First baseman Justin Smoak’s time with the Mariners ran out Tuesday after four-plus disappointing seasons when he was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The move comes a few days before the Mariners were expected to exercise a $150,000 buyout on a $3.65 million option on Smoak for 2015 as a possible prelude to allowing him to become a free agent.
Instead, the Blue Jays now inherit the terms of Smoak’s contract.
The Mariners envisioned Smoak, who turns 28 in December, as a cornerstone in their rebuilding plan when they acquired him as part of a July 9, 2010 trade that sent former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and right-hander Mark Lowe to Texas.
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Smoak flashed potential at times, but batted just .226 over 496 games with the Mariners. He never drove in more than 55 runs in a season, and he topped out at 20 homers in 2013.
Those struggles deepened this year when Smoak spent much of the season’s second half at Triple-A Tacoma. He batted .202 in 80 big-league games with seven homers and 30 RBIs this season.
Logan Morrison played well over the closing weeks and, at this point, projects as the starter next season at first base — although the Mariners will consider first basemen in efforts to upgrade their attack.
Either way, it’s left no room for Smoak on the 2015 roster.
The Blue Jays can exercise the buyout on Smoak’s contract but still retain him through arbitration because he lacks sufficient service time for free agency. He earned close to $2.64 million in 2014.
Losing Smoak to a waiver claim left the Mariners with just one other player whose contract contained a club option for 2015 — right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.
Club officials clarified Tuesday that Iwakuma’s contract vested for 2015 based on performance bonuses. The club held a $7 million option that general manager Jack Zduriencik previously characterized as a “no-brainer.”
The Mariners want to pursue a contract extension with Iwakuma, who was 15-9 with a 3.52 ERA despite missing the season’s first month because of a finger injury.
“We’ll get into that at some other point,” Zduriencik hedged, “but he’ll be on this club next year. He’s staying (in Seattle) this winter. He’s not going back to Japan.”
GAME OF THE YEAR
The comeback by Clinton, the Mariners’ Class A affiliate in Iowa, from a 16-run deficit was picked by MiLB.com as the minor-league game of the year.
The LumberKings drew national attention when, on May 7, they rallied for a 20-17 victory at Burlington in 12 innings by climbing out of a 17-1 hole.
Clinton pulled even by scoring six runs in the sixth, five in the eighth and five more in the ninth before winning the game with a three-run 12th inning.
Marcus Littlewood hit a two-out grand slam in the ninth inning for Clinton. Justin Seager, broke the tie with an RBI grounder in the 12th before second baseman Lonnie Kauppila followed with a two-run single.
Since the LumberKings were out of pitchers at that point, Kauppila shifted to the mound and worked a scoreless inning for a save.
Third baseman D.J. Peterson dropped below the Mendoza Line in the Arizona Fall League by going 0-for-5 for Surprise in Monday’s 6-5 loss to Glendale.
Peterson is now batting .191 (9-for-47) through 13 games. Generally viewed as the Mariners’ top non-pitching prospect, he was picked to play Saturday in the AFL’s Fall Stars game.
It’s not official, but it appears the Mariners will open their 2015 Cactus League schedule on March 4 against complex co-tenant San Diego at Peoria Stadium. ... How important is a regular lineup? This comes from Bill Chuck of gammonsdaily.com: American League pennant-winning Kansas City had nine players who played at least 130 games. The Mariners had four (Kyle Seager 159; Robinson Cano 157; Dustin Ackley 143; and Mike Zunino 131). ... A reminder: The Mariners play the Giants San Francisco in a four-game , home-and-home series next season from June 15-18. The first two games will be in San Francisco before the clubs shift to Safeco Field.