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.

Mariners claim Rivero from Red Sox

Carlos Rivero, a 26-year-old infielder from Venezuela, was claimed by the Mariners off waivers from the Red Sox on Monday.

Rivero made his Major League debut last season and went 4-for-7 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs in four games in the final month for Boston.

Rivero hit .264 with seven home runs and 53 RBIs in 105 games in the Minors last year, splitting the year between Boston’s Triple-A Pawtucket and Double-A Portland clubs. He played 74 games with Pawtucket, batting .286 with five homers and 36 RBIs.

Rivero has spent nine seasons in the Minors with the Indians, Phillies, Nationals and Red Sox, with most of his action coming at shortstop (537 games) and third base (381), while he’s also played left field (28 games), first base (26), designated hitter (20) and right field (1). He played 50 games at third base last year, with 23 in left field and 20 at DH.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander is currently playing for Cardenales de Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League where he is hitting .313 (20-for-64) with 11 runs, two doubles, six home runs and 11 RBIs in 17 games.

With the addition of Rivero, the Mariners 40-man roster now is at 35 players.

Mariners to open Cactus League on March 4

Felix autosThe Mariners and Padres will kick off Cactus League play on Wednesday, March 4, at the newly remodeled Peoria Sports Complex in the first of 32 spring games, the Mariners announced Monday.

The 22nd annual Charity Game at the Peoria stadium will start at 1:05 p.m. MT, or 12:05 p.m. PT, as the first contest in the upgraded facility. That will be the first of four games next spring between the two teams that share the Peoria Sports Complex and proceeds will benefit several Peoria charities.

The Mariners will also host both 2014 World Series teams in Peoria, with the Royals visiting on March 26 and the Giants on March 28.

The 16-game Peoria home schedule includes three night games – March 19 vs. the Indians, March 25 vs. the Cubs and April 3 vs. the Rockies.

For the second year in a row, the Mariners will remain in the Phoenix area for their final spring games instead of playing exhibition games elsewhere prior to the start of the regular season. The club will close out Cactus League play with a pair of games against the Rockies on April 3 at Peoria and April 4 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale before flying to Seattle for its April 6 opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.

Tickets for all Mariners spring training games in Peoria will go on sale Jan. 10.

SpringSked

With end of World Series, free agency begins

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red SoxWith the Major League season ending Wednesday night with the Giants beating the Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, seven Mariners players are among those now eligible to file for free agency.

Teams have a five-day window after the end of the World Series to negotiate exclusively or make qualifying offers to their own free agents. On the sixth day, any unsigned players are able to negotiate with any of the 30 Major League clubs. That means players can sign with new teams as of 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday or 9:01 p.m. PT on Monday on the West Coast.

The Mariners free agents will be starting pitcher Chris Young (pictured), left-handed reliever Joe Beimel, catcher Humberto Quintero, first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales and outfielders Endy Chavez, Chris Denorfia and Franklin Gutierrez.

The Mariners aren’t expected to make qualifying offers to any of those players, with this year’s number at $15.3 million for a guaranteed one-year deal. Players extended a qualifying offer can reject that offer, but if they sign with another team their original club receives draft pick compensation.

Seattle’s most-marketable free agent would appear to be Young, who was named The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year after going 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games in his first fully healthy season since 2007.

The Mariners are interested in adding a veteran starting pitcher to a rotation that currently includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, but Young’s solid season might have changed his market value enough that he’ll be looking for more money and years now than Seattle is willing to offer in their situation.

“I would love to be back,” Young said. “This was most fulfilling and gratifying season of my career. I’d love to be part of finishing what we’ve started there. That being said, I understand it’s a business and they’ve got a lot of good, young arms and it might not be in the best interest of the Mariners or vice versa.”

Zduriencik said the Mariners have interest in all their free agents. Beimel and Chavez both made the club last year on Minor League deals and filled valuable veteran roles, while Quintero was a September callup in the same scenario.

Zduriencik said Gutierrez has indicated a desire to return to baseball after sitting out 2014 due to lingering health issues. But after spending last year on the reserve list, Gutierrez would only be of interest to the Mariners as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal.

Denorfia was acquired at the July 31 Trade Deadline from the Padres for outfielder Abraham Almonte, but hit just .195 in 32 games with Seattle.

Morales figures to be an interesting offseason figure again as he tries to determine his market value. The veteran DH turned down Seattle’s $14.3 million qualifying offer last winter, then had to sit out the first two months of the season before landing with the Twins and eventually getting traded back to the Mariners.

But the late start hurt the 31-year-old’s timing and production and he batted .218 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 98 games, a far cry from the .277 average, 23 home runs and 80 RBIs he put up in 156 games with Seattle in 2013.

While Seattle can deal with its own free agents now, the real offseason interest figures to begin in five days when clubs can start pursuing others. Though few deals are struck immediately, that’s when the market will begin to play out for the 121 available free agents, which include Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, Melky Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer, Michael Morse and Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas, as well as pitchers Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana.

Former Mariners Ichiro Suzuki, Munenori Kawasaki, Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang and Asdrubral Cabrera are among this year’s free agents as well. Here’s a complete list of the players eligible to file for free agency as of Thursday.

So stay tuned. The offseason has just officially begun.

Smoak claimed off waivers by Blue Jays

Smoak, JustinJustin Smoak’s tenure with the Mariners is over after five seasons as the 27-year-old first baseman was claimed off waivers on Tuesday by the Blue Jays.

Smoak, who put up a .224/.309/.380 slash line in 566 games with Seattle, lost his starting job to Logan Morrison at midseason and didn’t appear to be part of the club’s future after batting just .202 in 80 games this past year.

The Mariners had a $3.65 million option on Smoak for next season, or could have declined that option and had him enter his final season of arbitration. Instead, they placed the former Rangers first-round Draft pick on waivers and Toronto now will have three days to exercise the same option or decide whether to enter Smoak’s final year of the arbitration process.

Smoak earned $2.63 million last season.

The move opens up a spot on Seattle’s 40-man roster as the club prepares to enter the free agency period at the conclusion of the World Series.

Smoak was acquired from the Rangers on July 9, 2010 when Seattle sent pitchers Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to Texas in exchange for Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

Smoak, the 11th overall selection in the 2009 Draft out of South Carolina, hit 74 home runs and 234 RBIs in five seasons with Seattle, including a career-best 20 homers and 64 RBIs with a .238 average in 2013. But he totaled just seven homers and 30 RBIs in 248 at-bats in 2014 and lost his job to Morrison after being sidelined in June by a strained hamstring.

Morrison hit .262 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 99 appearances last year, including .321 with six homers, 21 RBIs and an .878 OPS over his final 51 games.

D.J. Peterson selected to Fall Stars Game

AZ Fall League: Mesa v SurpriseD.J. Peterson, the Mariners first-round Draft pick in 2013, has been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game this Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Peterson will be Seattle’s lone representative on the West team in the ninth-annual game that features many of Major League Baseball’s top prospects who are competing in the 32-game AFL season.

The game will be played at 5:08 p.m. PT at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and will be televised by MLB Network and online on MLB.com, as well as on the MLB Radio Network on Sirius/XM satellite radio.

Peterson is one of 14 players selected who are ranked in MLB.com’s current Top 100 prospects list. The former New Mexico standout is ranked 49th on the MLB.com list after hitting .297 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIs while splitting last season between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.

Peterson, 22, has played mostly third base in the AFL this fall while hitting .214/.353/.357 with three doubles, one home run and six RBIs in his first 12 games for the Surprise Saguaros.

Shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers top prospect and younger brother of Mariners All-Star third baseman Kyle Seager, was also selected for the West team. Seager is hitting .255/.345/.412 with six doubles, a triple and seven RBIs in 13 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Here’s an MLB.com story detailing the game, with complete rosters.

Three Mariners finalists for Gold Glove awards

San Diego Padres v Seattle MarinersKyle Seager and Felix Hernandez have been better known for their hitting and pitching prowess in their Mariners careers, but the two Seattle All-Stars were named top-three finalists for Rawlings Gold Gloves at their positions on Thursday.

Second baseman Robinson Cano, a two-time Gold Glove winner while with the Yankees, was the third Mariners player named as a finalist for the Rawlings awards, which will be announced on Nov. 4 in a 4 p.m. PT televised presentation on ESPN2.

Here’s a link to all the AL and NL Gold Glove finalists.

Seattle didn’t have any finalists last year, while shortstop Brendan Ryan and second baseman Dustin Ackley were top-three finalists in 2012. The Mariners haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since 2010, when outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez both were honored.

When no Seattle players were selected in 2011, it broke a string of 24 straight years with a Mariners Gold Glove winner, a streak helped by 10 straight selections by Ken Griffey Jr. from 1990-99 and 10 more by Ichiro from 2001-10.

Cano was an AL Gold Glove winner in 2010 and ‘12, with Boston’s Dustin Pedroia taking the second base honors in 2011 and ’13. Pedroia and Cano are finalists again this year at second, along with Detroit’s Ian Kinsler.

The third base finalists are Seager, Josh Donaldson of the A’s and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, while Hernandez is joined in the final three for pitchers by Dallas Keuchel of the Astros and Mark Buehrle of the Blue Jays, who was a three-time Gold Glove winner for the White Sox from 2009-11.

Baltimore’s Manny Machado won the 2013 AL Gold Glove at third base, but the 22-year-old played just 82 games in an injury-plagued season this year. Beltre is a four-time Gold Glove winner, including twice with the Mariners in 2007 and ’08.

Seager had a big year offensively, earning his first AL All-Star berth while leading the Mariners with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs. But he quietly took a big step forward with the glove as well and now has been recognized for that effort in the Gold Glove nominations, which are based about 75 percent on voting by AL managers and coaches and 25 percent on defensive metrics.

Hernandez’s nomination can be added to an outstanding season in which he went 15-6 with an AL-leading 2.14 ERA and a career-high 246 strikeouts. The 28-year-old is also a leading contender for his second AL Cy Young Award, which is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and will be announced Nov. 12.

Felix named AL Pitcher of Year by Sporting News

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle MarinersFelix Hernandez has been named the American League’s top pitcher in 2014 as part of The Sporting News AL All-Star team selected by a vote of baseball executives, becoming the first Mariners player honored since 2010.

Hernandez was also named The Sporting News AL Pitcher of the Year in 2010, which was the year he went on to win his first AL Cy Young Award. This year’s Cy Young, which is chosen in a vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, will be announced Nov. 12.

The Sporting News All-Star team selects one player at each position, plus one starting pitcher and one reliever in each league. The Mariners haven’t had a position player named to the AL All-Star squad since outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2009.

Robinson Cano was the AL second baseman on The Sporting News All-Star team the past four years for the Yankees, but saw that run end this year when the Astros’ Jose Altuve was selected at that position.

Hernandez finished the season with a 15-6 record while leading the AL with a 2.14 ERA in 34 starts. He also posted a league-low 0.915 WHIP while racking up a career-best 248 strikeouts in 236 innings. Hernandez started the AL All-Star Game after being selected to his fifth Midsummer Classic.

The only previous AL Pitchers of the Year for the Mariners as selected by The Sporting News were Randy Johnson in 1995 and Hernandez in 2010.

This year’s Sporting News AL All-Star team: catcher Salvador Perez (Royals); first baseman Jose Abreu (White Sox); second baseman Altuve (Astros); shortstop Erick Aybar (Angels); third baseman Adrian Beltre (Rangers); outfielders Mike Trout (Angels),  Michael Brantley (Indians) and Jose Bautista (Blue Jays); designated hitter Victor Martinez (Tigers); pitcher Hernandez (Mariners); and reliever Dellin Betances (Yankees).

The NL All-Star team: catcher Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers); first baseman Anthony Rizzo (Cubs); second baseman Dee Gordon (Dodgers); shortstop Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals); third baseman Anthony Rendon (Nationals); outfielders Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and Justin Upton (Braves); pitcher Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers); and reliever Craig Kimbrel (Braves).

Young named AL Comeback Player of Year

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red SoxFeeling he’d finally overcome a series of shoulder issues that had hindered much of his career, Chris Young just wanted a chance to pitch every fifth day and be part of a Major League rotation again after being released by the Nationals at the end of Spring Training.

But the 35-year-old right-hander did far more than that, putting together a strong 2014 season for the Mariners that resulted in Young being named The Sporting News American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday.

“I am extremely honored,” said Young, who went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games (29 starts). “There are many deserving players who have demonstrated the commitment, dedication and perseverance to overcome similar obstacles and I am humbled to be recognized amongst them. The life lessons I have learned throughout this experience are invaluable and will stay with me the rest of my career.

“I hope that I can serve as inspiration to other players in the same manner in which I was inspired to pursue my comeback. I am extremely grateful to my teammates, coaches, the Seattle Mariners organization and my family, as each and every member contributed to my success.”

Young is the fifth Mariners player ever to earn the award and first since pitcher Gil Meche in 2003. Previous Seattle winners were Gorman Thomas (1985), Richie Zisk (1981) and Willie Horton (1979). The Sporting News has been selecting AL and NL Comeback Players since 1965.

MLB and the Players Choice Awards also name a Comeback Player of the Year, but those honors haven’t been announced yet for this past season.

Young provided a classic comeback story, having not pitched in the Majors at all in 2013 and finally solving shoulder issues that prevented him from pitching a full season since 2007, when he was an NL All-Star with the Padres.

“Chris was a big part of our success in 2014, really solidifying our rotation,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “To think he won as many games as he did, and made 29 starts, coming off the type of surgery and the injuries that he had, I think it’s just tremendous. He is a tireless worker and showed his determination with his performance. This is a very deserving award for him in every way possible.”

Young went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in nine Minor League starts for the Nationals in 2013, then was released by that club on the final roster cut this spring.

But after having surgery in June of 2013 to repair a nerve blockage in his chest and shoulder called thoracic outlet syndrome, Young said he finally felt at full strength for the first time in years. The Mariners signed him to one-year, $1.5 million base deal just four days before the start of the regular season and he wound up earning another $2.975 million in incentive bonuses by staying healthy and performing so well through the year.

The 6-foot-10 right-hander had the eighth-lowest opponents batting average in the AL at .234, was 21st in the league in WHIP at 1.230 and his 165 innings pitched were his most since 2007.

When healthy, Young has always been an effective Major League pitcher, owning a 65-52 record and 3.77 ERA over 10 seasons. But his shoulder problems have led to three surgeries and allowed him to make just 28 starts over the previous four seasons combined.

He exceeded that number for Seattle this year alone with his 29 starts, helping solidify the rotation for a club that finished first in the AL in ERA and improved by 16 wins to 87-75 in McClendon’s first season at the helm.

Though the increased workload finally seemed to catch up with Young at the end of the season when he went 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA over his last five outings, the 35-year-old finished third on the Mariners in wins and innings pitched behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and his 12 victories equaled his career high set in 2005 with the Padres.

“This is a tremendous and well-deserving honor for Chris,” said Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits. “He worked tirelessly and stuck to his routine to keep himself healthy and on the mound throughout the season. He had a breakthrough year making a comeback, but it wasn’t really that surprising to me. This is a testament to his resolve, patience, determination, hard work, his routine and his tireless study of opposing hitters.”

Young earned 49 votes from AL players to easily beat runner-up J.D. Martinez of the Tigers for the honor. Martinez had 22 votes, Scott Kazmir of the A’s was third with 14, followed by the Yankees’ Derek Jeter (11) and Toronto’s Melky Cabrera (6).

Miami’s Casey McGehee was the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

Taijuan Walker shuts it down after two AFL starts

TaijuanBulllpenTaijuan Walker was scratched from his scheduled Arizona Fall League start Saturday night and has decided not to pitch any more this offseason, though he is completely healthy, general manager Jack Zduriencik said Sunday.

The 22-year-old right-hander had been slated to pitch his third AFL game for the Surprise Saguaros on Saturday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, but fellow Mariners prospect Stephen Landazuri replaced him and wound up allowing five hits and three runs in three innings to take the loss in a 9-4 loss to the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Walker had posted a 2.00 ERA in his first two AFL starts, allowing two runs and seven hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts in nine innings of work.

“Taijuan is completely healthy and was very impressive in his two outings, but made a personal decision that he needed to return home at this time,” Zduriencik said in a statement released by the club. “He will continue with his off-season program and we look forward to seeing him at Spring Training in February.”

Walker is regarded as one of the top young pitchers in baseball and was 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA in eight games for the Mariners this season. But he missed the first two months of the year with shoulder issues and Seattle officials had suggested they wanted him to throw about 25 innings in the AFL to increase his workload before shutting things down until next spring.

Landazuri is one of six other Mariners prospects on the Surprise squad. The 22-year-old right-hander had previously thrown three games in relief in AFL action and is now 1-3 with a 10.29 ERA in seven innings of work. Landazuri went 6-5 with a 4.33 ERA in 19 starts for Double-A Jackson this year.

Two of Seattle’s top position prospects, first baseman Patrick Kivlehan and third baseman D.J. Peterson, each had doubles in Saturday’s game. Kivlehan went 1-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs, while Peterson was 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs.

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