at Globe Life Park, Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto reached into his former organization on Friday, claiming outfielder Dan Robertson off waivers from the Angels.

The Mariners also outrighted right-handed reliever JC Ramirez to Tacoma to open a spot on the 40-man roster, which currently sits at 37 players.

Robertson hit .280 with 10 runs, two doubles and seven RBIs in 75 at-bats over 37 games during two different stints with the Angels last year. He played 27 games in left field (11 starts), seven in center (four starts) and one in right.

Robertson batted .265 with 16 doubles and one home run in 60 games for Triple-A Salt Lake.

The 30-year-old California native played with the Rangers in 2014 when new Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar was bench coach and interim manager with Texas, putting up a .271/.333/.667 line in 70 games with nine doubles, a triple and six stolen bases.

A 33rd-round Draft pick of the Padres out of Oregon State in 2008, Robertson has hit .299 with a .377 on-base percentage in eight Minor League seasons.

Ramirez, 27, was acquired from the D-backs on July 27 and was 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA in eight relief appearances as a September callup. He posted a 2.50 ERA in 14 games with Triple-A Tacoma.

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