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Zduriencik denies club has issues with Taijuan Walker

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersMariners general manager Jack Zduriencik made it clear Wednesday that Taijuan Walker, the talented young right-hander most often named in trade rumors, remains an integral part of his club going forward.

Zduriencik responded strongly to a Tweet by ESPN.com analyst Keith Law saying he’d been told by several baseball executives that the Mariners had “soured on Taijuan Walker’s makeup, in part due to his behavior in the AFL.”

“There is no truth in that whatsoever,” Zduriencik said. “That’s ridiculous.”

The 22-year-old made two strong starts in the Arizona Fall League in October, then told the team he wanted to take the rest of the winter off to work out and prepare for next season. Walker missed the first few months of 2014 with shoulder problems, then split time between Triple-A Tacoma and Seattle. He went 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in six games for Seattle and finished with a complete-game four-hitter in a 1-0 loss at Toronto.

Zduriencik said the Mariners have no problems with Walker.

“We’d have maybe liked Taijuan to pitch a little more, but he really didn’t feel he was where he needed to be to pitch for other reasons,” he said. “But physically he was throwing 100 mph, he’d given us two really good starts at the end and two really good starts in the Arizona Fall League and he was at the point where he was ready to get into his offseason program.

“There was great logic after our discussions with him at the time. We knew what was going on and he’d pitched great. He had four very successful outings at the end and all that set him up for the coming year. So we’re very pleased with Taijuan Walker. This is a great, young arm, a very talented kid that is going to be a part of this for years to come.”

Zduriencik noted that Walker is young, but there is no question or concern about his work ethic.

“Here’s the thing with Taijuan. No matter what, even when he was in Triple-A and wasn’t pitching that great in the middle of the summer, the one thing everyone said about Taijuan Walker is he’s a great young man and an excellent worker,” Zduriencik said. “Taijuan does what he needs to do every day to prepare himself for now and the future.

“But you’re never going to get away from the fact he was 21 years of age. He was 20 when he was first pitching in the big leagues. This is a young guy. There are guys not even out of college yet and he was already pitching in the big leagues. With Taijuan, we’re fine and looking forward to seeing him in the spring.”

McClendon met with Walker in Arizona several weeks ago and told Zduriencik he was extremely pleased with their conversation. The Mariners have six strong candidates for five rotation spots at the moment, but McClendon feels Walker is in the thick of the competition.

“He needs to continue to work on his game, become very consistent with what he’s doing with his approach and how he goes about his business,” McClendon said. “Quite frankly, I thought he did a tremendous job in September for us, and certainly has earned the right to come into Spring Training and compete for a starting position.”

Wednesday’s update from sunny San Diego

A few Mariners notes on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings.

– The Mariners aren’t making a lot of news here in San Diego — not surprisingly, since they made their splash last week with Nelson Cruz’s signing and the trade for J.A. Happ and really have just one more major move to make. That will come if and when they sign or trade for a right fielder. At this point, Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios remain the most-logical solutions in free agency, but both are still testing the market and seeing what they can get.

Most of the movement at these Winter Meetings has circled around pitching and that market should open up more now with the Cubs signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal late last night. The Astros made some moves overnight as well, bolstering their bullpen by coming to terms with Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson.

The Meetings continue today before concluding with the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

— Jack Zdurienick says Robinson Cano’s broken toe is healing fine and isn’t viewed as any kind of problem. And not surprisingly, Cano has been checking in regularly to see how things are going. Cano is friends with Nelson Cruz and Cabrera and has never shied from offering his opinions. Zduriencik says Cano has tremendous baseball knowledge and welcomes his input.

Robbie is funny, is a good way to say it,” Zduriencik said. “He’ll send me different messages here and there. Sometimes it’s just hello or a thumbs up. He’s keeping in touch and he’s committed. He’s got a good perspective on some things. He’s well aware of what we’re doing and he’s bought in and is part of it, so it’s fun.”

— Zduriencik reiterated that D.J. Peterson will likely continue playing third base as well as some first base going forward. Many have wondered why the Mariners don’t just move him off third, given Kyle Seager’s presence there.

“We’ll continue to move him around.,” Zduriencik said. “You never know what will happen. First base would be a little easier transition for him. He’s played it in the past and played there some this year. He still needs some work at third base. Let him continue to do that.

“The thing with Peterson is just the proper amount of ABs. He missed a lot of time. It’s not his fault. But once we get him at a point where he has enough ABs and we feel he’s fairly close to being called to the big leagues, if there’s a position switch involved – and there probably will be – then we’ll make that position switch at that time. But you never know what’s going to happen with Kyle. He’s healthy and rolling right now and everything is great, but a twisted ankle or three weeks on the DL, you have to look for alternatives and you want Peterson to be able to play that position.”

— Peterson is the Mariners’ No. 2 ranked prospect by MLB.com. Their top prospect, outfielder Alex Jackson, was honored as Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year on Tuesday. Jackson is 18 — he’ll turn 19 on Christmas — but the Mariners are extremely optimistic about the potential of the right-handed hitter.

What would be a natural progression for a teenager who played 23 games in the Arizona Rookie League last year?

“It depends on the individual. At times you have players that exceed,” Zduriencik said. “You had that here years ago with Ken Griffey, who was a star. You see at times. Justin Upton, Dwight Gooden got to the big leagues in a hurry. I’m not suggesting that’s the case here, but I do think his acumen toward the game is pretty advanced. You have to note that a player like this has the ability to move at a faster pace than your typical player. You’re cognizant of it, you put him in position to succeed. How he prepares himself this offseason to come into Spring Training, it’ll be really interesting to watch this kid.”

Jackson won’t be part of the Mariners’ Major League camp this spring, but Zduriencik said he might well get pulled over to play in a Cactus League game or two. The youngster will be in Seattle as part of FanFest on Jan. 24-25.

Jesus Montero draws praise for offseason workouts

Montero, JesusWhile Jesus Montero has been the subject of considerable criticism in the past, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was effusive with his praise for the 25-year-old on Tuesday as he talked about the former top prospect’s offseason efforts.

Montero is spending the winter in Arizona, working out daily with Mariners strength and conditioning coach James Clifford, after being sidelined by the team for the final month of the 2014 season following an altercation with a Mariners scout during a Minor League game.

Montero played six games for Seattle last year, but otherwise spent the year in Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .286 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs while converting to first base. The former Yankees top catching prospect was suspended for 50 games in 2013 in the Biogenesis case and then drew Zduriencik’s further ire for showing up last spring overweight.

But Zduriencik said he’s received “very positive reports” about Montero’s efforts this offseason.

“We should tip his hat do what he’s done,” Zduriencik said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s worked a lot of days to the point of absolute exhaustion. It was designed that way, to try to get him in a position where he went above and beyond anything he’s ever done before. I think that goal has been accomplished. Everything they’ve told me about how he’s approached this has been extremely positive.”

Zduriencik said the Mariners arranged to have a nutritionist meet with Montero and his wife several times over the offseason to work with his diet and he’s been at their Peoria complex every day to work on his conditioning.

“I think mentally he’s in a good spot,” Zduriencik said. “I think he views himself differently than he probably did a year ago. The process he’s been through has been extremely painful, but I also think there are rewards at the end of this thing. I don’t think any of us would want more than for Jesus Montero to become a really good citizen and a really nice baseball player because the skills are there for him to do it.”

Zduriencik said Minor League coordinator Chris Gwynn told him Montero was the best hitter in Triple-A at times last year and the club remains intrigued by the potential of the right-handed bat of a youngster who hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 135 games as a rookie in 2012 while splitting time between catcher and designated hitter.

“But he has to maintain these things,” Zduriencik said. “He’s had other obstacles in his life that have prevented him from doing it. But he’s at a really good place in his life right now. He’s really appreciative of what he has and that’s a very important element for him to be successful going forward.”

Whether Montero has a place still with the Mariners remains to be seen. He’ll be invited to Spring Training in February and given the chance to show where he’s at both conditioning-wise and as a player.

“The message I gave him was he has to mentally view himself as a first baseman,” Zduriencik said. “He has to say to himself, ‘This is where I’m going to play.’ If he’s a DH someday, that takes care of itself. But he has to commit himself to being an adequate first baseman. He’s a big, physical guy. If he could play there, it would be a benefit to everybody.”

The Mariners just signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal to fill their DH role. Logan Morrison returns as the starting first baseman after a strong finish to 2014 in which he hit .262 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 99 games.

Gutierrez homers in first at-bat in Venezuelan return

Former Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run in his first at-bat in the Venezuelan Winter League on Monday as he began preparing for what could be a comeback attempt in Major League Baseball.

Gutierrez, 31, spent all of 2014 on the restricted list after telling the Mariners he wanted to sit out the season to deal with ongoing issues with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis.

He is now a free agent and the Mariners have indicated some interest in his possible return on a Minor League deal, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said Monday he’s had no recent talks with the 2010 Gold Glove center fielder.

Zduriencik said Monday at the Winter Meetings that the club had checked a day earlier and Gutierrez wasn’t playing Winter Ball yet in Venezuela, as had been expected. But Gutierrez did get in the lineup for Leones del Caracas on Monday and ripped a two-run home run in his first at-bat in the second inning of his debut against Aguilas del Zulia.

Gutierrez walked and scored in his second at-bat and wound up going 1-for-1 with two runs and two RBIs before being replaced in the seventh inning by Trayvon Robinson, another former Mariners outfielder who is also a free agent now after spending last season with the Dodgers’ Triple-A club.

Gutierrez was able to play just 81 games total in 2012-13 for Seattle due to a variety of injuries, many of which he later attributed to an illness that wasn’t diagnosed until late in his final year with the Mariners as he played out a four-year, $19 million deal.

The Mariners offered to bring him back last year for $1 million, but he wound up sitting out the season while living in Florida.

“I have not talked to him myself,” Zduriencik said. “I plan to, but I’ve not done that yet. He missed a whole year, so we’ll see. I don’t know where he is physically or mentally. The last time we talked last year he was going to see how his whole off year went and where he was at with his illness.”

Here’s a video of Gutierrez’s home run Monday in Venezuela.

Mariners offer unique auction items for Stand Up to Cancer fundraiser at Winter Meetings

ShowalterSUTCThe Winter Meetings focus largely on the business of baseball, the potential wheelings and dealings between teams and players and agents. But baseball has a personal side, too, and that side rose up Monday afternoon in a Stand Up To Cancer gathering at the Manchester Grand Hyatt that kicked off an MLB auction to benefit LUNGevity.

For the third consecutive year, Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, MLB Network and the 30 clubs have organized a Winter Meetings charity auction that includes unique baseball experiences and items to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. The initiative was inspired by the numerous employees, friends and fans of the game who have been directly affected by cancer.

Funds raised from this year’s auction will be donated to LUNGevity, the largest national lung cancer-focused nonprofit, in memory of Orioles public relations director Monica Barlow, who died of lung cancer in February.

Each MLB team has contributed items to auction off to fans. The Mariners came up with three unique offerings:

— A meet and greet with radio announcers Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith, with the chance to watch the first inning of a game (on a mutually agreeable date) from the Safeco Field radio booth and then watch the rest of the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.

— A pre-game tour of the TV truck compound and an on-field meeting with ROOT Sports broadcaster Brad Adam,  then the opportunity to accompany him to his pre-game show in center field before watching the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.

— The chance to watch Mariners batting practice from on-field, then meet Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, before watching the game from behind home plate with four free tickets.

Those items can be bid on here. The Mariners also have a number of autographed baseball items and the like available here.

The public relations directors from all 30 teams gathered Monday to promote the auction and remember Barlow, who died at 36. Barlow’s husband, Ben Barlow, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter both said she would have balked at being the center of such attention, but welcomed the effort to fight a disease that affects 400,000 Americans every year.

Of that number, about 60 percent are non-smokers, like Barlow.

The list of auction items from around baseball includes the chance for a fan to take out the lineup to an Orioles game with Showalter, a private pitching lesson with CC Sabathia, the chance to have Tony LaRussa coach a Little League team for a game and a personal haircut from National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom.

Fans can see a full list of items from every team and place bids at MLB.com/Lungevity. The auction, which has raised $250,000 over its first two years, ends on Thursday.

Bloomquist’s situation could impact Miller’s status

MillerBradAs the Winter Meetings open this morning, the A’s and Indians engineered the first trade as Oakland dealt first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss to the Indians for Minor League second baseman Joe Wendle.

One of the big questions looming over this week’s gathering in San Diego is whether the trade market will be booming as many clubs seem interested in dealing. From a Mariners perspective, the main question on the national front to date has centered around whether Jack Zduriencik might be willing to part with top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker or one of his top arms.

Once Seattle signed Nelson Cruz to fill its much-needed hole for a right-handed slugger in the middle of the lineup, the pressure lessened on Seattle being forced into such a deal. Zduriencik said he likes his pitching at this point and doesn’t want to take away from that strength.

The Mariners do have trade options beyond Walker, of course. And one of the common perceptions is the club might be willing to part with one of its young shortstops, Brad Miller or Chris Taylor, who split time last year as rookies.

On the surface, that makes sense, given manager Lloyd McClendon would like to have one everyday shortstop and that would seem to make the other expendable in a trade. But here’s something to remember on that front.

Veteran Willie Bloomquist underwent microfracture knee surgery in August and isn’t a lock to be ready for the start of the season. Bloomquist was at Nelson Cruz’s press conference on Thursday and told me he’s just begun running in the pool. He’s champing at the bit to do more, but has to follow doctor’s orders and take things step by step. And that process likely will have him on a limited schedule early in Spring Training while aiming to be full go by April when the real games begin.

Bloomquist is a very motivated worker and I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. But the Mariners will need to hedge their bets and make sure they have options in case his recovery doesn’t go as quickly as hoped. And Miller is an excellent candidate to be groomed for that kind of utility role.

Miller already was working that direction in the last two months last season after Bloomquist went down. He can play second, short and third and began doing some pregame work in the outfield as well, drawing rave reviews from outfield coach Andy Van Slyke for his natural athleticism and instincts there.

Miller surely would prefer to be the starting shortstop and my guess is he’ll be given every opportunity to win that job in Spring Training, but he does provide some interesting options if Taylor winds up the starter.

And should Bloomquist not be ready by the start of the year, Miller’s versatility may be a value of need for the Mariners. That doesn’t mean he’s off limits in trade talks, but it does add an element to his immediate worth for Seattle.

Zduriencik likes his team’s depth in the middle infield, mentioning young Ketel Marte as another up-and-coming talent. Marte, 21, was just added to the 40-man roster to keep him from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, but he has played only 19 games above the Double-A level to date and is more of a long-range prospect at this point.

Miller got off to a slow start last year, hitting .204 in the first half and opening the door for Taylor’s promotion. But Miller, 25, hit ..301 in the final two months. His OPS after the All-Star game was .794, second behind only Robinson Cano’s .808 among all Mariners regulars in that span.

That offensive potential is what makes Miller attractive on the trade front. But combined with his defensive versatility, it also will make the Mariners think twice about dealing him even if they feel Taylor is better suited at shortstop, particularly given the uncertainty of Bloomquist’s health.

Saunders says Seattle will be ‘sorely missed’

SaundersMichaelMichael 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.”

You can read more about the trade for Happ and his expected role with the Mariners here.

Saunders dealt to Toronto for J.A. Happ

Houston Astros v Seattle MarinersLooking 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.

Rivero non-tendered as Mariners open 40-man spot

New York Yankees v Boston Red SoxCarlos 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.

It’s official: Seager signed to 7-year extension

Cleveland Indians v Seattle MarinersCalling 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.

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