The Mariners have five available slots should they want to protect any Rule 5 Draft-eligible players prior to the 9 p.m. Thursday deadline for adding them to the 40-man roster.
Any draft-eligible player not added to the roster prior to the deadline will be available for selection Dec. 11 in the draft, which always serves as the final activity at the annual winter meetings.
The Mariners have several protection candidates, including outfielder/first baseman Jordy Lara, shortstop Ketel Marte, catcher John Hicks, outfielder Jabari Blash and right-handed pitcher Jordan Pries.
The draft is designed, primarily, to prevent clubs from burying players in their farm systems, after a specified period for development, when those players might otherwise be able to play for other clubs in the big leagues.
Unprotected players are typically eligible for the draft after four seasons if they were 19 or older when they signed their first contract. Those 18 and younger usually don’t require protection for five years.
Clubs pay $50,000 when they select a player, which goes to his former club, and the player immediately goes on the 40-man roster of his new club.
But there’s a catch — that player must spent the entire next season in the big leagues or be offered back to his former club for $25,000 before he can be optioned to the minor leagues.
The Mariners acquired lefty reliever Lucas Luetge from Milwaukee in the 2011 draft, and he spent the entire 2012 season with the big-league club.
After one year, though, players can be optioned to the minors without restriction — and Luetge spent the last two seasons shuttling between the Mariners and Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners did not make a selection last year but lost left-hander Brian Moran to Toronto, which then traded him to the Los Angeles Angels.
Moran missed all of last season because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery on April 15. The Angels returned Moran to the Mariners on Oct. 30 under another aspect of the rule.
Players must be on the active roster for 90 days to fulfill the one-year requirement, which prevents a club from selecting a player and immediately placing him on the disabled list in order to retain him.